In honor of our annual right there -----> which I expect will get Kickstarted a third year in a row today, I thought I'd share a little sneak peak from it. Brian asked me to create these for the linebackers page:
Click to big. Right-click to open in a separate window so you can reference it as you go.
That's a side by side comparison of Michigan's prohibitive starters this year before and after the "shift" to a 4-3 over and accompanying position changes were announced. Seeing it you can start to appreciate how all of those announcements make sense.
For the lay, 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. The result is very much like a 3-4 (picture the WDE in the photo above as yellow) and plays like it. In this alignment the strong side is the left because there's a TE there. 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.
Let's run through the positions to appreciate what's changed and what will be expected of them.
Weakside Defensive End (Frank Clark/Mario Ojemudia)
Ojemudia lined up as a 7-tech in the under [Fuller]
In the Under: The WDE is the leading pass rusher. He lines up so far outside of the backside offensive tackle that he'll wind up getting a 1-on-1 battle with that guy all day. The tradeoff was being further from the point of a attack in the run game. The WDE is further from the run game but in position to drop into coverage, a thing he was tasked to do quite often as the DE-like linebacker opposite him charged into the backfield. Much of the good done by the over shift is it creates double teams elsewhere to preserve the WDE's ability to attack upfield.
In the Over: The weakside end is still outside the offensive tackle, but shaded in a "5 technique," i.e. over the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle.
If you remember your 5-techs from 4-3 under school, you'll get the difference, though unlike your Ryan Van Bergens the weakside end usually doesn't have a tight end lined up to his side (ace even, H-backs and the like do happen) so he needn't be a double-team-eating anchor. The new WDE's biggest change is he's not dropping into coverage all the time. He has to control that OT in the run game, and often he has to cover the B gap. The linebackerity of the position has been removed; this man is a defensive lineman, and not necessarily a flashy one—Michigan State's been plugging their workhorse DE Marcus Rush in this spot for four years while various SDEs make the highlight reels.
The fit: Clark showed signs of being a pretty good player by the latter half of last season and now up near 260 he is large enough to not get kicked by OTs. As a pass rusher he's only like fifth or sixth in the conference, partly because the interior DL couldn't push the pocket very often, and partly because he wasn't great at closing when he beat his guy. Ojemudia and true freshman Lawrence Marshall aren't large men in your memory, but both claim to be up to 250 now. They're all better full-time defensive ends than 3-4 OLBs.
[Jump for the rest of the DL—LBs coming up in Part II]
Strongside Defensive End (Brennan Beyer/Taco Charlton)
In the Under: This position is going through perhaps the most change, and it could be the catalyst behind the whole shift. You'll note in the lead figures above that I even changed the name of Beyer's position from "5T" to "SDE." In the under the 5-tech had to stand up to doubles, had to control the B gap or C gap or at least that OT while a tight end is trying to help. He didn't have the edge; that went to the SAM. The 5-tech was virtually interchangeable with the 3-tech, a defensive tackle.
In the Over: The SDE is now "open," meaning he doesn't have a blocker lined up outside of him. The SDE will line up over the TE or shaded to the TE's outside shoulder, where the SAM used to be in the 4-3 under. His job has changed to be more SAM-like. He has to chip the TE, has to set the edge, and has a route to the quarterback which can get him in free if the OT is focused on a blitz or interior rusher. You'll note MSU's SDEs—first Gholston, now Calhoun—have piled up gaudy highlight reels beyond their actual abilities, since the OL tend to get preoccupied with attacks coming up the middle.
The Fit: SO much better. The SDE is a SAM-like object, and Beyer has spent the bulk of his Michigan career at Michigan's at its 4-3 under LB/DE tweener spot. Beyer is long, not huge, responsible technique-wise, and can generate pass rush better than he can clog a lane. The coaches clearly like him, and this defense gives them a way to put both Beyer and Clark on the field at the same time. I'm also very excited about what Taco Charlton looks like here. Poggi, recruited as a pass rushing interior sort, arrived as more of an RVB-ian 5-tech than the DT he was pegged for; he fits here just fine for the moment.
Three-Tech (Chris Wormley/Matt Godin/Ryan Glasgow/Tom Strobel)
Glasgow will be next to the SDE now instead of Clark [Fuller]
In the Under: Hoke arrived and immediately began accumulating dudes who could grow into 3- and 5-techs. It's a cross between your standard DT and a 3-4 end. As the NT is sucking up double-teams you'd like a player here who can collapse the pocket going one on one with a guard.
In the Over: Now on the strong side of the formation, a lot of the heavy lifting that the SDE used to do has shifted to this guy. The over's 3-tech is still more of a penetrator than the nose, but he's more of a tackle now. He's also a great spot to get added value for players elsewhere, since by lining up in the strongside B gap he's got a whole lot of stuff coming his way.
The Fit: Heininger Certainty Principle don't' fail us now. Michigan has lots of possibilities here, including dipping into the DT ranks. The role hasn't changed too much. You can get by with a sound player here, and can rip things up with a good one. Wormley's added size and had a full year of training finally, but by consolidating the 3- and 5-techs into one position there's suddenly a lot of bullets.
Nose-Tech (Ondre Pipkins/Willie Henry/Maurice Hurst/Brian Mone)
In the Under: Lined up shaded over the center, responsible for taking on double teams and being a generally immovable object right in the middle of the defense.
In the Over: Other side of the center but not much else has changed.
The Fit: Stays like before. QWash's wasting disease and Pipkins's injury saw Michigan trying Ash here then rolling with Jibreel Black, which didn't go well. A lot of the improvement expected for Michigan's defense this year rests upon Pipkins's return for injury, Henry's growth, and/or what they can get out of the freshmen.
I'm outta time and have a hungry 3-month old so we'll catch up on the linebackers in another post.