Don Brown's Defensive Coverages and Formations

Don Brown's Defensive Coverages and Formations

Submitted by Space Coyote on March 2nd, 2016 at 2:51 PM

Summary below for those that don't want the long version.

Yesterday, Brian discussed some Spring practice bits, within that, he talked about an assumption that Michigan was going to more of a quarters coverage base, similar to OSU and MSU.

I pretty adamantly denied that claim.

Brown has been a single-high base coverage throughout his career. A hybrid-SAM player has no relation to an Over front or a quarters coverage other than some teams use them in that way, just like Under teams and some 3-4 (3-3-5) teams do.

Brown has always been a 4-3 Under/One-gap 3-4 guy. It appears he's running something closer to an Under because of the personnel he has, but even then, I wouldn't be surprised to see Taco in a 2-point stance (though he'll nominally rush the passer 95% of the time). That's Brown's deal.

Peppers will play some SAM. He'll cover some TEs and the safety over the top of him will rotate to deep center field (the far safety will have SKY support in Cover 3 and will have man coverage in Cover 1 over the slot or on a back, and may help check a TE crossing the formation). I would be flat out shocked if Michigan came out running a 4-3 over quarters base, as what I described has been Brown's recent MO and the quarters thing has never been.

However, while I still stand by that being Michigan's base coverage, I wanted to clear up a few things.

Don Brown does have match-up concents within his defense, in particular, two-high safety match-up concepts. He also have Cover 2 concepts in his defense. Brown will play two-high safeties in certain situations. It likely won't be the base, and it won't be the standard coverage throughout games more often than not.

As far as his formations of choice, I did mispeak there in a way. His standard, from what I've seen, is a one-gap 3-4 or 4-3 under principles, but he has often run an over front with what I've called a "Jam" adjustment (it's MSU terminology), but he uses what he calls an anchor. I've also used the term "anchor" in the past as a technique, that technique essentially being that you "anchor a gap". I've used it in terms of anchoring the outside gap or anchoring against zone blocking schemes, Brown uses "Anchor" for the SDE that is needed to anchor a gap in his defense. You'll also notice that the WDE is often in a two point stance.

Here's where Brown uses a different tactic than most.

Here's standard over and under formations from my preview of Brown

Here's how Brown typically runs an Over front, from James Light's blog (which has been linked on the front page several times). This is what Brown calls a "72" formation


This is Brown's "Eagle" coverage, which is essentially a Cover 2 Trap. The CB has no responsibility for the #1 WR, his eyes are in the backfield looking for someone to run a route to the flat. He'll sink to a deep quarter if no one threatens the flat, and he'll essentially bait a throw to the flat by being a bit more flat footed in his technique and breaking down hard on any throw there.

But also notice the "Over" front with the anchor position. The SDE lines up in a 6i technique, or inside the TE. This provides more cover to the SAM, such that blockers cannot get out to him. The SAM is aligned on the inside hip of the SDE. Just as often, the SAM will line up on the outside shoulder of the TE or even wider, in a 5x5 to 3x3 technique. But it is an Over front, because of the shades of the DTs.

This is the formation handling a detached WR, with the SAM playing in an apex position

Note that this coverage is Cover 6. One side is playing "Cloud" leverage ("Side" above) in which he stays in the flat no matter what. The other side is playing the "sight" technique (trap technique in most terminology I've come across) which results in a Cover 2 or a 1/4-1/4-1/2 Cover 6.

This is a formation for handling a knob, in which the SAM plays a "tilt" position (essentially a Under front SAM technique)

And in almost all these instances, unless the Anchor is slanting outside, the SAM has responsibility for that outside gap. The point being, that Peppers, from the SAM position, would not nominally be a box defender (as in, inside the tackle box). He's playing outside the TE as much as anywhere.

As I said, Brown does have two-high safety coverages. He essentially winnows it down to a single coverage, but there are various techniques he runs (from MEG and MOD Cover 4, to trap and 1/4-1/4-1/2). He also has Cover 3 and Cover 1 coverages, which tend to be his base. And he'll have some combo coverages. Why does he prefer single-high looks? Because it's easier to bring multiple pressure looks with a single high safety. The run fits are easier (you rely less on DBs, who are typically limited in their run fits), you can bring pressure from more places, etc. It allows them to stay in their base coverage while doing something different with the front. And much of these pressure games come from his Under front or 3-4 front.

