Neck Sharpies: The Don Brown Defensive Glossary: 4-3 Edition Comment Count

Seth March 23rd, 2016 at 11:00 AM

[Huge thanks to Steve Sharik for getting a lot of this for me]


He's got nickel down. Also Sam, Rover, Money, Jaguar, Tractor, Dog, Pup, Cat, Bandit, Greyhound, and Aardvark. Read on to find out which two of those are not actually Don Brown positions that Peppers will play. [Bryan Fuller]

We had some bona fide MGoDudes attend the coaching clinic and the open practice in Florida, and they've reported back with a wealth of information about the new Michigan defense.

Coach Steve Sharik is writing up a full feature on it for HTTV, and in the course of editing that we went through all of the standard (and some of the non-standard) positions and terminology. I thought that would be extremely valuable to those of us trying to parse the coachspeak all spring, and figure out exactly what position various Guys and Dudes and whatnot are playing.

This week I thought I'd tackle the 4-man fronts that Michigan will run as their base defense. Brown also has myriad 3-man fronts (whence Winovich) that I'll get into next week.

Here are the two basic 4-man, or as Brown calls 'em, "70" fronts: 71 and 72.


These two alignments we'll see most of the time on standard downs, with personnel changing based on what the offense has in there. If you didn't spot the difference between 71 and 72, it's how the nose and end are aligned. In the first the nose is over the center (a 1-technique) and the end is in a 5-technique off the weakside OT. In 72 those guys have shifted over some, putting the nose over the guard (2-technique) so the end can split out wider. The first is stronger against inside runs, the second gives the end an easier path to pass rush or play a zone read.

And here are the base positions:


Let's meet them.

[After the jump: What's an "A", what's the difference between a Sam, a Jaguar, and a Money, and what the hell is Peppers?]



Anchor (A): The strongside end, known around these parts as "SDE" or "5-tech", and as "LE" to your NCAA dynasty. This is where Wormley and Gary are playing and it's a featured role in this defense. Notice how he's inside the tight end, in what I think Brown calls the "6-technique." The Anchor usually takes that "C" gap, but first his job is to plant the tight end on his ass. Occupying the TE and OT like that is meant to keep the Sam free from big ol' blockers coming down on his head. We'll get to him in a moment because it's the other featured role.

Tackle (T): Your Hurst/Gary/Godin position (where Henry started all last year). Standard "3-tech" or "DT", usually responsible for that B gap, and usually blasting the guard into the backfield.

Nose (N): Glasgow/Mone position. Usually has that backside A gap, and often asked to not let the guard or center get downfield.

End (E): Taco Charlton + ???. The WDE/weakside end, or rush end, or "Buck" last year, or "RE" etc. At BC there were a bunch of different specialists Brown deployed here depending on what he wanted the End doing; from early reports Taco seems to be good enough at enough of them that the rotation should work out to 60% Charlton and maybe four guys (including Gary) sharing bits of the rest. Typically the End is setting the backside edge, rushing the passer, or defending the backside of zone reads. He stunts on a lot on blitzes and 4-man pressures. He rarely drops into coverage.




Sam (S): Here's Peppers, though you may have heard that Furbush or Winovich or some kind of reincarnate Jake Ryan might be here depending on the packages. The answer is yes. In fact you'll often seen Gedeon or McCray or any linebacker nominally playing the strongside linebacker position when the offensive personnel dictates Peppers go elsewhere.

As for using a cornerback-safety Dude in the position James Ross occupied last year, remember how the Anchor is planting tight ends like begonias then fending off the tackle? Having the Anchor and the Tackle handling the interior strongside running lanes like that should free up the Sam from taking on blocks. The Sam may have the tight end on pass plays (or the Rover might), but he's also got to set that outside edge. As such he's meant to blitz off that edge pretty often. In some respects he's similar to Ed Davis or before him, Denicos Allen—MSU's smallish attack linebackers who set the edge when their respective high-falutin' SDEs went careening upfield. Those Sams wracked up tons of sacks by blitzing frontside gaps, and by design didn't get a lot of blockers.

In the above diagrams, with a fullback in the backfield, you might often see a personnel change where Peppers is playing the rover and a bigger LB type is brought in at Sam. But Brown does typically live with smaller and faster linebackers when he can get away with it, so yeah, Peppers is your starting Sam.

Mike (M): Gedeon and McCray have reportedly been playing here the most, with spot duty from Reuben Jones as a run-stopping version. Not much different from the same MLB role Desmond Morgan played. The Mike does often end up taking on blocks from releasing interior OL, so Brown is playing guys here who've got "some junk in the trunk." More so than we're used to, the Mike in that regard might be a lot more different than the…

Will (W): Again, not too different from the WLB position Bolden started in last year, and Morgan played before him, and Mouton played before him, and all the way back to when it was littler LBs like Ian Gold or Larry Foote, and called "ILB." The Will has to read and react, and ends up getting a lot of tackles as the free hitter—on pulls he is taught to read "Pull Away, Opposite A" (has the frontside A gap when he sees the guard pull).

