The 3-4 defense has made it’s way throughout the NFL. Just like teams jumped on the Run & Shoot offense in the early 90′s, the 3-4 has become commonplace for many defenses in the game today. The Bears and Lovie Smith were both extremely stuck in the traditional 4-3, with a Tampa twist. But now, with Smith gone, there is a possibility of a new coach bringing in a new staff which would prefer a 3-4 defense. While most fans are up in arms about tradition and not fixing something when it isn’t broken, the 3-4 has proven to be successful with many other teams, and a change could do wonders for the Bears. With some coordinators, like Bruce Arians, beings considered for the Bear’s vacancy having had success elsewhere with the 3-4, how could the Bears run it with their current personnel?
For the 3-4 to work, the defensive line does not need to get much pressure on the Quarterback on a majority of the plays. The Bears have relied on their 4 down linemen to get pressure for the entirety of Lovie’s tenure, which has worked at times. With the 3-4, the defensive tackle’s main job is to take up room and push the lineman blocking him back. While Henry Melton, a free-agent-to-be, is a Pro Bowler at the DT spot, Stephen Paea seems like a wonderful fit for a 3-4. As we mostly all know, he set the record on the bench press at the combine which would make it hard for any Center to keep him from penetrating right through him. This fits exactly what the DT must do. At the Defensive End, there may be problems with playing time. Since guys like Peppers, Idonije, and Wootton could all play 4-3 DT, there was enough space for everyone. Now, with a different idea for what the DT must do, Idonije is definitely out of the mix, and since 3-4 DT’s usually get a lower number of sacks, you don’t want Peppers pass-rushing ability wasted. Since this is the case, we may have to tell one of the players that they won’t be playing as much as they’d like, or release one of them.
At the linebacker position, it gets even more fuzzy. As I look at Lance Briggs, I see a middle linebacker who can’t play the position because of a superstar. It’s the ARod-Jeter Syndrome, a great Shortstop, Rodriguez, forced to play 3rd Base because of one of the best in the game, Jeter. While Briggs is still a Pro Bowl caliber OLB, I think that he would flourish as a 3-4 MLB. The only problem is, who do you put next to him? Urlacher looks like he has played his last game with the Bears, and I don’t believe he would fit in well with the 3-4 anyways. I’ve personally seen him get slower and slower over the last few years due to fatigue and injury. But I do believe that Nick Roach could handle the MLB spot on a 3-4. He played the position in the current 4-3 admirably throughout Urlacher’s injury this season. Some were afraid he would be a liabilty, yet he played well enough to not get booed out of town, a real accomplishment. At the OLB slot, we got Shea McClellin in the draft last year and he fits in with everything you need from a 3-4 OLB. He’s smaller, agile, can beat tackles to the outside, and can make tackles on tosses and outside hand-offs to his side. In fact, he was considered a 3-4 OLB in last year’s draft. All we would need is one guy through free agency or the draft to occupy the other side. Or we could try to move Peppers to that spot. It’s worked with Elvis Dumervil, Mario Williams, and both OLB’s in Indianapolis, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. The only problem with this idea is that it might be hard for Peppers, at 32, to learn new skills like zone coverage and man coverage. In the draft, Barkevious Mingo from LSU should be available at pick 20 and even if a team reaches for him before us, players like Alex Okafor from Texas and Dion Jordan from Oregon will be there. That’s only as a last resort though, as the consensus around Chicago is that the team should grab an Offensive Lineman or Tight End in round 1.
The change from 4-3 to 3-4 wouldn’t affect the secondary almost at all, so they can stay the same. So to see what the line-up would look like in a 3-4 using only players on the team now, we would have:
LE: Corey Wootton NT: Stephen Paea RE: Israel Idonije
LOLB: Shea McClellin LILB: Nick Roach RILB: Lance Briggs ROLB: Julius Peppers
CB1: Charles Tillman CB2: Tim Jennings FS: Chris Conte SS: Major Wright
The big question mark would be Peppers at ROLB. He can do it as he is a physical freak, but I think there’re better options, namely Mingo, Okafor, Shaun Phillips from the San Diego Chargers, and Connor Barwin from the Houston Texans. The change can be made, but the execution is what really matters.