But at the end of the day, he is a "multiple" coach, which Michigan has almost always been dating back a long time. This, in and of itself, makes it very different than what MSU and OSU are doing. Those teams have vastly simplified their coverage (essentially, Cover 4 base, and then Cover 0 or 2-low, 3-high (MSU) or 3-low, 3-high (OSU)). Michigan won't be that. They'll mix and match and adjust the coverage to the opponent.

But, I will also add, Brian isn't wrong here. Michigan will play some Cover 4. They will run what is an Over front. But it won't be base quarters. The "4-high" looks will be a part of the plan (again, Cover 2 Trap, Cover 4 MEG, Cover 4 MOD, Cover 6), it will likely be base single-high, but it will be multiple.


Michigan won't be playing much quarters (Cover 4, like MSU and OSU). They will play two-high safeties in what is mostly a Cover 2 look. In their blitz scheme, they will utilize mostly single-high safeties (Cover 1 and Cover 3). They will run multiple coverages rather than prioritize a single coverage to become great at it (which is different than MSU and OSU).

Also, Peppers won't be playing inside the tackle box much.

Does that clear it up? Or did I just repeat the same thing and not clarify a thing?

Defensive Alignment of Wormley and Henry Explained

Defensive Alignment of Wormley and Henry Explained

Submitted by Space Coyote on September 2nd, 2015 at 6:15 PM

Extended preview post of why Wormley and Henry are playing the positions they are, which includes the main reason. Full article can be found here.

Recently on MGoBlog, Brian wrote a piece previewing the defense as far as his expectations. In the past couple days, he's also discussed the Defensive Line and looked at the recently released Michigan depth chart. A question keeps arising, unknowingly getting answered, and then asked again. It's a common confusion, and an understandable one when looking at nomenclature of football.

AP Photo

In this post, I'm going to look at Michigan's DL and why Henry is playing 5-Tech (nominally, from now on called End) and Wormley is playing 3-Tech (nominally, from now on called Tackle).

What is Michigan Running?
I agree with Brian that this is a 4-3 Under. Michigan isn't going out there with a LOLB and a ROLB, and they aren't going out there and doing a lot of two gapping (though a 4-3 under will often two-gap somewhere). It's a 4-3 Under with a standup end sometimes. Furthermore, the defense will not consistently keep two guys in two-point stances and shift the DL every which way, like Wisconsin's one-gap 3-4.

This is a 4-3 Under all the way. Let's remind everyone of the gap assignments:

And let's take a look at what a nominal 4-3 Under looks like, the one most of you are familiar with from the early Mattison years.

Here, we're going to call the Weakside DE (WDE, 7-Tech) the Buck (it's Buck because "B" stands for Backer, like how MIKE is for Middle in middle LB), to keep with Durkin's terminology. He is, in fact, more DE than LB, but he will occasionally drop (see image below). The strongside DE (SDE, 5-Tech) we will simply call the End. The 3-Tech we are going to call a DT (or tackle). The 1-Tech we will call a NT (Nose).


This is close to what Michigan is running, but not quite. Actually, the image above is closer to what Michigan will now run than what Michigan nominally ran with Mattison as the DC. Notice how Beyer (the SAM LB at the top of the screen) is in a loose position. For Michigan fans, this is similar to how Greg Robinson deployed Stevie Brown in his 4-3 Under, when Stevie Brown managed to have a very good Senior year. This is what we call a "Loose" alignment, meaning he's 5-and-5 (5 yards off the LOS, 5 yards outside the offensive EMOL). Ross, the WILL in the picture above, is also playing a Loose technique (in this case, it is to allow the dropping DE to play an inside zone or spy and to allow the WILL to play the outside Flat Zone, where there is more likely to be an immediate threat in the pass game).

