Michigan Musenesday is an End in Motion

Submitted by Seth on April 11th, 2012 at 8:50 AM

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Little boxes on the grid-iron, little boxes made of football players, little boxes for positions, little boxes some the same. There's a tall one and a short one and strong one and speedy one and they’re all made out of ticky tacky and they all seem much the same.

Football positions are things that fans learn very young. Everyone knows who the quarterback and running back and linebackers etc. are. But then coaches start talking, and like any expert they designedly do so with such abstruse and recondite specificity as to elicit from the lay audience a greater appreciation for the mysteries of the speaker’s craft and complexities of Oxford-Dictionarythe imbroglio of disagreements wherein than said audience might have been provisioned in elucidation—much like a writer who uses lots of SAT words to say "they’re being pretentious." Not that our coaches do this; Hoke’s staff is remarkably candid as coaches go.

Anyhoo, as with the penultimate sentence of the previous paragraph, more obscure lexemes, when understood, can communicate greater subtleties as well as pedantry. So that you too can cognize the nuances, or just sound like an insufferable know-it-all during the Spring Game (that’s what you're here for anyway right?), hither a glossary of Michigan’s various names, past and present, for eligible receivers; would that the Oxford was so concise.

Football allows four players of any type in the backfield ("backs")  plus the two guys lined up on the extreme edges of the line ("ends") to be eligible receivers. A QB, RB, TB, HB, TB, WB, SB, FB, UB, YB, FL, Z, SR, or R is technically a back, while a TE, SE, X and Y are ends.

Quarterback (QB): Is an effin quarterback. Mr. Lewan would you kindly show the audience what this look li…


Eric Upchurch

Ah. The first quarterback at Michigan was on Team 2 (1880): Edmund Barmore, though Elnathan Hathaway played some QB as well. Why "quarter?" When the game was young they played a lot like rugby, with rushers and a goalkeeper and innings and such. The recognizable part of this was that the rushers (blockers) were meant to plow the way forward, and a couple of ballcarriers stood half-way back from that. When the line of scrimmage and downs were established teams lined up in a diamond behind the line with a quarterback, two half-backs, and a full-back. Here's Stanford doing something like that under Harbaugh if you can imagine Luck is lining up in front of the 40 yard line:


The story is more complicated and took half a century but if you look at this you can see why the quarterback got the ball first. Now imagine the two halfbacks are receiving a lot of lateral handoffs and speeding for the edges more often, while the guy all the way back is set to plow straight forward.

Running Back (RB) is Michigan’s current preferred term for the traditional (first appeared in 1880) Halfback (HB), though RBs can often include fullbacks, e.g. Running Backs Coach Fred Jackson. Scatback or Powerback are unofficial labels that refer to skillsets, i.e. backs who, respectively, might run around or through attempted tackles. Tailback (TB) is slowly becoming an anachronism which seems to have made it into Michigan’s lexicon with Bo’s arrival and left shortly after the 1997 season; Manus Edwards in 1998 is the last player to be listed as "TB" in the Bentley database. That database phased out Halfback in the '60s.

Superback (SB) generally means an RB/WR hybrid. Rodriguez threw it around in 2009 to essentially mean Carlos Brown when Brandon Minor was in there too. It makes more sense the way Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern uses it to mean an RB who can split out to be a receiver, thus creating matchup problems for defensive coaches who prefer to single-wing-offensematch personnel (one LB per backfield member, one DB per receiver). All-Purpose Back is something I think Rivals.com made up.

Fullback (FB) is now the misnomered blocking back.

An H-Back is a fullback/tight end hybrid. An H-Back will line up behind or outside a tackle and usually goes in motion before the snap. A Wingback (WB)—on the far right of the pic at right—is another anachronism from when Single-Wing and Wing-T formations ruled the game and passing was for communists and differs from the H- in that he's lining up outside the ends. Michigan has WBs listed from '69 through '79. This differs from an H-Back in that he lines up outside the tight end—this is Pop Warner-style with no receivers remember. An A-Back is another term for this.

Hoke's staff has been recruiting a position they call the U Tight End or more often just "U" which is almost indistinguishable from H- or A-Backs except that it's much closer to a tight end in the hybridization scale. Calling him an "end" is a misnomer because he's not on the line, therefore he's not any kind of end.


Smart Football, also linked on 11W's recent "Let's Bubble" article. I'm using it here to show how XYZ aren't always XYZ and what a 'U' is. Irony not lost.

