- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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The 3-4 defensive scheme is on the rise nationally, but not so much in the Big East.
Cincinnati was the only team to play the 3-4 last year and scrapped it this season under new coach Butch Jones. Everybody else is in the 4-3 base except West Virginia, which plays the 3-3-5 stack.
Yet, there are still some defenders who fit the "hybrid" label -- in other words, a guy who can play outside linebacker or line up with his hand on the ground in the trenches. Many of the league's defensive ends are undersized and would be an outside linebacker in other systems.
With that as a background, I was tasked with picking the best hybrid defender in the Big East this season. My choice: Cincinnati's Walter Stewart.
One of the main reasons Brian Kelly said he switched to the 3-4 before last season was because Curtis Young so perfectly fit that linebacker/defensive end role. It turned out that Young was banged up for large stretches of the year, and an unheralded freshman took his role.
Stewart finished with 59 tackles, 4.5 sacks, a forced fumble and an interception last year even though he looked much lighter than his listed 226 pounds.
This season, Stewart is bulked up -- he's now listed at 6-5 and 235 pounds -- and should be even more of a force. He'll start the season as the starting strong side linebacker, but don't be surprised to see him closer to the line of scrimmage on occasion.