Hokepoints PSA: Always MIKE Before You Hike

Submitted by Seth on August 21st, 2014 at 11:02 AM

tom brady pointing

Tom always MIKEs before he hikes.

We here at MGoheadquarters recently received some disturbing news about today's youth:

Kids these days are running around playing three or four years of Division I FBS major conference Block-M-Michigan football without ever identifying the MIKE. !. This sudden revelation has caused widespread histeria. Al Borges has been fired 180 times in the last several hours, and right now Dave Brandon and key personnel are closed off with Rich Rodriguez, deciding whether he needs to get a superfluous extra axe as well. This is calamitous. Catastrophic. Grievous. Pernicious. Regrettable. And avoidable.

What in the name of Double-Pointing Brady Hoke are you people talking about?

MIKE (v.): The act of identifying the middle defender inside the box on the 2nd level for purposes of establishing protection assignments.

It's basically calling out the defense's alignment, using a very simple mechanism: declare one linebacker—the one in the middle of the defense—to be a fifth guy that the five linemen are responsible for blocking.

Chad always MIKEs before he hikes.

This is often, but by no means always, the middle linebacker, which many defenses call a "Mike," which is where the term comes from. This is important: the [guy playing the defensive position called] Mike doesn't get to be all-time MIKE. In fact the very reason we MIKE is because Mike the Mike might not be the MIKE, and not knowing this might get your quarterback very badded.

Why is MIKEing important to my children?

Because if the MIKE blitzes there's no way for outside protection to pick him up, so the offensive line has to assign everybody's blocking with that guy accounted for somehow. Defenses LOOOOOOOOVE to screw with this because that's how you get unblocked blitzers, and unblocked blitzers right through the heart of the OL are the best!

When the defense screws with you, you don't have time to point at everybody and say "you block him; you block him." So ONE guy calls out the MIKE and everyone else in the blocking scheme already knows what that means. Usually they call out what sounds like a playcall—it's just a blocking call. "Tango!" "Lightning!" "Red!" "Green!"  "Taupe Carpet!"*

Brian always MIKEs before he hikes. [James Squire|Getty]

Like in running, pass pro can be man or zone (slide protection). Man makes sure every defender who could be blitzing has a guy assigned to block him (or as is often the case, a man who checks one guy then looks to another). In zone they're blocking gaps: A gap, B gap, C gap, etc. Whatever protection scheme, they have to "declare the MIKE." What they do from there depends on the scheme.


* My dad used colors/nonsense words for playcalls: Blue Jumbo, Yellow Turbo, Purple Eskimo etc. Since he didn't like to use the same "play" twice he got pretty deep into the crayola box before parents' complaints in re: his Lombardi cigar ended his coaching career.


[After the jump, Y U NO MIKE, DG?, and you learn to MIKE]

Why is this an issue now, and how [fires Borges again] did Gardner never do this?

Let me answer the second question first: Gardner wasn't identifying the MIKE because in Borges's offense that was the job of the center. Perhaps the coaches didn't want to put more on Gardner. I don't remember Denard doing a lot of pointing either—Molk set the MIKE. It's not, like, the HUGEST thing that Gardner wasn't MIKEing so long as his protection was.

A-Train always MIKEs before Henson hikes.

But on the other hand it's kind of a big deal because he should have learned this in the course of becoming a technical, upperclassman quarterback, and as he said, knowing who the OL aren't blocking gives you a better sense of where the pressure could come from. Changing offenses three times (or, ahem, every three weeks) likely meant Gardner was learning the fundamentals of that scheme rather than other peoples' responsibilities.

So why now? For one it's about damn time, redshirt senior. Second, it's because MIKEing is of great importance to an inside zone running team as well, since likely attackers in the middle tend to do bad things to inside zone. Third, it's hard to MIKE when you're coming to the line with 5 seconds left on the play clock.

How do you choose just one MIKE?

Coaches have various ways of doing this. One I learned is the 2nd defender on the 2nd level starting from the weakside. Other guys say "find the middle guy." There are lots of variations because it's very imperfect—remember, all you're doing is pointing out a linebacker that the OL are responsible for blocking. That's why instead of everybody reading it, ONE GUY identifies the MIKE and everybody else adjusts based on that guy's call.

