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Raiders hinting at “evolving” back to 3-4 defense in 2011

On Wednesday, just a day after the Raiders announced Chuck Bresnahan was the team’s new defensive coordinator, they sent out some curious messages about the Raider defense.

The first message came on Twitter when they said, “The Raiders played a 3-4 D in 3 Super Bowl wins & have long been evolving and diverse in the team’s defensive strategy.” That message was followed by an article titled “Raiders an Evolving Defense.”

The article is set up as an historical piece about the “Raiders defense throughout the years.” But it is a curiously timed message to send out when you consider they just brought back Bresnahan who coached the Raiders 4-3 defense during their successful playoff years and resulting Super Bowl appearance in 2002. The defense has hardly been evolving when you consider the Raiders have not run the 3-4 for over 20 years, going back to when they were still in Los Angeles.

The move to a 3-4 has been speculated about for a couple of years now. The first indication came when the Raiders traded for former 3-4 DE Richard Seymour prior to the 2009 season. Speculation grew louder with the offseason addition of two outside linebacker with 3-4 backgrounds in Kamerion Wimbley and Quentin Groves.

Last season, with such versatile players in the mix, the Raiders often lined up in a 3-4 look. The team still identified itself as a 4-3 defense but the capability to play 3-4 helped keep offenses guessing and turned out to be quite successful. An indication of that was Wimbley finished the season as the team’s leader in sacks from the strong side linebacker spot.

After such a successful season, Al Davis is having visions of the Raider glory years and this team’s potential to accomplish similar things.

The team has most of the pieces to run the 3-4. The only thing missing is possibly a pure nose tackle. The issue I see is not players needed but rather that some of their best defensive players’ talents would be wasted in the transition. Those issues lie mainly on the newly dominant defensive line.

Richard Seymour made the shift to defensive tackle and saw one of his best seasons. He also made the Pro Bowl for the first time since 2006. A switch back to defensive end at this point would not be a good move. And a switch to nose tackle would stand to eliminate his pass rushing abilities. He has proven to be an elite 3 technique defensive tackle.

If Seymour moved to NT, what of Tommy Kelly? If he moved to DE, what of Matt Shaughnessy? Lamarr Houston and Shaughnessy were fantastic at the two defensive end positions last season. Neither of them is the type of player who could play a DE/OLB so they must start at the 3-4 DE position if a switch is made.

The linebackers, with a couple of additions, are set up nicely to play the 3-4, however. The team thought highly enough of Ricky Brown to put a round two tender on him. They also have high hopes for last year’s rookie round six pick Travis Goethel, who could play either at inside or outside linebacker. Quentin Groves and Trevor Scott would battle it out for the starting weak side linebacker spot. Add a player or two in the draft, and they are all set.

The question now becomes, why mess with a good thing? If the 4-3 base defense with 3-4 looks was working so well, why change it? It is not like Bresnahan has a great history running the 3-4. Linebackers coach Greg Biekert was middle linebacker his entire career in the NFL and has not coached a 3-4.

So the last theory in all this is simply the team throwing out smoke signals prior to the draft. If other teams think they are going to switch to the 3-4, they will be wondering if the team will be in the market for an inside linebacker or perhaps a nose tackle. There is always a bit of madness to Al Davis’ methods.

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