When not hightailing after pulling guards he's nominally in charge of that backside cutback lane, but in practice the other front defenders will be occupying one side of a block and the WLB should fill it.

I mention Foote and Gold because that's the Brown's archetype; he likes his Will to be small and quick and instinctual. The program seems to really be hoping Devin Bush Jr. can pull it off.

Note: The "Will" is still the "Will", i.e. the weakside interior LB, when they go with four linebackers, while the term for the weakside/outside LB is "Backer" (the reverse of Saban/Belichick terminology).



Other than one term and some blitzing, this is unchanged from last year.

Rover (R): Delano Hill and ???. The strong safety is indeed a "strong" safety, which is to say that like last year, Michigan plans to have a more run-stoppy/flat-defendy/blitz-ready safety playing in or around the box, helping with tight ends, and ending frontside runs. He's expected to do a lot more blitzing and tight end coverage than under Durkin. At present it appears there is no backup to Hill; if he gets hurt I expect Dymonte Thomas will take over SS and Tyree Kinnel will be the…

Free Safety (F): What you think of when you think of a free safety. Jarrod Wilson previously, and before him Thomas Gordon, and before him years of pain. The free safety was typically the leader of Brown's defenses, going back to when Brian Smith was that guy. He calls out the coverages and assignments, and roams deep.

Cornerbacks (C): In the playbook they write "L" and "R" for left and right instead of "C" but that's actually less of a distinction than evidence of a lack of one. In theory there's no field and boundary guys anymore, just like in theory there wasn't last year either. But last year Lewis generally took the field and Clark/Stribling had the boundary unless there was a specific matchup (e.g. Burbridge) that required Jourdan's services. I expect that will again be the case since Michigan has a superstar and then two very good "down the sideline" guys.


HYBRID POSITIONS: 70 (four defensive linemen) FRONTS

There are several, all meaning close to the same thing and differentiated mostly by which player is replaced by said hybrid. Specialization was a feature of Brown's BC and UMass defenses, but won't be nearly so at Michigan now that he has access to the kinds of generalists this program can attract. Still, let's name them so you know what they mean when coaches in pressers say things like "Peppers is playing 9 positions."

Money (MO): Peppers. Technically a cover guy replaces the Mike, hence "M-O" for "Mike is Out." In practice, this is the same as the base personnel.

I'll explain the thought process here because it applies to the rest of the hybrid positions: Money was the typical nickel formation at Boston College because Brown had to find an instinctual, big-tushied fella who can get off blocks to play Mike. That guy was the least useful to pass defense. So you'd have a nickel cornerback come in for the Mike.

Well at Michigan it's likely the Mike will be their best non-Peppers linebacker, and in modern football a shotgun 3-wide formation is as likely to run as pass. So he's staying on the field, just changing position names. So while technically Gedeon moved to the nominal "Sam" position while Peppers shifted to "Money," they haven't taken a single guy off the field and everybody just moved over some:


The "Money" could also be Stribling/Clark (whichever isn't starting) on passing downs, with Peppers remaining at Sam. Note however that the Anchor has moved outside the TE, and the N and E are in their "72" alignments, so the Sam could end up with an interior gap and the A could be rushing the passer. Those are things Michigan's defense can get away with thanks to the luxury of multi-skilled players like Peppers and Gary and Gedeon.

Jaguar (J): A linebacker/safety hybrid replaces the Will. Again, this is residual specialization which in Michigan's case probably means they have their base personnel but Peppers is swapping his Sam role with one of the other linebackers.


Tractor (TR): A second Sam/linebacker type who replaces the Free Safety. I've shown that here with an example formation/motion that Michigan saw a lot vs. Indiana and Ohio State, with Furbush replacing Dymonte Thomas and Peppers moving out to the Tractor position.


Michigan can do this with their base personnel too, having Delano Hill come down as the tractor, making Thomas the nominal Rover (i.e. a safety with tight end responsibility) and Peppers remaining at Sam. We'll see a lot of Tractor in the red zone. And we should see more blitzing from this formation than against others.

Butkus (BU): OLB or End type replaces the nose. This was almost always a Bear package for BC. I drew it up once against Clemson (the 3rd play I referred to as an Okie), and is probably way more applicable to the Eagles, who had to get creative to steal some snaps without their one really good NT, and always had a surfeit of wiry Shawn Crablesque pass rushers who weren't good for much else. Michigan meanwhile has that Glasgow/Mone rotation to always give them a fresh awesome NT able to shoot a gap for a SACK or hold up to a double as need dictates.