That guy can be the center, or the quarterback, or someone else. When you see a guy pointing, he's usually MIKEing. If you hear him yell a number—52! 52!—along with it, it could be the jersey number of the MIKE or a number corresponding to a protection scheme. Mike Solari had a good explanation how to do it on Billick's show:


A MIKEing Example


Above we have an under center Ace formation against a 4-3 over front. I'm showing man blocking just because it's easier. I'm also ignoring callsides (right/left) for the same reason. Also I'm using a playcall example that puts six blockers against a potential 7 or 8 attackers (you'll understand why soon enough). If you must know the offense is planning to run four verts.

The guys in blue are the five offensive linemen responsible for the five chief suspects to be attacking the backfield: four defensive linemen and the man they've identified as "MIKE." Based on this alignment the center and LG will be taking the nose, and checking the MLB; between the two of them they should have both blocked. The RB is going to stay in and help, reading the SAM and the WILL (starting from furthest inside) to see if either (or both) is coming. The RB will have to step one way or another; they'll run a token play-action to him and he'll stop and set up on whichever side they ran the PA (up to the coach).

Suddenly the defense changes up:


The WILL got caught trying to time his blitz, and the FS has been walking up. The center or the QB—whichever is in charge of calling out the MIKE, is now going to switch it up so that the OL will have the WLB taken care of.


Note what happened here: the defense went into an 8-man front, and the offense had to pick a guy they're going to block using their best blockers. The RB now has three potential dudes in the box he has to watch. But because he heard the MIKE call he knows who they are and what order to watch them: MLB, SAM, FS. The WLB is the MIKE now. Aaand…


It's a double-A gap blitz. The four down linemen and the new "MIKE" have been blocked by the OL, and the RB read the MLB coming. The quarterback, knowing all about MIKEing and re-MIKEing, knows the pressure is going to come from the MLB. He knows he'll have to keep an eye on the RB's block because that could go badly.

Any parting lessons for the kiddies?



P.S. Everyone should spend a night google image searching "[Michigan quarterback] pointing."


steve sharik

August 21st, 2014 at 11:19 AM ^

...I can find ways to screw with an offense that IDs the MIKE just as easily as I can with those that don't.  I haven't seen any evidence that teams that ID the MIKE are any better at pass protection than those that don't.

Devin got sacked a lot b/c his interior OL and RBs were poor at pass blocking in 2013, simple as that.


August 21st, 2014 at 11:25 AM ^

Would it make a difference for the quarterback, though? If he has a better sense of who is unaccounted for, does that help him read the defense?

As an example, Gardner calls out Max Bullough as the MIKE, and in doing so knows that if Denicos Allen is coming, he's a serious dangerman?

Space Coyote

August 21st, 2014 at 11:49 AM ^

There's always a benefit to a QB knowing more. In most cases, you have to learn something in place of another thing though. So now Gardner has a better understanding of his protection, at what cost, we aren't sure. But it should help protect him more.

The worry is that it takes his eyes off the coverage more though, but the simplified pass scheme may make it easier for him in that regard, though some of the pass schemes last year were already fairly simpilified in their reads as well.

The good thing for Gardner is now he has experience learning different things. He has a broader knowledge base now to work with. Potential downside is that could overwelm him or cause him to overthink things now.

steve sharik

August 21st, 2014 at 12:04 PM ^

If he has a better sense of who is unaccounted for, does that help him read the defense?

Absolutely, but an offense can do that w/o identifying the MIKE.

I think Reader71 said it best (paraphrasing): the QB not being the one who IDs a MIKE is not an issue (nor is IDing the MIKE at all), but the QB not knowing who's unaccounted for on any blocking scheme they run, is.

And until someone asks DG that follow-up (which he wouldn't answer now that Pandora's Box is open), we'll never know.


August 21st, 2014 at 2:40 PM ^

Last season, the line still didn't get Bullough blocked, and Allen would just steamroll Poor Damn Toussaint.  So that is why DG got turned into a moving grass stain/mud pile.  Not because he didn't know who the MIKE was.


