Next time you see this you'll know what's going on
In previous layman's discussions on how fancy newfangled anti-spread defenses function I've talked about how Quarters works, and how MSU used aggressive alignments with it to dominate the run game at the cost of greater risk of getting beat over the top. Each time I alluded to the fact that Saban's defense is similar in concept except where Quarters is a Cover 2/Cover 4 hybrid, Saban's is a Cover 3/Cover 1 hybrid.
We will see it this year. Every defense uses some Cover 3 and Cover 1 as a changeup, but Saban's base system, now all over the SEC, has spread into various Michigan opponents. Penn State kept it around while transitioning to Bob Shoop's version of Quarters. Maryland had it last year; not sure if their 4-3 transition includes a coverage shift. I think BYU (which is going back to 3-3-5 with Bronco Mendenhall overseeing it personally) is expected to as well. Michigan State has played with it, since it's similar to what they do normally. Anyway I thought it'd be fun to get into it now, so we'll have it to reference later.
- Rufio of Cleveland Browns SBNation blog Dawgs by Nature.
- Matthew Brophy's incomparable series on Alabama's D: part i, part ii, part iii, and his "Rip/Liz" video.
- Eleven Warriors' Kyle Jones's film study
- Ricky Muncie of Crimson Tide SBNation blog Roll Bama Roll
- Chris Brown, of course. Of course.
- Pre-emptive thanks to actual football coaches who post in the comments and point out where I got something wrong or over-simplified.
I'm Not a Coach Disclaimer
I'm not a football coach. I'm a guy on the internet who read a lot about football.
Basics of One-High Defenses
Cover 3 is probably the most basic defense in existence. It is the defense you learn on Day 1 as a high school freshman, if not before. At that level it is a "go to this spot and then find work" scheme, past that there are techniques coaches teach to cover the gaps. Here are the two basic versions that Saban uses against standard 2x2 formations:
If you picked up on the fact that "Liz" and "Rip" begin with the same letters as "left" and "right" (or you know your port and starboard colors) you have my permission to eat a cookie.
Joe Paterno used variations of this (Rip is very close to his base defense*) since the Chatelperronian, and like Neanderthal toolkits it only looks crude until you see it in the hands of a master.**
Some things to know that we'll use later:
- The receiver numbering system is the same as in Quarters: start from the sideline and work your way in until you're at the center. It's where they are at the snap, not before, in case motion messed with that.
- The path you take to your zone matters a great deal. Note how guys running toward their zones are actually going through weak points in the coverage. This is for "routing" purposes: if you're there a receiver can't be.
The latter is true for all zone defenses, but it's a stress point for Cover 3 because the holes in the zone are places the offense can attack either quickly (7-9 yards downfield in the seam) or easily (deep downfield once the free safety has committed). Cover 3 coaches teach defenders to be in the way so receivers have to re-route to covered places.
The tradeoff is natural coverage strength to the middle of the field, to the detriment of the flats—if you've ever watched an NFL defense that seems to constantly be tackling fullbacks squirting out of the backfield, that's why.
The problem with Cover 3 is the same problem with Cover 2: those frikkity vertical routes:
The problem remains with pretty much any set of routes that stem from a vertical release.
The old-fashioned answer to this is play more man defense, and certainly Cover 1 (example diagram) is a complementary coverage to any Cover 3 team. In Cov1, aka "Man Free" defense, corners stay on the receivers, the erstwhile "curl/flat" guys stay on the #2's, and the middle linebacker over the RB takes the RB.
But if you're playing man-to-man defense, you'd better have men who can win their battles 97%+ of the time against theirs. If you need to activate that free safety to double up a dangerman, now you're giving up "front"—how many defenders are participating in your run fits, and once it's not an 8-man front anymore you're weak against the run. Offenses will also use rub routes, or exploit matchups, e.g. have a quick slot receiver sprint across the formation until he loses the linebacker trying to keep up.
These were problems for Saban to a much greater degree when he was dealing with the kind of talent the Cleveland Browns drafted during his DC days. By the time he got to MSU he already had his Rip and Liz and his Cov1 amalgamated into a hybrid scheme he called "pattern matching."
[After the jump]
* The Paterno-era "Hero", and "Sam" in the linked diagram were early examples of hybrid space players, and the zone-blitzing 8-man front it spawned was the basis of Rocky Long's 3-3-5 defense.