You may remember the U from such Minnesota tight ends as those other Minnesota tight ends who were not Ben Utrecht or Matt Spaeth. Michigan did it too with Massaquoi and Ecker (right: from MGoBlue.com file, 2004). Nebraska has a U under Bo Pelini (Ben Cotton last year, Mike McNeill before) which he calls "The Adjuster" Ecker - NWbecause he can be a FB, TE, or WR of the converted quarterback variety. Gruden calls this the "joker." In the play that had Greg Mattison cackling maniacally during the latest Spring Scrimmage overreaction you can see Ricardo Miller lined up as a U, which may be a nod toward more WR alleles this year, but Khalid Hill, a fullback-ian recruit, was offered at the 'U' and A.J. Williams came in as one too so Miller is not the coaches' ideal there.

Also Syracuse used this position under Doug Marrone, which I only know this from scouring 'Cuse articles during various GERG-related panics. The thing about the U is you don't know where he'll line up (backfield or as a true TE) until after he breaks from the huddle, so it's kind of a personnel gimmick.

Tight End (TE) is normally an end who lines up flush with the tackles. They used to be just called "ends" before a distinction needed to be made between them and wide receivers; the last ends on Michigan's rosters—OEs to the Bump Elliott era—were phased out in the middle of the 1960s. To Hoke the typical tight end spot is the Y. This is where I would expect Ricardo Miller to line up, and where The Funchess and other more receiverish TEs will end up, since he has a clearer release to receive, and because he can line up flush or as a receiver (ends can't move before the snap).

That label comes from receiver nomenclature: X, Y, and Z. The letters come from reading across the formation most typical when receivers began needing special designations:


Wide Receivers (WRs) are backs and ends lined up outside the box. Having the Y move to the right turns him into the slot receiver. Having him split all the way out makes him a wide receiver. He also would then be outside the Z and screw this up, but NFL players seem to be able to keep straight who's who:923c86976d2148b27cf9e3bda1bce767-getty-124586777

"Some teams, mostly in collegiate and high school football, use route trees and route numbers for play calls. So you might hear a play such as "Spread right, Z zoom, 821 H-swing on two." Knowing what you know now, the play call should make a lot more sense. Spread right is the alignment, Z zoom is the motion, 821 are the pass routes in the order of "XYZ." So X runs an 8, Y runs a 2, and Z runs a 1. H-swing tells you what the H man runs (the running back or often the "H" back in two tight end sets) out of the backfield."

It seems Y and Z don't care who lines up outside; Z is the one that has to line up at least a yard off the line of scrimmage and who's counted as a back. If you turn the fullback into a slot receiver on the other side or bunch him up or whatever, that receiver is the R.

Split End (SE) is the X and was where you'd normally put the 'No. 1' receiver. The nomenclature appeared on Michigan rosters with Bo and lasted a year longer than his career; Greg McMurtry was one of the last listed starters at "SE" in Bentley, although my 2003 program has Braylon as it. Michigan didn't really have a Braylon or McMurtry last year so this fell to Roundtree. As an end the X needs to get out of bump coverage but doesn't go in motion. The Z last year was mostly Junior Hemingway. This is the Flanker (FL) position, and is typically the Jason Avant to the SE's Braylon. That's what Roundtree means by doing more movement before the play; he's kind of the possession guy now; he has moved from an end position to technically a back.

This is where it gets confusing, because the Flanker or the Y or the R can both be the Slot Receiver (SR) or Slot Back. This is because the slot comes from spread formations which differentiate from slot and wide. The slot refers to the area on either side of the line about mid-way between the wide receiver and the tackles. If the FL is inside the Y, he's the slot. If the Z is inside, he's the slot. SR as an official roster position came and went exactly as quickly as Rich Rod did; the leftover guys like Gallon and Dileo are now, with the rest of the receivers, listed as WR.

As Borges, a West Coast guy, well knows, where the slot lines up matters much to the receiver in his area, since they will run routes off of each other to flood a zone or clog the lane for man defenders.



April 11th, 2012 at 9:46 AM ^

Not everyone has XYZ, SE, etc down. Consider this an opportunity to catch up those who didn't know this stuff -- I wish someone had provided 2006 me with a comprehensive list of all these terms and since I never found one I thought why not build it.


April 11th, 2012 at 10:54 AM ^

After my British bro-in-law asked me to explain the terminology of quarterback vs. halfback (he trying to relate it to rubgy terminology, of which I know nothing), I made something up, but it suddenly occurred to me I hadn't heard the term halfback in some time.  (From Seth's timeline, I'd like to think I only remembered the term from old football movies.)   Now I can forward this to Brit Bro-in-Law with the explanation of the additional letters that confuse at least part of the blogosphere, and their relatives and friends.

As for dictionaries, of which I know a bit more, according to my paperback Office Edition Webster's II New Riverside Dictionary Revised Edition, its definitions (which are terser than its title) for:

Abstruse: "Not easily understood : recondite."

