Thanks to Seattle Seahawks blog 17power by way of Field Gulls I came across a nifty bit of football reference in the form of a transcript of a Pete Carroll seminar in which he elaborates the roles of each position in his 4-3 Under defense.
Reading through his descriptions of the roles within the front seven, I with the idea that what I was looking at seemed an awful lot like my idea of Cal's base defense. Four man line, three down linemen with a standing end on the weak (no tight end) side and three true linebackers behind the line. This gave me the idea that I could use the description of the Carroll 4-3 to fill out help divine the makeup of our future front seven.
[Caveat: My football analysis skills are somewhat lacking (too easily distracted by shiny things like the ball carrier) so I expect this to be more of a jumping off point for discussion than a definitive take.]
First, the LEO position (aka Elephant, rush backer, etc.):
"The open side Defensive End has to be one of your best football players. Size does not matter as much. We want an athletic player who can move around."
Last season that player was Mychal Kendricks, and the description seemed apt. At the end of the day, Kendricks was the best player on the team at getting to the quarterback and coming away with a sack or a disrupted play. However, it won't be that way next year. Kendricks has been moved back to the inside where he'll likely take over departed senior Mike Mohammed's place at Mike (middle) linebacker leaving this spot to someone who very well may turn out to be one of Cal's best football players in the future: all-everything linebacker recruit Cecil Whiteside. Had Chris Martin not transferred, I imagine I would be writing about him in this space, but Whiteside is viewed by a not-insignificant portion of Cal fans as having equal or higher upside than the five-star recruit Martin. Whiteside is already, to the best of my knowledge, getting reps at this position so it seems less a question of whether he'll play here then of how successful he'll be.
Next, the nose tackle:
"At Nose Tackle you have to find a player who likes to mix it up. We want a big guy in there who likes to get down and dirty. He is going to get doubled a lot on the run and pass and is going to get down blocked a lot. He has to be a tough player. This guy can be a short and stubby type of player."
Last year the rotation here was comprised of Derrick Hill, Kendrick Payne, and Aaron Tipoti, who all battled through varying levels of injury to produce a good-but-could-be-better overall result. Hill's eligibility is all used up, so it's down to Tipoti and Payne... to help teach up the first true nose tackle Cal has managed to bring in since switching to the 3-4, Viliami "Tiny" Moala. OK, that's unfair, but if Moala lives up to his recruiting pedigree and absurd physical stature, he's a lock at nose tackle. Until then, experience and a hopefully clean bill of health will anchor the down linemen.
The nose tackle's success in eating up double teams will directly benefit his partner on the interior, the 3-tech defensive tackle:
"The other defensive tackle the 3 technique player should be your premier interior pass rusher. He is going to get a lot of one on one blocks as it is hard to double team him because of where he lines up."
As I understand it this position was listed as defensive end on the Cal depth chart and manned by Trevor Guyton and Deandre Coleman, which is confusing and I hate it because you think of a defensive end being on... the end of the line. But hey, roses by any other name. Ultimately Guyton and Deandre Coleman put in a solid effort at the position, but were overshadowed by their predecessor, Tyson Alualu. Guyton will be a senior this year, but Deandre Coleman is really something to get excited about at this position as a redshirt sophomore with size, power, and after a year of bench contributions, experience. Out of the most recent recruiting class Mustapha "Moose" Jalil was likely recruited with this position in mind.
The strong side of the line is anchored by the 5-tech defensive end:
"The defensive end to the tight end side needs to be a defensive player that can play the run. He does not have to be a big time pass rusher. He has to play the C gap and stop the run."
Hey, what's up there Cameron Jordan. It's me, Nick Foles. Hey, did you know that Pete Carroll thinks you don't really have to be a great pass rusher? Really! (please don't hit me again.) So yeah, that was Cam and now Cam's gone so it's up to his understudy, Ernest Owusu, to pick up the slack which could be problematic since he wasn't all that productive last year in terms of tackles (could be a function of Jordan not coming off the field all that much though). But there's young, highly touted depth here in the form of redshirt freshman Gabe King possibly defensive tackle recruit Todd Barr. One would hope the young'uns are up to the task of growing up quick.
The captain of the defense, the Mike linebacker:
"The Mike linebacker is a traditional middle linebacker. He is instinctive and makes a lot of calls for the defense. He may be the guy with the most experience or the best feel for the game."
Wassup Cal fans I heard you like Mikes so we put a Mike in your Mike to replace your other Mike in your Mike. After an up-and-down 2009 season and a solid 2010 season Mychal Kendricks makes sense as the man here while talent like Nick Forbes develops.
Getting back into the confusion between the semantic differences between the 4-3 and 3-4 defenses, the Will linebacker:
"The Will linebacker can be a smaller player. He is generally protected in the defensive schemes and will not see as many blocks. All you want him to do most plays is flow and chase the football. We want our fastest linebacker at this position."
If I understand this correctly, we're looking at DJ Holt's position, an apt phrasing since his year it will most likely be... DJ Holt's position. One wonders as well if Steve Fanua can break through here as useful depth.
And finally among the front seven, the great unknown of the Cal defense, the strong side linebacker:
"The Sam linebacker has to be a good containment player. He has to be big and strong enough to play on the edge of the tight end. He has to be able to run in pass coverage also."
Keith Browner? I'm so bad at this. This is Keith Browner right? Well, Keith Browner is gone so that's at least a little bit moot. It seems a lot of linebackers have been getting reps at this spot in spring practice, including David Wilkerson, Chris McCain, and Ryan Davis. Like the rush backer and 5-tech end positions, this one is up for grabs among younger players. Ultimately one would hope for more production from the position after a solid but uninspiring performance by Keith Browner.
The 17power blogpost includes descriptions of the defensive back positions (including Carroll's curiously reductionist view of cornerback play) but they're less descriptive of exactly what a coach is looking for.
For my part I found Carroll's view helpful since I've always had a hard time visualizing the 3-4 as it's frequently described, especially due to the maddeningly inconsistent use of strong and weak-side applied to linebackers and linemen. Ultimately it seems that Carroll is describing a 4-3 alignment of 3-4 personnel, which is my perception of Cal's base package.
Now hopefully someone will come in and offer a less half-assed take on this all.