Clinic Items: Greg Mattison

Submitted by Brian on February 15th, 2012 at 3:07 PM


So I hit up a Glazier Clinic last week. I'm not sure what the etiquette is about actually talking about this stuff since the atmosphere in the room was not at all similar to press conferences in which carefully evaluated non-statements are provided. For instance, at one point Greg Mattison said that "I've never seen such awful technique" than that of the defensive line upon his arrival.

Mattison didn't say anything offensive, but he was very blunt. If he knew someone would be posting about it on the internet he might not have spoken like that, which means I probably shouldn't be in the room. But being in the room was exceedingly useful for me as I try to figure out what people are supposed to be doing on the field. So here's a mostly paraphrased recap that I don't think anyone could possibly get mad at.

I also listened to an hour of Funk after Mattison was done; having missed two hours of table-setting and lingo I had a hard time grabbing anything that I could relate to you. FWIW, Funk's presentation was three hours of inside zone minutiae—I don't think we're dumping zone any time soon. Craig Ross took in the whole thing and provided a few notes that I'll post Friday.


Mattison. Very personable, obviously a veteran of the clinic circuit. At points reminded me of a folk singer in one and only one very specific way: after explaining this formation or this coverage or this defense, he would fire off some zingers, get everyone to laugh, and then continue with business. I can see why he's regarded as a great recruiter.

His interest in teaching was also clear. Occasionally it felt like it was a college class as Mattison asked the room what player X would be doing in a particular situation. That lent a lot of credence to his assertion that one of two primary reasons he came back to college was a desire to "influence young men—that's what we do." (Brady Hoke was the other.)

On message. Mattison kicked the session off with about 30 minutes describing Michigan's philosophy, goals, and motivational techniques before getting into Xs and Os. He started by talking about Hoke; that "the one thing Brady did was bring back what made Michigan what it is." Michigan hasn't been "one of those teams loaded with unbelievable stars" but plays fundamentally sound, tough defense with maximum effort. Etc.

There were then the usual bits about Hoke's "Years: 133, Championships: 42" call-and-response and a statement that the Sugar Bowl was "fine" but he would trade 100 of them for a Big Ten Championship. The rooms say "THE TEAM THE TEAM THE TEAM," of course. The program is on message.

Position switches. As I wrestled with how to handle this various coaches in the room told every-damn-body that Mattison said Brennen Beyer was moving to WDE and Craig Roh to SDE. This was explicitly stated. Adjust the wiki pages.

Helmets to the ball. A major theme: "loafs" are not tolerated and Mattison wants to see the jersey of 10 guys at the end of every play. When he catches a defensive lineman getting passed by another one he asks the kid how fast he is, and when they say "4.7" he says "well that guy must be a 4.3 then."

At the end of the session Mattison was discussing a corner blitz they didn't run much because the corners didn't come hard enough. One of the cut-ups was from the end of the third quarter against OSU. This play:

The coaches' film is a wider shot and emphasized the huge distance Floyd had to make up to catch Miller before the touchdown. Mattison took the opportunity to point out that this was an example of the corners not coming hard enough and gush over Floyd ("I love this kid") in general and specifically as an exemplar of the Michigan philosophy. Floyd's effort led to this:

And that led to a field goal.

Bonus: For those looking for a reason other than blind luck that Michigan recovered 80% of opponent fumbles this year, in practice all incompletions are live balls. Mattison credited this practice for getting players moving towards the ball at all times and being in position to scoop up live balls in actual play.

Technique a priority. This was a feature of both the general philosophical section and the chalk talk. Mattison did not select the cutups himself—that was delegated to a video coordinator—and didn't know exactly what would come up. This made for an interesting dynamic as he evaluated each play live. He repeatedly digressed from his main topic to note the footwork of his linemen: Van Bergen is getting distance with his first step. All of these guys have identical footwork. There was also a long discussion about why your rush end needs to start with his outside foot back when he gets a tight end to him*. Etc.

In the philosophical section he noted that Michigan was probably the only team in the country with a head coach who coaches a position, that nose guard. It was at this point he told the story about Hoke coming to him fuming, saying he "wasn't going to be one of those head coaches who just walk around" and demanding a position group. He took the nose. Zinger: "now… I question why he coached the best player on the team."

