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Durkin: Bears' Vic Fangio Envisions Hybrid 3-4 Defense

By Dan Durkin--

(CBS) For the first time since being hired as the Bears' defensive coordinator, Vic Fangio met the media this weekend during the team's rookie mini-camp and shared some insight about his scheme.

Fangio's reputation precedes his arrival in Chicago. He's one of the most accomplished defensive coordinators in the league, having led the 49ers to four straight top-five finishes in yards allowed. He now faces the unique challenge of resurrecting a defense that has finished in the bottom three in the league in both yards and points allowed over the past two seasons. Throw in a change from a 4-3 to a 3-4 base front, and he has his hands full.

Sometimes more is made on the outside than inside when it comes to a team designating what their base front is. Both Fangio and coach John Fox have run hybrid schemes over the past four seasons, which Fangio elaborated upon.

"A bunch of the 3-4s that are being played in the league, they're are all a little different," Fangio said. "Some are drastically different, some a little different. I'd say we're kind of a combination of that and the old-school 3-4.

"We play a lot of 4-3 principles, too, within a 3-4. We're not always going to be in a guy over the tackle, a guy head-up on the center. We'll be in an under- or an over-looking front also, so it's kind of a hybrid."

Fangio went on to say that while it's called a 3-4 defense, in some ways you can call it a 5-2. So what does it all mean? Let's use some All-22 cutups from his time with the 49ers to help explain the differences.

The first example shows the 49ers in their 5-2 front, or the "old-school" 3-4 "Okie" front -- in which there are three down linemen, two outside linebackers as the end men on the line of scrimmage and two inside linebackers (a "Mike" set to the strong side and a "Jack" set to the weak side) at the second level.

(All images courtesy of NFL GameRewind)

fangio 1

Here's an example of the 49ers in their 3-4 "over" front, which means they've set the front to the "closed" or "strong" side (where the tight end is lined up) of the offense's formation. The strong-side outside linebacker is rushing from a wide-nine technique, with the only difference from a defensive end in the same technique being that he's doing it from a two-point stance instead of having his hand on the ground.

3-4 over

Here's an example of the 49ers in a 3-4 "under" front, which means they've set their front to the "open" or "weak" side of the offense's formation. (For more information about gaps, techniques and alignments, here's a link to one of my previous columns).

3-4 under

Fangio went on to explain that there are veteran players (like Jared Allen and Willie Young) who will be playing in a 3-4 for the first time in their careers. But as outside linebackers, their primary responsibility will be rushing the passer and limiting the number of times they're asked to drop into coverage.

"We expect a good pass rush from them," Fangio said. "So that's no different than being an end. And they've got to be able to function in coverage a little bit. We're not going to have them doing tough, tough jobs in coverage. Some of them can be, and evolve to be, depending upon the play. They'll be doing things they're used to doing as an end, except they're going to be doing it standing up and at the end of the line."

The biggest challenge for players along the Bears' defensive front will be learning the rules and gap responsibilities when it comes to fitting the run, as well are deciding which four -- or more -- pass rushers are sent to get the quarterback. Other than getting another linebacker on the field and essentially becoming more athletic along the front, one of the biggest advantages of a 3-4 scheme is keeping opposing protection schemes guessing on where the extra rusher is coming from. (For a more detailed breakdown of Fangio's scheme, here's a link to one of my previous columns.)

Certainly, it will take Fangio, Fox and the rest of the defensive coaching staff to figure out where players fit best along the front seven. But the fact of the matter is that the Bears' defense is in better hands now than it's been in for a long time.

Dan Durkin covers the Bears for and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @djdurkin.

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