The following article is a little old but I ripped it out of an Unverified Voracity a little ways back because Steve Sharik posted an excellent diary on what we can expect from the defense this fall and it felt like it would be a standalone post. (BTW: Sharik has posted another diary about the triple option, which Markus from Carcajous(!) has followed up on.)
So the quick/spinner lingo that we've been using ever since Greg Robinson was hired, confusion over which led to commenters on this here blog to coin the term "deathbacker" has been clarified. One term does not exist, and the other one has been superseded:
There’s not much hybrid about the linebacker-safety position Stevie Brown will play this year. Robinson said he doesn’t call the position “spinner” or anything else. “He’s our SAM,” or strong-side linebacker, Robinson said.
There is, however, new terminology for the defensive line. Robinson calls those positions the quick, power, nose and tackle. The “quick” is the hybrid linebacker-end you’ve heard about (Brandon Herron); the “power” is an old-school defensive end (Brandon Graham); the “nose” is your typical nosetackle (Mike Martin); and the “tackle” can sometimes flex out and play end in four-man fronts (Ryan Van Bergen).
Wait, so Stevie Brown is a strongside linebacker? Um. I had assumed he was the weakside linebacker, who is a protected player in a 4-3 under and gets "his meat cooked." (That's how Jeff Casteel described the weakside LB/S in the 3-3-5 DVD I purchased when I thought Casteel was going to be the DC around these parts. The strongside linebacker "got his meat raw," which meant he usually had to deal with a blocker. Those terms have been rattling around in my head for two years now, and now they'll be rattling around in yours. Mwa ha ha.)
A protected player doesn't usually have to take on blockers and can just run to the ball and (hopefully) make a tackle. This fits in well with a converted safety at linebacker, but I'm (and we are, right?) pretty leery about Brown even if he's not taking on blockers every play. This won't make much difference against spread teams—it'll be worlds better than pretending Johnny Thompson can cover anyone—but if Wisconsin and Michigan State don't suck I can see him getting run over consistently. That's assuming they don't make a change for power-running teams, which was an excellent assumption under Shafer (Johnny Thompson third and long what?) but hopefully won't be one under Robinson.
Sharik talks about what he expects the defense to be in the diaries, and it's not a 4-3 under. It's kind of a 4-3 under, actually, but it's flipped:
I assume that Graham will most often be the weakside 5 technique. Not only that, he'll probably be a "wide" 5, meaning he'll line up a yard outside the tackle, angled in at the tackle's nose. This means two things: one, he won't be inside (generally) and therefore two, it will be virtually impossible to double him in run situations. (He'll probably be doubled in pass situations, but that's likely to happen regardless of his alignment. This tends to happen when you are a freak of nature and can make QB's look like Beetle Bailey after an angry Sarge has gotten hold of him.)
Mike Martin will play a weakside shade or 1 technique (usually), meaning those two beasts will be on the same side of the DL most of the time. I would think opponents would run away from those two, which is where Michigan will have a numbers advantage. So, the offense will have to chose between:
A: running at two future NFL 1st round draft picks at DL, backed up by a potential 1st team all B10 middle LB (Obi Ezeh) and a former 5-star recruit at weakside OLB (Mouton)
B: running where the defense has superior numbers
Michigan showed this formation for most of the spring game… sort of. Van Bergen went out early and Graham played sparingly.
Ezeh as a potential first team all-conference player is a considerable stretch, but the rest of it sounds good. In a 4-3 under the deathbacker sits even farther outside the tackle and is used as a freelance sower of chaos a la Shawn Crable; this is something I assume you'll see on passing plays. Having all the hybrids around allows Michigan to flip which side of the line those guys show up on without revealing a personnel change:
The "quick" can play strong side or weak; so can the "spinner." The "quick" can play w/hand down or not. The "spinner" can play on the LOS, at LB depth, or even in the secondary. The "quick" can play on the LOS or at LB depth.
This jives with comments from Van Bergen that he's usually going to be a three-technique defensive tackle but will move out to a five-technique defensive end from time to time when Michigan either goes with a two-gap look (infrequently, IME) or flips the deathbacker to the other side of the formation.
It certainly sounds good. Sharik details the various packages his high school team ran last year, which are customized to the opponent's strength and provided considerable flexibility. I'll be terribly pleased to see a defensive back-type object heading out into the slot against spread sets instead of Johnny Thompson. And opposing teams are going to have to prepare for a multitude of looks. In theory, it's a defensive equivalent of Michigan's offense and when it's had talent in the past it's been excellent.
Whether or not the Michigan defense has "talent" in the overarching sense is yet to be determined.
BONUS HYPE: I've been talking up incoming freshman Craig Roh for a while now, saying that despite his wiry frame Michigan will be virtually forced to use him because of a lack of deathbacker depth. And lo, it is so. Rodriguez on the crab man:
"It’s only been one week, but he’s got some natural ability, pass-rush wise, and we’re teaching him some different things in the scheme of our defense. But I think he could help us at least in a pass-rush mode and then as he continues to learn the defense he’ll do more and more of it."
Van Bergen, meanwhile, says he's "raw" but is a "really skilled" pass rusher. It might take him a couple games but I'd be surprised if he's not a part of the nickel package, and soon. If he's not that means Brandon Herron is way better than he has any right to be.