Granted that Ashton Dorsey and Desmond Jackson are likely to receive plenty of snaps next year so it's silly to make too much of Chris Whaley and Brandon Moore being listed as starters, but I'd like to tackle why they would be paired together and at their respective positions.
Most of us looked at the depth chart and were shocked to find Whaley and Moore on the 1st team at all. In the spring game I thought Dorsey and Tank looked much further along in playing with good pad level against the running game, and they comprised the first team tackle unit which suggested that Davis and Diaz thought the same.
The 2nd shock came at the position designations: "Whaley as Nose-tackle? I thought Moore was brought here specifically to play the nose and replace Randall?
We can only assume that Whaley and Moore have come along far enough in conditioning and technique that they are now the 2 best players for what we want our DT's to do on a regular basis, I haven't been there at practice and I don't necessarily trust all the reports we get from people who are. At least on line play. Last year Trey Hopkins was "a match for Alex Okafor" pretty much as soon as he moved to Right Tackle. He then went on to not be a match for virtually any of the better ends in the conference.
However, given what we know about the Diaz defense and these players' attributes, I think we can understand why they are being positioned where they are.
Diaz usually aligns his front like this:
That took far longer than I would have guessed (finally fixed!)
Anyways, the nose tackle is usually aligned to the wider "field side" of the formation. Why? Because on runs to the boundary the nickel is going to have to fill the space between the "N" and the "E" from all the way out there by the slot receiver. If Texas lined up the 3 tech, represented here as "T", on the field side then that's one more gap over that the nickel would have to come fill. That actually makes a big difference, especially since OL often use wide splits, because fighting across the wash to get across one more gap makes a big cutback running crease more likely. And the most commonly used running play in the league, the Zone, is targeting those backside gaps for the cutback.
To put it another way, each gap between offensive lineman is assigned a letter. The 2 gaps on either side of the Center are called the "A" gaps, the 2 gaps between the guards and the tackles, "B" gaps, so on and so forth.
The nickel fills the "C" gap on runs that come to his side of the field. If the offense runs the ball in the other direction he has to come and fill a backside gap. If the nose is on his side, that's the B gap. If Texas lines up a 3-tech defensive tackle on his side, he has to fill the A gap. For run support purposes, you prefer he take the B gap.
So that's a basic introduction into what we're doing there, so why is Whaley the better fit at nose and Moore the 3-tech?
Consider a zone play run to the field side, the offense wants the play side guard to be able to reach that "M" (the middle linebacker...try to keep up ;) ), and if they do it becomes more difficult to prevent the running back from finding a crease right through the B gap.
On "Power-O", the guard and the center double team the nose and try to drive him off the ball so that one of them can reach the "W" and cut him off in his pursuit of the ball.
On the zone runs, a great nose will require that playside guard to double team him with the center and fail to displace him quickly, enabling the Mike to get there in a hurry and either make the tackle or force the running back to bounce outside where the defense's pursuit is coming to get him.
On Power-O, he doesn't have to force the double team, it's going to come by design, but he needs to get low and get into the A-gap quick before the guard and center get their hands on him and out leverage him with their 2-1 weight advantage.
And of course, teams are always throwing outside runs, the bubble screen, and quick passes out to "field side" where shifty WR's and backs have room to make people miss. In these instances, the defense needs the nose to be a useful pursuit player who can run laterally with a play.
You sensing a theme? While the nose will need to draw and engage double teams fairly often, he needs to be laterally quick. This is just in the base defense, in the endless Fire Zones and stunts Diaz uses we'll want that player to loop or slant into another gap. This isn't a Saban 2-gap nose tackle who is trying to dominate the center or guard and insert himself into gaps, a Diaz nose-tackle is a different breed of athlete.
Meanwhile, a team will always want to double the defensive tackle on the playside of a run, so Moore's large size and strength will not be wasted as a 3-tech. Consider also, when Whaley and Edmond are stunting into gaps, which is going to happen on a regular basis, it'll be nice to have a solid and unmoved space eater on the other side of the line to consume a running back who is forced into the cutback lane.
One interesting thing here that I can't necessarily account for is that the 3-tech is well-positioned as a pass-rusher whereas the nose is not. What's Moore (see what I did there?), a good pass-rusher at the 3-tech means that whichever end is positioned alongside him (it will depend, our ends don't align to field and boundary) will be harder to block in pass protection.
This begs the question, how is Moore coming along in his pass-rush? On 3rd down we can substitute whatever players we want on the DL to achieve a pass-rush but on 1st and 2nd down against WVU will Moore be on the field? Has he become a good pass-rusher?
What I would guess from these designations is that Moore is doing better and better at playing with good pad level for a 6'5" behemoth but he may not necessarily be a pass-rusher yet. If he's not totally there, we can easily rotate him to keep him fresh (pass-rushing is largely an exercise in stamina) while subbing him out when the situation calls for someone better in that department. Ultimately for our defense, having a pass-rush from the 3-tech is a luxury because we are ridiculously strong in the pass-rush at every other position on the field and employ the Fire Zone so much.
Most exciting is that this suggests about Whaley's development. We can conclude with reasonable certainty that he is playing with good leverage and as a result his freakish quicks are translating into major problems for the offensive line in keeping him out of the backfield and climbing past him to reach Edmond with good leverage...which is a must. Teams are not going to be able to block Edmond without good angles, he's too powerful.
Whatever the case, you can be sure that Diaz will be blitzing A LOT this year with our abundance of DB talent and our fantastic athleticism at Nose, End, and the 2 linebacker spots. Teams will have to adjust their gameplans to account for the Fire Zone or they won't be able to survive the negative plays that occur as a result of the linebackers flying into the backfield.
Any questions on the front or positions?