John Adams: UT following Georgia's lead on 3-4 switch

John Adams

DESTIN, Fla. — Mark Richt didn't have a defensive scheme in mind when he sought to hire a new defensive coordinator after the 2009 football season. The Georgia coach was more interested in hiring the right person to head up his defense.

The right person turned out to be Todd Grantham, who had an extensive pro background as a defensive coach. His defense of preference happened to be a 3-4 alignment, which meant the Bulldogs would have to adjust to a new system as well as a new coordinator.

"It might have saved us a little grief (if Grantham had stuck with a 4-3 defense)," Richt said. "But I wanted to get the right guy."

Georgia's defense struggled at times to make the transition in 2010. That struggle is now relevant to Tennessee, which will make the same switch — from a 4-3 to a 3-4 — this season under new defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri.

"Everybody makes the assumption that you are going to be better Year Two," UT coach Derek Dooley said at the SEC spring meetings. "That doesn't mean you stink Year One. Georgia's defense was pretty good Year One."

Dooley is right. While the Bulldogs fielded one of the best defenses in the country last season, they weren't an abject failure in 2010 when they suffered through a 6-7 season.

They ranked 23rd nationally in defense that year. But there were just enough breakdowns to remind you it was a defense in transition. The Bulldogs gave up 49 points to Auburn and 31 or more to four other opponents.

Breakdowns aside, the Bulldogs actually improved in one area over the previous season. They forced more than twice as many turnovers as the 2009 defense.

That stat surely resonates with Dooley, whose defense ranked 10th in the SEC in takeaways last season. He said he was prepared to make changes even before defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox left for a similar position at Washington.

"We were going to do things differently," Dooley said. "There was a lot of open dialogue on that throughout the course of the year."

The change had more to do with philosophy than scheme.

"If your scheme is philosophically different than what I believe in, I'd have a problem with it," Dooley said. "It's not necessarily the Xs and Os. It's more the philosophy of playing winning defense.

"There's a lot of schemes that win. I do believe in being multiple and being aggressive."

And like Richt, he was more interested in the coach than the scheme.

"If Sal had a little different scheme than what he's running, I'd still hire Sal," Dooley said.

Sunseri installed the 3-4 scheme this spring. But you won't know how well his team can execute it until the fall.

The switch is a risk for a head coach who has had back-to-back losing seasons while trying to rebuild UT football to a respectable level.

"You have to do what you believe in and what you think is right," Dooley said. "You can't worry about growing pains. You've got to get to the end result.

"I don't believe in recruiting for the short term. And I don't believe in making program decisions for the short term. Hopefully, you can survive the short term, and you've got a pretty salty program five, six years down the road. That's the hope."

"If you don't, you look back and say I probably should have made (decisions) more for the short term."

John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or adamsj@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/johnadamskns

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Comments » 11

PHAT_VOL writes:

Well there you have it. Seven wins this fall and nine the year after. Give Dooley a contract extention.
GO VOLS !!!

Pullingguard writes:

This is the year for Dooley.. Will he survive?
Don't think anything less than 7/8 wins will be acceptable with prospects for the future. I think the Vols are facing problems getting the needed recruits, probably because the ????? regarding the future of staff.. Also, you dont lose 7 staff members without problems we probably are not aware of... The NC State game is so important..That game will tell us lot.

PUL4VOLS writes:

I wish old JA could get a life. UT's going to a 3-4 has nothing to do with GA having it. What a joke!

Huttdawg100 writes:

in response to collegegrovevol:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

It makes a few differences. First in recruiting, it's hard to find capable large bodies that can play defensive tackle. The 3-4 requires fewer big bodies, which we know are hard to find. Next, it's easier to disguise blitzes and get to the QB. That's why Belichick had so much success against Manning in the early 2000's.

