Picture Pages: Clean Linebackers Comment Count

Brian September 26th, 2012 at 4:59 PM

One of the ongoing debates in the early part of the season is "does Kenny Demens suck." He's not in on this play, but one of the biggest differences I'm seeing in the defense in this game relative to Michigan's first three is linebackers running to the ball unimpeded.

Some of this is Michigan DL—particularly Washington—MAKING PLAYS, which is encouraging. Another part of it is more subtle, something I'm still trying to figure out as we go along here. In certain situations a DL can get washed out and that's fine as long as he's getting washed out by the right guy—the one with an angle on a linebacker.

Anyway, it's second and six on ND's third drive. ND brings in a 3TE set and uses Eifert as an H-back. They'll run a zone to the wide side of the field. This is unusual. ND came out to run at Clark, run at Clark, and run at Clark. He didn't do so well at this, and the results have been a series of five or six yard runs as the rest of the D compensates well for Clark getting pushed out of the way.



Standard D for M. with two TEs on the line it is 5 vs seven on the first level. The playside G is not covered up and will release downfield into Bolden, the MLB. This play is a great example of why you hear that the MLB has to be better taking on blocks than the WLB: because he gets that uncovered guard a lot and the WLB is covered up.

On the snap, it's stretch blocking time.


Okay. The left guard (1) and left tackle are trying to scoop Campbell. The G wants to get a shove on him that will delay him so the tackle, who's the guy with the wavy arm who's actually taken a step back from the line of scrimmage, can get around him and wall him off as the guard takes off for the second level, destination Morgan(2).

A little further inside, Washington has already gone inside the center. Helmet across chest equals reached. He was barely shaded, though, so not a huge surprise, and later we'll wonder if that's really so bad. One OL over is the G releasing straight downfield.

At the bottom of the line, Roh(4) and Ryan are two on three.

Here's a half-second later.


Roh has shot upfield and outside of the tackle, which absorbs Eifert and definitively forces the play back inside. +1.

Before I say anything, on the backside, let's zoom in.


Campbell has given ground. He's getting locked out to the backside. I don't think he cares at all about any of this as long as he does not let that guard get to the second level. He took two holding penalties against the fleet-footed Air Force OL trying to execute this; ND's line isn't quite as nimble and he's probably gotten two weeks of coaching that adds up to "don't let the dang guards into the dang WLB."

Half beat later:


Campbell still riding that OL, and the tackle trying to scoop him has no shot at blocking anyone; Roh finishes cutting off the outside. Washington now fully reached but he's about to…


Come under that guy and pop up in the backfield. This is not optimal but it's better than getting locked away. By now Morgan is gone. Campbell did his job, which was to let Morgan get to the ball free.

I'm still not a huge fan of Bolden's contact here, as he should stand the guy up and force it back. He doesn't, but Morgan's charging the back down anyway:



Watch how Campbell only has eyes for that guard, the whole play. He is not doing anything except riding him.

Things And Stuff

This is what they mean when they talk about the differences between the MLB and the WLB. Bolden has to take a guy on; Morgan gets a free gap to shoot. This doesn't really happen on power plays, on which the WLB will often have to take a pulling guard if it's to his side, but on this zone stuff you can see where the bubble is and the resulting difference in the responsibilities of the linebackers.

Linebacker cleanliness was not happening in the first couple games. Holding calls, cut blocks, etc. The major leap forward Michigan took as a run defense against Notre Dame was an ability for Washington and Campbell to either occupy two blockers or get into the running lane when one on one. It wasn't entirely consistent; it was a lot better.

Here Washington does get blocked but at least he comes through it and would be pursuing usefully if Bolden turns the play back in. I'm not entirely sure he wasn't assigned to that gap by the center and executed just fine, with Morgan the guy who is supposed to get there.

Bolden still dainty. As a true freshman this is to be expected. Improvement here is something to look for as the year goes on. At some point you hope to see the light go on and Bolden start getting into these guys with a little more authority. He needs to set up outside here and does not, BTW.

Morgan looking pretty good. That's a nice flow and tackle on a play that did not come right to him; he bails out Bolden for the failure to push it back. He gets to flow so decisively because there isn't a potential gap he's running by, which again goes back to Washington getting reached probably not being a big deal.

This is probably why they kept running at Clark. Clark had a rough time and wasn't so much with the taking out two for one blockers and keeping the edge. Roh's not an impact guy but so far he's been a pretty good player despite a lack of stats. He does a lot of the things Van Bergen used to.



