MIDLOTHIAN — The difference between the number combination 4-3 and 3-4 may seem like a simple rearranging of numbers, but to Midlothian High School it meant a difference of eight points per game.
Per reports from Head Coach Doug Wendel on Tuesday, the Panthers will switch back to the 3-4 defense he installed in his first year.
He said the current player personnel, as well as the hire of new Defensive Coordinator Steven Lemley from Cedar Hill ISD and former University of Texas linebacker and Ennis Football Coach Demarco Cobbs, former Duncanville Defensive Line Coach Robert Irwin and former Baylor Secondary Coach Cody Alexander supports that decision.
"From a defensive standpoint what we want to do is play fast and hard and focus on fundamentals and individual technique and be a team that likes physicality," Wendel said. "Becoming better tacklers is part of that. We're going back to a 3-4 on varsity and that should help. My first year that what we ran but with the linebackers and secondary we had last year, we moved to a four-man front. That obviously didn't work out very well. What we're moving back to fits our personnel and the schemes we'll see week in and week out in our district. You have to have players but from a schematic standpoint, having those overhanging players and a two-high safety makes a different animal in our district."
Midlothian finished 1-9 overall and 0-7 in District 10-5A, allowing 39 points per game during a 10-game schedule. A year earlier, the Panthers closed their season with 4-6 overall and 2-4 District 14-5A records.
They also allowed 31 points per game.
NOT SO DIFFICULT
There are many different ways to bring heat — from inside and outside, from the line, from the blitz or out of a 3-4 or 4-3 alignment.
"It's not difficult to move within the schemes when you have the right players in place," Wendel said. "Last year we were playing 50 percent of our [defensive] snaps in the 3-4 but decided to make the switch to fit some of the players we think can have a big impact this season. Centering the front seven around J.T. Cavender will help, as will players like John Rodgers. Their range gives us the opportunity to drop them into coverage or blitz them. Made more sense to have them there at outside linebacker than six yards off the ball.
"The three new coaches on defense this year that bring a wealth of knowledge in the system, will help with the transition, too. The terminology and fundamentals are going to be different, but really the secondary will have some experienced guys that have done it before on a Friday night."
SCHEMATICS OF THE SWITCH
In a traditional 3-4, the nose tackle plays a "zero technique" and is responsible for covering the two A gaps while the defensive ends play a "four technique" and are each responsible for covering the "B" and "C" gaps.
The spaces between the center and either guard are called the "A" gaps. The spaces between the guards and tackles are called the "B" gaps. The spaces on either side of the tackles are the "C" gaps. The gap outside of a blocking tight end can be viewed as an additional "D" gap.
The biggest threat the 3-4 poses to offenses, though, might be the two interior linebackers that help pick up the coverage slack left by the blitzing outside linebackers or blitz in combination with them.
They can also combine to execute one of the most difficult-to-stop blitzes in football — the Double A Gap Blitz.
"The 3-4 makes us a lot more multiple against a variety of formations the teams in this district can throw at us," Lemley said. "It also gives us balance. Any time you're in an even [4-3 or 4-2] front, you've got a hangover guy but in the 3-4 you've got the balance to attack. Now I can bring guys from multiple sides and different angles. I can bring them from the inside or the outside and dictate the offense if they don't know where we're coming from."
He said it can also aid in containing mobile quarterbacks — players like Mansfield Legacy's Kendall Catalon and Waxahachie's Bryse Salik. Lemley had experience facing the dual-threat quarterback at the 6A level after playing former DeSoto High School play caller and current Texas Christian University Horned Frog Shawn Robinson last season.
Last season, Cedar Hill High School's 3-4 defense held 13 opponents to 26.9 points per game en route to the UIL 6A regional semifinal round of the playoffs. DeSoto scored 33 points on Sept. 23 and 41 during the regional semifinal round.
RODGERS ON THE — POSITION — MOVE
Rodgers will also reportedly make a move from cornerback to outside linebacker in the new defense. He had 55 tackles and a fumble recovery in in 2016.
"He's strong and aggressive and I think he's going to be really hard to block," Wendell said. "I think it puts him in a position to utilize all of his talents and be closer to the ball. It will allow us to run two safeties, which I think is imperative in our district. Last season, Mansfield Timberview ran a jet sweep and got us for a touchdown on the first play of the game. On the edge against teams that play fast, it helps us a ton."
---- Marcus S. Marion is the sports editor of the Waxahachie Daily Light and Midlothian Mirror. He can be reached by phone at (469) 517-1456 or across social media platforms @MarcusSMarion.