There has been recent suggestions in the media that Washington should consider switching to a 3-4 defense. UW ran a 3-4 under Jim Lambright, and also ran it in the initial days of Rick Neuheisel. Lambright reasoned that it was easier to recruit stud linebackers than stud defensive linemen. When Neuheisel took over he made it clear that they wanted to switch back to a 4-3 but it would take awhile because they would have to recruit the players to do that.
If you take a good look at next years returning roster, and also who the Huskies are recruiting this season you can tell that Washington still plans to run a 4-3 defense next year. Washington currently does not have a commitment from a single linebacker this recruiting season even though their are candidates among the DB's and RB's on the current team, and in the 2008 recruiting class.
To run a 3-4 type of defense you need 12-16 linebackers in your program and 9-12 defensive linemen. To be effective you need a big run stuffer at nose tackle which Washington currently does not have. You need a Larry Triplett type in the middle to be effective. If you look at Washington's current roster it would be pretty hard to identify a run stopper you can rely on in the middle for next season.
Let's take a look at what we currently have lined up for next season if the alignment remains the same. You have 12 DL, and only seven LB's.
DT O'Connor Sr Wood Rs Noble Fr
DT Elisara So Duncan Rs Ta'Amu Fr
DE Jones Jr Matthews So Kelemente Fr
DE Te'o Nesheim Jr Aldrich Rs Thompson Fr
LB Savannah Jr Stevens Sr
LB Foster So Houston So Dennison Rs
LB Butler Jr Tuiasosopo Sr
Now who would you move to LB from the defensive line? Kalani Aldrich comes to mind since he has had trouble keeping weight on. Everette Thompson is a another guy you could consider. All the rest of those guys including Darion Jones who started off LB are pretty much pre destined to be either DE's or DT's. You could move Yakaboski over from RB, and perhaps move up Nate Williams from the DB, but you lack the thumpers you need in the middle to provide depth.
We have four pretty decent LB's coming back next year in Tui, Savannah, Foster, and Butler. We didn't get to see much of Butler last year because of injury, but when healthy he can be a difference maker. The temptation of course is to play all four at the same time, but if you look closely at the depth chart we just don't have the bodies behind them the to get by if injuries happen. It also retards the growth on the defensive line where we have definitely recruited for the 4-3.
I just don't think we have the personnel to run the 4-3 at this time even though you will see us rushing three from time to time next year which just happened to be a huge complaint that Husky fans had about Baer's defense last season. We would often substitute a nickle back like Williams for a defensive lineman. In the 3-4 you are basically substituting a LB instead of a DB. That extra LB is usually a DE type who is standing rather than getting down in a stance. It really doesn't matter does it? The bottom line is we need a better pass rush, and better coverage out of the DB's no matter which alignment we run out of.
I think we are going to have a pretty good team on offense next year. I'm not worried about the receivers graduating either. The one's we had simply weren't getting the job done, so I look forward to seeing what kids like Shaw, Goodwin, Aguilar, Boyles, and Logan can do in their stead. Louis Ranking had a great year in 2007, but I bet Brandon Johnson goes over 1000 yards in his sophomore season.
The big question for 2008 will be about the interior of the defensive line. UW needs two run stoppers to emerge at the interior positions. It will be a very interesting to see how the young kids develop this Spring since they didn't get much playing time this Fall. I was surprised at that, I expected to see more of Elisara last year, but we did have three senior DT's. Burntridge Dawg keeps mentioning Jovan O'Connor a senior who hasn't seen the field yet in his career getting a shot this Spring. Wood and Duncan spent most of the Fall recovering from injuries so I don't know how last years touted frosh will contribute next season, or if they will gain the conditioning needed to make a push. I think Noble, and Ta'Amu have great shots to play this Fall if the answers are not found this Spring.
We all agree for UW to get to the next level the Defense has to improve on way or another. I just don't think that improvement will come from a change in alignment.