August 21st, 2014 at 11:31 AM ^

Let me begin by saying that I don't disagree with your assessment that Devin was sacked because of bad pass-blocking. But:

(1) Is anyone saying that Michigan's offense under Borges didn't identify the MIKE? I thought that we all agreed that the offense did (i.e., the center or the RB) but QB did not. So I'm not sure what the relevance is of the statement that "I haven't seen any evidence that teams that ID the MIKE are any better at pass protection than those that don't." (emphasis mine)

(2) If that statement is true (that IDing the MIKE doesn't improve pass protection), then why do teams identify the MIKE? (Honest question).

Space Coyote

August 21st, 2014 at 11:36 AM ^

IDing the MIKE can set the rest of the blocking scheme (where does the RB step, when do I need to run a HOT route, where do my eyes need to go from my initial combo).

IDing the MIKE isn't always necessary, based on the protection scheme. But if you do it sometimes, you should do it every time, otherwise it's a tip for the defense. If you run schemes that don't require it to make adjustments (7-8 man protection schemes, built in hot routes, etc), then you don't need to necessarily do it. 

Again, it's one of those things that you can make it as complex as you want, and as adjustable as you want, it's just where you want to focus your practice time. Both have advantages and both have negatives. And as Steve says above, defenses can find ways to screw with offenses either way to make it hard on them (the easiest way is slanting a gap over post snap and changing numbers).

Space Coyote

August 21st, 2014 at 4:54 PM ^

So here, the NT is the "zero defender". The MIKE is 1, 5T is 2, SAM is 3. Michigan has four blockers to that side, so they can run there. On the backside, WILL is 1, 3T is 2, WDE is 3. Note Michigan has 4 blockers that direction. Michigan should run left in theory, though they may have identified something that makes them want to run toward the Y (defense has poor strongside defense, poor toward the boundary, etc). If the opponent walks up a SS into playside C gap, they can no longer account for the blocks to the right side, because NT is 1, MIKE is 2, 5T is 3, SS is 4, SAM is 5, but Michigan only has 4 blockers that direction. But they can still run left, despite there being 8 men in the box. But, if your opponent walks up a safety in the backside D gap, then the WILL would likely be called the MIKE. The LBs may shift a bit, making it more obvious, but if the play is going right, the identified MIKE and all LBs playside must be blocked. Therefore, indentifying the MIKE sets the blocks for everyone else (and how they'll likely come off their double teams, at which angle, etc). The difference would be something like, in the diagram above, the RG calling out "Queen You" (the OT getting to the second level) rather than "Queen Me" (the OG getting to the 2nd level) if the RG and RT are combo blocking to the 2nd level.

LINK for a little more


August 21st, 2014 at 11:35 AM ^

Well yeah the point of the article wasn't that this is why Devin got sacked; it's explaining what ID'ing the MIKE is.

Though there were lots of missed slide protections. There's the famous example:

Michigan was running Power-O against an under. With the MIKE ID'ed in the C gap, Lewan had the MIKE and the TE next to him (Alex Mitropoulus-Rundus, who had played like 8 snaps all season) should have had the 5-tech, Clowney. That was a bad MIKE, compounded because the puller, Omameh, ran right by Clowney as well.

I know that was 2012 but the OL issues didn't start in 2013. The OL haven't played well but a major source of the problems Michigan's had with pass blocking was the TEs and RBs not slide protections correct, and oppponents doing lots of things to take advantage of Michigan's trouble in that area. Given that, I'm displeased that the coaches were installing all these little trick offenses but never bothered to have Devin, the leader of this offense since the Minnesota game of 2012, learn the protection scheme.

A reader above pointed out Vince Smith was MIKEing when he double-pointed. That's the last backfield player Michigan has had who's made those calls correctly.

Space Coyote

August 21st, 2014 at 11:52 AM ^

That's a blown Trey call between the OT/TE where both left their combo on the 5-tech to get the MIKE. It was a miscommunication between them. But Lewan/TE were to combo from Clowney to WILL, Omameh had MIKE, FB had SAM. Everything was right except the Trey block (Omameh never completes his pull, but that may be because the sound of a bomb going off just happened right next to him). 

For what it's worth, Fitz also pointed out the MIKE (don't think he used finger guns, which is likely part of the problem). Whether he called out the correct one or not isn't known because I don't know what the protection call was. What I do know is that interior OL were not good at identifying where threats were coming from or where their eyes needed to be, and Fitz just wasn't a very strong blocker.


