When the Miami Dolphins open the 2010 season they will be going to a modified version of the storied 3-4 defense. On this Dolphin 3-4 Defense: Some History for your consideration. In 2006 the defense was a hybrid 4-3/3-4.
Defensive Line: In the Dolphins’ hybrid 4-3/3-4 defense, flexibility is a huge key for defensive linemen, and their roster is built well for it. Pass-rushing ends Jason Taylor and Matt Roth both displayed a good ability to shift from 4-3 DE to a 3-4 OLB role last season, and players like Vonnie Holliday, David Bowens, Kevin Carter, and Jeff Zgonina also played rotational and moving roles as well along the line, switching in and out between DE in the 3-4 and a rotating role between DE and DT in the 4-3 front.
Linebacker: One problem with the Dolphins’ hybrid defensive front is that it’s very difficult to find linebackers who fit both the 4-3 and 3-4 defensive schemes, but they’ve done a good job of managing to do so. In the 4-3, Zach Thomas holds down the middle as he has so well for so long, and he should be typically flanked by Donnie Spragan on the weak side and 2005 rookie standout Channing Crowder on the strong side. When the defense shifts to a 3-4 front, Crowder will slide inside to support Thomas in the middle, and normal DE Jason Taylor will be blitzing from the weak side.
The only constant was Keith Traylor holding down the middle of the line as the team’s full-time 3-4 nose tackle, and this year he figures to get help from undrafted rookie Steve Fifita, another big, wide-bodied DT who has impressed in camps in the nose tackle role.
Playing a flexible front is often very hard on defensive linemen, but head coach Nick Saban managed to get his personnel to do it very well last year and should figure to see even better production from them this year.
In fact, it was the 1972 Miami Dolphin team that was the first really successful NFL team to run a 3-4 defense. At that time, most teams were using the 5-2 or a “modern” innovation brought to the league by then Defensive Coordinator for the NY Giants, Tom Landry, the 4-3. This was in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.
But Don Shula knew that this was to be the great successful defense that would win championships. And he ran this defense throughout his tenure as coach of the Dolphins with Bill Arnsparger as his Defensive Coordinator.
The Great Innovator
Tom Landry invented the now-popular “4-3 Defense”, while serving as Giants defensive coordinator. It was called “4-3″ because it featured four down lineman (two ends and two defensive tackles on either side of the offensive center) and three linebackers — middle, left, and right. The innovation was the middle linebacker. Previously, a lineman was placed over the center. But Landry had this person stand up and move back two yards. The Giants’ middle linebacker was the legendary Sam Huff.
“Landry built the 4-3 defense around me. It revolutionized defense and opened the door for all the variations of zones and man-to-man coverage, which are used in conjunction with it today.” – Sam Huff 
Landry also invented and popularized the use of keys — analyzing offensive tendencies — to determine what the offense might do.
When Landry was hired by the Dallas Cowboys, he became concerned with then-Green Bay Packers Coach Vince Lombardi’s “Run to Daylight” idea, where the running back went to an open space, rather than a specific assigned hole. Landry reasoned that the best counter was a defense that flowed to daylight and blotted it out.
To do this, he refined the 4-3 defense by moving two of the four linemen off the line of scrimmage one yard and varied which linemen did this based on where the Cowboys thought the offense might run. This change was called “The Flex Defense,” because it altered its alignment to counter what the offense might do. Thus, there were three such Flex Defenses — strong, weak, and “tackle” — where both defensive tackles were off the line of scrimmage. The idea with the flexed linemen was to improve pursuit angles to stop the Green Bay Sweep — a popular play of the 1960s. The Flex Defense was also innovative in that it was a kind of zone defense against the run. Each defender was responsible for a given gap area, and was told to stay in that area before they knew where the play was going.”
This 4-3 system was developed around a prominent Linebacker of his day, Sam Huff. In fact, all subsequent development of defensive schemes has been based around the linebacker corps. And the later 3-4 Defense was no exception.
From about.com: Football we have the following,
“The 3-4 defense is a basic defensive formation that is used by several NFL teams. Bud Wilkenson devised the alignment at the University of Oklahoma in the late 1940s.”
Yes, the 3-4 actually predates the 4-3 defense. But it was not until the Miami Dolphins that it achieved the level of success which brought it to real prominence. From, Browns Gab:
There are as many opinions — and answers — as types of 3-4 schemes.
“Bill Arnsparger is the guy,” former Browns head coach Sam Rutigliano said. “He’s the guy who invented it. He’s the architect of the 3-4.”
Many contributed to the development of the 3-4 defense. The defensive scheme was modified by, Bill Arnsparger, Buddy Ryan, Hank Bullough and Bum Phillips as well as Bill Belichick and “tweaked” by many over the years. Many notable defenses used this scheme and it is considered to be, “in vogue” presently in the NFL (again). It has been in vogue in the 1970’s (also see Pittsburgh Steelers), the 1980’s and 1990’s and all the way up to today.
In an article by Josh Dhani, writing for Bleacher Report one can find a listing over the years of the many, many teams using this defense that won championships. Here is the link on this, http://bleacherreport.com/articles/265995-defense-wins-championships-which-defense-is-better-3-4-or-4-3. And although his article is a good history of the 2 basic defenses in the NFL, it does not go into much detail about schemes. But take note of the number of teams running the 3-4 which won championships.
The rushing plan is able to be varied and the defense can shift to a 4-3 simply by sliding-over the Nose Tackle and adding another lineman. Simple. But the beauty of the 3-4 is this: properly arranged, the offense is not able to predict which players will be rushing and which will drop into coverage. Some variations of the 3-4 have even used defensive lineman dropping into coverage on occasion while linebackers are blitzing.
We’ll look more at this in-depth coming next article. But you should know that Randy Starks will not be stuck in one spot and our defense will no longer be predictable. Teams that play Miami this season will not get away with easy yardage: they will be made to pay. And staff writers and columnists who predict mid-range standing for this team will be shown as fools.
Tags: 3-4 Bill Arnsparger Bleacher Report Bud Wilkenson Buddy Ryan Bum Phillips Channing Crowder Dallas Cowboys David Bowens Defense Don Shula Flex Defense Giants Green Bay Hank Bullough Jeff Zgonina Keith Traylor Kevin Carter Miami Dolphins Nick Saban Nose Tackle Sam Huff Steve Fifita Tom Landry University Of Oklahoma Vonnie Holliday Zach Thomas