Recondite: "Not easily understood : abstruse."

I'll have to go to the Brit's house to check the Longer Oxford for more details.




April 11th, 2012 at 11:02 AM ^

I always thought of abstruse as invoking an air of mystery but with a negative connotation for not paying any mind to pragmatism, like the airy discussions of esoterics debating how string theory relates to Sartre.

Recondite then (just how I've used the word) is more deliberately bewildering as opposed to abstruse being  more the result of a certain non-grounded personality. I'm not quite sure this is correct. 


April 11th, 2012 at 8:55 AM ^

I was under the impression that the U was a more receivery tight end whereas the Y was more blocky.  Therefore, Funchess and Hill would be U's and Williams a Y. I also remember Butt saying the coaches told him that he had a unique niche as being able to play both positions.  


April 11th, 2012 at 10:37 AM ^

I would think the Williams is a more prototypical Y and Hill a U. Funchess, to me, would be a U so you could move him out to a slot. Not saying you couldn't lineup the Y a bit wider, but as you mention, the lack of motion means he is where he is without shifting him off the line for motion. In the "Diagram 3" where you have a U and a Y on the field, the U almost certainly has an easier release because he's not covered by a DE.  The Y can almost be a second tackle on running plays, whereas the U has to make blocks in space more like a FB.


April 11th, 2012 at 10:14 AM ^

...and until my teens only the most casual of football fans, I want to say that this was exceedingly useful to at least one person (me) on this board.  I'd picked up most of it over the years, but having it all neatly laid out it great.  Thanks!


April 11th, 2012 at 11:43 AM ^

Amara Darboh was almost exclusively an SE in high school, but I'm not sure yet if this is where he'll stay. He's fast against high schoolers but they all (meaning all 4- or 5-star WRs) look like that against high schoolers. You really want your SE to demand double-teams and create some of his own openness as opposed to having the play design do it for him.

Jehu Chesson lined up mostly as a flanker in high school and since he's also a track jumping champion if his ability to high-point the ball is as good as his physical leaping ability he could end up being very Marquise Walker.

I don't believe the receivers are differentiated as much. An Air Raid offense will have very specific roles for X, Y, Z, and R, and even try to recruit some of those. Borges seems to prefer having these be step-up roles, with the Z being the top one. In the below example he put Denard as the slot (R), Hemingway is the flanker (Z), Gallon is the split end (SE ) and the Y is Koger:

This play certainly had some personnel misdirection to it with Michigan lined up in a Denard Jet 3-wide, Gardner taking the snap and Denard in there as the R or Superback used to fake the end-around (which worked well). But it's still a pretty basic Superback spread play; you could imagine this in its vanilla format with the Quarterback in a shotgun, the RBs lined up as splitbacks to either side of him, and then those two both run fake handoffs to either side, with the superback becoming an outlet pass on the outside edge if the linebackers bail into coverage zones instead of going with the fake. The X is your deep receiveiver, and true to form Gallon goes deep. The Z is the flanker and as you see Hemingway goes in motion and ends up coming across the defense to either drag the coverage with him if they're freaking out about him, or get him crossing many zones so he can be found in their soft spots. The Y stayed in to block the DE, who ends up double-teamed and thus gives the routes all kinds of time to develop.

If Michigan can have a Braylon or Anthony Carter who can do all of these things you can put him anywhere and have success, and the flanker is a good spot for someone with equal parts speed and possession. If you have a guy with just great speed who can catch over his shoulder better than he can grab something and hang on in traffic he's porbably more of a split end (think Manningham). If you don't have a #1 wearing guy out there the Z can be a possession dude (Avant) because he's going to be going over the middle more often than going deep. If you're lining up a Y receiver in the slot often that's to get your best receiver away from a defense who's keying on him, because now his routes will interact more with the Z (think Calvin Johnson). An R might be more what you think of as a slot dude: a guy with more shake who is going to be an end-around threat or a screen target or a short curl-and-go dude (think Steve Breaston).

Rodriguez's offense was basically "receivers" and "slots," where the former were bigger and very good at blocking, and the latter were the jet-smurfs who could make the bubble screen more dangerous.

Also: speaking to the earlier question of "my" audience as opposed to Brian's, I'd like to point out that "my" commenters seem to be far more likely to have LotR references in their names. Of this I am proud.


April 11th, 2012 at 11:29 AM ^

Would that the Oxford WERE so concise! Sorry, but you can't make a such a pointed show of lexical skill only to flub on the subjunctive mood of your ultimate verb.
Otherwise, great work as always, Miso.