** …who discovered children were being sexually abused in his locker room and didn't tell the police because football reasons.
Follow the end of the 2016 line so see where previous classes stood at this point in the process. bigking it makes clickger.
This is gonna be a lot of data and not much analysis that comes from it. Anecdotally, recruiting in the period before this changed dramatically as fans involved themselves in the process. To have a guy like Henne locked up a year out was weird for 2004; Kevin Grady, who pledged to Michigan the summer before his junior season, was unheard of.
The question was has the timeline of committing changed significantly from then to now, or did the thing settle down? I also wanted to see what went on with the other recent transition classes: was 2015 dramatically different from 2011, or 2008?
To answer it I gathered the commitment dates of Michigan freshman recruits since pledging became something reported on the internet (class of 2004). The result was the above chart showing a slightly greater emphasis on getting more commitments around signing day of the last class, and that May-July period between spring and fall practices.
Also under Rodriguez and more so under Hoke, Michigan began taking more guys over a year out from Signing Day. I would expect that to remain thing but not to any great extent. I'll be able to say more once I've gotten the national data to some semblance of sense.
Are they committing earlier to Michigan? On the whole, yes, except for transition classes for obvious reasons.
Taking a mean day is misleading because there are definitely certain periods (summer, near singing day) when commitments bunch. The Greatest February Weekend in the History of February Weekends that built the 2013 class was not repeated, but the 2014 class signed so early that Hoke's last two classes were half-full by now.
You'll note the classes after coaching transitions were also set forward from those a few years out. That is a reflection of the recruiting cycle stretching well beyond a year out. Harbaugh's 2017 class has begun before 6'6 tight ends who camp have ratings—or should—but that isn't a new reality.
Was the 2015 transition class like other transition classes? Your memory is saying "there were never so many decommits" and your memory is correct:
I showed with stars where the last coach retired/was fired/mutually parted ways, and the new one hired. Football seasons began about 175 days out. From there you can see the 2015 class falling apart as the team did, while the greater uncertainty of Rich Rod's 2010 just stagnated the growth of the class. Carr's retirement went relatively smoothly.
The 2015 class was also off to a much stronger start, including 5-stars in George Campbell and Damien Harris over a year before NSD, whereas the 2010 class was built under the shadow of Rosenbergmadeupagate. The 2008 class largely came together during the 2006 season, and in its aftermath.
Within all that you can see how critical a few weeks in winter were. Rodriguez weathered a bit of attrition and finished his class with, if not all he needed (ahem, defensive backs), several players who'd become long-term starters in his system. While we waited for Dave Brandon to get maximum Dave Brandon is Handling This time during The Process, the 2011 class went on a roller-coaster, and Hoke, despite being a fantastic recruiter, was given too little time to add everything he needed.
|Event (days to NSD)||2008
|Coach search begins||Nov 20 (78)||Jan 6 (27)||Dec 2 (64)|
|New coach announced||Dec 17 (51)||Jan 11 (22)||Dec 30 (36)|
On the Data
You can have it here:
A lot of this was from the 247 database, which was from Rivals' database, which was wrong in a lot of spots (for example they give dates they don't know for the 2004 class as 7/8/2003). In the process of tracking down the real dates I asked the guy who covered Mike Hart most closely and got a bonus story for us:
So thanks John L.!
If you were to sort everything in the world by a factor of how much I pay attention to it vs. actual importance, what jersey numbers Michigan players wear is probably just below and to the left of Alan Trammell's snub.
His career was merely "average" for a Hall of Fame shortstop
If you don't care, I respect that; here's a report from BBC news on the rising nuclear tensions in South Asia that probably matters a lot to the long-term stability of the region and the horrifying possibility that our species might some day wipe out the better portion of the lifeforms we know of. If you do care who wears the numeral we associate with Woodson, maybe read up enough on the arms deal first so people will know you've got your priorities straight. All set? Alright here's what I think we should do with the Legends numbers.
The Legends Question
Earn it, Keith
I don't think anybody knows what they'll do with the program now. Hackett seems earnest in this evaluation period. I also have an idea where some of the pushback is coming from, since former players—in email groups, in private, and some publically—are a key demographic against them. Part of that's a get-off-my-lawn attitude among older guys regarding the over-attention paid to jersey numbers by kids these days. Part of it's the same jarring fan sensation of having long associations undone—the Kovacs Principle—and part of it's a new guy wearing sacrosanct numbers every year. I saw more complaints about Funchess wearing 87 while not blocking than Moore wearing it while not playing.