August 21st, 2014 at 2:01 PM ^

Lewan talked about that play a year or so ago, said the way they were blocking power for that game was not to combo--they would MIKE and then the first uncovered guy to playside had him. When SC came out in an under they MIKE'd to the MLB.

The purpose was to get downfield and blow up the Mike (hopefully creating a mess for the pursuit in the process), and let Omameh deal with the first thing he sees--I'm guessing they saw as much of Omameh dragging ass out of his stance as we saw and figured the most they would get out of him is a kickout.

Having AMR solo Clowney probably seemed as ludicrous to AMR as it looked. But my understanding of Lewan's explanation is there was no combo, and it was straight-up man, not gap blocking.

Space Coyote

August 21st, 2014 at 2:16 PM ^

They may not have actually "Trey" blocked, but it still should have been a "You" or "Me" call there. Instead, they both went after the MIKE and neither blocked Clowney. I agree it's crazy to try to single block Clowney with a TE. Some NFL team just found that out a couple weeks ago. My guess is that they determined they wouldn't move him anyway, so they were going to try to let the RB just read off which way Clowney went and block the 2nd level in the meantime. But when you don't block him at all.... ummm.... it doesn't end well.

steve sharik

August 21st, 2014 at 12:13 PM ^

...but do we know this is true?

I'm displeased that the coaches...never bothered to have Devin...learn the protection scheme.

I find it very hard to believe that's the case. Borges had his faults, to be sure, but not teaching a QB how the pass protection works and his role in dealing with it was not one of them.

I mean, one can point to Devin's tendency to hold the ball too long and take hits and sacks he shouldn't, but that's his mindset as a playmaker, not because he didn't know where or when pressure was coming. Heck, Devin still does it, as evidenced by him doing it last Saturday and Nuss giving him an earful.


August 21st, 2014 at 2:52 PM ^

Gardner's interview, so I am taking the whole discussion with a grain of salt.

I do however think that Nuss is probably a better quarterback coach for these guys than Gorgeous. At the very least you'd think he'd have more credibility coaching the QBs since he's been there and done that himself.

We'll see I guess.

steve sharik

August 22nd, 2014 at 11:42 AM ^

Well yeah the point of the article wasn't that this is why Devin got sacked; it's explaining what ID'ing the MIKE is.

With much respect, I don't think that simply educating the readership about ID'ing the MIKE is the sole point of the article. It implies (strongly) that ID'ing the MIKE is something that all offenses do and those that don't are doing the football thing all wrong.

It's this notion that I take issue with. This is not like a tackler failing to put his head in front of the ball carrier, thus making it a body tackle and not an arm tackle. This is about philosophy and scheme, and there is no one correct way.


August 21st, 2014 at 11:37 AM ^

that was my 1st thought as well. If Gardner always MIKE's the 2nd from left LB/S as the MIKE, why not have that guy just go out in coverage or do something else that doesn't necessitate him being blocked by a lineman/ RB?

The only real advantage I see is that the O will now be on the same page with the QB MIKEing vs. the Center (and we don't know who our center is at this point).


August 21st, 2014 at 2:12 PM ^

It doesn't matter if the Mike is coming or not. What matters is that the line knows what to do if he does come. The other LB are the responsibility of other players (RB/FB/TE blocking or QB hot reading). This call gets the offense on the same page. You don't want two guys blocking the Mike and leaving another 2nd level defender free.

EDIT: In this context, its basically like the outfielder calling off the infielder on a pop up. We know who's responsibility the ball is, now it allows the infielder to focus on other responsibilities like what base he has to cover if the guy drops it. Or something.

Ron Utah

August 21st, 2014 at 12:53 PM ^

The important thing is that the QB, RBs, and the O-line know where the potential pressure is coming from (ie, who the O-Line isn't going to block).

Having a system in place where all of those parties understand that is essential.  It doesn't much matter who makes the call, IMO.

FWIW, I don't think the QB IDs the MIKE in RR's offenses, and they do just fine.


August 21st, 2014 at 11:26 AM ^

Wouldn't Gardner have to ID the MIKE to himself in order to check running plays, which IIRC he did fairly regularly. Maybe he didn't really understand it completely from the perspective of how IDing the MIKE would effect blitzes, but it's not like he just didn't understand defensive alignments.