April 11th, 2012 at 12:21 PM ^

I think I've got you on rare use. The would suggests a subjunctive mood, but the action is indicative, e.g. "If only he were a better receiver" may be technically correct but sounds dumb. Setting a mood of whistfulness in sportswriting is not as desireable as suggesting concise action, and I think indicative tensing does a better job of communicating the desired structure of the sentence: Part 1: [I wish this thing:], Part 2: [The thing I wish]. 

Other stylistic adaptations we've made for the benefit of clearer internet-to-internet communication:

-We use who instead of whom even when whom is appropriate.

--Put punctuation outside of quotes, although I've been trained so hard on this point I forget to do that all the damn time. I do think this should change, since the "inside the quotes" convention was created for a time when quotes mainly referred to something transcribed from a speaker's mouth, whereas today most quotes are never physically uttered but copied and pasted from something the speaker typed. We type so much now that all sorts of things like capitalization, fonts, modifying formats, become part of the communication.

--Related: I like apostrophes around a single word that needs to be emphasized as being introduced, italicized if it's emphasized, and bolded if the reader might be searching the text for that word (examples being glossary terms or the names of diarists in the DD columns because I know people scan that column to see if they got mentioned). I prefer to save quotes for formal quotes, and for everything inside the holy quote marks to be the quoted material, and everything outside to be the author's.


April 11th, 2012 at 1:07 PM ^

I think I lean more prescriptivist, and am thus bothered by using 'who' instead of 'whom' even when 'whom' is appropriate, etc. I tend to see the battle for correct English usage (where such a thing is defined) on the internet as a losing, but noble battle, and one worth fighting. So particularly on a blog where we proudly invoke #TheMichiganDifference, I feel justified in calling out what at first strike me as commonplace examples of misuse (who/whom, their/there/they're, etc.) The was/were example, for whatever reason, particularly grates on my SNOOT-iness, hence my initial reaction and post. But if your choice of diction is driven by a thoughtfully considered philosophy (as you've just described) rather than the consequence of either over-hasty proofreading or simple lack of care, then I'll be happy to swallow my prescriptivism and accede to your stylistic preferences.

Translation: since you obviously know what you're doing, and made a concious choice to write as you did, I'll sit down, shut up, and stop trying to correct my betters.

Also, I too would prefer to have used italics rather than CAPS in emphasizing 'were' in my original post. Alas, I was posting from droid. #FirstWorldProblems


April 11th, 2012 at 1:45 PM ^

No need to apologize -- I like the opportunity to justify, and the subtle but persistent David Foster Wallace-ing of written communication is somewhat of a cottage industry around here.

Plus now I can try to convert you.

My great fear about #TheMichiganDifference is that it will become what Michigan State people generally think it is: snootiness based on technically correct but pragmatically useless knowledge. If a Michigan education does stand out for non-quantifiable attributes, it should be that Wolverines will put in the extra time for objective assessment of everything we do. This is the difference, by the way, between our medical school and hospital system, who are the pioneers of the team-based treatment that recently saved my father's life, and prescriptivist Beaumont experts who were each individually better qualified than the U-M doctors but whose compartmentalization made them ill-equipped to judge risk of actions that affected other parts. It's the difference between our B-School which forces students to prove their worthiness and doesn't give them a clue how to do that just to get in, and continually forces them to figure out IF they're having a problem rather than be told WHEN they are having a problem. It's the difference between these two programs and our architecture program (from what I was told) circa 2003.

Prescriptivism is too focused on whether you're doing A or B correctly that it can easily forget the purpose all that knowledge was intended for. The goal is better communication. Things like using "they're" when you mean "their" are barriers to communicating ideas because they're jaunting to the brain, but many of the additions to written communication since the beginning of the internet (e.g. "/s" to indicate sarcasm) were organic responses to a real need for adapting the richness of the spoken language of Shakespeare to keyboard-based communication.


April 11th, 2012 at 3:26 PM ^

If a Michigan education does stand out for non-quantifiable attributes, it should be that Wolverines will put in the extra time for objective assessment of everything we do.

I think that's a pretty good mission statement for MGoBlog itself as well. And thanks again for your thoughtful response. Your description of #TheMichiganDifference might indeed have planted the seeds of my conversion.


April 11th, 2012 at 11:58 AM ^

Was really hung over after getting three hours of sleep and my buddies and I lit out for the territories on spring break. My friend and I were in the back of our friends mom's minivan (not as awkward as one would think and very efficient for road trips) and his mom left the stereo faded out almost 100% to the back. My friend put that song on and since they could barely here it in the front, they turned it up. In the back, it came at us like a screaming high-pitched banshee. We kept trying to explain to them how terrible it was and to turn it down (did not realize that the fade was so contrasted) since it was killing our hangovers. They did not believe us and kept blasting it over and over. Finally, an hour later, we switched spots and they finally understood. Damn boxes.