With Ross, an undersized SAM LB, Michigan will continue playing more of a 4-3 Under Loose.

Many 4-3 Under teams traditionally move the FS down into the box as the 8th man and rotate the SS to the center of the field. They do this because the Buck and DT generally protect the FS from having to face any wash, something the ILBs (WILL and MIKE) are more accustomed to. It'll look like this:

But Michigan won't be doing that as much this year. Instead, the SS (who always aligns to pass strength) will be the 8th man in the box. He can be inserted like this:

But more often he will align closer to this.

This essentially makes the SAM another ILB. He's protected a bit by the End, and the defense won't get out flanked because the SS holds the edge and the SAM can work over the top to provide additional support.

Wormley and Henry Primer
As a primer, Wormley is a guy that came in as a projected SDE. He was expected to be between 270 and 300 lbs. He has good straight line speed for his size and displays excellent burst when he's comfortable with what is in front of him. Unfortunately for him (and fortunately in some ways), he's also very long and tall. With hesitation sometimes coming when he has to take blocks from different angles, he often stands up. This leads to him struggling to handle doubles.

Henry on the other hand, was always a DT. He was projected as a slashing, penetrating 3-Tech that could also slide down and play the Nose if needed. He's more of a squaty player, but has the first step to beat OL to the spot he wants. This first step quickness gives him potential to be a two-gap player, and his squaty build also gives him the stout base to prevent him from getting clobbered when he's forced to choose one of two gaps. He also stands up too high at times, but has the strength to fight back against it.

Brian previewed these guys well in the DL articles linked above, and there is video there to demonstrate these traits in these players.

So Why The Position Switch

The Double Team
As I said, it's been explained, but never really answered. But the answer is quite obvious once it's pointed out. Wormley struggles more against doubles, and the 3-tech will almost never get doubled. The 5-tech will get doubled, possibly on about half the plays, especially with the way Michigan will align.

Notice the 3-tech isn't doubled on the run his direction.

This means that the 5-tech has to hold up to double teams quite often, it also means the 3-tech can simply be let loose to be a penetrating force on the interior. If you can get that out of your 3-tech, you cut off half the field and give the Buck a lot more options as a pass rusher, because he doesn't have to be as preoccupied with the rush.

Whether the SAM is in a Loose alignment or inside, initially, the 5-tech will often get doubled against zone based rushing attacks.

Here, the 3-tech is doubled, so he has to be able to handle that a bit, but the double likely doesn't last as long as the OL tries to get out to the WILL, and it is on the backside of the play.

Against man blocking schemes, he'll get doubled on essentially every strongside run (Power O and Counter F, for example)

He has to hold up at that position for the rush defense to have success. If he doesn't hold up, he gets washed into the ILB, and large creases in the defense form, particularly when the SAM is playing in a Loose alignmnet.

Again, if you want to read about the other main advantage to Henry lining up at End rather than 3-Tech, here's a link to a full post at my blog.


OT: Grantland article on Pete Carroll and 4-3 under

OT: Grantland article on Pete Carroll and 4-3 under

Submitted by cm2010 on January 17th, 2014 at 10:44 AM

Grantland just published an awesome article about Pete Carroll and how he's used and adapted the 4-3 Under defense over the years. And, more specifically, how the hybrid versions of the scheme he's using with the Seahawks today have helped them adapt to the modern offenses and be as dominant as they have.

Note: It's a somewhat lengthy article, so save it for when you have a bit of time.

EDIT: Chris Brown of Smart Football wrote the article.

Must Read - Smart Football on 3-4 vs. 4-3

Must Read - Smart Football on 3-4 vs. 4-3

Submitted by JeepinBen on February 4th, 2012 at 9:38 AM

Over at Grantland Chris Brown of Smart Football has a great article on Vince Wilfork and the Patriots D.

