When Derek Mason took over as Vanderbilt’s head coach in 2014, the defense saw a major change as Vanderbilt went from a more traditional 4-3 look under James Franklin to a 3-4 defense. But even calling it a 3-4 may be a bit of a misnomer now with the addition of the “star” position, a hybrid safety/linebacker that could make the defense more resemble a 3-3-5 or even a so-called “3-8” defense than a normal 3-4 look.
That said, the distinction between a 4-3 defensive line and a 3-4 defensive line, with the latter calling for generally bigger defensive linemen to occupy blockers and free up linebackers to make plays, is something that Mason has had to address through recruiting. Mason has brought in seven defensive linemen in the last two recruiting classes to speed up the conversion from the 4-3 to the 3-4.
Jonathan Wynn: Wynn is a kid who is going to start some games, rotate in other games, but his role is going to be equally important all around. Wynn himself is a bit smaller than Nehemiah so you could possibly see him more in pass rushing situations or even 3rd down situations. Wynn had a pretty good year last season so I wouldn’t be shocked if he picked it up for a second season.
Adam Butler: Perhaps nowhere is the distinction between the 4-3 and the 3-4 better summed up than with Butler: at 6’5”, 295 pounds, he has size that’s typical of a 4-3 defensive tackle; in the 3-4, he’s a defensive end. But that size will allow him to rotate over to nose tackle as needed. As a junior, Butler notched seven tackles for loss and three sacks while starting eight games at defensive end.
Nehemiah Mitchell: The young man from California is making the move from outside linebacker to defensive end, a spot he has played everywhere he has been. While his journey is impressive to note the thing you can’t help but take away from what Coach Mason said about him is “he does the dirty work”. That to me is a very important statement, and if you go back and watch the film you notice that he does take on double team blocks in key SEC games. Not too shabby for a guy who was supposed to be a 2 star prospect at Sacramento State. I think ideally they would have liked him to be around 270+, but his frame is so long that I think he can be effective anyways.
Torey Agee: A 6’4”, 285-pound senior, Agee started one game and registered 3 tackles for loss and two sacks last season. Like Butler, Agee also saw some time at tackle and his versatility should make him valuable in the D-line rotation.
Dare Odeyingbo: The 6’2”, 262-pound sophomore was the only true freshman to see playing time on the Commodore defensive line in 2015. He saw most of his playing time last year on special teams, but he did get into the Austin Peay game (who didn’t?) as a defensive lineman and registered a tackle for loss. This year, he could figure into the rotation for playing time at defensive end; he’s too undersized to even think about lining him up at tackle.
Riley Tindol: At 6’5”, 267 pounds, Tindol has size that’s a bit more typical of 4-3 defensive ends. A late addition to the 2014 recruiting class, he hasn’t seen the field in two years at Vanderbilt and still appears to be pretty far down the depth chart entering 2016.
Drew Birchmeier: At 6’4” and 280 pounds, Birchmeier has good size for a defensive lineman and is also fairly athletic for a guy that size, as he also played tight end in high school. He could develop into a nose tackle if he adds more strength; for now, he’s more likely to see the field (if he doesn’t redshirt) as a defensive end in the 3-4.