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I recently asked a question about a 3-4 outside linebacker vs. a 4-3 outside linebacker so this is related.

Is a 3-4 end more of a hybrid tackle/END?

I think teams that use a 3-4 try to get their outside pressure mainly from the outside linebackers. So if you only have 1 large tackle, you have a size issue.

I am also wondering if teams will take the End on the side of a really good blitzing linebacker and have this guy be someone who can play a 4-3 tackle and then maybe on the other side have that end be more of a traditional 4-3 defensive end.

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The defensive line's job in a 3-4 defensive scheme is mainly to clog the holes, and soak up the Offensive Lines. Pressure is not really expected to be applied by the DL in a 3-4, they are just trying to free up space for the blitzing linebackers to attack. The linebackers in a 3-4 tend to rack up the large proportion of the team's sacks in a 3-4. So yes, I guess I would say he's a hybrid tackle, essentially in a 3-4, the 3 is 3 DTs just for taking up space, and blockers. –  Nicholas V. Aug 22 '13 at 16:58

2 Answers 2

If a team is using a three man line, the man in the middle is called a "nose guard", and the two men on either side of him are still called ends.

The idea is to free up an extra man to play linebacker. In essence, the nose guard, typically a very big man, has to do the job of almost two tackles in holding back the offensive line. He'll have a hard time doing this, so the ends have to operate closer to the center of the line to support him, taking over some of the space normally occupied by the tackles.

On the other hand, they should worry less about their flanks, which are protected (theoretically at least), by the extra linebacker.

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Think of it this way: The sole reason to shift from a 40-front formation to a 30-front formation is to have a "floating" blitzer, instead of a "predictable" pressure.

With only 3 defensive linemen, the Defensive Coordinator have a floating piece behind the line. He can send either outside linebacker in a blitz, or even one of the two inside ones.

He can do twists, making the inside LB exchange places with the outside LB just after the snap, to have a better run defense on the outside (with the ILB) and rush from inside. The whole concept of the Zone Blitz (today mainly run by Green Bay's Dom Capers and Pittsburg's Dick LeBeau) feed on the floating backer concept.

But, in order to do so, the 30-front line must be heavier and capable of attacking two gaps. The NT and the 30-front DE must be strong men able to contain the O-Line, instead of just shoot thru gaps. Guys like Dwight Freeney or Jared Allen are speed rushers that avoid the line completely, and not fit for a 30-front defense.

I believe the best example of that is the mid-2000's Steelers line, with Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel. None of them have "cool" stats, like sacks or tackles for loss. But was a sure as hell great line.

And when I say "predictable" because, conceptually, a 40-front line will attack the offensive line gaps and thus try to collapse the pocket. In a traditional 4-3 system, the LBs usually do exactly what their name says, the back-up the line for missing running assigments, screen plays, short routes. The job to get to the QB is solely up to the line (specially the ends) --- this is not absolutely truth, of course; a 40-front defense can send LBs to rush the passer in expense of cover ability. In 2013, was pretty common to see 4-2-5 Nickel defenses sending the nickel back (the third DB) on a blitz.

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Outstanding answer! An up-tick wasn't enough. –  ipso Aug 8 at 19:22

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