The main focus on the article is how Belicheck makes his Hybrid 3-4/4-3 work. The biggest part of this article for Michigan fans is the part where Chris Brown explains the history of the formations and how we arrive at Michigan's 4-3 Under front. Especially since so many people think we're recruiting for a 3-4 (Guess what, we're NOT!

this is good stuff. He explains the main differences between the techniques required in the 3-4 vs the 4-3. I tackle the (lack of) personnel differences between a 4-3 Under and a 3-4 here:

But here are the juciest bits from Chris Brown (the whole article is definitely worth a read):

These 4-3 and 3-4 teams typically differ in a key respect: which "technique" their defensive linemen use. Usually, teams must commit to one technique or the other, as each choice has all sorts of other implications for the defense. 


And the first question for a defensive lineman is always, Am I playing a 2-gap technique or a 1-gap technique?

"Gap" refers to the area between offensive linemen. A 1-gap technique is just what it sounds like: The defensive lineman lines up in front of the gap he is responsible for and his job is to attack and control it. If nothing else, a defender must not allow a runner to go through his gap. While defensive linemen attack their gaps, the linebackers behind them are responsible for their own gaps. These are the defense's "run fits," meaning how they fit into an offense's blocking scheme to take away running space.



Diagram 3




Pretty much we're going to run the 1-Gap 4-3 Under because it's a lot simpler to teach. 2-gap systems like the 3-4 are a lot harder to run. Just go read the article, it's great. 

The 4-3 Under: Think 3-4 personnel and recruiting makes sense

The 4-3 Under: Think 3-4 personnel and recruiting makes sense

Submitted by JeepinBen on December 23rd, 2011 at 11:18 AM

[Ed-S: Festivus Bump!]

In modern football, there are 2 popular base defensive sets. Most teams run either a 3-4 Base or a 4-3 Base.

The quick explanation of these defenses is that the first number (“3” in a 3-4) is your number of Down Linemen (literally people who line up with their hand on the ground in a 3 or 4 point stance on the line of scrimmage) and the second number (“4” in a 3-4) is your number of linebackers (people who line up in a 2 point stance, behind the down linemen).

This diary will discuss the 4-3 Under, its similarities to a 3-4 set, and make sense of our defensive line recruiting. For the purposes of this diary I’m ignoring the secondary. You need corners and safeties. They’re all similarly sized players, get fast ones. The front 7 is where you need guys over a 100lb range and some more major differences show up.

Here’s a base 4-3:

Here's a base 3-4:

Both of these defensive base sets have advantages and disadvantages, and both lend themselves to different styles of players. When it comes to what Michigan is running as a base defense, the 4-3 Under, recruiting starts to make sense if you look at it as a 3-4 defense.

The 4-3 Under:

First, look at the D Line from the middle out. In a 4-3 Under you have a defensive tackle on the Nose, in a 0 or 1 Technique (NT)  (Technique definitions:


You then have 2 players lining up at the 3 tech (DT) and 5 tech (SDE). Then you have 2 players further out on the line, at a 7 tech (WDE) and 9 Tech (SAM). Finally, you have 2 linebackers off the line of scrimmage (MIKE and WILL).

Now, compare these positions to the 3-4 Base. You still have a huge space-eating Nose Tackle (NT) who lines up at the 0 or 1 tech, 2 Defensive Ends over the guards, tackles, or in between (4 tech... hmmm, just a slight shift from the 3 or 5 tech...) and 2 people outside of them near the line of Scrimmage (OLBs). Finally you have 2 linebackers off the line of scrimmage (MIKE and WILL). 

If you look at these two defenses, the only main difference is one of your 3-4 OLBs has his hand on the ground. That’s it! There are minor shifts on the line and other intricacies, but big picture the 4-3 under has personnel requirements very similar to a 3-4.

For the 4-3 Under OR the 3-4 in your front 7 personnel you need:


