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Durkin: Signs Point To Bears Shifting To A 3-4

By Dan Durkin-

(CBS) The Jets, Eagles, Redskins, Cardinals and 49ers -- other than sitting at home this weekend watching the Patriots and Seahawks play in the Super Bowl, what do these teams have in common? They're all teams that have outside linebackers coaches on staff and run 3-4 defenses.

On Tuesday, the Bears made a similar move, announcing they hired Clint Hurtt as their outside linebackers coach.

I'll pause and let you connect the dots.

Combine the hiring of Hurtt -- who was the team's assistant defensive line coach last season -- with the team choosing Vic Fangio as its defensive coordinator, and all signs point to the team transitioning to a 3-4 defense in 2015.

During his introductory press conference, new coach John Fox said that designating a specific scheme is sometimes a bigger focus on the outside (fans and media) than inside, adding, "We're going to put our players in the best position for them to have success."

As it stands, the Bears' coaching talent on defense outweighs the on-field talent. Thus, the players Fox was referring to are likely not on the roster currently.

Considering how bare the cupboard is on defense, it's an ideal time for the team to transition to a new scheme. A strong case can be made that the Bears need at least six new starters on defense.

There are benefits to running a 3-4 scheme, both from a talent procurement and schematic standpoint.

What's the essential difference between a 3-4 and 4-3 scheme? In a 3-4, a team is substituting a defensive lineman with a linebacker, which in turn raises the overall athleticism of the defense.

Teams source their talent from the collegiate ranks, where there's simply a larger pool of linebackers and undersized 4-3 defensive linemen who can transition to the edge in a 3-4 at the NFL level.

Conversely, there's a smaller pool of anchor 4-3 defensive ends who can both set the edge against the run and bend the edge as a pass rusher. Thus, those athletes are typically more coveted in the draft and more expensive to retain from a long-term financial perspective.

From a schematic perspective, when offenses prepare for a 4-3, it's nearly a foregone conclusion that all four down linemen will be a part of the rush. The challenge for the protection scheme then becomes executing proper blocking rules on twists and stunts, and identifying where second- and third-level pressure may come from to make sure the protection counts are right.

Within a 3-4, any of the four linebackers can easily be disguised and incorporated into the rush, which forces protection schemes to account for all – or none – of them on any given play.

The 3-4 isn't a magic bullet. Look at both the teams playing this weekend for the title; both the Patriots and Seahawks use 4-3 base defenses. But they're multiple in their fronts and techniques, which is what the goal of all defenses should be.

However it all specifically shakes out for the Bears remains to be seen, but everything from Halas Hall signals change, which in itself is progress.

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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