I wish they would keep this program, but only for underclassmen. The Seth Plan:
- Establish a set of attainable criteria for each number. Past Legends have input but this shouldn't be the Braylon gauntlet—that worked for Braylon because Carr tailored it specifically to Braylon.
- Establish a set of higher criteria for getting added to the patch.
- Underclassmen interested in wearing a Legends number apply to their coaches
- Number must be earned before a player either starts his 15th game, or reaches the end of his sophomore season of eligibility, whichever comes first.
- Back-elevate past Michigan greats based on Legends criteria.
- Add 2 (for Woodson, defensive backs), 77 (for OTs: Lewan, Long, Jansen, Jenkins), 46 (Harry Newman, for special teams players), and 27 (Benny Friedman, for quarterbacks) to the program. Make 98 for running backs.
- Establish a set of criteria for having a new number Legendsized (so future HSPs can hope to wear #5)
I imagine if more than one young player wants the same number Harbaugh won't mind competition.
Projecting the Fall Arrivals
I used to try this every year: attempt to predict numbers for the new guys to wear. Before MGoBlog it was an annual rite of rostering the new NCAA game. Last year I missed it; in 2013 I went 12 for 22 with the scholarship guys, but that was in June when some guys already knew their numbers. This year I'm gonna try to do it early and honestly.
[My methodology and sure-to-be-incorrect predictions, after the jump]
Remember that one run that maize Michigan had against blue Michigan? It'll come to you: it was the one when the offense gained yards by running the ball. I mean forward yards, not the sideways stretch things. You know the one on the very first snap of the Spring Game that Ace giffed:
There wasn't much else from the Spring Game to pull out so I thought it would be fun to pick this one apart as a very vanilla example of Harbaugh's Power offense, and Durkin's gap-attacking with speed defense, and where various players are in it.
I also disagree with Brian on what caused this to happen. He gave RJS credit for fighting A.J. Williams to a draw and blamed Desmond Morgan for biting the running back's initial outside cut. Those things happened, but in the context of Durkin's defense I think Jenkins-Stone is mostly at fault for not being aggressive enough. In 4-3 world a tie is a loss.
What the offense was thinking. Here's the design:
This is Power O, the most base play of Harbaughffense, from a base formation for running it. The first play of the game, there was nothing tricky about it—the offense lined up where they snapped except (off camera) Chesson went in motion. You may remember this play from such offenses as Stanford under Harbaugh, and what Borges and Hoke wanted to run with two years of eligibility left on Denard Robinson. Well-defended it ends however far down the field the offense's bodies managed to move the defense's bodies. This wasn't well defended, as we shall see after…
No this isn't a "3-4"; well it is a 3-man front with the nose over the center,
but not a 3-4, let me explain.
Various people reporting back from practice have noticed three (or fewer) guys with their hands down, and said "oh they're going 3-4." Soon enough people pick up on this, figure a new DC means a new defense, and whiteboards across the state get sales points erased in favor of X's and O's with arrows diving between X's.
Mattison was asked about the 3-4 look in his breakout Q&A and had this to say:
"We ran that last year. What we're doing on defense is trying to see what scheme fits the players."
I know we've hashed the 4-3 under a bunch on this site but I could never walk by a boardroom with football drawings on it (this is probably why I lost that job) so here we go again.
Everyone Runs Everything. Calling a defense a "3-4" or "4-3" or any one thing at this level is not ever going to be accurate, because defenses change up gaps and show different looks so offensive linemen won't know exactly who's got what gap every time. In the process of showing that you might be running 3-4, sometimes you actually have guys two-gapping. If you have a really special player you might do that even more. But general rule is everyone runs everything, and the best you can do to describe any single defense is what their base is. Everything else will stem from the base.
Alignment vs. Philosophy
Alignment is where you put your players before the snap; philosophy is what they're being tasked with. The two-gapping philosophy has become synonymous with the 3-4 alignment, and the one-gapping philosophy is thus tied to the 4-3. The major difference between these philosophies is understood better by using the "gap" terms.
…means you have one to three defensive linemen responsible for controlling a blocker instead of a gap between those blockers. His job is to get into that guy and be in a position to tackle if the run goes to either side. He's not left out to dry; the two-gap philosophy gives you a free hitter from the second level who watches the play then reacts. Think of it as man defense for run fits, i.e. the defenders all have a certain offensive player they're responsible for beating, the free hitter's being the ballcarrier.