Here he also noted that everyone hits the sled every day and that this was not something the previous coaching staff did frequently, if ever. This is where the bit about "I've never seen such awful technique" came in. Pretty much the only thing negative Mattison said was about the state of the team he was handed. Everyone who's surprised raise their hand. That's no one.

The final bit on this: "don't go be a scheme coach, focus on technique."

*[The reason is the biggest threat to the rush end in this situation is getting reached and if the tight end flares out to do so that first step needs to be one that gains him distance, something you can't do while remaining square if your outside foot is to the LOS. Disagreement with this appeared to be a pet peeve of Mattison's.]

Big plays. Obviously a priority just from the play on the field. Section on this concentrated on the secondary, declared the biggest problem with big plays. Hates it when safeties "look like blitzing linebackers" when there is a pile. He wants a cup around the pile and safeties to make tackles at least six yards downfield.

Now, that doesn't mean Jordan Kovacs needs to make a tackle six yards downfield. In this context a safety is a player in a deep zone. This is most often the corners and Gordon/Woolfolk.

Rotation. This is a Hoke thing Mattison was skeptical about: Michigan rotates the entire defense on every play of practice. Run on—snap—run off. This is "not pretty" when your 21st and 22nd best defensive players are going up against the first team offense but builds conditioning and depth and was credited for "saving the team" in the Sugar Bowl when injuries whittled down available defensive linemen to dust. Think Martin and Van Bergen in the third quarter.


Goal line philosophy. To Mattison it's simple: one zone "you run perfectly" and an all-out pressure.

When they're backed up. Mattison asked the crowd to think of what they are thinking when they've got the other team backed up, and then said "how many of you are thinking 'don't give up a big play'?" Mattison's been there and tries to fight that. Now if you're backed up, "if we have a great run pressure, we're coming after your ass."

This goes here.

Not exactly a run pressure but Michigan is sending all five guys on the line there. "When you have a chance, when they're backed up, go after their ass."

Third down. "For us, we're gonna pressure." Mattison on the end of the Akron State game:

You saw the Ohio game, you probably thought 'this guy is the dumbest sonofabitch in the world' He turned a wide receiver loose against Ohio a couple minutes left in the game.

But we intercepted it on the next play. Did we win? Yes. So we were aggressive and we won. [laughter]

So they'll be aggressive come hell or high water, that's clear.


4-3 versus 3-4: THE FINAL WORD. "We'd be here for hours" if someone tried to argue him away from playing the 4-3 under. Said something along the lines of "if you've got that 330 pound nose tackle and your ends and your linebackers, okay, God bless you." I thought of Pipkins—what is Mattison going to do with a 330 pound nose?

Anyway, Greg Mattison will never run a 3-4. End of story.

4-3 under assertions from the man himself. These aren't too different than the things you'll hear about the under when you read up on it on the internet but just to confirm, the basis of the defense:

  • Rush end: "The whole thing is predicated on the rush." Must be a great player, and athlete who can spill power (ie, get into a pulling guard and stop him in his tracks), drop into coverage, and win one-on-one battles with the tight end. All that and he's got to be a ferocious pass rusher. More similar to the SAM linebacker than the SAM is to the ILBs.
  • SAM linebacker. Must not be outflanked either in the run or the pass game. Hugely important not to give himself up one for one on the edge. [Editor's aside: that's something we were talking about a ton early in the year. It got a lot better as the season progressed.]
  • Inside linebackers. The usual: the mike has to be a little bigger, a little stronger, and the will has to be able to adjust to coverage outside of the box. An important difference between the two is the WLB has to be able to run vertically down the seam whereas the MLB can pass his guy off; IIRC this year the guy running down the seam was Demens, not Morgan. Adjustment based on Demens's surprising ability to stick with guys downfield?
  • Nose tackle. Also hugely important. "You cannot win with a weak nose." We should start calling our incoming five star "No Pressure Pipkins" right now.
  • Corners. "Corners are corners" but the field corner (Countess) is not involved with "heavy work" and usually just has to clean up plays that have been strung out. The boundary corner (Floyd) has to be a bigger guy better in run support. It's a seven man front; if you go eight you'd "better have a war daddy" at field corner because he's got to cover an outside receiver with little additional help.

