In recent weeks, the Oakland Raiders have hinted at "evolving" to a 3-4 defense, but if that's the plan, why are they reassembling the personnel responsible for the 4-3 defense from the early 2000's?
Shortly after the end of the 2010 season we saw the return of defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan, who was in charge of the defense from 2000-2003, followed shortly by the hirings of ex-Raiders Greg Biekert and Rod Woodson, both of whom played under Bresnahan, now in the roles of linebacker and defensive backs coaches, respectively.
Undeniably, those guys got very respectable results in Oakland from 2000-2003, including an AFC championship and three division titles,But their history together, not to mention the current roster itself, positively scream 4-3 defense in 2011.
On the coaching side, Bresnahan has almost exclusively run the 4-3 throughout his career, as has Biekert. Biekert played middle linebacker for both Oakland and the Minnesota Vikings, and has little-to-no experience with the 3-4. A quick look at the depth chart also shows the Raiders have more quality starters than they need on the defensive line—with Richard Seymour, Tommy Kelly, Lamarr Houston, Matt Shaugnassy and Big John Henderson—but only two standout linebackers, Rolando McClain and Kamerion Wimbley.
All of this points to the status quo for the front seven in 2011.
Looking to the future though, the 3-4 is a very real possibility in 2012, with all three of Oakland's best defensive tackles getting on toward retirement age, plus all the young talent at linebacker and defensive end.
To make the transition, they need to pick up a line-clogging nose tackle and another strong inside linebacker.
This year's draft has several very good nose tackle prospects in the later rounds, including Jerrell Powe, Kenrick Ellis and the intriguing Anthony Gray, so they should be able to fill that slot. If not, Oakland could use Henderson as a stop-gap.
Inside linebacker is a bit trickier with slim pickings in the draft, but there are a couple underrated possibilities in free agency, such as Buffalo's Paul Posluszny and Tampa Bay's Barrett Ruud, so they could still find a fit for that piece of the puzzle.
The real tip-off for the future is hiring Woodson, who knows the 3-4 and is a great leader.
If you've ever seen the video of him breaking down the 3-4 zone blitz, you know what I'm talking about.
So think of 2011 as Woodson's audition year, just as 2010 was Hue Jackson's. If the Raiders' front seven continues to have problems with the run in 2011, and their pass defense maintains anything resembling their frankly unbelievable No. 2 ranking from 2010, we're going to see Woodson taking over as the defensive coordinator in 2012, and Oakland “evolving” back to the 3-4.