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A few weeks ago I promised to finish this piece on the differences for Michigan's personnel in the 4-3 over. Sorry.
Refresher: What's a 4-3 Over? What you're looking at are alignments of the front seven. The "under" shifts the defensive line away from the strength of the defense and the linebackers swing the opposite way to compensate. Michigan would often align this to the hash rather than the offense, shifting the DL toward the sideline.
The "over" shifts the line the opposite way, but not to such an extreme. The linebackers wind up centered over the ball, and the DL spread across the formation. There is nothing 3-4 about it except the nose tackle.
Last time I talked about how going from a base under to a base over will demand the WDE and 3-tech play a little bigger, the SDE can play more like a rush end, and the nose's job stays pretty much the same except he's now the backside DT. Now on to the second level.
Strongside Linebacker (SAM): James Ross/Royce Jenkins-Stone
The 4-3 under is tough to run against—often they wind up blocking the backside DE in hopes of getting something from a cutback, since it's hard for the LT to get to anybody else. That meant the WLB could be a free hitter
On inside zone that strongside (right) tackle is trying to get a free release. The 3-tech could get aggressive and slow him up but the danger of playing aggressively on the DL against a zone running team is you open up the backside. The faster the OT gets out to the second level the more room there's going to be for the running back to dodge around the DT. A SAM who can read IZ quickly will be all up in that OT's face, able to affect both frontside gaps without opening up the backside cut. Every half-second of delay on the SAM's part is another yard for the offense.
But the SAM can't get crazy-aggressive attacking the OT or the C gap because that tight end is an eligible receiver, and there's another receiver on that side of the formation who could be slanting or dragging. Since the guess is Michigan wants Jake Ryan to be aggressive in the middle, Ross will end up in a lot of zone drops or in man-to-man on the tight end.
The fit: The WLB in the 4-3 under that James Ross played last year isn't hugely different, but it wound up playing differently because Ross was constantly having to take on blockers thanks to Michigan's Jibreel-Black-is-a-NT stunt-a-thon. His quick-twitch reads will be an asset, and his speed and coverage ability will be also. Michigan State's defense had Denicos Allen blitz a ton from this position, and got away with it because the handsy press coverage took care of the slant/drag passes that punish it, and because they had Max Bullough to read and react at MLB. Ross will get to blitz more than he did as the backside linebacker, but I'm guessing Michigan would rather he be the read-react-hit-spill dude so Jake Ryan can go viking.
[jump for the other two spots]
Gant == Cam Gordon
In news without explosions, Sam Webb reported yesterday($) that Allen Gant is moving down from safety to SAM in a shift reminiscent of Cam Gordon's, albeit without a bunch of painfully long touchdowns preceding it.
Gant [recruiting profile] was an early commit in the 2012 class who never really turned into the touted recruit he was supposed to be; at 6'2", 203 he'll have to add 20-30 pounds before he's a plausible option there. As a redshirt freshman behind two or three guys, he'll have time to do so. Meanwhile, allow me to congratulate myself at this juncture, as Gant's profile compared him to none other than Cam Gordon:
Gordon's listed at 6'3", 222 on the current roster after a few years on campus, which is where Gant will end up, give or take an inch and five pounds. Gordon came in as a WR, ended up moving to free safety in an ill-fated 3-3-5, and then slid all the way down to spur halfway through the 2010 season; he now mans an analogous position for Greg Mattison at SAM.
As a 3/4-star tweener Gordon was a little bit better regarded than Gant, and he's a little bigger. Both are thick guys who don't seem to have the speed to play WR or S despite being ticketed for those slots and might eventually find themselves somewhere else after a period of positional vagabondage.
SAM makes sense if Gant's natural inclination is to bulk up to 230, as Webb was told. It also suggests that Gant just wasn't much of a safety, as now the position verges on alarmingly thin. Next year's depth chart:
- Jarrod Wilson/Dymonte Thomas
- Jeremy Clark/Delano Hill
- Josh Furman/air
And that's if Furman returns for a fifth year and Thomas doesn't get himself locked into the nickelback spot long term, which I kind of hope he will since nickelback is capital-I Important these days. It looks like Michigan will be relying on three of four plausible options to log significant playing time, and while I'm pretty high on Thomas and Hill that's not many bullets for 2.5 starting spots.
Other roster upshots:
- Mike McCray may not be SAM-sized after all. If McCray is projected to play SAM Michigan is fine with Gordon/Ryan/Beyer/McCray and Winovich on the way. The Gant move suggests McCray will compete at the ILB spots, as does Michigan's continued pursuit of guys like Noah Furbush, who is 6'4", 240 and a SAM/WDE all the way.
- Michigan will take at least three DBs and possibly four in this class with a pure safety a priority. I know this is not what the insiders are saying at the moment (two or three, they assert), but I expect they will change their tune once the coaches get a good long look at the secondary depth chart and get a feel for how much they like Thomas at nickel. They've already backed off their assertions this would be a 16-man class; once a natural amount of attrition brings that number up between 18-20, safety is going to look like a—probably the—major area of need. None of the four incoming corner recruits looks particularly like a safety to me, as they are small or lanky.
- Hello certain recruits. Hopefully when PA S Montae Nicholson ramps up his recruitment there is strong mutual interest. Nicholson is reputedly a bit concerned about the number of DBs Michigan has brought in recently, but for a pure safety prospect like Nicholson there is plenty of opportunity. Also, a guy like IL CB Parrker Westphal, who some are speculating may wait himself out of the class, is going to find a door left open for him for a long time. He has the flexibility to go boundary/nickel/SS, either freeing up Thomas to move back or just plain being an athletic safety; a guy like him is just what the doctor ordered.