Last week, I tried to assemble some thoughts on what we saw out of OU’s deployment of a 3-4 defensive scheme for the last four seasons.
According to the Stoops brothers, they’re flipping the script this fall: The even front will be OU’s base D, while the odd-man look will be used as an occasional changeup.
Speculation has rightfully centered on the theory that the move is being made to help defensive line coach Calvin Thibodeaux and the rest of the staff land a higher caliber of hoss for OU’s front. The company line about needing to manufacture more pressure on opposing offenses isn’t bullshit, though. As I pointed out, the Sooners’ ability to make stops in the backfield trailed off significantly in 2016. You can blame that on the personnel or how Mike Stoops tailored the scheme, but tweaks seem warranted.
And, yes, what I’m expecting would qualify as "tweaks" more so than wholesale changes.
I suspect OU’s base alignment this fall will look something like the diagram above. The three defensive linemen line up in an under front, with a 3-tech defensive tackle to the weak side of the offensive formation. A 1-tech DT and an end in a 5 technique on the offensive tackle’s shoulder will set up to the strong side of the formation.
As for the linebackers, the JACK will slide down into a 5 technique on the weak side, while the SAM will line up in a 7 technique to the strong side of the formation.
In the secondary, Mike has rolled with single-high coverages for so long that I expect he’ll stick with it. The strong safety will move towards the line of scrimmage to help with covering inside receivers and to provide run support, while the free safety will more often have responsibility for deep middle.
My guess for the base personnel would be something like:
3-tech - Neville Gallimore
1-tech - Matt Romar
SDE - D.J. Ward
JACK - Ogbonnia Okoronkwo
SAM - Caleb Kelly
ILB - Emmanuel Beal
ILB - Jon-Michael Terry
CB - Jordan Parker
CB - Jordan Thomas
FS - Will Sunderland
SS - Steven Parker
*Whereas the Sooners used a two-gap scheme with their base 3-4 Okie D, the 3-4 under alignment adheres to the defining one-gap scheme of a four-man front.
Rather than attacking the blocker in front of them, the DL shoot gaps in a one-gap scheme. That leaves the linebackers responsible for gaps of their own, rather than rallying to the ball.
*I don’t subscribe to the idea that an even or odd front is inherently more aggressive – that’s a matter of implementation by a coordinator. However, if you didn’t like seeing a three-man mush rush the last couple of seasons, this alignment should at least commit OU to bringing a minimum of four rushers.
*Naturally, OU won’t see many teams, if any, come out in 21 personnel with a quarterback under center. It shouldn’t be too hard to see how things shift against spread formations, though. For example, the SAM would likely loosen up and play the curl/flat with two receivers split out to his side of the field:
*Speaking of the SAM, I actually think Caleb Kelly should thrive in this scheme. It allows him to run, play contain and chase on the backside when the run goes away from him. Meanwhile, against the run, he won’t have to take on as many linemen, which didn’t go all that well for him in his freshman year.
Importantly, Kelly moves well in space and has shown the ability to cover tight ends and play the curl to flat. As Mike has indicated, I would expect to see him on the field in all scenarios.
*What if OU goes nickel? At this point, I’m thinking (hoping?) the Sooners swap in a DB for an inside linebacker.