You can do this if you have a super large nose tackle, the classic example being Wilfork on the Patriots. You can look at the above diagram and see the downside of two-gapping: if that left guard releases and the center holds up, you have a blocker eating your free hitter downfield. Two-gapping is a luxury you can have if the guy you have two-gapping is able to do it effectively.
A two-gapping defensive lineman needs to get that control established early, so lining up directly over the guy he's going to control is rather important. So a base 3-4, two-gapping defense will line up almost always with the nose tackle directly over the center, thus threatening the two-gap assignment, and still in position to change it up.
Remember that these are not set-in-stone gap assignments, just common ones. You change these up from play to play.
This is your basic "everyone has a gap" defense and the philosophy behind both the 4-3 even/over and 4-3 under. It is zone defense of run fits. Coaches who use this as their base, however, call it the more "aggressive," because football coaches describe the way they eat an ice cream cone "aggressive," yes, but also because the linebackers and linemen aren't diagnosing anything before taking their first steps of the play.
Instructively, one of the terms used often for the 4-3 over is the "Miami 4-3" because Jimmy Johnson used it to great effect when he had access to a lot of very athletic yet not very coachable defensive players. The concept was fast guys hitting their gaps and penetrating upfield to cause disruption.
You'll note that the 4-3 under picture is nearly identical to the 3-4, one-gapping example image above. That's pretty much what a 4-3 under is: a nose tackle and two large DL who set up in a position to take on double-teams so the LBs can attack their gaps. Philosophically everyone has one gap, but guys start taking on different roles: the NT is shaded to strongside so he'll need to be a bit more of a plugger; the SDE is further inside and has to be able to take on doubles like a DT; the other DT is further out and can be a little more end-ish; the WDE has a one-on-one battle with the OT, and can be a little more linebackerish; and the SAM has to be part-DE to compensate for the fact that he's the edge defender instead of the SDE.
Because it looks so much like the 3-4 defense it can threated to do 3-4 things. That gets us to the point of what Durkin does with his defenses, and what Michigan is expected to do this year: threaten two-gapping as a changeup.
Here's a play from Florida-FSU last year and you'll recognize the alignment as 3-4 (or would be 3-4 except weakside OLB is pulled for a nickel):
Nose tackle is right over the center. Ends are right over the tackles. You are thinking all sorts of Wilforky things. But this is still a one-gapping defense and you'll see why off the snap:
Right there is a good shot of the roles of 4-3 under defenders. The NT and 3-tech have double-teams; as long as they don't give up ground and stay engaged with those dudes they're keeping the LBs clean and keeping their holes closed. The five-tech has a guard (he'd be doubled if the run was going the other way), and the two MLB-types (the WLB and MLB) can flow into gaps (the MLB is blitzing his). The SAM has his edge. The difference here is the WDE has been pulled for a nickel, a dramatization of the fact that a 4-3 under WDE is often in coverage.
Here's how it's drawn up:
(orange arrow means player's in zone coverage and watching his gap; black=rushing).
On that play the nickelback (5'10"/206 junior Brian Poole, Florida's hybrid space player) came down inside and got blocked by the slot receiver, giving up the edge and leading to a big run since the free safety was deep in coverage. If not for that, Poole should have been in perfect position to hold this down.
You Sure Durkin is a 4-3 Guy?
Durkin likes to accomplish the base thing from a gazillion different looks; I predict defensive UFRs with regular opening shots of Brian trying to name things. Here are the formations for every play leading up to that one:
What defense is this? It's a philosophically 4-3 (one-gapping) multiple-front thing that likes to have speed on the edges, either from standup WDE/SAMs or putting hybrid space players in there with edge responsibility. IE what Michigan's been since 2011.
What About 3-3-5?
The 3-3-5 stack also uses two-gapping as a base threat, though neither Rocky Long nor Jeff Casteel have often had access to a nose tackle capable of doing it consistently. The point of the 3-3-5 is it gives up starting position for the threat of attacking from anywhere.
Remember how GERG was terrible at this? It's because he was a 4-3 coach teaching 4-3 philosophy, and that took away the unpredictability of this defense.
I realize Strobel got one. Find a better photo then, pickers of nits.
