Coach’s Comments: Brady Hoke Brings the 4-3 Defense! What’s Up With THAT?

Hoke hired has gone off an active writing schedule, but the site will remain up so that all the prior articles can be found on the web. We are also open to guest articles from writers such as our beloved Grizzled Ol’ Coach, Mike Morris. He is sharing some of his knowledge about the 4-3 defense and how the Oregon personnel could fit into it. Do check in from time-to-time as we will have more analysis articles about the 4-3.  Charles Fischer

Well, it seems we now have a whole lot of divided Duck fans: for and against the Brady Hoke hiring and for and against the switch from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defensive front. I’m definitely not going to go negative on the selection of Hoke; it is what it is.  It is time to move on, to reunite and see if we can get realistically optimistic about the NEW Duck defense.

First, I have to state my favorite axiom — the one I go to whenever there’s a schematic argument — “It’s not WHAT you do, but HOW you do it.”  Sorry, to those of you looking for a magical cure, but whether it is the 3-4 or the 4-3 …  there’s no BEST defensive system and no infallible defensive coordinator, whose schemes confound offensive players and renders all their plays useless. Name the system and/or the coach, and you’ll find several examples of them getting shredded.

HOWEVER, there can be a BETTER defensive system and a better way to teach that system and utilize the available talent.  “Significant improvement” — that’s all you’re asking for, right?  [Well, besides winning every game.]


I was worried that Mark Helfrich was bringing in Brady to coach inside linebackers (ILBs) in a 3-4 defense.  My bad; Mark is much smarter than that.  The 4-3 had to come with Brady.

Brady Hoke

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Brady Hoke

  1. The 4-3 defense is what Brady’s always coached, and against some real good offenses in some real big games. Experience — even/especially negative moments — can bring positive results/improvements.  It’s called “learning.”
  2. Last year, Hoke significantly added to his knowledge by taking a nation-wide tour of learning about defense from other coaches. That constructive desire and energy [and possible accumulated wisdom] impresses me.
  3. Because it’s the 4-3, Don Pellum can coach all the LBs; he couldn’t do that in a 3-4.
  4. “It’s not what you know, it’s what you can TEACH.” (That is another of my favorite axioms.)  A coach’s knowledge does him no good if his players can’t correctly execute the things he knows. Hoke is now freed up as a “walk-around” coordinator, helping the other defensive coaches teach his system.
  5. The new emphasis seems to be on keeping the defensive system simple and teaching it thoroughly.

I read an interview with Hoke in which he criticized what the Michigan defense had become, when he coached there.  He said they’d gotten too complicated, too smart for their own good and gotten away from the “basics.” Many of us, including Mark Helfrich, thought that about the Oregon defense.  Helfrich is even changing the Ducks’ vocabulary [“verbiage”] because it had become confusing.  Hoke has never had to call defenses at such a rapid pace due to the no-huddle offenses, hence simplicity works best under fire. Helfrich says the Ducks will “start from scratch” at thoroughly teaching the basics.

A coach’s primary goal shouldn’t be to win games; it should be “to develop his players to the maximum of their potential.”  A player can’t play to his max if he’s even slightly confused, and in 2015, we saw far too many mental mistakes by confused Duck defenders.  That is unacceptable and had to change.  Brady Hoke convinced Mark Helfrich that’s not going to happen on his watch, that he’s truly “detail-oriented.”


The 4-3 is much easier to execute for the defensive line (DL) and ILBs than the 3-4, and the transition won’t be hard.  The Ducks actually used a form of the 4-3, usually in passing situations, almost as much as their base 3-4.

Alignment on Defense

In the 3-4 defensive fronts Oregon most often used a “404”:  [where the defensive ends played a 4-technique and the nose tackle a 0-technique], and the linemen used a very difficult 2-gap technique.  (Note: If you’re not a coach, hang in there.  I’m not going to go all-technical on you.  FishDuck wants these articles written for non-coaches.) 

All three defensive linemen had to attack an offensive blocker, “control” him, getting the proper arm’s-length leverage, find the ball, separate from the blocker and then go make the tackle, to either side of them. Thus the term, “2-gap” defense.  That’s really hard, and requires long arms and a lot of strength.

