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Riding The Nose - The Broncos Run Defense

HUNTINGTON BEACH CA - AUGUST 08:  Joel Tudor surfs in the final of the Pacifico Nose Riding Invitational final during the Hurley U.S. Open of Surfing on August 8 2010 in Huntington Beach California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
HUNTINGTON BEACH CA - AUGUST 08: Joel Tudor surfs in the final of the Pacifico Nose Riding Invitational final during the Hurley U.S. Open of Surfing on August 8 2010 in Huntington Beach California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
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Being a Native Californian, the art of riding a surfboard is familiar to me. Surfers have a laid back lingo of their own. Maybe you've heard the term, "Hang Ten." This is a surfer word from the 1960's that means--riding a wave with your ten toes Hanging over the very front tip of the surfboard, or "Riding the Nose." Now you may be wondering where I'm going with this surfer slang on a football blog. Well, follow along and I will explain.

The Denver Broncos employ a 3-4 Base Defense. Three Linemen and four Linebackers. In this system, the Linemen are required to take up space and clog the running lanes. This frees up the Linebackers to make the majority of tackles. The key component of the 3-4 Defense is the Nose tackle, and the Denver Broncos have a good one in Jamal Williams. If the Denver Run Defense is going to improve on last years ranking, it will be on the back of Jamal and his 348-pound frame.

If Williams can stop a lineman (or two) from getting to the next level, Inside Linebackers Mario Haggan and D.J. Williams can concentrate on tackling the opposing Running Backs. And if the big guy can get penetrate inside and collapse the pocket on passing plays (jackpot), it leaves one-on-one matchups for the ends and outside linebackers.

Wiki states this about the NT position:

In a 3-4 defensive scheme, the nose tackle is the sole defensive tackle, lining up directly opposite the center in the "0-technique" position. Like the traditional 4-3, the nose tackle must occupy the center and one guard, however in the 3-4 it is typically the weak-side or pulling guard. One defensive end then matches up with both the strongside tackle and/or strongside guard, while the other occupies the classic 1-on-1 matchup against the weakside tackle. This leaves the outside linebackers free to pass-rush, creating the 3-4 scheme's distinctive pressure on the passing game.

Baltimore Ravens NT Haloti Ngata, who stands 6-4 and weighs 345 pounds says, "basically you're trying to eat up as much space, as many guys as you can. Two, three -- whatever you can do to make a running back bounce, or move them to another area where you don't want him to go."

How important is the Nose Tackle?  Our own Steve Nichols stated:

The NT is like the queen in chess; she's so powerful that she can be a hindrance because her loss can have such a negative impact.

The origin of the 3-4 is explained here, but to Denver fans, Joe Collier is the one who put the system into the pages of Broncos history and was the architect of the "Orange Crush Defense." He's also the one Patriots coach Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels' former boss, often has credited with first showing him the defense.

Collier on the 3-4 and the Nose: 

"You build it from the inside out. The nose tackle and the inside linebackers, those are three guys that are very important. But when you go through it, the nose tackle is probably the single-most important guy."

The position is important enough that the New England Patriots have recently signed Vince Wilfork to the richest deal for a Nose Tackle with an extension that is said to be worth $40 million over five years.

More from Joe Collier:

 "He (Nose Tackle) has to hold it all together and make it so the guards can't get out on the inside linebackers. Let me put it this way - the nose tackle can make the inside linebackers look pretty good, and if your inside linebackers look pretty good, you're going to play pretty good defense.

But that guy is the first guy you have to get," Collier said. "He has to be physically capable of playing the position and mentally tough enough to do it over the long haul. I used to ask Rubin Carter's son, Andre, all the time where he wanted to play in the NFL and he'd always say, 'Anywhere but nose tackle, because I saw how my dad walked around the house on Mondays.'

The nose tackle, all three guys up front, have to play with that physical side and they have to be unselfish, powerful and ready to deal with the fact they have to do their jobs well so other people may make the tackles, force the fumbles, get the sacks and interceptions.

He's going to get double-teamed almost every time, and he can't dig in 8 yards down the field; he's got to hold at the point (of attack) so that linebacker can come around the bend behind him to make the play."

A nose tackle makes his living in the anonymity of the trenches. He is virtually an unknown to everyone but his teammates around him. The position comprises lots of exertion, body trauma and grunt work but no glamour and little recognition. In fact, most nose tackles look a lot like Shrek. About the only time anyone notices the ubiquitous nose tackle is when he somehow sacks the quarterback, which does not happen very often. It is considered the most physically demanding position in football, but there's more to playing nose tackle than grabbing, shoving and receiving body blows. It's also a thinking man's position. They have to recognize formations and blocking schemes and react accordingly. A 3-4 nose tackle has to stay square to the line, get underneath the center's pads, anchor and hold his ground.

Here's the job description: Needs to be strong and stout. Has to quickly diagnose blocking schemes and plays. Must stand his ground, plug the gaps on either side of the center, take on constant double-teams and keep offensive line men from reaching linebackers. Physical distress is to be expected.

"You've got to be a bad ass to play there, no question" says Jets Head Coach Rex Ryan.

The Broncos brought in a bad ass this off-season. His name is Jamal Williams. Throughout his 13 year career, Williams has gone to the Pro Bowl three times and been named All-Pro 1st team twice. Bothered by a Tricep injury in 2009, the San Diego Chargers took a flyer on re-signing Jamal. All the better for the Broncos. Williams fits the prescription for the anchor position of Josh McDaniels idea of the 3-4 Defense.

He is bigger and stronger than any center in the league, and it shows. Better yet, I asked Broncos rookie Offensive Lineman Zane Beadles about Jamal at Training Camp. Zane said, "He's a Beast!"

Without Williams, the Broncos will not be able to run the 3-4 effectively. He's so important that offensive coordinators in the league draw up their game plans around him. If he can return to his pre-injured form, he could put up numbers like he did in his last full season (2008-09). 16 games, 56 Tackles (46 solo), 1.5 sacks and 3 pass deflections.

To revisit my Surfer slang, if the Broncos "Hang Ten," Jamal Williams will be the Surfboard that carves up opposing Offensive Lines. The other ten Denver defenders will be able to make tackles. That is why the Denver Broncos Run Defense will be "Riding The Nose" this season.

Football season has finally arrived.

Go Broncos!

P.S. If you haven't got enough understanding of this position and the 3-4 Defense, below you will find some suggested reading material from the MHR Archives.

MHR-U story about the 3-4 formation

MHR-U story on gaps and techniques

MHR-U story about the nose tackle
Trends by ivanthenotsobad
Analyzing Nose Tackles by Doc Bear