Will Cameron Gordon bring balance to the force? Will Vlad the Impaler ever transition from psych to sang? Is Marvin the Marvelous Marvel just an empty OMG shirtless? Do 40-times matter at all? Will Misopogon exhaust his annual allotment of rhetorical questions before this deck is even finished? I dunno, but I was seriously freaking about about free safety, man, so I dipped into UFRs of yore and found….hope?
STOP! Have you read Part One?
We were talking about the deep safety position in GERG's 3-3-5-ish defense seen in brief previews (e.g. Ohio State, to much rejoicing) last season. We also did a recap of UFR scoring for safeties of Michigan past (here's a spreadsheet). The reason we're talking about this is because Michigan has had some pretty bad play(ers?) from/at that position, and because according to 3-3-5 experts, for the defense to be good, the deep safety should be a total motherfucking
In Part II you were expecting a rundown of candidates for 2010, and how they might stack up against the guys of years past. This is still half-written, and coming. But we hit a snag, and now it's a three-parter.
The people you can blame for this are as follows:
The head of a certain federal agency who made like a bazillion major announcements that kept me at work all week
Mustaches for Michigan (This Monday: Be There)
A player who no longer plays for Michigan
Fireaxis, who released a free iPhone version of Civilization
What Sharik did was this and this (scroll down to his comments, which before Brian decided to give the comments section a Weis-ian strategic advantage, I could link to directly). Because of these people, I had to a.) Spend a lot of time on press call-ins, b.) Do an awful lot of research on mustaches, c.) Re-write an entire section that had already been completed, d.) Fight a brutal amphibious war against an Incan-British alliance for global domination, and e.) Completely re-imagine my metrics for determining what is needed from the Free Safety in Michigan's defense.
The Hero in Our Base Defense:
What I came up with: Michigan in 2006 had a good defense. This was mostly due to good players. But the scheme wasn't all that different from what we think GERG is gonna bust out in 2010:
You are probably looking at this alignment right now (look how far off Hall is playing up top) and having flashbacks of Donovan Warren sitting deep in what we called last year's failed 3-3-5 experiments. There's a good reason for that: I believe this is the same defense.
Jamison (bottom of the line) is in a hand-down version of Roh's spot; Harrison at top, the nominal "nickel" has come up on the line to blitz, not too different from Steve Brown's spot last year; Dave Harris is in the middle; Prescott Burgess (=Mouton) is set up in the flat near the bottom. Both Trent (bottom) and Hall (top) are playing 9 yards off the line. Jamar Adams (=Kovacs) is on the 1st down marker.
Just slightly out of the picture, sitting deep and probably reading Infinite Jest, because defending the deep ball when Branch and Woodley are tearing things up is useless, is Brandent Englemon.
You won't see either make a play here. On this particular play, Penn State saw the loose coverage, changed up whatever they were going to run (given the play until then, likely a run left), and sent a quick toss to the top wideout. Leon Hall came up to make a fantastic play and keep it to 2 yards.
What I want you to see is Jamar Adams, the safety behind Hall at the top of this play. With the "nickel back" Harrison blitzing, Adams came down into the box to act as another linebacker. As it turned out, he was help if Hall can't make this play, probably running Derrick Williams out of bounds after a 5- or 6-yard gain.
Now, this looks like a pass defense, but had Penn State run into it, there was paper all over the place. Ultimately, eight (!) players were in the box, with a surprise blitz coming from Harris, a not-surprising blitz from Harrison, and either Adams or Burgess busting in faster than a receiver could block them. Behind them, Englemon was in centerfield, ready to come up.
Michigan ran a similar defense last year against Penn State:
And we saw some of this too against Michigan State and Ohio State.
The way I think I can identify this is because we get the same exact reaction from Brian in UFRs and recaps each time: to paraphrase, "WTF [Star Cornerback] is playing way off the line here!"
My guess is it was Ron English's "pretty-bad-unless-you-have-Leon-Hall-to-bail-out-your-ass," and GERG's "what the hell do I do with crap safeties?" attempts at doing what Bud Foster at Virginia Tech does much better:
HT: (who'd you think?) Chris Brown of Smart Football.
This was the subject of a since-mostly unremarked article on MGoBlog suggesting that Michigan is going to V-Tech's base defense. Essentially, it's VT's old 4-4 deal with a linebacker exchanged for a safety because spread defenses were murder on it. In Brown's description:
What makes Tech's "quarters" coverage particularly interesting is that they have not actually changed their old "G" front, they have merely removed one guy from the box and lined him up at safety without changing his aggressive responsibilities against the run.
Below is how Virginia Tech lined up against Kansas's spread in the 2008 Orange Bowl. … The Hokies lined up in their base quarters look from the "G," merely moving the former "Rover" (circled) to safety, while moving the "Whip" outside, over Kansas' slot receiver; this formation gives the offense very little information, and in fact, with Jayhawks' motioning an extra blocker into the backfield for a run to the left, is inviting for a run, with six blockers in the box against six defenders:
I recommend the entire article (in case three links weren't a clue).
I leave it to the football geniuses around here to give you more and better information as to how this applies to Michigan. The salient point for the free safety is the job description is a bit different than the "Centerfielder" in a base Cover-1 or Cover-3 that I supposed we were running when I started this.
