Nose guards learn role in Badgers' 3-4 defense is thankless task
AUG 14, 2013 4:04p ET
MADISON, Wis. -- If Beau Allen and Warren Herring do their jobs correctly on the football field, then 600 pounds of human flesh will simultaneously converge on them dozens of times every Saturday in the fall. They will draw double teams from the biggest, burliest offensive linemen to the point of sheer exhaustion, and then begin the process all over again the next play.
And if they do their jobs correctly, their teammates will reap the rewards with tackles and sacks. Meanwhile, they will return to their position just over the other team's center and brace for more contact.
Welcome to life as a nose guard in Wisconsin's 3-4 defensive scheme, where players face among the most thankless tasks on the field while occupying a position deemed one of the more physically demanding in all of football.
"With the nose guards in the 3-4 scheme, the nose guard has one of the hardest jobs on the field," Badgers defensive line coach Chad Kauha'aha'a said. "He's going to hit somebody every single play. Somebody's going to hit him every single play. And he is responsible for a gap on the inside and he's also responsible for keeping the backer free and not letting the center up. That’s a lot of things he's got to get done in whatever amount of time that play takes. That's a hard part for him."
Because of the physical demands placed on the nose guard, he must be one of the more imposing players on the team. There are four players listed as nose guards on Wisconsin's roster: Allen, Herring, Bryce Gilbert and Arthur Goldberg. They average 6-foot-3 and 304 pounds. The only position group that weighs more, naturally, is the offensive line.
Allen, a 6-3, 325-pound senior and Herring, a 6-3, 294-pound redshirt junior, will see the bulk of the work at nose guard this season. The nose guard's responsibility consists of not only taking on the center but also at least one or both of the guards, and Allen and Herring certainly have the build to handle such a task.
"You never get a play where you're not just going head to head on a guy," Allen said. "I was joking with Warren earlier about how if we have a play where we're single blocked, it's kind of fun. Because it's rare. I think maybe we get 1-on-1 blocks like a handful of times in practice, so that’s always fun. You've got to take advantage of those. It's a grind, but you've got to kind of love it."
Allen has a history playing the 3-4 at Minnetonka (Minn.) High School, although he noted his size dominance made it far easier for success at the prep level. Herring, meanwhile, is playing nose guard for the first time. He played as a defensive end at Belleville East (Ill.) High School as part of a 4-4 defense and began his Wisconsin career as a defensive end. During spring practices in 2012, he switched to defensive tackle, but the Badgers still ran a 4-3 defense.
Herring said his most significant adjustments under first-year defensive coordinator Dave Aranda's scheme have been two-fold: He has never played directly over the center, also known as 0-technique, and he has been trying to gain the necessary weight to succeed at his new position.
"You've got to be big," Herring said. "I gained some good weight. I'm trying to stay between the 290, 295 range. That’s the main thing and then getting off the ball. I think that’s a big plus for me, using my quickness. Over the spring, working with agility drills, using quickness is good. Especially when you're right over the ball. It makes the center uncomfortable. So I love that."
Kauha'aha'a, who had never coached any players using a "true 0-technique" before coming to Wisconsin, said he liked the combination of Allen and Herring. Allen provides more of a physical presence because of his bulk, while Herring's speed serves as a complement. Aranda said those who played nose guard in his scheme required agility and strength because he must mirror the center wherever he goes on the field.
During spring practices, Kauha'aha'a noted the challenges for his nose guards was learning to read and react to the offensive linemen rather than simply attacking. When a nose guard is too aggressive, Kauha'aha'a said, he can wind up out of his coverage area in a specific gap and create huge seams for the offense to run through. For that reason, staying disciplined and understanding the rules becomes key.
"When I'm lining up, I'm literally an inch away from the ball and obviously right over the center," Allen said. "I'm getting double-teamed basically every play, whether it's a scoop or a power double or even when they're pass setting two guys. You've just got to get really comfortable playing against multiple offensive linemen. It's definitely challenging, but I think it's kind of fun, too."
Last season, Allen ranked ninth on the team in tackles (37) as an interior lineman. Herring added 13 tackles in limited action. But occupying linemen and freeing up room for teammates to attack from all corners of a 3-4 to create turnovers will be especially vital this season. A year ago, Wisconsin tied for 105th nationally in turnovers forced (15) out of 120 FBS teams.
Allen and Herring have come to realize their numbers may not reflect their value to the team on the field -- a vital component for success in their new roles. Allen cited the play of New England Patriots nose guard Vince Wilfork, who was ninth on his team in total tackles with 48 last season. He went on to make the Pro Bowl for the AFC.
"It's not really all about the stats," Allen said. "A big thing this year, I think you'll be able to tell whether or not our nose guards are playing well by our linebackers. I think most educated football minds know that as well.
"As long as I know I'm doing my job and occupying blockers and holding the line of scrimmage, I'm satisfied. I don’t necessarily need tons of stats. I just want to help out the team and help out the defense."
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