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Miller’s Pass Rush: Breaking Down the 3-3-5

By Julian Miller – WVU DE 2007-2011

Julian Miller by WVU Sports

WVU has used the 3-3-5 defense the majority of the time during the past decade, which includes three different head coaches. This unique and uncommon defense has many aspects which make it especially difficult to prepare for.

I’d like to give my thoughts as a former player on what I believe makes the 3-3-5 defense work and why it is a perfect fit at WVU.

It all begins with the recruiting process. While playing at WVU, I noticed the type of players coming through the program on the defensive side were usually true blue-collar, lunch pail guys.

The majority of the players that made our defense successful were walk-ons to three star recruits with only a couple of four stars here and there.

It was the type of players we were rather than our rating stars that defined us in football. Every teammate I had on defense at WVU was someone who will one day be that guy that shows up for work every day and just does their job, whether it be in football or any other profession. No complaints or issues with the task at hand, just ready and willing to do whatever it takes to make the company or organization better.

Next is the knowledge of the game of football. The 3-3-5 is not a common defense in high school. The majority of high school teams either run the 4-3 or the 3-4 defense since they are both easy to teach and learn. Players recruited to WVU usually have a great deal of knowledge on how the game of football is played. Actually they have a great deal of knowledge, period.

I played with guys who came to school to become engineers, lawyers, bio chemists and many other difficult fields of study. That is the very reason why most of those involved in the 3-3-5 defense can adjust to the new scheme and flourish when playing in the right position. Knowing your roll in the defense and your particular assignment is the top priority in this scheme.

The final aspect that makes the 3-3-5 a success is experience. Any team with experienced players will usually have success. What makes experience in the 3-3-5 so important is that many of the positions are very difficult for freshmen to understand.

I watched players struggle to understand their position and roles at a young age, only to completely dominate and take control as a junior or senior. I was fortunate to start two games as a redshirt freshman as a Mountaineer.

My very first start was against Pitt in 2008. That year we played at Heinz field against a Pitt team that had LeSean McCoy and an offensive line that would produce multiple NFL products. Let’s just say that although my stats for that game were pretty decent for a freshman during his first start, my game film was by far one of the worst of my career.

It was so bad that Pitt used me for a coaches clinic tape on how to use the power blocking scheme! But as I spent more time in the 3-3-5 I progressed and gained the ability to handle different blocking schemes while also improving my techniques at controlling the gaps.

I found personal redemption during my final game in Morgantown against that same Pitt team that we all love to hate. I had the best game of my career by making 12 tackles and a WVU record tying 4 sacks. In addition to being Senior Night it was my 23rd birthday. Can you imagine the incredible feelings I had after that game?

The key to success in the 3-3-5 is not the correct play calling from the coaches. Nor does it come from going out and grabbing the top recruits in the nation. It comes from getting those players that will go to war with you through thick and thin without question or doubt.

It comes from recruiting the type of players that can mentally handle the stress of learning something not simply new, but they have likely never seen before. It comes from getting players that are willing to be patient and take the right steps to learn the defense including their roles as a part of it.

This type of player makes the 3-3-5 so special, and running the 3-3-5 at WVU also makes Morgantown a special place. In my mind this is the perfect fit for our Mountaineers. This season’s defense is full of these players with a great deal of experience. That should make for a fun and exciting product to watch on the field in 2015.

Edited by Michael Walker

Julian Miller
A football analyst for, Julian played from 2007-2011 as a defensive end for the Mountaineers. He concluded his career in Morgantown 2nd all time on the WVU sack leaderboard as well as 2nd all time in WVU history in tackles for losses.
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