While the 3-4 defense is making a national comeback, it's only making a small mark in the Pac-10. That mark, however, will be larger in 2010.
California is the only team that has run a traditional 3-4 for multiple years, and it only transitioned in 2008 because of a surfeit of athletic linebackers and a dearth of imposing tackles.
Stanford doesn't approach the Bears linebacker depth from 2008 but it, nonetheless, is joining its Bay Area rival in adopting a 3-4 in hopes of shoring up a unit that ranked eighth in scoring and ninth in total defense in 2009.
(Arizona State figures to run some 3-4 looks this fall because it's loaded at linebacker. Oregon likes to stand up its ends at times, but if you ask coach Chip Kelly about a switch to a 3-4 he will tell you your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries).
In fact, Stanford, which brought in veteran NFL coach Vic Fangio to coordinate the transition, is a good test case for making the switch because its transformation is pure: two defensive ends in 2009 are now outside linebackers heading into 2010. You want hybrids? We give you Thomas Keiser and Chase Thomas. They've played both positions. And will play both this year as the Cardinal continues to use some 4-3 elements with Thomas and Keiser putting their hands on the ground.
Thomas was forced into action as a redshirt freshman last year when Erik Lorig got hurt and made eight starts. He finished with seven tackles for a loss and four sacks. Keiser, a junior, had 15 tackles for a loss and nine sacks. He had six sacks as a redshirt freshman.
Thomas, at 6-foot-4, 239 pounds, will play the "Sam" strongside linebacker position, while Keiser will be the rush linebacker, which is more "end-like." Sophomore Shayne Skov and Owen Marecic will be the inside linebackers, while all three defensive linemen -- Matt Masifilo, Sione Fua (the nose) and Brian Bulcke -- are upperclassmen who've played defensive tackle their entire careers.
A big test is whether Thomas and Keiser will be capable dropping into pass coverage. If they only rush the passer, the defense becomes fairly predictable. Both are good athletes, but they won't be compared to UCLA's Akeem Ayers or Oregon's Spencer Paysinger or Washington's Mason Foster in terms of athleticism. Still, both should fortify a defensive perimeter that was often successfully attacked by foes in 2009.
In terms of the hybrid split, both appear to be around 60:40 in terms of being hybrid defensive ends:linebackers, though Thomas might be a 55:45.
It will be interesting to see how the Cardinal defense uses them and how often they stand up as linebackers or put their hands on the ground as defensive ends.