Switch to 3-4 defense earns good reviews

Sunseri's 3-4 defensive scheme gets positive reviews

AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS/NEWS SENTINEL
Defensive lineman Maurice Couch participates in a drill during spring practice at Haslam Field on Thursday.

Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess, ©KNS/2012

AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS/NEWS SENTINEL Defensive lineman Maurice Couch participates in a drill during spring practice at Haslam Field on Thursday.

It's a good thing.

That's the consensus of three Tennessee players affected by the switch to a 3-4 defensive front.

As the Vols conclude their first week of spring football practice today, the early reviews on the new defensive scheme being taught by new coordinator Sal Sunseri are positive.

"It's a lot of concepts," said Marlon Walls, who will be an end instead of a tackle in the new look. "As a player, you always like to think a little bit more so it's a good thing."

Maurice "Mo" Couch will be a nose tackle (or nose guard). He'll be using his mass more than his brain to occupy space and blockers.

"The nose guard," said Couch, "he's not there to make any plays. He's there to be a big body to take up gaps.

"But coach Sal, he moves the nose guard around a lot and puts us in position to make a lot of plays.

"So I'm very happy to play in this defense. This can help me in the future if I get blessed to go pro."

That's always a good thing.

For Jacques Smith, it's a belated reward for loyalty.

Smith, from Ooltewah, signed with UT out of instate love, even though other SEC suitors that used a 3-4 might have been a better fit.

"I bleed orange, literally," Smith said.

But he spent his first two years as a bit of an undersized defensive end in the 4-3 scheme. Now he becomes a stand-up "Jack" linebacker.

"This puts me in positions where my strengths will ultimately allow me to win certain matchups," Smith said.

So, better late than never, it's a good thing.

Coach Derek Dooley wanted to incorporate the 3-4 and when defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox left, the opportunity knocked. Enter Sunseri, from Alabama's staff.

"You try to slot the bodies in the right spots," Dooley said.

"Some guys are good at any defense. What I'm looking at is body types. A guy like Jacques, when he plays end in a 4-3 he's a little undersized.

"Doesn't mean he can't be good ... but then when you stand him up as an outside backer, he's perfect sized."

Walls finished last season weighing 273, he said. He's at 288 for spring.

"(At tackle), I've got 630 pounds coming at me on a double-team," Dooley said. "When I'm out here (at end) I've either got a tight end or a single blocker. Big difference."

Couch and Daniel Hood are listed as the nose tackles. Daniel McCullers, a 6-foot-6, 380-pound junior-college transfer, will join them in the fall.

Willie Bohannon, formerly a defensive end, joins Smith at the "Jack" linebacker.

For the two end positions, Walls, Jordan Williams, Steven Fowlkes and newcomer Darrington Sentimore are battling.

Lending depth to the competition are Joseph Ayres, Allan Carson, Trevarris Saulsberry and Gregory Clark. Winter enrollee Trent Taylor and incoming freshman Danny O'Brien will get in the mix.

"We're pretty stacked," said Walls, "which challenges you a little bit more because you've got to fight for your job. So that's a good thing."

Naturally.

Follow Mike Strange at http://twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange.

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Comments » 55

mocsandvolsfan writes:

Hmmm I love it. A sports article!

I love a good line!(punny sorta)

Clarkrm0706 writes:

Wow, worth the read. No bias, just facts, awesome.
(Did I just say that?)

atributetoLombardiwasbanned writes:

in response to Clarkrm0706:

Wow, worth the read. No bias, just facts, awesome.
(Did I just say that?)

Not sure if it was from you, but I KNOW I read it somewhere!-)

iowavol writes:

It will be fun watching Smith and his speed at an OLB position. I have visions of a quick toss over the middle by Brantley and an unfortunate receiver - BOOM! Nuff said.

Clarkrm0706 writes:

@ Rocky and atribute: LOL, Whenever I start growing tired of the back and forth, guys like you remind me why it is worth reading :)

alwaysBorange writes:

Does anybody remember how great Jim Noonan was as a Nose Guard? Here's hopin Couch and Co. can bring that kind of excitement back to the middle of the D Line.

Rich_Is_Re-born writes:

The D-line will be loaded if we don't get injured up. Highly touted guys like Danny Oniel might not see much PT, and I mean that in a good way. Guys like Walls were a bit big to play 4-3 DE yet a bit small to play DT, while Smith was a small DE. The pieces are there and the depth is better than it has been. I'm looking for a HUGE year from Prentiss Waggner, that is if they leave him at CB. We shall see.

