Oregon’s Disguised 3-4 Defense – The Hidden Bear

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck Analysis

In press conferences, Defensive Coordinator Don Pellum referred to “doing something different” in the Alamo Bowl, while high school coaches that have attended spring and fall Duck football practices whisper about “Oregon’s New Defense.” Hype and puff — or is there some fire under the smoke? This is the last summer analysis before the season starts and you know I have to drop a bombshell of some type for our current amusement, and as something critical to watch in the upcoming season. If Oregon can truly pull this off — it could be a game-changer for the future of the Oregon defense and the personnel who play it. It is not dependent upon finesse or fluff, but a complete combination of player skills, Xs and Os, and superb coaching; in other words it is hard to execute, but, oh, the rewards! Let’s see what our beloved Ducks are up to …

For the first time in more than three years of doing analyses for this site — I have to break down and refer to “techniques,” which is where defensive linemen line up and “gaps,” which are the spaces between offensive players on the line-of-scrimmage. Now hey! I lost a bunch of readers right there … but you can tough it out for 15 seconds or you can ignore the chart below and come back to it later. My friends … we are beginning our fourth year of learning together and it is time to have “the talk” about these fundamental terms, as an understanding of them gives you the next step up of learning that you and the thousands of “Next Level” readers who come to this site want. I promise that if you take the 15 seconds to understand the terms below — you will be glad you did as you will discover the “Hidden Bear” that few other Oregon fans will know.

Defensive techniques and alignments have their own numbering system.

Let’s use the chart above as a reference point to look at Oregon’s 3-4 defense and the responsibilities the defenders have. “Techniques” are simply the spots where the defensive line up. Does it matter? Yes … whether you line up over the inside shoulder or the outside makes a huge difference for what you are trying to do on defense and the block they are trying to carry out on offense. The “techniques” count the same on both sides. It’s easy peasy! So when we refer to a “3” technique … that is lining up on the outside shoulder of the offensive guard.

Now you could just describe it that way … but coaches have condensed conversation so that everyone knows among them what precise spot the defensive lineman is lined up in and the techniques he will use and responsibilities he will have in reacting to the various offensive blocking schemes from that alignment. When you state the technique number — it’s easy to grasp and everyone knows the same system.

“Gaps” are the spaces on offense (above) between the linemen, as the “A” gap is on both sides of the center and move out from there. Although rarely referred to — the “D” gap outside the Tight End does exist. Now, c’mon … admit it. That was pretty simple!

Now let’s use this knowledge to learn about our beloved Duck defenders and uncover something that nobody in the media has disclosed up until now.

Oregon's Classic 3-4 Defense

Oregon’s Classic 3-4 Defense

Above we see a classic line-up of the 3-4 defense that Oregon runs. We see the yellow and green arrows pointing to the defensive ends in our defense, with the black arrow on the tackle, or nose tackle in the 3-4. Outside of the defensive ends are the outside linebackers who have come up to the line of scrimmage and you can see one of them — “BoLo” – No. 25 on our right side. Look where the defensive ends are placing themselves as they are in a “5” technique and responsible for the “C” gap outside the offensive tackle. The two inside linebackers are responsible for the “B” gaps between the offensive guard and tackles and the nose tackle is a big guy who is responsible for both “A” gaps. Pretty easy, and now you know the basics of the 3-4 defense.

The Stanford Bear Defense

The Stanford Bear Defense

What is a “Bear” defense? It is when the defensive ends (red arrows, above) are lined up in a “3” technique, or on the outside shoulder of the offensive guard and these defensive ends take the “B” gap, while the two inside linebackers are responsible for the “C” gaps. We know all about those great Stanford defenses with superb defensive ends, huge nose tackles, and really athletic linebackers on the inside and outside? They really slowed us down because they exploded inside and controlled between the tackles beautifully. We simply could not run the Inside Zone Read very well, as this defense is designed to take away the inside running game.

At FishDuck.com, we have examined how Stanford has pinched the defensive ends inside to stuff our running game as they too played their version of the “Bear” defense. So many teams have done this to slow Oregon, yet the weakness of the “Bear” defense is the very commitment to stop the inside running attack, which makes them vulnerable to outside running plays. Everybody moaned at how we could not run the Inside Zone on Virginia last year as they too took away the inside running game, but Oregon took what the defense gave them and gashed them for more than 50 points running outside. No defensive alignment is ideal, but Oregon has come up with a very interesting variation that is close!


The "Hidden Bear" defense!

The “Hidden Bear” defense!

Look how Oregon lines up above! Our line-up appears to be in a 3-4 defense, but there is a variation by our defensive ends (yellow arrows, above)that changes everything. They are lined up in a “4” technique as Taylor Hart (lower yellow arrow) and DeForest Buckner (upper yellow arrow) are going to take the inside or “B” gap on each side. The inside linebackers will take the “C” gap, while Oregon’s outside linebackers have edge/contain/force responsibilities on the perimeter. (The nose tackle has the zero technique and the “A” gaps on both sides as usual)

The Duck defensive ends check their gaps!

The Duck defensive ends check their gaps!

We see incredible power above by both Oregon defensive ends as Hart (yellow arrow) and Buckner (green arrow) have exploded to the inside and stood up the offensive guard trying to block them. Note how they position their heads to check their inside gap first.

They have "crossed the face."

They have “crossed the face.”

The Bear trap to the inside is closing as both Duck defensive ends have turned the offensive linemen away from their base and thus now have no leverage.  Hart and Buckner “cross the face” of the offensive linemen — as the Grizzled Ol’ Coach Mike Morris explained before — and target the tackle on the Texas running back. There is open space inside because the nose tackle Wade Keliikipi beat the center and drove him away.