Michigan does not align to strength but rather aligns to field—ie, if you're on the left hash the SAM will be to the wide side of the field and if you're on the right hash the SAM will be to the wide side of the field. You can flip your tight ends all around and Michigan won't flip in response. I assume the flipping from earlier in the year was a necessary evil as Michigan tried to get everyone up on the new system.

The most important thing. One of the line shifts Michigan runs is called "pirate technique."

Player Notes

Kyle Kalis. Mattison saw one of the St. Ed's guys and mentioned that Michigan had recruited a "real man" out that school, one that "may just maul some of our guys."

brennen-beyer-minnesotaBrennen Beyer. Beyer was talked up like a future star. Reportedly up to 250 pounds and will be given an opportunity to win the WDE job in the spring.

Jake Ryan. Mattison said Michigan was "blessed" at SAM linebacker—probably including Beyer in that assessment—and that Ryan was a major player. A major player they probably wished they didn't have to run out as a freshman, but a major player.

Mattison referenced a particular play against Nebraska on which he lined up on the wrong side of the field. I remember that but I don't think it was against Nebraska; there's no mention of it in the UFR. "Still a lot of coaching to do" with him but it's clear they think he has vast potential.

JT Floyd. As mentioned, Mattison seemed enamored with him. "Love that kid."

Desmond Morgan. Came up on a couple of clips where he ended up clubbing offensive linemen. Mattison said something along the lines of "think he'll hit you?" And "is that good or what? For a little freshman?" It is unknown whether he has ever said "freshman" without preceding it with "little."

Morgan tipped one of the blitzes they run; Mattison mentioned that he told Morgan he'd play three technique if he kept it up. This is a common threat, as…

Kenny Demens. …they literally did this with Demens, playing him at nose so they could have Martin run the blitzes he wasn't coming hard enough on. In contrast, the SAM (Ryan) was called out as a guy who does come hard.

Some secondhand reports that the implication was Demens's job is under threat have filtered out to premium message boards; I did not get that vibe.

Jordan Kovacs. Michigan's "down safety" or "close safety"—I'll stick with strong, FWIW—was "tremendous."

Departing DL. Heininger "really became a football player." Seems like they think they'll miss him. Van Bergen "really, really played" for M and Martin was of course the best player on the team.



February 15th, 2012 at 5:22 PM ^

Continuity is a good thing in college football.  The only significant loss from 2010 was Mouton. Everyone else was a year older, stronger, wiser.  Furthermore, Ryan, Countess, Floyd (healthy), Woolfolk, Heininger (healthy), Morgan, and Clark were all significant 'upgrades' in terms of available talent.  Also, Martin managed to stay much healthier, which was huge. 

Now, that doesn't take away from the excellent job that this staff did in producing an amazing turnaround.  But the personnel was dramatically improved too.


February 15th, 2012 at 6:26 PM ^

I disagree that the personnel was that improved.  It was essentially the same main/key players, and the other guys you mention are all young and generally though of as raw.  I agree that another year under most of the players' belt helped, but I think you've quickly forgotten about just how horrible the defense was last year.  This year was more proof that coaching can make a ridiculous difference.


February 15th, 2012 at 6:59 PM ^

Experience, talent, coaching.  I think there's a clear case that each improved in 2011. 

Of the 9 leading tacklers in 2010, 4 left the team, 1 was demoted/benched (Cam Gordon), and 1 missed 4 games (JT Floyd).

It's clear that adding Countess and Ryan provided a significant upgrade to 2010 personnel and we didn't have to watch totally unprepared freshman like Vinopal and Talbott and Christian see the field.



February 15th, 2012 at 4:14 PM ^

A couple of questions in case Mattison touched on it.

1. Defending the bubbles.   I still thought we were very poor at defending bubbles during the year and often times it looked like we gave up just based on alignment.  Often times it looked like we were undermanned and the CB had to make a miraculous play to avoid a free 8-10yds.  Any cut ups come up on these type of plays?   What his general philosophy on stopping them is?


