needs moar usage
left: Bryan Fuller
Earlier this offseason I stumbled onto an old article where Bill Walsh wrote what qualities he looks for when drafting various positions. Meant to be a one-off on the offense, I took requests for a defensive version and broke it up into D-Line, linebackers, and now, finally, the defensive backs. The idea is since the coaching staff is building a "pro-style" team with principles more akin to the Walsh ideal that dominates the pros than the collegiate evaluations made on scouting sites and the like, we shall re-scout the 2013 roster for Walsh-approved attributes.
Since coverages have changed the most since Walsh's day—a reaction to the spread—this is probably the least valuable of the series. To bring it back on point, I've gone off the page a little bit to note some of the attributes that NFL defensive coaches are looking for nowadays, and what those changes mean.
Plankamalu / Shazorvacs/ M-Rob if all quarterbacks were Brian Cleary
Walsh Says: 6'3/215. Now hold your horses before going all "SHAZOR?!?" on me—I'm making a point: The type of player you have at safety depends on the type of system you want to run and the type of player you have everywhere else. If you're going to be playing more odd coverages (cover 1, cover 3) then you want your strong safety to be more of a run support guy, in many ways a fourth linebacker. If your base coverage is even (cover 2, cover 4) the strong and weak safeties will be more similar:
"There are other systems of defense where both safeties play a two-deep coverage and only occasionally come out of the middle to support the run. They basically play the ball in the air, the middle of the field and the sidelines. When you do that, then the stress is on the cornerback to be the support man.
So you must keep in mind these various philosophies when considering what types of cornerbacks and safeties you want to put together in forming a defensive secondary."
The attributes of your defensive backs should be complementary. Here's what Walsh is getting at: your backfield has to be able to defend the pass first and the run second. And here's the key: the more you can trust one player to handle coverage without help, the more you can stock up on extra run defense with the other guys. If your backfield already has plenty of coverage, you can have a strong man:
"The strong safety is historically the support man. He must have some of the traits you look for in a linebacker. In fact there have been some hybrid players in that position. Cincinnati had David Fulcher [right], who was as big as some linebackers but could function also as a safety. The Bengals moved him weak and strong, inside and outside and he became that extra man that the offensive run game had to account for but often could not block.
"But the typical strong safety is someone who can hit and stop people and respond spontaneously and go to the ball. Naturally, the more coverage talent the man has the more you can line him up on anybody."
Today, defensive coordinators sit on porches, remember when you could play a guy like Fulcher, and say "those were the days." The epitome of this type of safety is former Buckeye Doug Plank, who defined his position to such a degree that the defensive system itself was named for his number (46).
It's also called the "Bear" defense because it was the Bears
This defense was at the height of its popularity when Walsh joined the 49ers in 1979, and it was this defense his model passing concepts shredded. The defense played to Plank's strengths as an overly aggressive, hard-hitting run stopper with some coverage skills. The SAM linebacker in today's anti-spread sets (e.g. the 3-3-5's "Spur") is a closer analogue to the Plank-style player than the modern strong safety, with the key difference being that, as a safety, you couldn't put a blocker on a 46 without removing one from a lineman or linebacker, meaning the SS could flow cleanly to the point of attack and wrack up ridiculous tackle numbers.
College teams loved this, since passing quarterbacks were hard to come by and the big boys were running three yards and a cloud of dust (and later the option). A lot of cool names for linebacker-safeties were passed down from this period, such as the "Wolf" on Bo's teams, or the "Star" (names which today are coming out of retirement for the nickel-SAM hybrid position in base 4-2-5 anti-spread defenses).
Walsh's Favorite Wolverine: Why does a mid-'70s response to off-tackle NFL running games matter to a collegiate defense in 2013? Well because we have a really good free safety, and play tight end-heavy outfits this year in UConn (T.J. Weist, a rare member of the Gary Moeller coaching tree, is taking over there), Penn State, Michigan State, and Iowa, with the outside possibility of a Wisconsin if we make it to the conference championship. Also because the coaches have been subtly putting safety-like objects (Woolfolk, Gordon, and now Dymonte Thomas) at nickel, and recruiting a few linebacker-sized safeties.
