One of the most difficult things for the common sports fan to get a handle on is all of the vernacular and jargon that is being used these days.
Take football, for instance. You’ve got the A and B gaps, an assortment of different blitzes called different things, nickel and dime defensive personnel, cover 1, cover 2, cover 3, cover 0; quarters, man, zone, so on and so forth.
Well, have you ever heard of a defensive lineman being referred to as a 3-Technique or a 5-Technique and wondered what that meant?
It means quite a bit actually, and those 3s and 5s are a pretty good indicator of the type of defense that a team is running. A 3-Technique lineman is generally for teams that are using a 4-3 defense while a 5-Technique is typically more suited for three-man fronts.
For years and years, defensive linemen would line up the same way - directly across from their blocker. Then at some point defensive coaches began to get clever and started having their linemen angle and shade in an attempt to try and confuse blockers to make it easier for them to get penetration into the backfield.
Soon, a numbering system was devised to reflect the positioning of the linemen before the ball was snapped. A 0-Technique is lined up directly in front of the center and is required to hold the point of attack with the responsibility of covering both A-gaps. Think former Pittsburgh Steeler Casey Hampton or New England Patriot Vince Wilfork.
A 3-Technique will line up on the outside shoulder of the guard and must rely on his speed, agility and athletic ability to make plays. This is probably the most popular defensive line technique used in the game today. Think Warren Sapp, Ndamukong Suh, John Randle and some of those great playmaking D-tackles that have come along through the years.
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I heard a story once about Penn State football that isn’t about Tom Bradley per se, but it gives you a pretty good idea of the type of program Bradley was involved with when he was still cutting his teeth in the coaching profession.
Spring football is about the players! Yes, it’s for the coaches as well with their instruction, installment and evaluation, but what it really all comes back to is the core of the team.
A 5-Technique will line up over the tackle and has dual-gap responsibility. The 5 must be able to fight off blockers to make tackles, or occupy blockers so the guys behind them can make the plays. A 5-Technique must have the brute strength needed to hold his ground and keep his blockers at bay – someone typically in the 6-foot-4 or 6-foot-5 range and weighing around 300 pounds. He must also be unselfish. Think Oakland’s Tommy Kelly or former Texas defensive tackle Shaun Rogers.
For many years, West Virginia’s defensive front was made up of 5-Techniques on the outside with a 0-Technique in the middle.
Those 0-Techniques like Ben Lynch, Ernest Hunter, Keilen Dykes and Chris Neild had to be tough guys - real men, capable of holding their ground while often taking on the center and a guard at the same time.
The 5s like Scooter Berry, Julian Miller and Craig Wilson also had to be stout at the point of attack and be able to handle the gaps on both sides in order to help control the running game.
But the last couple of years the West Virginia defense was transitioning to more of those 3-Technique guys up front – the agile, athletic players who are capable of shooting the gaps and making plays on their own.
Now, with Tony Gibson taking control of the West Virginia defense, the 5s are back in and that suits junior defensive tackle Kyle Rose
“We have a couple of techniques, especially taking on a double team, which is different than what we were doing last year and I like that,” said Rose. “I prefer that because that’s what I learned coming in; it kind of builds into my strengths as a player. You don’t have to be as quick or fast-twitched. You can play blocks.”
The reason West Virginia went to a three-man front more than a decade ago is because those 3-Technique defensive linemen are highly coveted and are extremely difficult to get. Usually, when Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and the like are done getting their guys that leaves very few of those 3-Technique players left for the others.
Consequently, a lot of programs like West Virginia chose to develop their defensive linemen to fit their system – perhaps even taking a high school fullback like a Scooter Berry or a tight end like a Chris Neild and turning them into 0-Techniques and 5-Techniques. For West Virginia, this approach worked beautifully through the years.
That was the path Kyle Rose
was headed down when he was recruited out of Centerville (Ohio) High a few years ago. Rose weighed about 235 pounds when he came to Morgantown with the goal of developing in the weight room while improving his skills over time on the football field.
Then, when a different defensive philosophy was adopted, that plan was altered.
“My path has definitely changed,” Rose noted. “I’ve gained more weight and I’m bigger than I thought I would be. I came in as a 3-3-5 end, maybe more of a rush end because I was smaller, but now I can be more of a down guy on first, second down and maybe not a pass rusher, so that aspect has changed.”
What has also changed is the unselfish nature that is once again being required of West Virginia’s front three. It’s back to the way it used to be when Rose first came into the program.
“It’s team over everything, so in this defense you are not going to maybe make as many plays as you would in the 3-Technique like we were last year,” Rose said. “In a 5 you are going to be holding your block off and then the linebackers are scraping in and out. That is the key to having a good defense and you need that.
“You need unselfish guys, and I think we have no problem with that. Our guys know the role they have and are definitely going to do a good job of filling that role.”
Tom Bradley, who now coaches the West Virginia defensive linemen, puts it in terms we can all understand, “I tease them, ‘You guys are going to be the muckers and the grinders in this defense. You’ve got to make the linebackers look good and make everybody else look good.’”
Which likely means fewer tackles, fewer TFLs and fewer sacks now for the three guys playing up front. The question then becomes: Are those guys ready for that?
Rose says they are.
“As long as we don’t go 4-8 again I don’t care what we run,” he said. “If we have one defensive lineman and drop 10, if that’s what it takes to get the job done, then, yeah, let’s do that.”
“Any time you don’t have success it wears on you. You work so hard at something and you want to be good at it and when you work hard and you’re not successful at it you kind of question it. If we would have gone 8-4, which we very well could have, or 9-3 and played in whatever bowl - we were that close - but losses make people look in the mirror and say what do we need to do to get better? Do we need to switch this defense around? Do we need to get better guys in? Do we need different coaches? That’s just the truth of the matter.”
As for Rose’s new defensive line coach – Kyle's third since he has been in the program – Bradley says the guys so far are buying into what he’s teaching.
“I think it’s easier to sell fundamentals and it’s easier to sell all of the little things that you’re trying to sell because they want to be coached,” said Bradley. “They want to learn. No one wants to go 4-8. They’re here to be coached and they want to be coached. They’ve been really accepting to the things that we’re trying to get across to them.”
From the casual to the rabid fan, whether or not the Mountaineer defense is full of 3-Technique or 5-Technique guys is inconsequential.
What fans really care about is watching winning football, no matter what defensive front the West Virginia coaching staff chooses to use.
That is something we can all understand.