A 3-4 Reading List
Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

A 3-4 Reading List

January 14, 2017

With the expected hire of Bob Diaco as Nebraska’s next defensive coordinator comes an expected switch to a 3-4 defense.

There is a lot to dig into with that change from the type of personnel it requires, how it differs from the 4-3 Nebraska ran under Mark Banker and some of the principles behind the 3-4. Since nothing beats learning, here are some pieces to bookmark and read if you really want to go deep on Diaco and the 3-4.

Diaco’s No Crease Defense

This story from Notre Dame’s SB Nation site, One Foot Down, started making the rounds almost immediately among Husker fans once Diaco’s name emerged. It’s still probably the best primer on his defense.

Diaco’s base defense is a 3-4 front with a Nose Guard, two Defensive Ends two Outside Linebackers and two Inside Linebackers. The term “no-crease” is in reference to the fact that all of those front 7 players are close to the line of scrimmage and aligned in a manner that eliminates vertical and horizontal creases between the individual players.

Diaco picked up much of his defensive philosophy when he spent three seasons (2006-2008) as the Linebackers Coach under Al Groh at the University of Virginia. Groh is part of the Bill Parcells to Bill Bilichick coaching tree that has produced several top flight coaches such as Nick Saban.

Now onto some other pieces on the 3-4.

3-4 Basics

When Al Groh took over as defensive coordinator at Georgia Tech in 2010, Yellow Jackets’ site From the Rumble Seat did an extensive breakdown on the 3-4. Here’s a piece on the basics, defensive-line play and linebacker play. The best piece from that suite, however, might be this interview with Michael Felder, a writer and former safety at North Carolina.

Here’s a snippet from Felder:

However, the defense is, both in practice and design, more aggressive than the standard 4-3 scheme. Both fronts rush four defenders and can use five or six rushers when a blitz is dialed up. With the 4-3 those four rushers are the down linemen, every play besides the zone blitz. In the 3-4 that fourth rusher is typically the Jack linebacker BUT any of the eight “non-DL” defenders can be used as the fourth rusher without sacrificing a seven man coverage scheme.

Essentially what you’re getting is a relatively safe, seven-man coverage scheme each play with the panic inducing confusion that comes with bringing pressure from all over the field. Offenses have five to block four, just like in a 4-3, but they don’t know who the fourth rusher is going to be on a given play.

If you want more, this breakdown of “How a 3-4 Defense Works” from Red Cup Rebellion is also worth a read.


Washington blog UW Dawg Pound provided this look at the unique personnel required to run the 3-4 back in 2013.

If you’re looking for something a little more detailed, this lecture on 3-4 linebackers that Groh gave at the AFCA convention is quite good.

The 3-4’s Origins

Nebraska ran a 5-2 defense longer than a lot of teams, and the 5-2 is often viewed as the predecessor to the 3-4. Here’s a good read on how a pair of Oklahoma coaches helped football arrive at the 5-2 and then the 3-4. This post highlights a couple of key differences between the two.

And, if you’re simply feeling nostalgic, here’s an old Nebraska 5-2 playbook.

That should be enough to make for a light weekend of reading. And, yes, you do have to read it. There will be a test on Monday.

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