February 1, 2007

The whole nine yards

3-4 in the future

Charlie Weis hasn't stated definitively that Notre Dame will be shifting from a 4-3 defensive front to a 3-4. New defensive coordinator Corwin Brown said the Irish would use both alignments.

Speculating that the 3-4 will be Notre Dame's base defensive front is a fairly safe assumption, however, considering that is Brown's background as well as the one Charlie Weis grew accustomed to while winning three Super Bowl titles with the New England Patriots.

The Irish also lost a defensive end recruit, Justin Trattou, presumably because of his trepidation about the 3-4 scheme. A source told Irish Illustrated late last week that the Irish staff had a tape set up for Trattou to see so as to assuage his concerns. But Trattou committed to Florida, never did make the trip to South Bend, and thus, never did see the tape.

Last fall, when Weis decided to move Maurice Crum from Sam (outside) linebacker to Mike (middle) linebacker, and then shifted Travis Thomas from halfback to Will (weakside) linebacker (before eventually moving to Sam), he said it was a move the Irish could safely make because of the 4-3 alignment.

In the 4-3, Weis said, you could get away with undersized inside linebackers like Crum and Thomas. In the 3-4, however, your two inside linebackers had to have size to compensate for the offensive guards that tend to roam a bit more freely against a three-man front.

Using Weis' own words as a starting-point guideline, and also recognizing other body types and responsibilities within the 3-4 alignment, allow me to "think out loud" about Notre Dame's personnel and how it will be positioned.

The following players were listed as defensive linemen for the Irish in 2006 and/or are expected to return/arrive for the fall of 2007:

Seniors-Trevor Laws, Justin Brown and Dwight Stephenson, Jr.

Juniors-Derrell Hand and Pat Kuntz

Sophomores-John Ryan, Morrice Richardson, Paddy Mullen and Kallen Wade

Freshmen-Kerry Neal, Ian Williams and Andrew Nuss.

The following players were listed as linebackers for the Irish in 2006 and/or are expected to return/arrive for the fall of 2007:

Seniors-Maurice Crum Jr., Travis Thomas, Joe Brockington and Anthony Vernaglia

Juniors-Steve Quinn, Scott Smith and Kevin Washington

Sophomores-Toryan Smith

Freshmen-Brian Smith, Steve Paskorz and Aaron Nagel.

That's 23 candidates for seven positions along the front seven, 22 if Thomas moves back to running back. Is someone like Tom Zbikowski a realistic candidate to play outside linebacker? There's been lot of speculation on the message boards, but no public indication from Weis or the coaching staff. In fact, Weis resoundingly shot down the notion of Zbikowski as anything but a safety last fall (although that was before the shift to the 3-4).

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