Last week we introduced the defensive terminology for Don Brown's base defense and his 4-lineman sub packages. Quick clicky-popup diagrams of the 4-3 and 4-2-5 forms we covered:
This week I'd like to get into the 3-4 and 3-3-5 and 3-2-6 looks, or in Brown's terminology, the "50" formations.
SO WHAT DOES THE 3-4 LOOK LOOK LIKE?
The BC defense Brown brought over is a base 4-3 and 4-2-5 nickel, and they'll run a relatively small suite of plays from that base on most downs. But a lot of the fancy stuff—truly, most of the playbook—are out of what are usually called "30" and Brown refers to as the "50" fronts*, i.e. formations with three defensive linemen.
Here's the basic version, as taken directly from the 2013 Boston College playbook that James Light posted.
Technically, the "Tackle" (Hurst's position) has been replaced with a "Backer" (B). When you hear about a guy you thought was playing defensive end being called a "linebacker" (e.g. Kemp) it's possible he's playing the Backer position. If a dude's getting mentions as an "OLB" that's also a sign they're using him in that Backer/Sam role, where "Sam" means "Jake Ryan-esque."
That isn't anybody yet—I've been using Winovich as a placeholder—but the ideal here is clearly LaMarr Woodley: a 6'2/260-ish, athletic, stand-up, high-burst, space-tackling, strong-enough-to-stand-up-to-blocks attacker who can play rush end or cover some. That last is notable because it gives the 50 formations a suite of tactics that are generally absent from Brown's 70 formations: zone blitzes.
* [It's 50 and not 30 because look at the pic above and count the guys on the line. Now think back to that ol' Schembechler 5-2 "angle" defense. The more things change…
[After THE JUMP: bandits, canidae, diagrams that look like they're saying "Mike Gedeon" and "Will McCray", and blitzes. Oh lawdy do we got blitzes.]
What's different from the 70 fronts? The Backer for one. Having a guy who's 75% rush end out there puts pressure on the backside of the pass protection. Imagine the left tackle swinging wider to get the Backer; the guard is now 1-on-1 with the end. Just as spreading the offense puts more guys in battles in space, spreading the front gives your DL more space to leverage blockers, stressing the tackle-like properties of the guards.
The 3-4 alignment makes the Anchor more like the 5-tech from the Under era, where he'll have to gum up the works by standing up to TE/OT doubles but doesn't have to prevent that TE from going out.
The Sam picks up those TE duties, and can be a Jake Ryan-esque player (not that different from the Backer). However as we'll see, the Sam tends to get lifted often for a hybrid guy. Personnel-wise a base 50 call would probably see Winovich in for Hurst and perhaps Gary stealing some snaps at end. Against a heavy running team, maybe Furbush or some other heavier linebackery object will be in at Sam, with Peppers moved to safety or corner. But again, the way Brown uses his 50 formations the base is not actually what we'll see the most often.
Some of the typical gap assignments are different. The nose is more likely to get into the strongside A gap rather than the weakside one, which is now covered by the Will; the End has shifted into that backside B gap. In general it's a bit stronger formation for stopping outside runs, with a bit of weakness in the department of backside downhill runs. Unless you've got a rampant DL, an offense can do a lot of damage to a too-predictable one-gapping 3-4 with backside cuts, traps, and counters.
What's not different? The nose, despite lining up right over the center, is not two-gapping. Brown does have some two-gap stuff but he tends to do that out of every formation with the end; the Will then picks whatever side of the End's blocker that the End doesn't isn't in. So spiritually this 3-4 is still functioning like a 4-3, i.e. it's a gap defense, albeit one that does some very 3-4ish things like blow offensive players off the line at the snap instead of just blowing by them.
HYBRID POSITIONS: 50 (three defensive linemen) FRONTS
Just looking through the BC playbook you get the sense that the 50 fronts really exist more for the hybridization opportunities. That's a departure from the 70 fronts, where the personnel/job changes are extensions of a true down-to-down base defense. This means you're probably not going to see the base 3-4 all that much; it's just a starting point for what I imagine will be a bunch of nickel and dime packages that Michigan will trot out against specific opponents.
