[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?]
THE DEFENSIVE LINE
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.