A Bear front can hurt

A Bear front can hurt.

Good gosh … is that perfect tactics, technique and execution above?  Coach Morris explained to me how Texas was not ready for this defense and it is ideal for stopping the Longhorn’s powerful inside running game if the defenders complete their assignments correctly.

This is how the "Bear" defense works to stop the inside running game.

This is how the “Bear” defense works to stop the inside running game.

The Bear works well for stopping the Inside Zone and Power plays, but what about the outside running attack?

The bunched formation to the top? It shouts trouble...

The bunched formation to the top? It shouts trouble …

The bunched formation to the top by the Longhorns could create havoc to the outside for the Ducks. Can the Oregon “Bear” defense or the “disguised 3-4” slow it down? Hart (green arrow, above) has a tough assignment.

Hart is checking his inside gap

Hart is checking his inside gap.

The play begins (above) and sure enough it is an outside play with tons of Texas blockers! Yet look at Hart (yellow arrow) and note how he is standing up his blocker and checking his inside gap, the “B” gap that he is responsible for. (Look at his head — perfect placement.)

"Crossing the Face"

“Crossing the Face”

Hart has driven his man back (above) and sees that the play is not coming to his gap, thus he begins to “cross the face” of the offensive lineman.

Perfect technique

Perfect technique.

The weakness of the “Bear” defense is protecting the outside and Hart has demonstrated how the coaches have planned for that defense. The defensive ends start in a “4” technique and have the primary task of defending the “B” gap inside, yet they must use great technique to keep the offensive lineman off them, and when it is apparent the play is to the outside? They must flow or “spill” to the outside to help the contain defenders. What an amazing combination of tactics, strength and technique planned in advance and executed to it’s fullest potential. Watch for this over the 2014 season!

This is how you coach a Bear defense to work outside

This is how you coach a Bear defense to work outside.

The picture above is a defensive gem, and the Grizzled Ol’ Coach and I were soaking it up when he remarked, “I don’t think I’ve seen an Oregon linebacker blocked yet this game! Texas had difficulty with our “Bear” and thus had to double-team often on the Duck defensive linemen, thus Oregon linebackers often had unobstructed paths to making tackles. A player rarely mentioned, but crucial to this effort in the “Bear” defense, is the nose tackle, Keliikipi in this sequence.

Watch Wade Keliikipi blow this play up!

Watch Wade Keliikipi blow this play up!

Again … to the typical observer, Oregon is in a 3-4 defense with the outside linebackers poised on the edges of our defense on the line-of-scrimmage (No. 25 is an example). This is the “disguised 3-4” defense that Oregon is running. It is actually a “Bear” defense disguised as a typical 3-4! Keep an eye on the nose tackle, Keliikipi, above clear the way for an easy path for a linebacker tackle.


What an explosion!

What an explosion!

The explosion by Wade into the Texas center and guard literally drives them both backward! Coach Jimmy Rad and his emphasis upon quick-blast exercises and conditioning is really paying off in the second half of the Alamo Bowl. Due to the crush of players being moved by Oregon’s No. 92 — inside linebacker Derrick Malone has a straight path to the ball carrier.

Malone says, "the lane is open baby!"

Malone says, “The lane is open, baby!”

It would seem that Wade has the upper hand on two Longhorn linemen, (yellow arrow, above) but the real action is about to take place as Malone has used his speed to get past the lineman assigned to block him, and he is preparing for a clash with the running back.

Our Nose Tackle makes it work for our linebackers!

Our Nose Tackle makes it work for our linebackers!

This “Disguised 3-4” and the “Hidden Bear” is something to tell everyone to watch for this season. You will not have learned of it from any other media source up to now, but since they watch us every day — I imagine you’ll see the other media sources in Oregon copy this soon. I am incredibly proud to bring it to you … but I am just the reporter in this case, the ghostwriter, as it was all the “Grizzled Ol’ Coach” Mike Morris who pointed it out and even gave me the title in two separate phone calls besides our Skull Sessions in the “ManCave.”

But you all know me; you know that I am just a fan like you who wants to learn, only I am blessed to have a staff of coaches who want to help the fans of Oregon learn more and enjoy the games on a whole new level. I am very, very lucky to have Mike locally and the coaches across the nation who wish to help us all.

I got a call from the Coach over the weekend and he told me that Philadelphia was running the “Hidden Bear” defense in their preseason game! This shouts a connection from Coach Jerry Azzinaro to coaches Ron Aiken, Don Pellum, and Eric Chinander — and we heard as much from the news reports this week! I love the synergy between the Eagles and Oregon on both offense and now the defense. Now there is much more complexity to this defense, as we did not get into a ton of details for linebackers — but that is for another Fish Report. This is pretty big news – for now!

I asked Coach Morris if Oregon wouldn’t hold back showing the “Disguised 3-4, Hidden Bear Defense” in the first game against South Dakota … and he looked at me like I was the typical fan that I am. ”The Michigan State coaches have been all over the Alamo Bowl footage,” he declared, and “they know exactly what we are doing.” He smiled and said that “the only people who don’t know are the fans!”

Well … the readers of FishDuck.com now know thanks to Mike, and if there was ever a time to say it, “Oh, how we love to learn about our beloved Ducks!”

Charles Fischer  (FishDuck)
Oregon Football Analyst for CFF Network/FishDuck.com
Eugene, Oregon

Top picture by Andrew Shurfelt

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