In a recent Omaha World Herald story http://www.omaha.com/article/20110730/BIGRED/707309858, Nebraska defensive tackle Jared Crick talked about how he would welcome more opportunities to play defensive end, as he did at various times in Nebraska’s 31-17 win over Missouri last season. Even though the Huskers were a team that predominantly played with four down linemen they occasionally played a 3-4 defense in 2011 and will likely keep that alignment as part of the equation in 2011.
That alignment would be good for Crick (6-6, 285) and fellow 4-3 defensive tackle Baker Steinkuhler (6-6, 290) because their body frame is closer to being a 3-4 end than 4-3 tackle. Keep in mind, the fourth linebacker in the 3-4 is often a bigger guy, sometimes an undersized defensive end and Nebraska have some players at that position with speed who could play in that role such as Eric Martin and Cameron Meredith (both slated for duty as 4-3 ends). Martin would be an obvious option, especially if his main role was rushing.
Still leaves a question of who plays nose tackle, which is a is a key position if you’re running a 3-4 because you want a very large, very strong guy who pretty much cannot be moved with one player. Usually that guy can carry an enormous amount of weight and still move effectively. I have no idea who that player is on Nebraska’s roster. Maybe senior Terrance Moore (6-3, 290)? However, it would be better to have someone in the 310 and above range. Freshman Todd Peat Jr. (6-3, 305) could be that guy but not now.
Linebacker wouldn’t be a problem in a 3-4. Martin and Sean Fisher on the outside and LaVonte David and Will Compton inside. David (6-1, 225) shined at 4-3 outside linebacker last year and is a Butkus Award candidate this year.
However, I think the 3-4 alignment is more likely to happen in third-and-long situations that are obvious passing downs the Huskers still have good run support in a 3-4 but can also put six into coverage without a big mismatch, thus blitzing one or two linebackers either side or both.
Against teams that have the ability to run a lot of power sets like Wisconsin, a 4-3 is the way to go because without the mammoth nose tackle, it’s really hard to run a 3-4 that can stop an inside running game.
Against a team that runs more spread, like Northwestern, or a Michigan State that runs a lot of multiple receiver sets, why not have the 3-4 package? Yes, there is more power running in the Big Ten, but it’s not like that's all they do.
I like the zone blitz option, too. At the snap, Meredith or Martin can pull back to a linebacker and then you can even rush someone like David, and you still have four rushing and three lineackers but it can really mess up the offense if they don’t know where the rush is coming from. However, if they happen to have a rush going right at the spot a DE is vacating, that could be bad.
Either way, whether it’s a 3-4 or 4-3, it still adds up to seven.