For example, BC spent most of its game against Brian Kelly's spread-to-pass Notre Dame in the "Dog" defense, which is the 50 front with an extra safety in the middle of the defense instead of the Backer. Bandit seems to come out against spread-to-run teams; Pup is common against dink 'n dunk passing teams.
I've split them into two categories: 1) The Base 3-4 + Nickels, and 2) Dimes/Pure pass pro forms.
NICKEL/BASE 3-4 PACKAGES
Bandit (BA). A hybrid space guy replaces the Sam, and the borrowed 3-3-5 terminology should clue you into what kind of defense this winds up being:
If you remember your 3-3-5 positions from the gawd awful late Rich Rod period, you'll remember Kovacs deployed exactly as I have Peppers above. In Brown's defense the Bandit seems to mostly be a man-to-man cover guy who follows #2 (counting outside to inside) receiver wherever he goes.
I've got Peppers in the eponymous role, but it's just as (if not more) likely that Delano Hill plays the Bandit job while Peppers goes to Rover, which is doing the things that Peppers usually does at Sam. Brown always has the Anchor and the Rover to strength, so this is just a name thing. To go way back to our Rocky Long talks from 2009, Rover in this formation is the "meat raw" flat defender while the Bandit is the "tackles in space" one.
The Backer (B), is basically in the position we tried to get named "Deathbacker", that they tried to make Roh play until he had to beg to go back to End. The Backer is blitzing often, though there are some crazy Bandit formations with all sorts of guys (and dudes) blitzing.
Here's a Bandit page out of the playbook where it's the same play (a Cover 1 WLB A-gap blitz) against various spread offense looks:
With Peppers already out there Michigan can go to a Bandit from their base formation by lifting Hurst or another DL for Winovich.
Pup (P). A hybrid space player replaces the Backer.
Pup is basically the flipside of Bandit, and it's all over the playbook, with the Pup often blitzing. Seriously, most of the last third of the playbook is just nefarious Pup blitzes, including one where he's standing around in the middle of the field making noises like he has no idea what's going on, then right before the snap he creeps right down the center and blitzes an A gap.
And that makes sense since you've taken what's normally your top pass rusher off the field for the Pup, and nobody likes a quarterback standing around all bowels intact-y. If Bandit is the 3-3-5, the Pup formations are really a 3-4 that has traded in some of the weakside OLB's pass rushing for more ways to confuse the protection.
The Pup also has base Cover 1/Cover 3 things: covering the "box" (middle) zone, buzzing the flat then dropping into a hitch zone, backing out into the deep overhang zone, taking a slot receiver in man-to-man, etc.
The Sam meanwhile is exactly the "Sam" of 2012, when Michigan would line Jake Ryan up in nickel formations as a quasi-defensive end, then rush the quarterback or stunt around on a blitz. Considering this roster's dearth of proven pass rush terrors, its wealth of multi-purpose 0- to 5-tech DL types, and a Peppers who can do all the things, I suspect we'll see plenty of Pup this year.
Cheetah (E2). Remember Shawn Crable? Remember Pierre Woods? Remember those guys were these scary, skinny knives who were terrifying as pass rushers but pushovers if a tackle run-blocked on them? They're legion. They've got no wiggle so they can't cover like linebackers, and not nearly enough heft to be every down ends, but you recruited them just in case one or two of those things might develop and all that giddyup could be unleashed.
Well Brown found a use for those too. A Cheetah is a second end who replaces the Backer. Which if the Backer is basically a DE anyway that could just mean the Backer has his hand in the dirt. Or it could mean Lawrence Marshall will accrue 5.5 sacks in limited duty in 2016.
What it usually means in this playbook is they're playing games with the DL. Above I have Marshall. But they could also use the Pup personnel and Peppers could be the Cheetah. Or if they have a young DE who can blitz but can't yet hold up to blocks they can use him here.
You'll note the above diagram has the defense in an Okie. They have another package from Cheetah where the Nose is in a 3-tech and two LBs are up on the line and then all sorts of havoc happens on the front while the secondary plays an MSU quarters coverage. They call it "Spartan."