I don't know what he'd think of Kovacs. We loved him, but Jordan had two weaknesses: 1) his lack of overall athleticism made exploitable if left in wide coverage (see: his abusing by Ace Sanders on the last play of the Outback Bowl, and the utter disaster that was GERG's attempt to play Kovacs as the free safety in 2009), and 2) his lack of size made him blockable if a lead blocker could get to him (see: bad things happening whenever Mouton abandoned contain).
He would have loved Ernest Shazor, a knife blade listed at 6'4/226 with a scatback's acceleration who loved nothing better than demonstrating the force equation. Brian calls Shazor "the most overrated Michigan player of the decade" because he has to live with the bolded subconscious of UFR, and nothing pisses off a figment of a blogger's imagination like a safety who gives up a big play in coverage.
Here's the point: the ideal safety would be a dude with the size and stopping power to pop a lead blocker and make the tackle or lay out a guy like Shazor, read and react like Kovacs, and cover like Charles Woodson. That human doesn't exist. A combo of epic athleticism with plus headiness and serviceable tackling and size equals Ed Reed or Sean Taylor. Epic headiness with plus size and serviceable everything else nets you Doug Plank, with plus athleticism: Ronnie Lott, Troy Polamalu or Rodney Harrison. The trick is to have epic everything between your safeties; for strongside then it's not Ernest Shazor or Jordan Kovacs; it's SHAZORVACS!
What to look for in a Scouting Report: At either safety position, instincts rate highly and speed after that (less so for the strongside). You're looking to first make sure you have enough coverage in the entire backfield, and once you do you can use this position to stock up on linebacker traits: tackling, size, taking on blockers, personal contribution to local seismic activity, that sort of stuff.
What you can learn on film: Everyone loves those bone-jarring hits and coaches are more than happy to put them in a recruiting video, but not all hits are created equal. Sometimes they're generated by another defender cutting off the lead blocker, other times it's your guy reading the play so early he can go all-out on the hit. More important is what happens to the ballcarrier: he needs to go down. Safeties are going to be left in space, and making that tackle is more important than making the offensive player wish he'd never met this oblong brown thing.
What could signal bust potential: Remember you want a safety, not a horse, i.e. overrating the secondary, linebacker-y attributes and expecting the rest to come along. Adequate coverage and good instincts need to be there or else this guy is just a platoon player. "May be a linebacker on the next level" is a red flag, unless he actually becomes a linebacker. Brandon Smith's recruiting profile is instructive.
It's usually good policy to discount ESPN's opinion when it's in wild disagreement with the other services, but here I tend to give their rip job ($, "he's not a fast-twitch athlete and lacks explosive quickness and speed"; "Takes too long to reach top speed"; "He can be late, takes false steps and doesn't see things happen quickly enough") some credence. Reasons:
- Rivals started off very high on him, ranking him around #50, but steadily dropped him as the year progressed despite his status as a high-profile uncommitted player.
- Despite all the guru accolades Michigan's main competitors were Rutgers and South Carolina; other offers came from Maryland, NC State, Wisconsin and West Virginia. He wanted offers from Florida and Ohio State which never came.
- You always risk looking like a tool when you rely on your super awesome scouting skills and six plays on youtube to discern a kid's fate, but... yeah, I didn't think he was all that.
The guy left in a huff after they tried to wring the last bit of value out of him as a Doug Plank-like extra linebacker vs. Wisconsin, and Wisconsin ground us to dust, but then Smith was a high school quarterback whose development as a defender had to come almost entirely from the Rodriguez-era coaching staff. Anyway you've seen this again and again: rave reviews for the guy's "frame" and a profundity of attributes that would make him seem a really nice horse, combined with not nearly enough "makes plays." First have all of the safety stuff: can read and react, cover, and tackle in space. Then care about the size.
How our guys compare: Jarrod Wilson (6'2/196) remains my favorite to start at this spot because he is adequate (not yet plus) in coverage and the other guys aren't. Like the Jamar Adams he reminds me of, Wilson doesn't stand out in any category but doesn't have any major holes in his game other than being young.