But it's in the playbook, so I'll show it. Again, what the positions are called are not so much set in stone or even "where are you lined up?"; rather they're a suite of things a certain guy is meant to do within the defense. The Butkus personnel group is all about quick upfield attacking, so expect 90% of this to be stunts and zone blitzes designed to overwhelm one side of the protection.


For simplicity's sake I stayed true to the BC design, subbing Furbush in at Will and adding Winovich in the eponymous role. That role would be similar to his "Backer" job as an OLB/DE attack piece, which we'll see a lot more of in the so-called "50" fronts, i.e. Don Brown's 3-4 packages, next week.



March 23rd, 2016 at 11:29 AM ^

Position note: Rashan Gary is supposed to start out playing the Anchor position (SDE).

EDIT: It looks like you have Gary at both Anchor and Tackle.


March 23rd, 2016 at 12:00 PM ^

since it was a dumb thing to post and i was engaging in a flame war. But I have observed that on this blog, the mod culture is that if you post a negative view of the coaching staff, it is fine for people to personally insult you and you are expected to not respond to it, or you are the one who gets the punishment. Of course, once coaches get let go it becomes religious truth that everything has to blamed on them. It's not a democracy and the blog can do whatever it wants, but that's my eperience. 


March 23rd, 2016 at 1:58 PM ^

For the record, the tree of punishments is something like this:

  • Temporary Bolivia: Used for users who've been here a long time and are known to us who then had a momentary lapse. For example StephenRJKing decided to post a diary about Trump so he got a million points reducted, to return after the election. A super-negged guy who's participating is usually that: someone in the penalty box and given a ridiculous negative points number so they can still participate but can't start threads. Standard is a month.
  • Bolivia: Depending on the dastardliness, someone is set back to -500 or so and told to earn their way back. Usually this is meted out for newbies who broke a cardinal rule before they got used to the board. Their points are gone forever, but they're given a reasonable hole to dig out of, by which point they're expected to be ready to participate.
  • Banhammer: If we don't know a user and that person starts a flamewar or whatever, we just figure thank you and we'll just go on without you. Usually they start a new account and are fine. They get a notice that this account is blocked and they can never log into it again. Their comments all disappear.
  • Caved: If someone is a particular ass and seems likely to keep creating new accounts, or if someone is totally on tilt, we'll "Cave" (all comments disappear) but not ban them. So they can still log in and post, but nobody sees their posts. This leads to some hilarity until somebody notifies the douche that the comments aren't showing up.
  • Misery: According to MGoLegend if you really piss me off we cave you but you are able to interact with our old server we never unplugged. That server keeps an updated copy of the site still, but it has a very old database that leads to all sorts of problems. And its Vista OS hasn't had any virus protection for a long time. It runs just the server and a copy of Outlook for a spam email address. I've never sent an actual user to Misery, since all the page loading problems and errors and whatnot would drive them away quickly. But I do occasionally do it with those bots.


March 23rd, 2016 at 12:58 PM ^

Money, Jaguar, and Tractor roles when Peppers is not on the field (e.g., when we are leading by so much in the 3rd quarter that it doesn't make sense to risk injuring him).

The FannMan

March 23rd, 2016 at 1:05 PM ^

The key to the Michigan's defense is that Peppers will go where we need him most, do Peppersish things, and be called something different (but not Aardvark) depending on where he is at?

Got it!  Sounds like a winning plan to me.


March 23rd, 2016 at 2:11 PM ^

is that we have a personnel set and alignment that will shutdown the Buckeyes.  Thanks for the great info.  Looking forward to seeing the Guys and Dudes shutdown opponents this season.


March 23rd, 2016 at 5:06 PM ^

Football jargon is a unique language. The following is for my own entertainment...

Here are a few things I'm thinking of saying during games this fall to raise my credibility and impress people:

  • [Opponent name] better look out! Peppers is lining up as a Money Tractor.
  • I don't think your 6-techniques can stop our weakside Puma.
  • We are in a 72-JohnDeere personnel.
  • Bear vs Jaguar on three.
  • Peppers is our best player so we play him as a Crouching Tiger, which allows Gary to slide over and become the playside Hidden Dragon.


March 23rd, 2016 at 9:57 PM ^

Especially since he's never played a snap of college ball. Hope it all comes together for him. I can't wait to see him and the rest of Brown's defense in action.


March 23rd, 2016 at 10:13 PM ^

but what I most appreciate are definitions for all those abbreviations.

I'm not a coach, and never in a million years would I have figured out that "Money" is short for "M-O", which means "Mike-Out". I suppose we could take it a step further to define "Mike" but even I know that much.

Great information, effectively presented.  Thank you.



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March 26th, 2016 at 8:08 AM ^

This is awesome and reminds me how scary our D could be this year. We arguably have all B1G-caliber players at each D-line spot (and in some cases their backups, too) as well as All American-caliber with Peppers and Lewis.