Why go 3-4? JMU coach Everett Withers explains his rationale

jmu logoAmong the first things that Everett Withers did upon getting the JMU football job was switch from the 4-3 defensive front to the 3-4. There’s a lot more to the change than reversing the numbers, of course. Withers feels the 3-4 is perfect for a I-AA program like James Madison because it enables him and his staff to be creative in recruiting.

“The philosophy of being in the 3-4 as opposed to the four-down, the 4-3 alignment, which we will be in some also, gives us the opportunity to go recruit the linebacker types that you need, that you’re able to get, at the FCS level, even at the FBS level,” Withers told me at JMU Football Media Day last week.

And they’re not just looking for those linebacker types on Friday nights in the fall. The Withers approach is heavy on finding athletes on the basketball court who can transfer their skillsets to football.

“We want to be able to go out and get those guys, you see them walking the halls in high school, that are 6’2”, 210 pounds, that think they’re the point guard on the basketball team, when there’s no chance of that happening for them. They can come play outside linebacker at the college level,” Withers said.

It’s an interesting approach, akin to what UVA men’s lacrosse coach dom starsia has done for years, focusing on finding the best athletes, not necessarily the best high-school lacrosse players, assuming that his staff can teach lacrosse skills, but not teach athleticism, in a manner of speaking.

“There are a lot of those guys on high school campuses that we can go out and recruit,” Withers said. “One of the toughest things to recruit is defensive linemen. So now, using the three down linemen scheme, we’re able to go recruit the defensive linemen that we can go recruit.”

– Column by Chris Graham


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