The other leading candidate is Marvin Robinson who scares the hell out of me. He was a big-time recruit early in the process thanks to apparently having an early growth spurt, and his profile was filled with horsey metaphors. The same player still hangs on that frame (he arrived at 203 and never deviated more than 3 lbs from that) and hopes for him hang on the comparative competence in coaching plus the fact that being behind Jordan Kovacs is a perfectly reasonable excuse for not seeing the field earlier.
The redshirt freshmen at this position are stiff and linebacker-ish with instincts, more Plank than Polamalu. Jeremy Clark is all of 6'4/201 and did an okay job against the run in the Spring Game I covered in this space a few weeks ago, but lacks speed. Allen Gant also had instincts praised as a recruit, but also lacks the kind of athleticism and would at best develop into a slightly bigger and less heady Kovacs. If going forward Michigan can develop a superstar at the other safety spot or with a corner, they might be able to Plank it with one of these guys—when Woodson gave us that opportunity in '97, Daydrion Taylor and Tommy Hendricks went ham.
Thomas Gordon is super-instinctive and would be a perfect fit here except he's needed at the more important free position he's been playing.
[The rest, after the leap.]
Sorry this one's short, since I'm neck deep in the HTTV editorial right now. When we did the Marlin Q&A I shot him a question over email after the fact about his favorite type of defense. The answer I got back was very detailed, and mostly Greek to anyone who hasn't immersed themselves in it. I also thought it made a great snapshot answer to the question of what's the difference between college defense and pro/Alabama defense.
What's your favorite type of defense/base formation? Is there one that's more fun to play in and another that you think is the most effective, or are those one and the same?
My favorite type of defense is the 4-3 zone blitz with a mix of cov 4 and cov 2. My favorite coverage was one named Rolex, a mix of cov 4 and 2. DBs must read the number 2 receiver in order to know which cov to play, if 2 goes to the flat, outside corner comes off one and plays cov 2 while the safety pushes over the top of #1. If #2 goes vertical instead of to the flat, the safety takes #2 and the corner stays on #1 playing quarters cov.
Glossary (skip this part if you're already comfy with football terms)
4-3: The 4-3 you know: four linemen and three linebackers. Because the NFL plays with so many different fronts, specifying the base shift isn't necessary—they're going to align to what the offense shows and change it up three times before the snap to confuse the offense.
Zone blitz: Credited to the '71 Dolphins and popularized by LeBeau with the Bengals and Steelers. All it really means is dropping guys you'd expect to pass rush into coverage and blitzing from one of the guys you'd expect to be playing coverage. In a 4-3 defense it usually means a defensive end is in dropping into coverage and a linebacker or safety is blitzing. Granted your DEs are not going to be Ed Reed out there but it's effective because you screw up the OL's blocking assignments and you can get some quick picks from quarterbacks trained to throw in the direction of the extra rusher.
a typical cover-2 zone blitz
Cover 4 and Cover 2: Two basic defensive schemes for playing zone defense:
As you can see by the size and shape of the coverage zones, they have different strengths and weaknesses. Cover 2 is strong against short passing and is effective against the run because the linebackers don't have to go very far and the corners can keep that edge. It's weak to either side of the safeties, beaten by abusing the MLB deep or the spot on the sideline over the corner's head. Common routes to beat Cover 2 are seams, four-verts, and posts, which put receivers on either side of the safety's zone, or going high-low on the cornerback, making him pick between receivers running routes both under and over him.
Cover 4, also called "Quarters" is strong where Cover 2 is weak, and vice versa. You attack it by attacking the flat, for example with stop routes or making a linebacker carry a receiver/tight end to one side of his zone and having a back roll into the spot just vacated. You also can attack Cover 4 by running into it, but because the coverage just went back to normal for those safeties, and because the NFL has guys like Marlin, and Polamalu, and Ed Reed available to them, some coaches use this opportunity to line up one or two safeties in the box as supplemental run stoppers, trusting he'd have the speed to get back to a deep zone. Ohio State and Virginia Tech do a lot of this. The base quarters play is this:
The Flat: You should know this but it's the area between the hash marks and the sidelines within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage.