Now, whether he or anyone else had time to do anything when they were getting to the line so late is another issue.

Space Coyote

August 21st, 2014 at 11:31 AM ^

He was likely counting numbers. Numbers outside LOS, numbers to playside. It's not quite the same as IDing the MIKE, but 95% of the time it is.

IDing the MIKE for a zone run team identifies the "zero" or the "one" so that the OL can account for all it's blocks to the playside and so Gardner can determine if they can run in that direction. As I said below, identifying the MIKE in pass pro helps set the rest of the pass protection scheme (based on the pass pro they are running) so everyone can identifying where their eyes are going and where they can't cover themselves.


August 21st, 2014 at 2:01 PM ^

This is entirely possible and probably what happened. But someone still had to identify Mike in order to set the OLs calls.

A philosophical question: Is a numerical advantage on one side of the line worth it if calling it that way leaves AJ Williams alone on Frank Clark, or Jack Miller alone on Mike Martin?

I'd like to articulate this more clearly by drawing up, or even talking through, a hypothetical situation, but I have a bad back that isn't allowing me to think of much else right now.

Space Coyote

August 21st, 2014 at 2:20 PM ^

And so did the RB, at least in some circumstances. But certainly there were probably limitations on situational stuff, where simply counting numbers wasn't sufficient for a check. I assume that changes game-to-game, based on personnel, etc. And that's one reason an OC wants to limit how much the QB can change. If you have a numbers advantage but it requires having Funchess block a great DE to be successful, you'd rather not have your QB check into that.


August 21st, 2014 at 3:13 PM ^

I feel the same way. But I'm not in the coaching fraternity. Are you aware of guys that are so dogmatic or doctrinaire that they'd still go to the side with the numbers, matchups be damned?

Or for a situation that might be applicable this year, do you think we might do something like always check to the 1 tech so as to give Miller help? Or always check to the 3 tech so that Miller is only helping on the 1 on the way up to the second level?

I hate to pick on Miller, but everyone seems to be aghast that he might play, so this seems apropos.

Space Coyote

August 21st, 2014 at 3:55 PM ^

I think there are also different levels. There are "we can't block this side, we need to run the other way" and there is "we can block this side, but the other side looks better". I think, particularly at the college level, you limit how much someone can change the latter situation, but you would always like them to change out of the former.

As far as running away from match-ups. I wouldn't like to do that, or at least, I wouldn't like to check away from match-ups. As an OC, I would certainly makes calls based on what I thought match-ups would be (if they have a SDE that's a monster and I have Funchess in, I'm not going to run toward Funchess often if he's left alone vs their base formation), but I would hesitate to tell my players that. I'm not looking to tell anyone "I don't trust you to do your job". I may not trust them to do their job, but that would be for me and my staff to try to correct in practice, not essentially tell them they suck at certain aspects.

As for your example with Miller, I wouldn't do that. Again, you can play call based on what you think it'll be. You can do a little of that for situational stuff, but I don't think you want to make that an automatic thing. You need to be able to attack both, otherwise the defense catches on and suddenly you can't run the football. Need to keep them honest. Situational stuff presents itself relatively few times in a game, so  defenses wouldn't pick up on that enough to change what they were doing.

Space Coyote

August 21st, 2014 at 11:27 AM ^

FWIW, and this is a good example of why offenses call out MIKE for setting pass pro. But another reason that "MIKE" becomes WILL here is to simply the RB's blocking responsibility, alert the U/Y about his hot read, and alert the QB to his hot read. The example above is known BOB (Big on Big) protection scheme

Typically the OG and OC would work between both the MIKE and WILL in this situation, but WILL is the biggest threat so he's called the MIKE, and lets assume we know he's coming. Rarely will a RB be responsible for three players to block. At most it will likely be two. Being a 6 man pass pro, the offense can't account for all 8 blockers. The offense knows that WILL is accounted for, and the play can still be run if he blitzes. The offense knows that if one of MIKE or SAM blitz, the play can be run as called because the RB is identifying a blocker away from the MIKE. But if MIKE and SAM both come, along with the WILL, the OL and RB can't  pick up the blitz. It's 7 defenders against 6 blockers. "Y" needs to know that if both SAM and MIKE blitz, they can't be accounted for, so he needs to run his HOT.

