The 4i is a developmental position, you want guys with length and size to play the position since they have to grapple with offensive tackles but that style also requires the acquisition of strength and technique to execute properly. What’s more, it doesn’t always result in big numbers that catch the eyes of NFL scouts, although it can if accompanying a blitz-heavy scheme like Texas will employ.
The upshot of this is that the 3-4 defenses and the 4-0-4 front (4i tech DE-0 tech nose-4i tech DE) is more of an underdog strategy these days in college football. You are deferring much of the explosive playmaking in this scheme to the linebackers and there are enough 6-0+, 230+ pound athletes in the world for smaller schools to find some that can do damage in a good pressure scheme.
If you buy the new Athlon Big 12 preseason magazine, and you should because I talk about Baker Mayfield and the Oklahoma offense in this year’s edition, there’s a note from an anonymous rival coach discussing the Sooners’ switch back to a 4-3 front.
The anonymous assistant (probably) notes that OU’s move to the 3-4 was largely about leveraging DL coach Jerry Montgomery’s skill in teaching the techniques and that the team should be better in a four-down because Mike understands it better. I had always thought that Mike Stoops was solid in defensing spread run games but the last several years since he came back to Norman frankly paints a very different picture.
I’ve found them looking outflanked and clueless against QB run game schemes on multiple occasions over the years. There was the time that TCU was abusing them on standard speed-option plays, the time that West Virginia ran for 300 yards with simple zone read plays, or the recent spring game where safety Will Sunderland looked lost trying to match his fits in quarters. That was all in the 3-4 defense, but you may recall that their 4-3 defense was shredded by the spread run game as well…
Incidentally, Will Sunderland recently showed a similar cluelessness off the field and has been suspended from the team. My idea for the Sooners to play Steven Parker at free safety in that spot with Will Johnson in the strong safety role seems even more probable now.
The Sooner interior five for 2017 is looking increasingly iffy though. The Parker-Johnson safety combo makes for great flexibility in terms of changing up coverages and drawing up different ways to blitz Obo Okoronkwo and Caleb Kelly so that’s great. The problem is in fitting the run when you have a pair of coverage safeties on the back end, a blitzing sam linebacker out in space, and then a pair of inexperienced and unproven inside-backers trying to fit the A/B gaps in Jon-Michael Terry and Emmanuel Beal.
That early season game in Columbus should be illuminating. If you buy the Big 10 Athlon preseason mag you can read my article on how former OU offensive coordinator is likely to change up the Buckeye offense this year.