1 receiver, 2 receiver: Lots of coaches have different terms for the different receivers in any given formation, and defensive coaches have their own sets again for better kenning. In this terminology throw out all the stuff about slots and Y's and split ends versus flankers, and just think of the No.1 receiver as the outside guy.
Cover 2 and Cover 4 both split the field in half, so in the defensive back's mind he just needs to be watching to see what the receivers are doing on his side, hence the plural 1's and 2's.
High-Low: He didn't say that but it's what this play is trying to prevent. The cornerback on the right of this gif is getting high-low'ed:
In this case the corner plays it safe and decides to stay with the receiver running a flag to the top of the corner's zone, effectively forcing the corner to play a Cover 4 zone and abandon his Cover 2 zone, where there's now a tight end hanging out with a whole lot of nitrogen. Boom: high-low'ed.
If you look at left side of the above-gif'ed play, you can see they're running the other thing that beats Cover-2, putting the free safety in a bad choice (and requiring the cornerback to turn and carry the receiver out of his zone). If you start covering the flat and leave the #1 receiver to the safety, the offense can punish you deep and down the middle. Here the free safety was put in a bad choice between taking the tight end who's already behind the linebackers or a receiver who's behind his corner's zone. Boom: vert'ed.
But what if you could play Cover-4 when they try to verts you, and stay in your Cover-2 zone when they try to hit you in the flat?
This is Rolex
purple means it's a read
The point of this play is to take away one of the methods of beating Cover 2—going high-low on the cornerback—without opening something else up by having the safety and corner read the #2 receiver (for ease I've made this the tight end) and adjust accordingly.
In the example above, if Y goes into the flat, then the cornerback lets the receiver go and covers the flat, and the safety knows he is responsible for that receiver (who you're expecting to head out to corner). If the Y is running a vertical route the corner and safety play a Cover 4.
This Isn't Cover 4 or Cover 2
If you watch the linebackers' zones, it looks like a Cover 2, since the outside guys aren't covering the flats. From the offense's standpoint, the whole thing is playing havoc with the keys you've been drilled on since your first snap: the zone blitz means there's coverage in the direction the pressure is coming from, and though you recognize Cover 2 zones in the first few seconds of the play, when you go to throw the pass that's supposed to beat Cover 2, there's a cornerback or safety playing it super-aggressively.
How to Beat It
It's a changeup, not a complete defense. Marlin didn't say what they do if the #2 receiver goes on a slant inside or something, but I think that plays right into the teeth of the defense; just double up the #1. I am confused about how they deal with the opposite high-low method:
…since the corner's read is going to drop him into Cover 4—perfect spot to intercept a ball to #2 but who's got #1 now? My guess is he just plays quarters with the linebacker (or in this case the SDE), who has responsibility for the flat. Also the SS is playing quarters so he's got his ears back.
Best I could find after watching lots of tape (Marlin failed to mention it was an Eagles defense until after I'd watched a lot of 2007 Colts). The #2 receiver stayed in to block, and the corner reads the backfield to be sure there isn't an RB trickling out into the flat, then leaps into Cover 4. The LBs are playing Cover 2. Another from that same guy.
Can we try this?
Mattison certainly played with this kinda stuff with the Ravens. But this year we're going to have at least one untrained safety, and the corners have about a year and a half of experience between the two starters. The thing about this play is it requires several defenders all to make the correct read and react to it quickly. It's the kind of advanced stuff that an NFL defense can install and practice until it's second-nature, but seems like a hard thing to get a young secondary to do. In the future, projecting that a handful of the defensive back recruits do work out, yeah I absolutely see Michigan trying stuff like this. Mattison loves his zone blitzes, and you could see in 2011 and last year that he wanted to put some more quarters and mixed coverage stuff in.
photoshoppers, start your GNUs
So we did the meet and greet Q&A thing, and other than the liveblog portion being pretty much a disaster, A+++ would do again. I couldn't type fast enough to keep up with all the good info in the Q&A so below I've written up those answers plus some we answered after the fact via email.