September 26th, 2012 at 5:39 PM ^

Does anyone else have to watch these videos about 5 times in a row to finally see everything that Brian is talking about.  First time I was looking at just Washington/Campbell, then second time I was looking at Bolden.  3rd time I was looking at Roh/Ryan.  4th time I was looking at Morgan.  Then the 5th time to finally see it all together.  I really wish youtube had a slo-mo feature.


September 26th, 2012 at 5:41 PM ^

When Eifert comes across the formation towards the RT, I saw that Roh shifted a bit to the outside.  Is this so he can maintain better postion vs Eifert?


September 26th, 2012 at 6:04 PM ^

Some of the above reinforces to some extent what I felt after the game, which is that I'm more optimistic about this team now than I was before Saturday night.  I wasn't sure that this defense would ever gel. 


September 26th, 2012 at 8:30 PM ^

At many points in his career, I don't think he has been put in a great position (in general ... not necessarily talking about SDE/WDE/whatever) to succeed. Ideally, he would not have played as a 1st-year guy. We all probably remember the linebacker experiment.

I think he would have been better off staying at WDE throughout his career. When I look at his basic frame, I just don't see a 280#+ guy. I'm guessing that he'd be better off at 260-something. It appears that he's "taking one for the team" by playing at SDE.


September 26th, 2012 at 8:50 PM ^

He's been taking one for the team for 4 years now.  That is greatness in and of itself.  The guy came all the way from Arizona and has done nothing but try to help the University of Michigan football team win in any way he can.  It all probably hasn't been an all-star experience, in a few different ways, and expectations may have been overly done.  The guy is a gamer though, and I for oneam glad to have had his presence on the team the past few years.

Edit: I also think he's a pretty decent football player still.  Again, expectations maybe not all met, but he's made a lot of good plays (and many good plays under-the-radar).


September 26th, 2012 at 11:01 PM ^

He's one of the poster children of the whole personnel mis-use/lack of proper player recruitment/development under RR. He certainly has talent; the guy tore it up in high school and the all-star circuit. And he certainly has the right additude. But even the most talented players need proper coaching, development and usesge. The guy was thrust in at like 220 lbs as a true freshman, and has switched positions every single year. That's just not a recipe for success. But he's stepped up for the team at every turn, and still managed to be a constant starter. I for one will miss him on the team.


September 26th, 2012 at 7:45 PM ^

Holden's problem wasn't so much standing the G up, but peaking inside. That peak would have meant another 5+ yards had Morgan not made such an athletic play. Gotta maintain outside leverage on that cutoff block, knowing you have help inside.


September 26th, 2012 at 8:32 PM ^

Brian, kind of an obvious question, but can I assume we responded to Clark's run-game struggles by using Jibreel Black at WDE on rushing downs and subbing Clark back in on passing downs?


September 26th, 2012 at 8:58 PM ^

This be the stuff that makes me like footbaw a lawt.  The many nuances in the game make for such an interesting outlook on the game.  Love coming here and getting that extra dose of football very few other places can give.

It's been said a lot around here since Saturday night, but it's true, in that I think this defense may be good enough to earn enough victories to compete for a Big Ten Championship.  They are definitely still a bit raw in playing together; but here's to hoping the coaching staff can keep getting these young men to further gel and become a complete and solid unit for Big Ten play.


September 26th, 2012 at 11:54 PM ^

Good stuff. I'm especially interested to see Morgan's progression from last year. He struggled a lot last year, but he was the Least Terrible at the weakest position on the field. He seems far more comfortable out there, and he's become a respectable starter now in his 2nd year. This gives me a lot of hope for the upsides of Bolden, Clark, Ross, etc. I feel like the individual position coaching upgrade under this regime is just as noticeable as the scheme upgrade. 


September 27th, 2012 at 6:10 AM ^

Regarding Roh: Roh and Bolden both slide to the left.  This is presumably a schematic thing because of the motion that they looked at during the week of practice.  It's not just a personal adjustment on Roh's part.

Regarding Campbell: Campbell is simply staying in his gap.  That's what you have to do against zone runs.  If he tries to fight across the guard's face, he's suddenly allowing room for a cutback.


September 27th, 2012 at 11:20 AM ^

Some day in the future Brian will have a kid and the ultimate pay back will be some asshat on the internet blogging about how Brian's kid sucks and is incompetent.

Brian will be as happy as Kenny Demen's parents are now.  


September 27th, 2012 at 11:03 PM ^

Though it is not ideal that Washington gets reached he does a great job of trying to fill in the gap from behind.  Roh is the real deal here.  By setting that edge so quick get makes that cut happen so quick and it allows Morgan to shoot the hole. I would love to have Washington not get reached.  I was always taught that if you are shaded on a man and than he cannot reach you.  If Washington can be in that gap than the RB has to cut way back and should be cleaned up by the WDE for a loss.