CoverOrange writes:

I need a little 3-4 101.

Mike - Middle
Sam - S - Strong side
Will - W - Weak side
Jack - J - ???

Tried Google University already and didn't find it.

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

I love the 34, and I believe Sal knows what the h3ll he's doing..HBTV!!

RashaadSalabeb writes:

in response to alwaysBorange:

Does anybody remember how great Jim Noonan was as a Nose Guard? Here's hopin Couch and Co. can bring that kind of excitement back to the middle of the D Line.

Jimmy Noonan...oh yeah, I remember! There weren't many people that broke his tackles. I haven't heard that name in a while. Good memories!

Go Big Orange!

Rich_Is_Re-born writes:

in response to CoverOrange:

I need a little 3-4 101.

Mike - Middle
Sam - S - Strong side
Will - W - Weak side
Jack - J - ???

Tried Google University already and didn't find it.

Jack means Jack up the QB.

springtx_vol writes:

in response to iowavol:

It will be fun watching Smith and his speed at an OLB position. I have visions of a quick toss over the middle by Brantley and an unfortunate receiver - BOOM! Nuff said.

I haven't read all of the comments yet, but I am wondering how many responses the comment above will get, things like:

- Did Brantley get another year of eligibility? Florida fans will be so upset.

- Is Smith playing in the arena league? Brantley has no chance at the NFL, so it must be the AFL.

- Am I living in a time warp? Is it 2011 all over again? Can we beat Kentucky this time?

- I know, they really misspelled Driskel or Murphy

volfanz writes:

"Stacked" on the defensive line?.....Thank God!!! Been a long while since anyone could think it, let alone say it!!!!

AlexAndersonAAradio writes:

I hate the 3-4. It gives you one less down lineman and helps the offense control the line. Bad move!

Vol_in_Mich writes:

Good! Now teach them how to tackle! Seems to be a lost art in football now days. Not just UT but every college & NFL team, seems like they all want to block the runner out of bounds. What happened to wrapping up? I guess it doesn't get on ESPN.
Anyway, good luck Vols!

Rich_Is_Re-born writes:

in response to AlexAndersonAAradio:

I hate the 3-4. It gives you one less down lineman and helps the offense control the line. Bad move!

Every defense has its drawbacks. But IMO the 3 big boys up front make it harde for a n o-line to dominate. It's like having 3 big DTs to have to block. The extra man standing also makes it easier to disguise your blitzes IMO.

On the other hand... After a 6-0 deficit, congrats to the BaseVols for a comeback 10-8 victory over Bama.

Clarkrm0706 writes:

in response to slaw_way:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

The rankings figure in the offense you are playing.
for the nation, we were decent. SEC, we were....well.

tnsportsman writes:

in response to AlexAndersonAAradio:

I hate the 3-4. It gives you one less down lineman and helps the offense control the line. Bad move!

IMO totally disagree, the 3-4 is great provided you have a HUGE BIG UGLY at Nose Guard! Seems like Our VOLS have a few Big Nose Guards for the 3-4. Remember the Great D's at UT in the 4-3 and 3-4 i.e. Jackie Walker, Reynolds. We would switch back and forth in the 3-4 to 4-3 and cause Mayhelm in the SEC.

This is a great move for Our VOLS Defense!

GO VOLS ALWAYS!

BluezVol writes:

A big, ugly, mean, nasty nose-tackle has a psychological affect on the center. The center knows he's going to eat his face-mask about every play. QB-Center exchange is affected as is the QB's drop with the center retreating. I would prefer this to the center thinking which DT he gets to double-team. Plus, as someone said above, blitzing becomes a bonanza. They can come from so many directions.

blackoutcuffem1592 writes:

I can't wait for this season. Thats right, you heard me. Lathers, Johnson, Maggit and Smith at the Linebacker positions. Is that even legal?

VolGrad writes:

in response to CoverOrange:

I need a little 3-4 101.

Mike - Middle
Sam - S - Strong side
Will - W - Weak side
Jack - J - ???

Tried Google University already and didn't find it.