We're tentatively talking another one the Friday night before the Notre Dame game, so calendar that. If you're coming in from out of town, Jared of Sports Power Weekends, who sponsored this whole thing, mentioned he's putting together a trip for that weekend that includes tickets for the game and a private tour of the Big House before we do drinks and ALL THE SHANE MORRIS.
Some things went way better than expected and other things not so much. Didn't go well: We had no way to plug our mic into the speaker system, fortunately remembering just in time that bartenders have friends with guitar amplifiers. The other thing that could have gone better is we forgot to warn Brian that Jehu Chesson was in the audience before your favorite blogger launched into his heuristic reasoning as to why Amara Darboh would be more effective this year because Chesson is still a waif.
New heuristic: Chesson sitting = Heiko standing minus an inch.
Did go well: lots of luminaries showed up. Players current and former included Chesson, Countess, Donovan Warren, and John Duerr. An incomplete list of bloggers: Bryan MacKenzie (aka BiSB), MGoPhotographers Eric Upchurch and Bryan Fuller, Burgeoning Wolverine Star, Lloyd Brady, M-Wolverine, Craig Ross, and LSAClassof2000. Epic shirts: Heiko's bubble screen smile, and a Branch-Morelli sweatshirt.
In things that surpassed all expectations, let me being with actual nicest guy in the universe Marlin Jackson himself. Walking out of the game to his car took about 25 minutes because he signed every hat, helmet, t-shirt or whatever thing put before him. We talked NBA decisions, how the Jake Butt TD was on Jarrod Wilson's as-yet-unadvanced field awareness, and that the biggest difference with this staff is they "teach football."
After being introduced by Brian as "the man who still has Reggie Williams in his back pocket," to kick off the Q&A Marlin talked about his Fight for Life Foundation. He was candid about his youth: Jackson grew up in the projects with a mother addicted to drugs and a father he never met. As you can imagine this isn't the best way to learn things like accountability, the value of an education, or even your own value and that of others. Marlin learned these things through Michigan; it's the goal of his foundation to give similarly underprivileged kids the opportunities he received because of his athletic talents.
Fight for Life runs three programs: Field of Dreams (link) is an in-school and after school program that basically helps get the kids back up to speed with their classmates. Seal the Deal (hyperlink) is a series of leagues and football camps for youth through high school with an educational/character-building component. R.A.P. (reach out and access your peers – url) is an SEL* program that gets kids to open up through, e.g. a discussion of their future aspirations or by presenting a paper on their favorite song lyrics. They need to raise about $200k per year to fund these programs.
* Social and Emotional Learning, the spread offense of education. Full context is linked above but you may cognate as learning that's the opposite of 'Another Brick in the Wall.'
We then talked about things like that one year the Colts paired Manning with a real defense, which receivers were the hardest to cover, and his impressions on the young defensive players at Michigan today. That after the jump. But first here's three generations of next-Woodsons:
On Monday I tweeted there would be some interesting Meta announcements on here. The first: indie HTTV shall return, depending on how that looks----------------------->
The second is we're finally having an in-person event that's not in the middle of July:
On Mount Blogmore the beards are made of bacon
When? The Michigan Spring Game event will be at 12:30 at Michigan Stadium. Whenever that's over, wander your way over to R.U.B. We'll be wandering at the same pace so probably won't really be underway until an hour or so after the game ends.
Where? Make your way to R.U.B. BBQ Pub at that corner (State & Packard) that was the Packard Pub, or the Artisan Bistro, or the Southside Grill, or the Atlanta Bread Company, or the Delta Restaurant, or Espresso Royale, or somebody's farm, depending on when you were last in Ann Arbor.
Who? You know, the guys. Brian Cook. Ace Anbender. Heiko Yang after Borges says he can leave the presser. Eric Upchurch. A two-time All-American defensive back. Tacopants. That tubby yutz with a beard…
Wait, you said… Marlin Jackson will be there to join our Q&A session, and will also talk a little about his Fight for Life Foundation, which sponsors programs to give kids some of the opportunities that Marlin himself didn't have in Sharon, Pa. I'll let him explain:
I had to fight against never knowing my father, having a drug addicted mother, being neglected, moving from home to home, and not having any positive role models. I had to fight for my life, the life that I wanted, the life that was just above the horizon of the ghetto that I could not see. The more I experienced beyond the confines of my childhood, the more I became encouraged to fight for all that is right and just in the world. My hope is to give kids who grow up as I did a fighting chance to make it in the world and to let them know that their environment does not have to dictate who they are in a negative way.