Now, what if WILL comes and the FS comes. You want the RB to be able to pick it up, but his first step is away from the FS, so if he gets to him it likely won't be until late. The U needs to know this. So identifying the MIKE set the pass protection and allowed the U to know he needs to run a HOT when the FS blitzes.

So identifying the MIKE identifies the biggest threat, but it also potentially sets the blocking scheme for the RB and the HOT reads for the TEs in this case.


August 21st, 2014 at 2:12 PM ^

I didn't want to confuse things with hots, but YES, as you and another poster pointed out, having an RB try to read three potential attackers is a recipe for bad, and in this case the offense should have hots programmed in.

Hot reads have their own problems of course. Another way coaches deal with multiple defenders is during re-MIKEs a receiver might become a blocker instead. 2008 is a horrible example of good offense but RR did a lot of that in 2008. His RBs were terrible blockers, so rather than have them try to read, they'd switch a guy's route into blocking. This was part of how RR rediscovered TEs, since he could put Martell Webb or Kevin Koger into slide pro and actually get a guy blocked, something Minor/Brown/McGuffie/Shaw couldn't do.

Space Coyote

August 21st, 2014 at 2:31 PM ^

Good example. And I understand about the HOT thing. I honestly started writing it out, and as it started to expand to explain (and the thought of putting images to show what I was saying) I did actually think to myself "that's why Seth didn't do this". But by that point I was 3/4 done with my post so decided to finish.

I think it's one of those things that this so called "planning" aspect of writing comes into play.


August 21st, 2014 at 11:30 AM ^

With Denard it looks like the RB would also point to (or at least ack) the MIKE, because Vincent Smith went all finger guns before. . .


( •_•)>⌐■-■


. . . dropping the Mike.



August 21st, 2014 at 11:33 AM ^

that Devin was not doing nearly enough Peyton Manning cool-guy-pointing before he snapped the ball.  The amount of cool-guy-pointing that a quarterback does is absolutely key in determining how good a quarterback is.


August 21st, 2014 at 11:38 AM ^

If Devin never identified the MIKE verbally, by calling him out as if often seen, but the Center did, that's no biggie as long as he could mentally identify the effective MIKE. If he could not even personally identify the MIKE defender (how I interpreted his comments personally) then that was a major issue.


August 21st, 2014 at 12:09 PM ^

It's about keeping everyone's field of vision as narrow as possible.  An RB can't reliably read three players, especially when two are on opposite sides of the box.  Human peripheral vision is quite crappy, and having an angry 300-pound mountain of meat in front of you doesn't help.  The above example is deliberate in that it showcases how the QB and RB have to account for three different defenders if not for the MIKE call.  (Imagine the first frame with the "MIKE" call removed.  With none of the three linebackers accounted for, the QB and center might have completely different ideas on where the pressure's going to come from.  That's bad.)

In this case who the "real" MIKE is. . . well, it's plenty important, but the main thing is communication.  I think Seth prefers the QB behind a shaky O-line knows where the free hitter (not the MIKE) is going to come from, and I'm inclined to agree.  The "MIKE" is a potential free hitter that's ID-ed and then taken out of the play by the O-line's (re-)assignment.  When the WLB is ID-ed, it's one less thing for the backfield to worry about and they can focus more on whether the MLB is blocked.  The WLB is the O-line's headache -- if he drops back the LG can just sustain his double on the DT, but either way, everyone's role is simplified.

Defenses can mess with the MIKE call, but the advantage is that at least the QB, RB and O-line are on the same page.  If the center is in charge of the call on a double A-gap blitz, the backfield might not get the message, the LG and RB both wind up blocking the WLB while the MLB rips through untouched for a sack.  In this case everyone got the call "right" but it didn't matter because the assignments weren't communicated.  Sound familiar?

So what if DG gets it "wrong" and IDs the MLB as the MIKE?  The center or LG blocks the MLB while the RB reads the WLB.  When the WLB blitzes, the RB moves up to block and that's the block the QB is most concerned with.  It's "wrong" but you still have blockers on every defender and everyone's eyes looking in the right directions, even if the assignments weren't ideal.

Getting everyone on the same page is more important than getting it right, is the moral of today's story.