Spartan is one of the few plays that the E2 is actually an outside pass rusher. Quite often he's looping inside to essentially blitz an interior gap, probably because if you get caught with a smaller guy defending the edge of a running play you're gonna have a bad time. He's…okay, seriously person on a Michigan blog, let's stop pretending you need to be told what a Cheetah is after you read "Remember Shawn Crable?".
Dog (D) A coverage guy replaces the Backer.
This is a cover 3-3-5 or 3-3-5 umbrella, emphasis on the three safeties thing. But it's not a 3-3-5 like you're used to. Like, they line up the Dog in the middle, as if there's three safeties.
So yeah this is a personnel group for when the offense is throwing out a ton of receivers and sending them all over the field. The MLB is a common blitzer while the outside linebackers are playing wide zones and the DL have a ton of stunt schemes. The Dog is also a regular blitzer from anywhere and everywhere. There's also a lot of pre-snap motion or weird out-of-position things like the Will re-routing a slot receiver out of his break.
They can also go to Dog from their Pup personnel by having Winovich line up as Sam and Peppers be the Dog. I think we'll see more of that nickel version of Dog than the real thing. We'll also see Michigan bringing in the next generation of safeties to get some snaps in this package (I've got Dymonte at Dog and Kinnel at Free above).
Greyhound (Backer—>Bandit, Sam—>Dog) is technically the 3-2-6 dime package. In theory the 3-4 outside linebackers (the Backer and the Sam) are out for hybrid coverage guys, the Bandit and the Dog, respectively. In practice it's the same exact thing as Dog because Peppers. In fact, our every down Sam is our Bandit and often our Dog. It gets more confusing because the Greyhound formations in the book often have the Sam in and the Will out instead—it's really about which one of those guys you'd rather leave on the field.
So yeah, the difference between this and Dog is the Sam or Will comes out for yet another safety-ish cover guy. But since Peppers is already a cover guy, for Michigan the difference is crayonic.
Nickel Sam (NS) and Nickel Sam Pup. Another round of specializations that don't mean as much with Peppers able to transform into a coverage player. However this does create a different look since Brown really means an old fashioned "nickel"—i.e. a third cornerback. Simply put, the Dog and Greyhound formations will pull outside linebackers for more safeties, while Nickel Sam is putting a cornerback out there to just cover.
So if Lewis, Stribling, and Clark are on the field at the same time, one of them will probably line up over a slot receiver, and that guy is the "Nickel Sam." As for Nickel Sam Pup, that just means the Backer has been replaced with the Pup.
You can see the DL here are not even pretending to care if it's a run. The nose is gonna loop over to the A gaps and hopefully occupy the center and guards while his end buddies isolate the tackles. Another weird thing is the "Will" (the W is for weak) inside linebacker is antonymically playing strong- and out- sides.
That's because the Sam was lifted for the Nickel Sam, who is just going to follow the slot receiver wherever and play cornerback on him. But there's still linebacker work to be done. So the Will does the things he normally does: play off an end, cover a second level zone, and get depth if he's not being attacked. Call him the Sam if you want (or use the Sam if you want). Just like how the guy on offense who's taking the snap then passing or handing off is still called the "quarterback" even though no team actually lines him up in his rugby position*, the title follows the work, and that's the basis behind Brown's terminology.
*[The name is not from the Wing T formation but from the game's rugby-like origins. In rugby** the position that shares a last common ancestor with football's quarterback is what's now called the "scrumhalf"—the guy who squats behind a scrum and then pitches it to one of several backs at various depths (half-, full-, etc.) from the line of scrummage behind him.]
**[Rugby League and Rugby Union† split several decades after American football went down its own path, so it applies to both.]
† [What's the difference? Think of Union as the college football except their version of the NCAA was able to prevent the NFL from ever forming, while maintaining the pretense of amateurism until 1995(!). For Rugby League, imagine if 100 years ago some Appalachian schools were like "Screw you guys; we're paying our players," then created the Arena League.