SAM= strong outside linebacker
MIKE= strong inside linebacker (also known as the MLB despite being a 3-4 formation, makes the calls)
WILL= weak inside linebacker
JACK= weak outside linebacker

Wikipedia University

VolGrad writes:

in response to AlexAndersonAAradio:

I hate the 3-4. It gives you one less down lineman and helps the offense control the line. Bad move!

Seems to me that quite a few NFL teams using the 3-4 have also won Super Bowls. Worked for them.

The bottom line is which scheme best fits your personnel. In any event, this defense will still play some 40 schemes as well.

beartn#223846 writes:

Wiclox's defense can be effective, but I'd much rather have an attacking defense than a bend don't break defense. I'm lloking forward to a more aggressive philosophy.

tovolny writes:

in response to alwaysBorange:

Does anybody remember how great Jim Noonan was as a Nose Guard? Here's hopin Couch and Co. can bring that kind of excitement back to the middle of the D Line.

I remember Noonan. Once I was standing about 40 feet away, in a UCLA game, and the center made a false start, Noonan made contact breaking the center's arm. The UCLA coach said, after the game, "wouldn't a head slap have worked just as well?"

Noonan was tough, when he messed his knee up, he refused to be helped off the field...said he would walk...would never be helped off the field.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to 10seVol85:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I guess it depends on the skill of the linemen and the speed. It would seem to be really good for the short passes and the short(hopefully) runs. It can also lead to the offense not knowing how many are coming at you thru the line. After all you can still send at least 7 rushers. Lol you can send 11 at any time. I don't think that'll happen though too often.hehe

Witch_Doctors writes:

Witch Doctor dizzy reading articles without slant, innuendo or inference. Witch Doctor why not a few sentences how Coach Sal may not have said it BUT really hates Darrick by NOT saying anything about him? Witch Doctor say do your job KNS! (lol)
Bones never lie.

Rich_Is_Re-born writes:

in response to Witch_Doctors:

Witch Doctor dizzy reading articles without slant, innuendo or inference. Witch Doctor why not a few sentences how Coach Sal may not have said it BUT really hates Darrick by NOT saying anything about him? Witch Doctor say do your job KNS! (lol)
Bones never lie.

WD, sorry about the disagreement we had over the DaRick thing. Said some bad things to you on a public thread so I must appologies on one as well.

On the other hand, DaRick to be at practice today. Atleast that's what being reported. Kind of a weird situation to say the least.

Vol_in_Mich writes:

Good article, just a couple of things not mentioned.
1 We lost to Kentucky
2 DaRick is an a-hole/misunderstood
3 Doofus Doleave needs to be fired
Everybody happy now? Seriously, this may be a good move with the right personal. I agree with whoever said they wanted to see an attacking D instead of a reacting D. Now if the offense will do their part, we may be getting somewhere.
Good luck VOLS!
ps: the first part is a joke for those of you who don't get that kind of thing.

Rich_Is_Re-born writes:

in response to Vol_in_Mich:

Good article, just a couple of things not mentioned.
1 We lost to Kentucky
2 DaRick is an a-hole/misunderstood
3 Doofus Doleave needs to be fired
Everybody happy now? Seriously, this may be a good move with the right personal. I agree with whoever said they wanted to see an attacking D instead of a reacting D. Now if the offense will do their part, we may be getting somewhere.
Good luck VOLS!
ps: the first part is a joke for those of you who don't get that kind of thing.

I actually think our personel fits this better than the 4-3. As someone stated above, our LBs are gonna be tough. We have talented guys for depth as well. Some don't have a ton of reps under their belt, but they have skills.

CoverOrange writes:

in response to VolGrad:

SAM= strong outside linebacker
MIKE= strong inside linebacker (also known as the MLB despite being a 3-4 formation, makes the calls)
WILL= weak inside linebacker
JACK= weak outside linebacker

Wikipedia University

Thanks. Seems someone doesn't understand mnemonics. Maybe they should have named it "Won't" instead.

Was surprised Wikipedia didn't come up first in the Google list.

orangepeel writes:

in response to AlexAndersonAAradio:

I hate the 3-4. It gives you one less down lineman and helps the offense control the line. Bad move!

I am not a fan of the 3-4 defense either. I have visions of running backs from Ala, Ga, Aub, and LSU ripping us to shreds. Majors always had undersized nose guards when he ran a 3-4. Jimmy Noonan was great but small for a nose tackle. Hopefully Dooley and Sal know what they are doing.