2. MOAR packages.   I know, I know some people like Demens in coverage and I'll admit he was better than I would give him credit for, but if he's better than our back up db's in coverage we have some serious problems.    When it is 3rd and 10 or more I don't want to see LB's on the field.   I completely understand that last year based on some of our youth and being the 1st year in the system how he would be reluctant, but I'm curious if he talked at all about subbing and getting different personel on the field?


The Mattison comment about technique is interesting.  I wonder if it was a question of youth(didn't sound like it)  I thought of all the d coaches Tall was generally liked and the dline was by far the best group under RR.  Graham, RVB, Martin were some of the few bright spots on those defenses and production wise I would say Martins best stretch of football was before he was cheap shotted by State his Junior year not this year when many people questioned his production until the final few games.

Oh well just another impossible question that will never be answered, but you'd love to get honest comments about each player from Mattison and then the counter from Tall.

Great work Brian.   I love these kind of pieces.




restive neb

February 15th, 2012 at 4:28 PM ^

This is the second time I've seen you make such an assertion.  No defensive coach who knows anything about defensive coaching (so, maybe only Gerg) would ever remove all of the LBs on a long 3rd down play, let alone the Mike LB.  If Demens is the Mike, don't ever expect him to be pulled for a DB.  Ever.  Ever ever.  He might be replaced by his backup for a play, but they are never pulling him for a DB.  If I were an offensive coordinator and I saw the other team do something like that, I'd be grinning from ear-to-ear as I ran a draw play up the middle for 15 yards.


February 15th, 2012 at 5:54 PM ^

I would like to direct you to the dime defense.  Which has 6 db's and usually a "pass" LB in the game.   Every NFL team in the league runs it.

If you think that a team would run on 3rd and 15 because I had 7 db's on the field than you are wrong.   No team would do that.  It would not work.

I'm sure you think that Rex Ryan, B. Bellichick and Dom Capers are morons for having 0 DL in the game or nobody in a 3pt stance.  Green Bay on their Super Bowl run played a good portion of their play in a 2-3-6 alignment.

If I overstated and you want 1 lb on the field fine, but asking why we don't have 6 db's on the field when a team converts a 3rd and 17 and a 3rd and 23 and you see J. Ryan and K. Demens hopelessly trying to guard it is a reasonable question.




February 15th, 2012 at 5:59 PM ^

Yeesh.  It's rare that a team removes EVERY linebacker from the field.  I don't remember seeing it, but sure, it might have happened at some point.  I'm pretty sure Michigan had at least one linebacker on the field on ever single snap this season.

And yes, there are teams that run draws on 3rd-and-15 or 3rd-and-17.  

You're trying to speak authoritatively about something on which you're clearly not an authority.


February 15th, 2012 at 6:34 PM ^

LOL.  You made a factually incorrect statement...and now you're saying I'm wrong now that you added a caveat after the fact?

I can't argue with you if you're going to change your argument when you're proven wrong.

I would like to see a package that puts the best 11 guys on the field.  If Jake Ryan is one of the best in coverage, I'll take him.  If you're removing him to put Charles Woodson on the field, I want Ryan out of the game.  If you're removing Jake Ryan to put Boubacar Cissoko on the field, I'll take my chances with Jake Ryan.

I'm not convinced that Michigan's sixth defensive back could tackle a dude who catches the ball.  I do know that Jake Ryan is a good tackler and hustles his ass off.  So in your hypothetical situation (that will likely change after I post this), I'll take Jake Ryan.


February 15th, 2012 at 6:40 PM ^

This is Green Bay's Psycho Package that has 1 or 2 DL on the field and 2 rush LB's and 6 or 7 DB's.   

Many NFL teams have scrapped having DT's on the field on 3rd and long situations.   I don't see the downside here to getting speed on the field in these situations.   

You may disagree but I think that our 3rd down DL next year should be Roh,  Black, Clark and  Ryan.

Obviously I am not talking every down situations here but on 3rd and  very long bulk does not really help out.


February 15th, 2012 at 4:20 PM ^ I don't know how common the practice is, but that bit about "every incompletion being considered a live ball" is why i like this guy so much. That strikes me as such a simple, old-school tactic that just flat out works.