Some of the programs he runs are Field of Dreams, which provides incentives for kids to "gain yards" through scholastic achievement and community service; Seal the Deal football camps; and R.A.P. which uses music and the arts to help kids stabilize their lives.
How? This was all made possible thanks to Jared of Sports Power Weekends, who's so good at putting stuff together he does it for a living (he's the guy who organizes those hotel+bus+ticket+tailgate+tshirt trips to away games). Jared will be there for you to thank in person, or if you want to sign up for his packages. At the moment he's planning trips to Iowa on 11/23, Northwestern on 11/16, and for out-of-towners, some in-Ann Arbor programs for Notre Dame and Michigan State.
Need help with this? Yeah. We're going to have some computers set up so we can liveblog the event for those who can't be in Ann Arbor, and kinda help us field questions and whatnot. Moderators: that's the ticket! We need mods. Live mods. Mod mods.
Cost? No cover or anything. We'll order when we get there and split the bill, though a few people offered to get some rounds. If you feel especially privileged to be there and want to put money somewhere, Marlin's Foundation has a Kickstarter-like system of donation levels via paypal.
Why R.U.B. The consensus was that we like beer and ribs. A lought.
RSVP? In the comments I guess. Just trying to get an estimate within +/-15 to give Omar, who's kindly letting us use his place.
Wait no Dear Diary? Where's my Moment of Zen?
The Firehouse Museum, the Huron River, Depot Town, the phallic watertower, Sidetrack burgers, a bowl of everything at the Bomber Restaurant that magically absorbs your entire hangover, bowling…this is the entire list of nice things my EMU grad wife had to say about Ypsilanti. Even their Meijer sucks. To her list I would add running backs coach Mike Hart and the "Players Coached" section of Ron English's chrome website, where you can get quotes like this:
"When I think of Marlin Jackson, I think of a stallion. Marlin Jackson was a stallion. I didn't break him, but I did corral him a little bit in terms of getting him to believe in technique."
-Ron English, EMU Head Coach
File under things you will never unlearn. Other things that are like mammals according to Ron English: LaMarr Woodley and Prescott Burgess.
How this works again:
- Wednesdays I put up a winnable prize that consists of a desirable good.
- You guess the final scores of this weekend's designated game (football or hoops, depending on the season), and put it in the comments. First person to post a particular score has it.
- If you got it right, we contact you. If not, go to (5)
- The desirable good arrives at the address you give us.
- Non-winners can acquire the same desirable good by trading currency for it.
About Last Week:
So it's come to this, Bob Huggins. A fight to the death. Mano a mano. Man to man. Just you and me and my GUARDS!
*SWISH* *SWISH* *SWISH**SWISH**SWISH**SWISH**SWISH* 81-66. Simon of SimonOnSports was closest at 81-65.
This Week's Game:
The University of Discgolf heads west on Washtenaw at 8:30 tomorrow night. Winner gets to claim to be the dominant school in the county.
And on the Line…
Fact: If you are wearing this shirt in Ann Arbor while facing South, you could be pointing at Mike Hart right now!
Fine print: One entry per user. First user to choose a set of scores wins, determined by the timestamp of your entry (for my ease I prefer if you don't post it as a reply to another person's score--if you do it won't help or hurt you). Deadline for entries is 24 hours before the start of the game. MGoEmployees and Moderators exempt from winning. We did not invent the algorithm. The algorithm consistently finds Jesus. The algorithm killed Jeeves. The algorithm is banned in China. The algorithm is from Jersey. Rutgers is from Jersey. Holy shit guys Rutgers is in the Big Ten. BIG TENNNNN! The algorithm constantly finds Jesus.This is not the algorithm. This is close.