TexasKnoxVol writes:

in response to AlexAndersonAAradio:

I hate the 3-4. It gives you one less down lineman and helps the offense control the line. Bad move!

Agian, what an ignorant comment
1. 3-4 makes you less predictable.
2. Keeps the "big uglies" from firing off the o-line making first contact.
3. Actually allows the "D" to be aggressive and dictate what they want do do.
4. Puts your athletes in position to make plays.
5. Gues you have forgotten Bamas spanking with their 3-4 defense.

johnlg00 writes:

At least as important as the alignment are the facts that the players seem engaged and the depth is sufficient for the unit to be flexible with personnel and stay fresher longer in the games. I agree with the poster who said he hopes they learn to tackle better and the one who said the offense needs to do its part by sustaining some drives for a change. I also agree that most of the real blow-outs inflicted on the Vols last year were more due to the lack of depth than to lack of talent. It seems there will be more of both next season.

The people who belittle the Vols' recruiting by saying that we are not catching up to our main rivals since their classes are ranked higher somewhat miss an important point. Teams like Alabama and to a lesser extent LSU are ALREADY so stacked they can't find playing time for good players. They just AREN'T going to get MORE stacked to an extent that is going to do them all that much good in a single season. When the Vols get to the point that they have SEC-quality players at least two-deep throughout the roster, as opposed to a relative handful scattered over the whole squad, the talent gap is diminished to the point that the Vols can at least compete on a relatively level playing field through the whole season. I think they will be just about to that point this coming season. Considering where we were the last few years, that IS progress, even if it isn't enough to suit the "win-now-or-else" crowd.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to orangepeel:

I am not a fan of the 3-4 defense either. I have visions of running backs from Ala, Ga, Aub, and LSU ripping us to shreds. Majors always had undersized nose guards when he ran a 3-4. Jimmy Noonan was great but small for a nose tackle. Hopefully Dooley and Sal know what they are doing.

I get that point--Noonan was fierce but relatively small--but Crouch, Hood, and a couple of others AREN'T that small. They are both 300-pounders, and the guy coming in the fall is about 380! Whether or not the Vols can prevent RBs from running all over them has less to do with the alignment than with the ability of the athletes, and--at least as important--the depth to keep them fresh enough to both catch and hold the RBs as the game goes on.

orangeman1 writes:

Its encouraging that there seems to be some depth and also upperclassmen battling for playing time. On defense, there are 5 RS Seniors. Fowlkes,Bohannon, Walls, Lathers, and Waggoner. Hopefuilly Lathers will be able to get healthy and contribute. They said he has a ways to go. The talent and depth is there so I'm excited to see the 3-4, and hope they can pick it up quick.

TexasKnoxVol writes:

3-4 is a little complex, but can be picked up quick if they stay focused. If Lathers can get to 100%, we should be fine.

tennrich1 writes:

in response to AlexAndersonAAradio:

I hate the 3-4. It gives you one less down lineman and helps the offense control the line. Bad move!

Actually your criticism is what makes the 3-4 a GREAT scheme....and you utilize the athletes at linebacker much more efficiently...now can we take advantage of that? We have to wait and see...AND it allows you to be MUCH MORE AGRESSIVE....but you dont have to like it. Its okay, really....

Witch_Doctors writes:

in response to Rich_Is_Re-born:

WD, sorry about the disagreement we had over the DaRick thing. Said some bad things to you on a public thread so I must appologies on one as well.

On the other hand, DaRick to be at practice today. Atleast that's what being reported. Kind of a weird situation to say the least.

Witch Doctor sorry also. Witch Doctor very much in the wrong too and apologize. Witch Doctor say glad we cool! Witch Doctor just hope and believe that in the end "smartz" will win out and DR HOPEFULLY sees what he could/can throw away! (fingers crossed)
Go Vols!
Bones never lie.

VolzsFan writes:

Any major college team and SEC team that made the switch, could not stop anyone the first year. They have not put on pads and when they do they are going against a bottom feeder SEC offense in practice. Personnel is all wrong because 3-4 DEs are really tackles. When you look at Ga and Bama's of the world, their DEs are 290. Without 3 DL you cannot run this. We really do not have A DL. Another long year but I am used to it being a post Hall of Famer Phil UT fan. I hope everyone is enjoying the change.