Kiko Alonso sacks Russell Wilson in the Rose Bowl.

Craig Strobeck

Kiko Alonso sacks Russell Wilson in the Rose Bowl.

The ILBs had to read “flow” of the backs, and then fill the appropriate gap:  D-gap on flow to, and the A-gap on flow away. Great ILBs, such as Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay, could do this very well; not-so-great ILBs, not so well.  Most of the time you saw a ball carrier going thru a huge hole was because an ILB didn’t properly fill that hole.  Never has a team been more successful with worse ILB play than the last two Oregon teams!

But now, in the 4-3, each of the Ducks’ front 7 has only 1 gap to be responsible for.  The defensive tackles (DTs) can more aggressively attack; they can now immediately penetrate the LOS.  Also, because they don’t have to control the blocker, they don’t have to be as big and strong; thus they can be faster, and speed is a good thing.

Because they only have 1 gap to fill, the ILBs are less likely to be confused and more likely to attack quickly and aggressively.  Did you notice Joe Walker’s improvement from his jr. to his sr. year?  And yet he still had moments of confusion. So, hopefully, simplifying the gap responsibilities and necessary techniques will make Oregon a smarter, quicker-reacting, more aggressive defense.



The defensive tackles in a 4-3 have to be able to execute the 1-technique [attack one side of the center, and be responsible for the A-gap] and 3-technique [attack the outside shoulder of an offensive guard, and be responsible for the B-gap].  The defense is called based on where the DTs align, and it should be a damn good, badass group.  They’ll definitely prefer trying to wreak havoc in the offensive backfield to trying to control 300+ lb. offensive linemen.

Canton Kaumatule

John Sperry

Canton Kaumatule

A possible [educated guess] depth chart of defensive tackles is:

Canton Kaumatule                 Austin Maloata

Rex Manu                               Drayton Carlberg

Gary Baker                             Jordan Kurahara

*Henry Mondeaux [if needed or in pass rush situations]

*TJ Daniel [as a pass rusher]

No freshmen yet [1-18], although I think Hunter Kampmoyer will grow into a DT. Our friends at Duck Territory reported on January 19th how Brady Hoke told a fan that his “biggest need by far was another huge DT.” At that time he was flying to Cincinnati to meet with one as Hoke and Helfrich would meet in Idaho the next day to huddle with another defensive tackle prospect.


Not only do 4-3 DTs not have to be as big and strong as 3-4 nose tackles, 4-3 defensive ends (DEs) who aren’t physical enough to play DE in a 3-4 can be very effective in a 4-3 if they have sufficient speed.

Jalen Jelks sacks Cody Kessler.

John Sperry

Jalen Jelks sacks Cody Kessler.

Jalen Jelks comes immediately to mind.  Coach Ron Aikens raves about Jelks’ athletic, and pass rushing, ability, but Jalen’s built on the slender side.  He’ll prosper as a 4-3 DE.  RFR Gus Cumberlander will benefit in the same way.

Also Mondeaux and TJ Daniel can lose some now unnecessary weight and become faster, better outside pass rushers.

OLBs who are too big to play well in space are also 4-3 DE candidates such as Cody Carringer, and, maybe, Eddie Heard.

Because of all the no-huddle offenses and shifting that takes place, it’s a lot better if the DEs don’t have to switch sides.  They play a wide-5-technique if there’s no TE, and either a 7 or 9 technique vs a TE.

Possible depth chart for 4-3 Defensive Ends:

Henry Mondeaux              Jalen Jelks

TJ Daniel                           Gus Cumberlander

Eddie Heard                      Cody Carriger

Bryson Young: frosh       Hunter Kampmoyer: frosh

*Torrodney Prevot [in pass rush situations]

*Justin Hollins [in pass rush situations]

In the future, the 4-3 DE will be the easiest position to recruit quality players to.  High school studs, who’ve never played defense in space, or aren’t big enough to play DT are great candidates.  You no longer have to convert them to 3-4 OLBs.