That said, I am extremely concerned about our switch to the 3-4. UGA lost 7 games with more experience and steady recruiting. It's not just UGA. Bama made the switched to the 3-4 in 2007 and lost 6 games and gave up 24 points per game against SEC opponents. It takes time to adjust to this defense and learn the assignments. Hopefully, the offense will carry us through some games, but if we lose 6 or 7 games, Gary Patterson or Chip Kelly will get a phone call from an 865 number.

Witch_Doctors writes:

Witch Doctor say Adams for some reason is writing for the "Miserables of the AD dept." crowd lately? Witch Doctor believe he must have lost some sources or something..talk to us John, whats the angle? Witch Doctor ask nicely....
Bones never lie.

TNlogfire writes:

Thanks, John....but we knew this several months ago...maybe time to wind up from the lady vol beat...?

BigOrangeFever76 (Inactive) writes:

in response to collegegrovevol:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Another Saturday night and I ain't go nobody..... (unless you count my invisible friend Gomer)

aspenvol2 writes:

Adams is awful.

fearthehound writes:

in response to BigOrangeFever76:

Another Saturday night and I ain't go nobody..... (unless you count my invisible friend Gomer)

Gomer is Greatest's 'Harvey'--his imaginary friend. One of them posts on every single article written on here...and it's always 100% hate Dooley time. Forget that Dooley was hired with just a few weeks left before signing day. Forget that his first year's team was decimated, due to attrition from having three coaches in three years, forget he had to put a staff together in something like ten days, forget his second team was hit with ridiculous injuries to very key players. Greatest needed and expected him to win and win big right off the bat. There will be no quarter given to this man to have a third and maybe a fourth year to build his staff and his team. No, by God, Saban did it in two, and Dooley had better do it, too.

But then, who is Greatest and where do his real loyalties lie?

orangecountyvols writes:

in response to fearthehound:

Gomer is Greatest's 'Harvey'--his imaginary friend. One of them posts on every single article written on here...and it's always 100% hate Dooley time. Forget that Dooley was hired with just a few weeks left before signing day. Forget that his first year's team was decimated, due to attrition from having three coaches in three years, forget he had to put a staff together in something like ten days, forget his second team was hit with ridiculous injuries to very key players. Greatest needed and expected him to win and win big right off the bat. There will be no quarter given to this man to have a third and maybe a fourth year to build his staff and his team. No, by God, Saban did it in two, and Dooley had better do it, too.

But then, who is Greatest and where do his real loyalties lie?

Fear the hound,

Well said. Truth is...........the 'great' kid, AKA the bratty poster on GVX who is consumed with CDD..........is simply a nuisance. This punk is owned by Dooley and it is evident by the non stop attacks on the coach. Really, it's funny how someone who doesn't even know this kid actually owns his everyday thinking.

Classof72 writes:

in response to Huttdawg100:

It makes a few differences. First in recruiting, it's hard to find capable large bodies that can play defensive tackle. The 3-4 requires fewer big bodies, which we know are hard to find. Next, it's easier to disguise blitzes and get to the QB. That's why Belichick had so much success against Manning in the early 2000's.

That said, I am extremely concerned about our switch to the 3-4. UGA lost 7 games with more experience and steady recruiting. It's not just UGA. Bama made the switched to the 3-4 in 2007 and lost 6 games and gave up 24 points per game against SEC opponents. It takes time to adjust to this defense and learn the assignments. Hopefully, the offense will carry us through some games, but if we lose 6 or 7 games, Gary Patterson or Chip Kelly will get a phone call from an 865 number.

"The 3-4 requires fewer big bodies, which we know are hard to find."

Actually, the consensus among experts (such as former Vol DC Doug Mathews) is that the opposite is true. The 4-3 uses two big defensive tackles, for a rotation of 6 needed. (The DEs can be smaller, like Leonard Little.) The 3-4 uses three big tackles, for a rotation of 9 needed. It's a challenge to recruit enough big guys for the 3-4. That's probably why Dooley insists the Vols will be multiple. They don't yet have enough big guys to run too many snaps from the 3-4.

The other points are well taken.

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