Razzle writes:

Good article. Wonder if Danny O'Brien will be redshirted.

orangeman1 writes:

in response to VolzsFan:

Any major college team and SEC team that made the switch, could not stop anyone the first year. They have not put on pads and when they do they are going against a bottom feeder SEC offense in practice. Personnel is all wrong because 3-4 DEs are really tackles. When you look at Ga and Bama's of the world, their DEs are 290. Without 3 DL you cannot run this. We really do not have A DL. Another long year but I am used to it being a post Hall of Famer Phil UT fan. I hope everyone is enjoying the change.

Try to be more positive. No one enjoys losing and hearing bad news, but as much as I liked Fulmer, there's no reason to so negative about this team. The offense should be explosive given the talent. New RB coach who was a great UT player and proven coach from SC. A new Oline coach with experience and some players with potential. Regardless if they decide to run a 3-4 or 4-3, UT has some talent. They were ranked 28th in total defense last year and have most of that team coming back with more experience and strength. Give Dooley some slack, and wait till then end of the year. This could be a solid 8/9 win team which is what we had under Phil several years. So, put a little faith in this staff and maybe you'll be surprised.

AllVol1 writes:

No one knows if we can use the 4-3 or the 3-4 effectively till we try it. From what I understand, we have the bodies for a 3-4 and the speed for the four linebackers. Do not forget what a beast a healthy Lathers is! And dropping Brewer down into the box simply makes sense. He is not as strong in coverage, but he is a bruising tackler. And hardly anyone has mentioned McCullers. That is a big boy at 6'6" 380. IF, big IF, he is ready to play nose in the SEC, we WILL dictate the play of other offenses. If, smaller IF, MO Couch is in better condition and stronger than last year, we WILL dictate the play of other offenses. My god it feels good to realize we have true depth AND experience on Defense! This Vol fan is getting very excited. What a great challenge for our running game in practices. Go Vols!

AllVol1 writes:

in response to Razzle:

Good article. Wonder if Danny O'Brien will be redshirted.

O'Brien reportedly has a never-stop engine like Will Overstreet. If that is true, we need him. I want lots of bodies who can play, so I don't have to watch a thin Defense get worn down in the 4th quarter because no one ever got a break earlier in the game...my version of what happened in most games last year.

Razzle writes:

in response to AllVol1:

O'Brien reportedly has a never-stop engine like Will Overstreet. If that is true, we need him. I want lots of bodies who can play, so I don't have to watch a thin Defense get worn down in the 4th quarter because no one ever got a break earlier in the game...my version of what happened in most games last year.

I can't wait to see him play.

VolGrad writes:

in response to johnlg00:

I get that point--Noonan was fierce but relatively small--but Crouch, Hood, and a couple of others AREN'T that small. They are both 300-pounders, and the guy coming in the fall is about 380! Whether or not the Vols can prevent RBs from running all over them has less to do with the alignment than with the ability of the athletes, and--at least as important--the depth to keep them fresh enough to both catch and hold the RBs as the game goes on.

You nailed it again. And the other thing the detractors keep forgetting is that we'll be playing multiple, including some 40 defensive schemes as well. That keeps the offenses thinking and wondering which can slow them down before the ball is even snapped.

Heck, it wouldn't surprise me to see what might look from mere appearance as the 5-2 against some opponent's formations. There are just more possibilities. But it does take time to incorporate those. That is the only real drawback.

Nonetheless, our defensive personnel seem to be extremely excited about these changes. And I believe their aggressive mindsets will ultimately pay big dividends.

Go Vols!!!

sm1 writes:

in response to alwaysBorange:

Does anybody remember how great Jim Noonan was as a Nose Guard? Here's hopin Couch and Co. can bring that kind of excitement back to the middle of the D Line.

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONAN! (The crowd would reply after a big stop.)

lemme_axya_this writes:

in response to sm1:

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONAN! (The crowd would reply after a big stop.)

When did Noonan play here?

VolGrad writes:

Great story on Tyler Bray on Chattanooga Times Free Press. Link here on KNS.

Seems he's up to 217 lbs. At 6'6", he needs another 20 lbs or so.

Go Vols!

Ayres_Hall writes:

3-4 is two Mikes a Will and a Jack. The Jack is a rushing Lb. It is best vs a spread offense. The key to a 3-4 is your nose guard. McCullers, Couch, and Hood are a good crew at NG.

rbut5252#220065 writes:

Jim Noonan....from Dyersburg, TN. Coach Majors called him "The Tasmanian Devil".

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