No. 86 Torrodney Prevot

Kevin Cline

 Torrodney Prevot

Prevot could bulk up and be a very good 4-3 DE, but he’s much more needed as an OLB.  T-rod hasn’t been very good in space, but he’s had a lot of practice at it.  He’s definitely a great athlete, and he’ll be a senior auditioning for the NFL.  I’d also expect Prevot to often be used at DE, as a pass rusher, in nickel/passing situations.  What a difference-maker T-rod could be.

A great addition to this year’s Ducks could be RSO Hollins [like Prevot, a highly recruited high school DE from Texas], who missed all of last year with an injury.  Hollins showed a lot of potential as a freshman and is a really fast 6’6″ guy who tackles well and can play in space.  Justin could also be used as a DE in passing situations.

Also, Johnny Ragin seems better suited to be an OLB.  Last year Ragin played quite a bit as an inside linebacker (ILB) in passing situations, but he doesn’t seem physical enough to be an every-down ILB.

JC transfer Paris Bostick never found a position last year.  Too small to be an ILB and not ready to play safety in the Pac-12.  Maybe?

Freshman walk-on Kaulana Apelu excelled on special teams, and got raves for his speed and toughness.

Speaking of tough, the notorious Fotu Leiato, famous for his ability to viciously tackle, might find a home as a 4-3 OLB, instead of a safety. Finally, true freshmen Lamar Winston, Eric Briscoe, and Troy Dye appear to be starting out as OLBs.


Projecting depth charts for those other positions weren’t that hard, but ILB?  Damn.

The 4-3 scheme will help them somewhat because their gap responsibilities are more clearly defined.  But the ILBs still have to be damn good football players, who can read offensive sets and plays correctly, and tackle really well against very talented players in space if the Ducks are going to be real good on defense in 2016.

Danny Mattingly

Craig Strobeck

Danny Mattingly

To show how skeptical I am about the Ducks’ ILBs, my projected starters, as of January 18, have never played even one play of college football.  AJ Hotchkins and Jonah Moi were teammates at Riverside CC and (Moi redshirted last year as an OLB) it’s strictly an educated hunch on my part.  But big-time help is needed big-time, and those two guys have the bodies, the reputations, and the [“Kiko-like”] highlight films to make me think, maybe …

Of course, a big part of my optimism about Hotchkins and Moi is due to my pessimism about the other ILBs. Danny Mattingly has the physical tools, but he hasn’t shown he can do the job yet.  He was worse than Rodney Hardrick, and that’s kinda amazing. And what does that say about Jimmie Swain?  Looks great in warm-ups and in interviews, but he wasn’t good enough to get any significant playing time?

I’ve already mentioned Ragin, who I don’t think is physical enough to be a major contributor at ILB. Freshman Darrian Franklin will be here for spring practice, but … he IS a true freshman. Heard has the body, but not the instincts, to be converted.

I don’t understand why the top two high school ILBs in the nation aren’t going to Oregon next year?  What a missed opportunity for them to play right away … Maybe Hoke will pull off a major surprise?


The DBs should be unaffected by the changes in the front 7, except that their jobs will be a lot easier if the front 7 is effectively doing their jobs.  It’s easy to get a 5th DB/”nickel back” in as a replacement for the OLB. I think the secondary, because they had so many painful experiences last year, will be very strong in 2016.


Brady Hoke

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Brady Hoke

I’m hoping Brady Hoke isn’t a “bend-but-don’t-break” guy. Brady told a fan recently (from Duck Territory) that he wants to use the speed he has on defense to more aggressively attack opposing offenses. Yeah! Like most of you, I want the defense to ATTACK!

I’m well aware of the possible consequences [think Arizona St.], but attacking doesn’t necessarily mean blitzing all the time.  The strived-for goal of the Oregon 4-3 defense should be to stuff the run and consistently pressure the passer without over-doing the blitzingThe less time Duck opponents’ defenders get to rest, the better it is for Oregon’s offense.

Come on, Brady!  Teach ’em how to effectively attack, and maybe you’ll have such an enjoyable time you won’t want to go back to being a head coach.

Mike Morris

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Coach Morris

Coach Morris

Coach Mike Morris spent 30 years coaching at seven different high schools throughout Southern California. He coached many players who went on to Pac-12 programs including Oregon, such as Saladin McCullough. He is a writer, Football analyst and a good friend of the Principal of the site.

