Mailbag: Cougs' exciting 3-4 defense!

We missed the mailbag Friday because we were bogged down in Pac-12 spring reviews, which you can see here.

But here's a quick come-backer until Friday.

By the way, you can follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter here.

Go Wazzu from Pullman, Wash., writes: I'm almost as excited for WSU to switch to the 3-4 defense as I am to see the Air Raid offense. When I think of 3-4 defense I immediately think of some of the best defenses in the NFL, Pittsburgh and Baltimore. So that leads me to ask the question, is the 3-4 defense a "better" defense to run, or do those defenses just have better players and it wouldn't matter if they ran a 2-8-1 they would still dominate.

Ted Miller: I think an NFL 3-4 and a college 3-4 are two different animals. NFL teams can sign finished products who fit exactly where they want them to -- such as the ideal 3-4 nosetackle. College recruiting is a much different, and less exact, science. Further, NFL defensive schemes are far more sophisticated. College coaches just don't have enough practice time to install such a huge inventory.

I also think we sometimes put too much emphasis on base schemes. Walk a 250-pound outside linebacker to the line of scrimmage and a 3-4 starts to look a lot like a 4-3. In fact, it seems like just about every team uses multiple looks and qualifies, at least to some extent, as a hybrid. Even USC and Mr. Tampa-2, Monte Kiffin, are tweaking things, running pretty much a base-nickel (4-2-5). And I bet Trojans DE Devon Kennard ends up a highly productive 3-4 OLB in the NFL.

Further, I know I sometimes listen to sportswriters talking about schemes and I think, "I'm not sure he knows what he's talking about." One of the lessons I've learned in this business is that I know just enough about scheme to think I know more than I do, which sets me up to look foolish. So I resist the urge to get scheme-y.

That said, the 3-4 makes sense to me as a Pac-12 defense for two reasons:

1. There are lots of spread offenses in the conference. A 3-4 defense puts more speed on the field because, at least in theory, you're bringing in an extra LB and dropping a defensive lineman (I say at least in theory because some 3-4s feel like a 5-2s to me, with true defensive ends becoming glorified outside linebackers).

2. There just aren't as many athletic, 300-pound defensive tackles on the West Coast as there are in the Southeast.

Still, here's a little bit of wisdom provided to me about defenses that seems easier to assess than the ole 3-4 versus the 4-3 debate. Making an observation about USC's defensive domination under Pete Carroll, an offensive-minded coach pointed out how rarely the Trojans needed to blitz. They got consistent and often overwhelming pressure with just a four-man rush. If you can pressure a quarterback with just four guys, you're almost certainly going to play good defense.

In other words, a sound scheme is one thing but it never trumps having good players.

Patt from Newport Beach, Calif., writes: The media has been dwelling on USC's depth issues all offseason but it seems as if only two positions are of real concern, RB and interior defensive line. Which position do you think is the bigger concern heading into camp and which position do you think will prove to be the Trojans Achilles heel at seasons end? If Antwaun Woods works himself into shape and finds meaningful minutes in the rotation will that solve all of the Trojans problems up front???

Ted Miller: Defensive line, by far.

I believe USC will be able to trot out two at least solid guys every week to carry the football. The Trojans had a solid rushing attack last season, ranking fourth in the conference with 162.6 yards per game, and they did that with just 392 running plays, same number as Washington State. That's just fewer than 33 per game. For comparison, Stanford averaged nearly 40 and UCLA averaged 39.4, If one guy can give the Trojans 18-20 carries and another (or two) 13-15, they'll be fine.

But what happens if the Trojans lose their best interior defensive lineman, George Uko? We previously wrote that Uko, after quarterback Matt Barkley, might be the Trojans' most important player. The Trojans are inexperienced and undersized on the defensive line, particularly inside. No. 1 nose tackle J.R. Tavai, the next most experienced interior defensive lineman, had four tackles last year. The next three guys -- Christian Heyward, Antwaun Woods and converted center Cody Temple -- are redshirt freshman.

If USC stays healthy on its defensive line, it should be OK, though the present is nothing like, say, 2004. But one or two injuries would make things iffy.

Aaron from Portland writes: I remember Dan Fouts being told that he "used to be a Duck" when he was doing NFL games and him responding that "he's still a Duck. We're all still Ducks." Where do you stand on that? I'd say that James and Harrington and even the backup kicker from the 1962 team are still Ducks, but what about Masoli (kicked off the team and went to another school), Harris (kicked off the team and went... to the combine?) and Pflugrad (quit the team and went to anther school in the Pac). I say Harris is still a Duck because he didn't transfer. Others say Pflugrad is because he wasn't kicked off the team. Where do you say the line is drawn for this?

Ted Miller: Fouts is a Duck. And a great one.

To me, a former player remains connected to his team for life, unless he opts for some reason to terminate the connection.

Say what you want about Reggie Bush's judgment, but he remains a Trojan, even if he's been disassociated from the program.

LaMichael James and Joey Harrington? Not only are they Ducks, they are two of the greatest. Masoli? He led the Ducks to a Pac-12 title. He's a Duck, no matter how his career ended. Cliff Harris, too. He played in a national title game in an Oregon uniform, for gosh sakes.

Pflugrad is a different case. Not only did he transfer, he transferred to another Pac-12 program -- Arizona State. Further, he transferred because his dad, Robin Pflugrad, was fired as the Ducks receivers coach by Chip Kelly. That's personal.

The younger Pflugrad never said anything bad about Oregon to me. He even refused to talk about Kelly. But I'd guess he considers himself a Sun Devil.