1.) A Space eating Nose Tackle (or at least one who can stand up to double teams)
2011: Mike Martin
2012 Recruit: Pipkins
2.-3.) 2 players with good size who can go against guards or tackles, defend the run, get penetration and rush the passer. (3-4 DEs or 4-3 Under 3 and 5 Techs)
2011: Heininger and RVB
2012 Recruit: Strobel, Wormley, Godin
4.-5.) 2 players with speed who can set the edge, keep contain, rush the passer, and drop into coverage occasionally (3-4 OLBs or 4-3 Under WDE and SAM. In the 4-3 Under 1 will rush the passer more often, 1 will drop into coverage more often, but both do both)
2011: Craig Roh and Jake Ryan
2012 Recruit: Ojemudia and (I can’t remember which LB projects here)
6.-7.) 2 players who make tackles. Always flow to the ball, can shed blocks, cover, and make plays (MIKE and WILL)
2011: Demens and Morgon/Hawthorne/Herron Combo
2012 Recruit: Ross, Bolden, RJS and Ringer (whoever doesn’t project to SAM)
In pass rush situations, most 3-4 Teams will run their NT off the field for an extra DB, and rush 4 with their 2 DEs and their 2 OLBs. Most 4-3 teams will sub a linebacker for a DB.
Michigan subbed Heininger (not the NT, but Martin is a better pass rusher than a prototype NT) for Avery and put Ryan on the line, just like 3-4 teams do. My guess is this continues next year, we run off a DL and let Ryan put his hand down.
As far as speculation that Michigan is loading up on linebackers, SDE types, and WDE types without taking 2 huge DTs in the class because we might switch to a 3-4 base... we kind of already have a package that uses 3-4 base type personnel. In the 4-3 Under, like a 3-4, you want flexibility in your defense. The following positions are relatively interchangeable in a 4-3 Under, don’t get caught up on DT vs. DE or DE vs LB:
  • 3-Tech DT and SDE (5-Tech)
  • WDE and SAM

Michigan is recruiting the right numbers for the scheme they run. These are 17-year-old guys we’re discussing with recruits. Some will get bigger, some are maxed out. Some of the WDE/SAM types will be better at coverage and will play SAM. We saw Frank Clark and Beyer make this switch this year, one was a LB, one a DE in High School, and they switched at Michigan. Some will be better pass rushers and will drop into coverage less at the WDE.

The “Glut” at SDE doesn’t exist since the 3-Tech DT is a very similar position in the 4-3 Under, so some of these guys will play there. The coaches know what they need to run the 4-3 under, and hopefully this diary provided some insight into the personnel requirements so we can somewhat understand the method to the madness.

(Note competence)



Submitted by jvp123 on March 26th, 2010 at 7:23 PM

= -5. But seriously folks...

I have been reading that it looks like the 3-3-5 is in fact the primary defense being used right now in practice. The D-Line will be Martin, Campbell, RVB, but right now Greg Banks is in Martin's spot. The Spur and Bandit are the Strong (Box) Safeties that will line up outside the D-line and closer to the line of scrimmage than the Linebackers. The Spur and Bandit spots are occupied by Kovacs and Mike Williams. Your MLB is still Ezeh, LOLB is Mouton, and ROLB is Roh. Woolfolk and JT Floyd are your CB's and Vlad is your FS (Cam Gordon is in his place right now)

I also wanted to put this topic in because it looks like the 4-3 Under is also being implemented with the same line-up, only Roh is the 4th D-lineman with his hand down and Mike Williams is the new SAM.

I think most of us on this board that were going back and forth about 4-2-5 and 3-3-5 changes with Roh putting his hand down, but it looks like instead it will be GERG's Under package.

Hybrid defense terminology: Who is the spinner?

Hybrid defense terminology: Who is the spinner?

Submitted by LJ on July 20th, 2009 at 8:29 PM

I'm reading this year's Hail to the Victors magazine that Brian edited (excellent, as always) and trying to understand the terminology of the hybrid positions, but there seems to be inconsistency from site to site. In the magazine, Brian says that the spinner is the hybrid LB/DE, and that the term "quick" refers to the same position.

I've seen other sites and posts here referring to the LB/S position that Stevie Brown will play as the spinner, and the LB/DE as a separate position, the "quick", or preferably, the deathbacker. Anyone know what the terms officially mean?

Brandon Graham, the 4-3 under, and other defensive musings

Brandon Graham, the 4-3 under, and other defensive musings

Submitted by remdies on July 15th, 2009 at 12:39 AM

Warning! I am not a coach and I haven't played football since eighth grade. However, I have taken an interest in offensive and defensive schemes lately. Most of what I have learned has come from reading Smart Football, Three and Out, Trojan Football Analysis, and of course Brian; especially his piece in HTTV 2009.