  • disqus_bDTny7RBrh

    Coach, from anything I’ve read and seen diagrammed about the 4-3 Hoke runs, it’s a 4-3 Under. It appears the base package is a 2-gap on the (“30”) strong side using the 5-tech and the 1-tech and single gap on the “40” side with the 3-tech and 5/7-tech. So basically the same thing Pete Carroll uses in Seattle, with the Sam linebacker over the TE on the strong side. Am I incorrect, or are you seeing something different? If that’s the case it seems like the 4-3 Under is a pretty reasonable transition from an odd front – you just need one less 34 DE who can 2-gap.

    • Hey bD, Below is a response from the GOC…

      Actually the only 2 gap techniques are the 0 and the 4 [the way the Ducks taught it]. All the
      other techniques are 1 gap. Nowadays all 4-3 defenses [including the Seahawks] have to be able to play the “under” [1-technique TO the strong side] AND “over”
      [1-tech NT AWAY from the strong side] fronts.
      The 3-tech DT aligns accordingly.

      • disqus_bDTny7RBrh

        Thanks, I think we were saying basically the same thing other than which technique plays 2 gap – I looked at some of Hoke’s Michigan defenses and it seemed they were aligned as a 1 and a 5 on the strong side, not a 0 and a 4 like the Ducks have done it. Or as they did against Texas a 0 and 2 3’s. I wasn’t aware Seattle had been flipping the “nose” and using an “over” though. I guess I should watch closer next year.

  • Ted

    Sorry but you’re dead wrong about Mattingly being worse than Hardrick. Hardrick is the worst ILB I’ve seen play at Oregon in 40 years. Nice guy, but absolutely lost out there. For some reason just completely loses all technique and responsibilities. Mattingly seemingly never really got an honest shot under Pellum. And at 6-5 245, he’s got the size, speed and strength to be the perfect MLB in a 4-3. And now that they are going to completely revamp and dumb down the nomenclature, he should be perfect for the job. The next Matt Smith. (hopefully).

    • nickpapageorgiotheduck

      Mattingly played most of the Civil War in place of an injured Joe Walker and got absolutely worked in the second half. That said, he’s a guy I could see really thriving now that Pellum’s son Hardrick is gone and his role changes with the switch to 4-3

      • Mike Green

        Mattingly also had a bad game in the natty vs ohio st

        I’m not at all surprised that they brought in so many linebackers this season


    I watched Swain when he played ILB blow up plays the Hardrick was just plain terrible at. Hardick played the 3 best games of his career against Cal, Stanford and then SC but returned to missing his gaps. I agree with TED he was the worst ILB ever to play at Oregon. Helfrich better hope this payed off because if the Ducks aren’t in the conversation at least in November for a PAC 12 Championship game he might just be done. They should of made this hire when Aliotti stepped aside and now that they took so long to fill the position recruits aren’t interested. I’m quite sure Hoke makes this defense get to the middle of the pac in Defense because theres no where to go but up after the worst defense in Ducks history with some of the best talent they’ve ever had on that side. Hoke the good part is that he’ll make his defensive staff accountable because Helfrich didn’t last year and it cost us. Swain will be a better option than Hardrick ever was. Boy thats one guy that never should of gotten Schollie.

  • Tom Marsh

    Thanks Coach. Sounds like we have a good shot at a good defense this year. Trust the process.

  • douglas fur

    Maybe “Bend don’t Break” has become a cliche. “Break don’t Bend”, nonsense in itself, which resultsin injured players is the unintended result of unintelligent play. Maybe “give an inch and take a mile” would be more useful to describe what’s worked in the past. A smart move from a DL that gets an OL an inch out of position and opens a lane so the defense can stop a play for a loss sounds good. A Viking sheild wall with players smashing into each other seems inefficient, a waste of players and energy.

    • Mike Green

      bend but don’t break works if the offense fumbles or if they don’t have a great QB,

      but with the top offenses being so good, bend but don’t break just means your defense stays on the field for 6 minute TD drives

  • George Nash Khier

    I like that Hoke wants the defense to attack and this is what Oregon’s defense lacked many time this year. So this should be a positive change.

