So earlier this week, in Danny O'Neil's weekly chat, a couple of folks raised the question of whether we might move to a 3-4 defense. In the past, I would have laughed this off because we flat-out didn't have the personnel necessary to field a 3-4 team. Danny didn't shoot down this idea, though, and suggested that we might have the personnel necessary (or be a couple of pieces away) from fielding a 3-4.
While I don't believe a 3-4 would magically solve all of our problems on defense, I think it could help in highlighting some of our strength in the LB corps and put more playmakers on the field. There are obvious drawbacks to changing the scheme (growing number of 3-4 teams competing for talent, difficult transitions, etc) which could hurt the team in the short-run, which make me a hesitant to advocate for it, but it seems like interesting idea to bat around while we wait for the next kickoff.
So here's my new position chart based on available personnel:
MLB - Lofa, Heater, Leroy (?), Curry (?)
OLB - Tapp, Reed , Curry (?), Leroy (?), Kerney (probably cut)
NT - Mebane (?), Cole (backup NT in GB), Red (?),
DE- Mebane (?), Red (?), Jackson (DE/DT in a 4-3), Redding (DE/DT in a 4-3, might not be here), Terrill (hopefully cut)
While the LBs may be a little small for a 3-4, I think we'd get a nice mix of pass-rush and pass-coverage out of them (if Tapp and Reed could adapt to playing upright).
I think the biggest question-marks are the guys on the DL. I think one could make a case for Cole (6'1", 330lbs), Red (6'4", 318lbs) or Mebane (6'1", 300lbs) playing NT, while we'd probably want to stick LoJack (6'4", 271lbs), Red/Mebane or Redding (6'4", 292lbs) (if he sticks around) in at DE. The NT is a critical part of the 3-4 defense and very difficult to staff well, but there seems to be pretty good depth at DL in the next draft.
Moving to a 3-4 is a very serious enterprise, which can take years and can result in significant decreases in production from players in the LB and DL corps. This piece shouldn't be read as an advocacy piece, but rather a jumping-off point for wild speculation about whether we could actually field a 3-4 team (give or take a few pieces picked up in the offseason).