This has to be talked about. Hoke left a roster that was in relatively good shape considering all the highly rated players who had to stick through some awful program degradation. He signed good classes, and those classes have by and large stuck around and fulfilled their academic duties. But an inordinate amount of them inexplicably didn't redshirt, and because of this there are some holes on the horizon.
I'm sure there are explanations in many of these cases that we are not party to. It's only the sheer volume of head-scratching non-redshirts under Hoke that gives us reason to call all of them into question. Like how I'm sure there are legit medical hardship waivers that occur at Alabama but [graph].
Some guys the coaches were forced to play early, and there's no need to discuss them beyond a mention as such, e.g. Jabrill Peppers. Mason Cole outcompeted a pile of guys to start at left tackle last season. That sort of thing gets a full pass. Beyond that, I've broken each Hoke class into categories of increasing argh:
- WTF. Wasting redshirts on special teams and dime back when last year's dime back is on the bench.
- Pick ONE. Needed bodies at this position, but not all the bodies. Battles for 2nd on the depth chart should be resolved in time for the ultimate loser to have a 5th year as consolation.
- Need the dudes (and other things I don't blame on the coaches). Immediate starters or guys who played because Michigan sorely needed his body and his pulse at that position.
Names that should have redshirted are in red.
Class of 2011
Did you really need both, 2011? [Upchurch]
Hoke arrived to an offensive machine with two years of eligibility remaining, and a nightmare defense of guys who couldn't displace recent departures like Jonas Mouton, Ray Vinopal, Adam Patterson, Greg Banks, and James Rogers. The immediate need was obvious and Hoke rightfully set about recruiting freshmen who could fill those roles. So I'll give him a pass for some of it.
|Hollowell's 2011 contribution was more than scooping up a fumbled kickoff against VT, but it was also more than Ray Taylor's. [Melanie Maxwell|AnnArbor.com]|
Raymon Taylor and Delonte Hollowell. The year following the Never Forget defensive backfield, Hoke recruited five likely cornerbacks: Blake Countess, Raymon Taylor, Delonte Hollowell, Tamani Carter (redshirted, transferred before 2012), and Greg Brown (early enrollee, transferred before 2011 season). The roster still had J.T. Floyd, Courtney Avery and Terrence Talbott (left program summer before 2012 season), available. In a pinch, Troy Woolfolk could have converted back when Thomas Gordon won the free safety job. At least one, and probably two true freshmen would have to play.
It immediately became apparent that one would be Countess. So to fill out the two deep they would need to burn Taylor or Hollowell's shirt. Hollowell arrived as the quintessential Cass Tech mite corner. The guy was 164 pounds, but saw some action at dime back vs. Nebraska, and recovered the fumble at the end of the first half. Taylor had two tackles and a personal foul.
Brennen Beyer and Frank Clark. Going into the season Beyer was a SAM and Clark a WDE. The difference between those positions in Michigan's 4-3 under was not very great, particularly because when Beyer was inserted it was for a 5-2 look. The WDE's depth chart was Craig Roh and Jibreel Black; SAM was Jake Ryan and Cam Gordon. The reason I say one would have played anyway is the rush end position has a lot rotation, and Black was already the starter in the nickel formation.
There wasn't much to differentiate the two in aggregate play; Beyer was the more consistent, Clark the more explosive. The coaches chose to have them compete through the year instead of preserving one. Had they done so Beyer was the obvious choice despite Clark's higher ceiling. Beyer was smaller and Michigan had Roh to be a more solid edge defender, but only Clark to be a merchant of chaos (remember the Sugar Bowl interception). On the other hand Frank had a rough history before Glenville, and could have used an adjustment season. Either way he would have been dismissed after last year's incident.
Needed dudes etc.
Blake Countess and Desmond Morgan won starting jobs on the 2011 defensive reclamation project. They also both would lose a season to injury so we have them back yay. Thomas Rawls I'm not broken up about, though he will be a pretty good MAC back this year. RBs usually have most of the "it" they ever will as freshmen, and if they do become long-term starters the toll it takes on their bodies means they're often better off moving through their careers early. A redshirt year can make a guy a better blocker, or put some distance between a good back and his heir, or let a smaller guy fill in. Matt Wile is a special pass even though they wasted his redshirt on kickoff duties (and punting during Hagerup's first suspension). I learned recently that Wile made it clear from the start he intended to graduate in four years and do engineering things.
[Save your anger for after the jump.]