  • BigBallzChipper

    Thanks GOC for the insight. I’m just curious as to why do we have such a break down on the Mike since our previous DC transitioned. I mean DP is not doing some new so why did we have so many problems at Mike?

  • Michael S. Putnam

    Just some thoughts from an Oregon HS/College coach of over 20 years:

    Schematically, the 4-3 is much easier to prepare for than the 3-4 for a spread option team. Typically, one of the base plays for this team is an inside zone play where the QB read the backside edge player (the end man on the line of scrimmage) on deciding to give or keep the ball. With the 3-4, it was easier for the defense to play games with the backside inside backer (ILB), the outside backer (OLB), and the defensive end (DE). This often required specific offensive blocking adjustments and could make the QB hesitate on his read (a death sentence to read-option guys).

    The 3-4 also allows for more disguise and exotic blitz/pass rush packages than the 4-3. It is no coincidence that the pioneers of the Zone Blitz were Dick LeBeau and his 3-4 Pittsburg (Blitzburg) defenses in the 1990’s. Those hybrid cover/pass rush OLB’s became regular All-Pros like Kevin Greene, Joey Porter, and James Harrison.

    Schematically, I just think the 3-4 is a better fit against spread teams, which are now becoming the majority style of offense in college. So many teams put 4-5 WR’s on the field, or just spread out fast TE’s and RB’s, it is hard to match-up for defenses that typically have four large defensive lineman committed to pass rush.

    That being said though, I’m excited about Hoke’s hiring and the schematic change. No scheme works if you can’t execute it, and Oregon hasn’t been efficiently executing their defense for a while. If the key is to simplify and just ‘let the players play’, I hope that produces positive results. I hope the defensive deficiencies were much more a product of confusion or hesitation, not a lack of talent or ability.

    The Seahawks are a good example of a team having great success using a simple system, but let’s also acknowledge that Seattle is loaded with talent. All three position major groups (DL, LB, DB) boast Pro Bowlers, with 3 of the 4 secondary players being Pro-Bowl regulars. Pittsburg in the 1970’s dominated with their straightforward 4-3, but that defense also featured Hall Of Famers Jack Hamm, Jack Lambert, Mel Blount, and Joe Greene, as well as other near-elite level players like L.C. Greenwood, Donnie Shell, and Andy Russell. The 1975 team alone had 8 of the 11 defensive starters make the Pro Bowl.

    As I stated before, I’m hoping this change brings success to the defense. But I also admit that if the Duck’s talent isn’t up to par, we may not see significant improvements. Let’s not forget how a master defensive mind like Monte Kiffin who helped revolutionize football with his (and Tony Dungy’s) Tampa 4-3 was never able to slow down the Ducks when he was at USC, and he was working with USC talent.

    • Great stuff Coach, as I felt that a major weapon of the 3-4 is disguising the blitzes, but we were not utilizing those components. I think it may be possible for us to possibly recruit easier to our defense with the 4-3, but as the Grizzled Ol’ Coach says above–it comes down to more than alignment.

      Thanks for your thoughts,


      P.S. Email me

  • Mike Green

    I played inside linebacker in high school (in a 4-4 defense)

    ILB is a position where you read and attack — gotta have the speed to cover the sweeps and pass plays & gotta have the size/hitting ability to take on offensive linemen and get off the blocks — not an easy combo to find — oh yeah, gotta be really good at tackling running backs too

    anyway, I think the 3-4 has done Oregon poorly, except for a few exceptions:

    2014 — having 3-4 DEs like Armstead/Buckner (they don’t come around often)

    2012 – having LBs like Clay, Kiko, Lokombo, Jordan — who could really play the 3-4, along with really big noseguard spaceeaters

    I have to think that switching to the 4-3 will be a good move for the ducks for the following reasons:

    3-4 linemen are hard to find — and have to be much bigger than 4-3 linemen

    the outside backer/drop end has to cover — they always get burned in pass defense

    have to blitz to get a pass rush — which gets picked apart by good offensive coordinators

    4-3 is a simpler scheme — so younger players can fit in sooner rather than later

    and finally, the WDE can be a real pass rushing threat and not have so much pass coverage duty, although you can still drop him out to the flat in a zone if you only want to rush 3 and defend more open field