Change is not easy. People, by and large, don’t like change. People want Shakespeare’s to be on the corner of Ninth and Elm, and they want their Missouri defense to have four defensive linemen rushing the passer.
Well, Shakespeare’s has moved (temporarily, at least). And Mizzou might have to use some three-man fronts in 2015 out of necessity. Markus Golden and Shane Ray, who combined for 23 sacks in 2014, have both moved on to the NFL. Matt Hoch and Lucas Vincent added 6.5 sacks of their own last season, and both have since graduated. Harold Brantley, an All-SEC caliber defensive tackle, was lost for the season when he got in a wreck on Highway 63 in Columbia last month.
What’s left along Missouri’s defensive line is a talented, but hugely unproven cast of characters.
Charles Harris is the team’s most experienced returning defensive lineman, and he only played an average of 25 snaps per game in 2014, according to David Morrison of the Columbia Daily Tribune. The only other defensive linemen that have any playing experience are Rickey Hatley, Josh Augusta and AJ Logan; but Logan is more of a technicality than a reality – he’s only participated in nine career snaps.
With so little experience, and so little proven depth, Missouri moves into an uncomfortable position of not knowing what it has along its defensive line heading into the 2015 season.
Insert new Missouri defensive coordinator Barry Odom.
Odom played the 3-4 defense in his time as the defensive coordinator at Memphis, and did so with huge success. Memphis went from 80th to 44th to 11th in scoring defense under Odom’s leadership. His track record is rock-solid. Odom is considered one of the best young defensive minds in the country. Could this be a situation where the right man landed in the right job at the right time? Let’s explore that for a moment.
Missouri’s strength defensively, depending on who you ask, is either its cornerbacks or its linebackers. Both units are incredibly deep with young, talented players. The biggest issue for Missouri defensively, as we have explained in this article, is the defensive line. Add all of that up, and you have a team that could make the transition to the 3-4.
If Missouri chose to go that route – and I expect the Tigers to at least utilize some wrinkles of the 3-4 – what would it look like? People seem to have a misconception on exactly what playing a 3-4 means.
The 3-4 defense requires a few things.
1) A Nose Tackle – This would likely be Josh Augusta and AJ Logan’s job in Missouri’s 3-4. Whoever plays the nose will be asked to take on multiple blockers, and keep those offensive linemen away from the inside linebackers in order for those linebackers to make plays on the ball carrier.
2) Defensive Ends – These defensive ends would not be what Missouri is used to. They don’t look like Shane Ray or Markus Golden or Michael Sam. Instead, they look a lot like Harold Brantley. The typical 3-4 defensive end is at least 6-foot-3-inches tall and weighs north of 280 pounds. Missouri has a few players that could fit that criteria, including Rickey Hatley and a pair of freshmen in Terry Beckner, Jr. and Tyrell Jacobs.
3) Outside Linebackers – Every 3-4 defense is different, just like every 4-3 defense is different. Some coaches like to have two pass rushing outside linebackers. The Kansas City Chiefs are an example of this – they have Tamba Hali and Justin Houston at outside linebackers. Other coaches may prefer to use one outside linebacker as a pass rusher, and the other as a traditional outside linebacker. I haven’t been able to dive into Memphis’ film from Odom’s time there, so I’m not sure which category he fits in. But with Missouri’s depth at linebacker and (lack of) experienced pass rushers, my guess is that Odom would go with Donavin Newsom and Clarence Green at one outside linebacker spot with Charles Harris starting on the other edge.
4) Inside Linebackers – There are two inside linebackers in a 3-4; a Mike and a Will. The mike linebacker is typically the more physical, thumping linebacker. The wil is the more athletic linebacker that constantly flows to the ball. For Missouri, these roles would likely be filled by Michael Scherer (Mike) & Kentrell Brothers (Will).
With all of that in mind, here’s how I think Mizzou’s 3-4 defense would look if they took the field today:
|LDE||Rickey Hatley||Josh Moore|
|NT||Josh Augusta||AJ Logan|
|RDE||Terry Beckner||Tyrell Jacobs|
|LOLB||Charles Harris||Marcell Frazier||Walter Brady|
|WILL||Kentrell Brothers||Brandon Lee||Roderick Winters|
|MIKE||Michael Scherer||Joey Burkett||Eric Beisel|
|ROLB||Donavin Newsom||Clarence Green||Grant Jones|
|CB||Kenya Dennis||John Gibson||Finis Stribling IV|
|SS||Anthony Sherrils||Cortland Browning||Tavon Ross|
|FS||Ian Simon||Thomas Wilson|
|CB||Aarion Penton||Logan Cheadle|