Nittany Notes: 3-4 Work

The morning after the Orange Bowl, Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley immediately turned his focus to 2006, saying, "We're gonna move some people around. We have a lot of athletes in different places. … One of the depths we have is at linebacker, maybe we'll get in a 3-4, we'll move around a little bit more depending on where our strength is on defense."

Talk of a 3-4 look being worked into the Penn State football scheme has been buzzing all off-season. Though the 3-4 was a situational scheme for the defense in 2005, speculation of it playing a larger role in 2006 has fans wondering.

In fact, earlier this week the FOS TAP board was discussing the personnel requirements needed for the PSU defense to run a 4-3/3-4 shift at the line of scrimmage. It's one thing to shift between the 4-3 and 3-4 between snaps, but to run a shift on the line typically requires a defensive end/linebacker hybrid who can manage either role — in both pass-rush or pass-coverage situations.

Though the Nittany Lions had only two preseason practice sessions under their belt as of this writing, there have been some interesting developments regarding the 3-4. Keep in mind that it is early in the preseason, but middle linebackers Tim Shaw and Jerome Hayes each have participated in drills as defensive ends.

As one observer explained, "It's early, but the coaches realize they have a truckload of talent at linebacker so they are experimenting with getting more of it on the field."

If the staff in fact moves to incorporate this aspect into its defensive game plan, it could allow for Shaw or Hayes to play the upright end position where they could apply pressure to the pocket or drop back into coverage.

In this look, OLB Paul Posluszny could shift to the middle with Dan Connor and Sean Lee playing outside linebacker. If Shaw drops back, he would join Posluszny as the second inside 'backer in the 3-4 scheme. Whereas if he steps up, he would be playing the role of rush end in a 4-3.

Having a verstaile athlete like Shaw — who has manned all three linebacker positions in his career, is 235 pounds and ran a 4.42 second 40-yard dash in the spring — makes testing this flexible scheme possible. Note that last season, Shaw had 4.5 sacks, tops on the team among linebackers and the second most among returning players (DT Jay Alford had 8.5 QB drops in 2005).

Again, before anyone looks at this as a given addition to the defensive playbook, the team was only two practices in when we learned of it and both Shaw and Hayes were only running fundamental drills with the defensive ends. So, at best, this is an experiment, but an interesting one at that.

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