I think one of the biggest reasons why the hybrid positions are getting so confused is the fact that coaches all have different names for the same hybrid position. To Pete Carroll the “Spinner” is called the “Elephant” and others call it the “Quick.” All this position really is, is the WDE. Now in the 4-3 under (at least the one we are using) he is moved way outside the tackle. The reason I believe we do this is so that we can use a smaller player and that is able to speed rush the passer, hold weak side contain, and fall back into coverage for a zone blitz. With the player being so far outside they don't need to be as refined in their technique and can use their athleticism in space. This is the position that is being battled for by Evans, Herron, and Watson.

Brandon Graham is going to be the SDE this year. This of course could limit his effectiveness as a pass rusher. However, he has the most refined technique of all the defensive ends and will probably draw many double teams. These double teams will most likely lead to one-on-one battles for at least two defensive linemen (which I am considering the “Deathbacker/Spinner/Quick/Elephant” to be).

The other hybrid position in our defensive is the one occupied by Steve Brown. But just like the “Spinner” is just a WDE but with a fancy name, Mr. Brown's position is just the SLB but not the John Thompson version. Obviously, spread offenses are everywhere and to combat this defensive coordinators made the SLB more like a safety. But they also want someone who can handle a tight end in man coverage and in run situations so this may be why the coordinators just didn't use a normal nickel package. In the 4-3 under the SLB is in an inside-foot to outside-foot alignment on the tight end also called a 9-tech. If there isn't a tight end then I believe he will play nickelback to the strong side – however GERG determines which side is the strong side.

Different coaches use different conventions for which side is the strong side. Some call the strong side the side with the tight end. Others call the strong side the side to the quarterback's front (non-blind) side. I am not sure but I think that we will be using the first convention.



Note that Steve Brown and Brandon Graham are going to be on the same side. And both will be lined up on the line of scrimmage.

According to Pete Carrol the WLB is protected in this scheme, so they don't have to be “thick necked jokers” either, they need to run sideline to sideline and make plays. This is Jonas Mouton's position.

It looks to me like a guard might have a free release on Obi in this formation, but I would like to defer this question to someone who knows more about football than I.

Earlier someone posed the question as to why we don't use Brandon at the WDE position (they called it the 'Shembackler' which I like but for clarity's sake I'm sticking with WDE). This was actually why I started writing this in the first place. It seems to me that what is most important for the WDE position in this scheme is the ability to rush the passer and the ability to play in space. Brandon can most certainly rush the passer and given that he played linebacker in HS he could probably play in space – not to mention his freakish athleticism! So why don't we move him there? I think the answer is because we don't have a DE as polished as Brandon to play the SDE, especially since Ryan Van Bergen could be starting at the 3-tech DT! We have athletes, and this is the number one criteria to playing the WDE spot in our 4-3 under; as far as I can tell anyway. Hopefully they can at least speed rush the passer; playing well in space would also be helpful.

On to other musings! If our starting D-line is going to look like BG, Martin, Van Bergen, someone at WDE then I would think we should be pretty good at penetrating the O-line (clean thoughts people!). Does this mean we will be susceptible to counters and traps? Can someone weigh in on what the advantages of having a small line like ours might be? Plus, I think we can all envision what the disadvantages are so I was wondering what the bright side could be.

If you are craving more info I would recommend reading this Trojan Analysis link keeping in mind that Steve Brown is the SLB in the diagrams and BG is the DE on his side. Then delve as much as you wish! Chris Brown and gsimmons85 have so much football knowledge packed into their sites you can read on for days andlike Brianforget what the sun looks like!

I'm not one to get defensive so feel free to tear this apart! In fact I welcome any criticism since I will most likely learn something or get a laugh.

One last thing. If you frequent mgoblog and you don't buy HTTV 2009 then you are a fool! In fact you will be known as a fool all your life and when you die all people will say about you is: 'The fool is dead.' So don't be a fool and buy HTTV 2009 today!