February 15th, 2012 at 4:23 PM ^

It might be early, but I don't believe in that word, so I think the 2014 defense is going to be very, very good, especially in the front 7. Think about it, probable projections:

WDE: Brennen Beyer, 2-3 year starter
NT: Ondre Pipkins, 2-3 year starter
DT: Chris Wormley, 1-2 year starter
SDE: Frank Clark, 2 year starter

SLB: Jake Ryan, 4 year starter
MLB: RJS or Joe Bolden, 2 year starter
WLB: Desmond Morgan, 3/12 year starter or James Ross if he is good enough to pass him will be a multi-year starter

CB1: Blake Countess, 3 1/2 year starter
CB2: One of Taylor, Hollowell, or Richardson, 2 year starter
SS: The only true question mark
FS: Jarrod Wilson or Jeremy Clark, probably new starter

Assuming no early entry people like Ryan or Countess and health yada yada details, there could be 8-9 returning starters and some very proven commodities, with the weak links being in the secondary.

Maize and Blue…

February 15th, 2012 at 6:12 PM ^

Morgan would eventually become a FB/H-Back.  Kids got great instincts, but I just don't see him having the speed to play anything except the Mike.  With the foursome that was recruited at LB this past season I can see him getting passed on the depth chart.


February 15th, 2012 at 4:50 PM ^

Brian, first of all, excellent write-up, it sounds like a tremendous experience to hear Mattison talk and break down schemes and plays.  I was wondering if Borges will be doing something similar, and if so, will you be able to attend and take notes on that conference as well.


February 15th, 2012 at 5:00 PM ^

Love the insight on why, presumably, Michigan recovered a high percentage of fumbles.  Turnovers have never felt random to me and I'm glad, at least, that Mattison says you can teach that stuff. 


February 15th, 2012 at 5:18 PM ^

good tackling technique seems to play a role in it too.  often hear the phrase "put a hat on the ball" or see a guy ripping back the elbow holding the ball.  those are non-random ways to tackle a player in a very specific manner that is more likely to result in a fumble 


February 15th, 2012 at 5:19 PM ^

I've been saying this all year. I 100% agree. You can call fumble recovery a quasi coin-flip, if each team is equally 'prepared' to recover the fumble: they have an equal # of people in the area and all of them are equally anticipating a fumble. That simply wasn't the case for us this year. Our defense had more people in the area at the play's conclusion, and in general, they were all anticpating a potential fumble. Is 80% sustainable? I'd guess not, but I'd wager our expectation is certainly more than 50%.


Using the 'Turnover Analysis' diary (, I see that we recovered 19 fumbles. If the 80% is correct, that means there were 24 fumbles by our opposition. If the true recovery rate was indeed 50%, then we would have been expected to recover 12, with a 2.45 standard deviation. Our 19 recoveries represents a 2.86 standard deviation move, which occurs .21% of the time. =)







February 15th, 2012 at 5:04 PM ^

This is the best thing I've read here for some time. I hope you'll be sharing more, Brian.

Hoke coaches NT.:" It'll be fun to see what happens with Hoke spending lots of one on one coaching time with Pipkins over the next four years.

"One of the guys fro St. Eds." It speaks to Mattison's reputation that guys from St. Eds would come over from Cleveland. It also is awesome that Mattison recognizes HS coaches, and can throw out a simple compliment about one of their guys (Kalis.)

Looking at what's happening with the defense, I am hoping we can recruit one or two more very strong corners and defensive ends. Oh, and I think we can use more depth at one of the LB positions. But all in all, we are in much better shape than I would have expected.


February 15th, 2012 at 6:41 PM ^

Just went to my first Glazier clinic out here in Concord (CA). Would have loved to listen to a guy like Mattison. I enjoyed an in depth look at the main Run & Shoot principles.


It is amazing how much more open these Coaches are at the clinics versus their press conferences.


February 15th, 2012 at 10:09 PM ^

Mattison is doing a great job at Michigan. The defense will be ready for Alabama, and the best players will be on the field. I like the move of Beyer moving to WDE. It will be great competiton between Beyer, Clark and Black. All will play but only one will start. Roh is more of a SDE, a good move by Mattison. Go Blue!