Herein lies the hope. Going for a fourth link to this brilliant article:
The free-safety then was free to play a "robber" technique -- that is, on pass plays, he read the quarterback's eyes and broke on intermediate routes, but on runs, where he truly became valuable, he was an incredible ninth run-stuffer in the box.
It's a Cover 4 defense made to stop the run. Blitzes come from all directions, positions are hybridized so attacks can come from anywhere, and the primary defense against the pass is to look like you're in pass defense pre-snap, and to not give the QB much time to throw post-snap.
For our purposes, this means the Free Safety doesn't have to be a Ryan Mundy (at West Virginia, people with long memories) with super speed (that's your cornerback). His job is to back up a safety/linebacker-type object in man, and if anything gets by the Mack linebacker, clean up the run (or if you're Brandent Englemon, bring a book).
Below is as comprehensive a UFR Chart? Chart! as I can produce on Safety Play in the UFR era:
The blue line is the positives, so if the safety in question did nothing remarkable whatsoever, that will be at zero.
Years in brief:
2005 (average: 0): Safety Armageddon began in '05 and lasted through 2006. Fortunately, with the notable of 4th quarters in 2005, the safeties during this time had little work to do, good or bad. Willis Barringer, Jamar Adams (who later settled at box safety) and Brandon Harrison all got time deep. That 0 during a position-hating deity strike is the 2nd best year in recent history at deep safety is scary, but this may say less about the safety play, and more about Brian working the kinks out of the UFR scoring system.
2006 (average: –0.3): The one negative thing about the 2006 defense was the play at safety, mostly because Mundy and his great talent wouldn't cover anything. It was bad enough to be a soft spot, but not so bad that the great front 7 and CB play couldn't make up for it until Michigan met Ohio State-/USC-level passing attacks.
2007 (average: 1.1): After The Horror, Jamar Adams moved to free safety (listed as SS but I watched videos and he was the deep man in lots of 3-3-5s), and "keep me off your damn chart you hippie" Brandent Englemon of the 1/0/1 URFs took over the box safety spot. Adams was horrific against Oregon but settled in and provided the best FS play of the period.
2008 (average: –1): The year of Stevie Brown. When he was good, e.g. the Minnesota game, he was good. But when he was bad, Stevie was "lose MSU game all by himself" bad.
2009 (average: –3) Overall the worst safety play of the period. When Woolfolk was deep, he was tested seldom and usually finished an 'eh' 0/2/-2 or something while QBs made cornerbacks not named Warren their bitches. The bottom dropped out when Michael Williams was tried deep, and the meat of the season featured huge ugly numbers against an overmatched Kovacs until Woolfolk returned late.
In a nutshell:
The best seasons of average play from each guy at deep safety:
+1.10 – Jamar Adams (SR)
+0.71 – Brandent Englemon (RS JR)
+0.67 – Willis Barringer (SR)
+0.00 – Jamar Adams (SO)
-0.64 – Steve Brown (JR)
-0.67 – Brandon Harrison (FR)
-1.14 – Ryan Mundy (JR)
-1.30 – Charles Stewart (SR)
-1.92 – Troy Woolfolk (JR)
-4.00 – Jordan Kovacs (RS FR)
-6.00 – Michael Williams (RS SO)
2009 looks pretty fucking bad now, doesn't it? I think Brian was a bit ruthless with Woolfolk for missed tackles that weren't TDs, the effect of Woolfolk is not shown. Also, this isn't a "who's the best player" list since a lot of the guys at the bottom put in their bad play as underclassmen, and many are small samples against varied competition levels (e.g. lots of strong numbers versus Northwestern). It is only an average of their UFR'ed contributions while at free safety.
And just in case it matters, here's the respective play of those who also spent time at box safety:
+3.00 – Brandon Harrison (SR)
+1.00 – Brandent Englemon (RS JR)
+0.83 – Jordan Kovacs (RS FR)
+0.75 – Brandent Englemon (RS SO)
+0.73 – Jamar Adams (JR)
+0.25 – Michael Williams (RS FR)
-1.33 – Jamar Adams (SO)
-2.93 – Michael Williams (RS SO) Lessons: 1) Kovacs is a damn good box safety for a
redshirt freshman, walk-on, godsend. 2) Michael Williams wasn't good at anything.In our assessments, keep in mind what kind of player each 2010 candidate may be, and how his play might compare to any of the above candidates. 3) Our free safety prototype: rangy, heady player who can cover, tackle and avoid mistakes. Our box safety prototype: a lot of brains and solid tackler, speed and hype not a major concern.
This seals it.
We have a defensive set that is built to involve the safeties, more often than not, in run coverage, while the cornerbacks either play Cover-2 or man-up on the edges. Our free safety, our Hero, then, is a responsible guy who can tackle, lay a mean hit, and has enough speed to get there. Lanky cornerback-type he is not. Tiny Charles Drake-type object he is not.
And even historically, it has been just that type of player who has excelled at not drawing the ire of those paying close attention.
A safety with some linebackerish qualities: this might actually work.
In the Thrilling Conclusion…
Cameron 'Dark Side' Gordon
Vladimir 'The Impaler' Emilien
'Marvelous' Marvin Robinson