Picture Pages: Toussaint Jab Step

Submitted by Brian on September 28th, 2011 at 12:07 PM

I like Fitzgerald Toussaint. Think the kid has a bright future if his various limbs stay functional. Enjoy his running style. Get emails from time to time declaring "I don't know what you see in this kid." Sit and ponder these emails. Shake fist. Decide to write post about it. Fitzgerald. Toussaint.

So here's a reason I like Fitzgerald Toussaint: I think his vision and his shake are plus pitches, to borrow from another sport. Here's an example. It's first and ten on the SDSU 16 late in the fourth quarter with Michigan driving to clinch the game. On the next play Vincent Smith will jackrabbit his way into the endzone, but to set that up Michigan's going to Toussaint.

The setup:


If this looks familiar, it should. This was one of the staple formations of the Rodriguez years. Here's Tate running it in the 2009 ND game:


Rodriguez would often send the TE backside to block the otherwise unblocked EMLOS as a counter to scrape exchanges. TE kicks out the guy coming down the line; WLB flies out to contain Robinson on the zone read, and viola:

[one of many examples that have been DMCAed by Thought Equity Motion.]

Michigan did this on the previous play. It was the first time they'd run it all game and it worked like a charm, opening up a huge lane for Toussaint to hit. He did so for eleven yards. When Michigan goes back to the well a second time things will be different.

SDSU's 3-3-5 was less dynamic than advertised. Instead of blitzing like mad from everywhere to mimic different fronts, it was mostly content to line up as very small 3-4s and 4-3s and run twist stunts from them. On this play they actually line up in the stack, which was rare.

On the snap the TE pulls backside as the mesh approaches.


Robinson sees the OLB headed upfield at him and hands off:


The problem is Koger is kicking out the QB contain guy:


This is very similar to problems Michigan had running this play against Illinois last year. When the scraper is hugging the backs of the OL TEs often miss him and head to the obvious guy on the outside. Once your pulling TE whacks the contain guy you've given up the advantage gained by optioning him off and are back to—horror—regular old 3.9 YPC running. When this happened against the Illini, Michigan gained a yard.

Since Huyge has released downfield there is an unblocked EMLOS tasked with the tailback on a play that usually tries to go backside. (This is a zone, but it is a zone with an idea of where it's going to end up.) Omameh is actually doing a good job on his guy since the play design nominally expects the ball to go behind him. Unfortunately, that means there's nowhere to go further playside. There is no room.

So Toussaint makes some. In the above frame you can see he's evaluated his situation and is about to take a critical step. This is what he does with it:


That's weird. It's easier to see on the video, but Toussaint takes this jab step outside and then bursts back upfield.

This little jab step… what is it? He slows for a half-beat and sticks that leg out as if he's going to veer outside, then shifts direction and heads away from the scraper. Is it just instinct, or is it a deliberate attempt to set up his block? Does Toussaint even know? This happened in a blink. This may be one of those things even the person doing it can't explain.

The result is most apparent on the guy Omameh is blocking:


In frame one the NT has already committed his momentum to the other side of Omameh's block because of the jab step; in frame two he's kindly GTFOed, giving Toussaint a lane as Schofield and Molk donkey a linebacker who blitzed into them. Toussaint set this up with the step, which convinced the NT he needed to fight to the other side of Omameh without slowing him down enough for the unblocked scraper to catch him.

Result: Toussaint runs up his OL's backs for nine yards.



Watch it twice. Watch the step, and then focus on Omameh and the guy he's blocking. See that yank that suddenly repositions the defender? That's the NT moving himself to where he thinks he needs to be.

Interesting Stuff

Will this be consistent from Toussaint? This is a play SDSU RPSed that Toussaint made into nine yards almost by himself with that jab step. Is that a fair representation of his vision and his ability to make split-second decisions that get him lanes other guys don't, or was it getting lucky? I don't know, but I do know that the last couple weeks I've had occasion to use "lovely" more than once to describe a Toussaint run. Early returns are "not lucky."

Back to the well. Yeah, this wrinkle was a Rodriguez staple. It worked like you draw it up the first time. This time it worked like you don't draw it up; Smith would come in and run it a third time for a touchdown, but he'd have to weave his way through defenders to do so. I'm not sure whether running it three times in a row was a good idea—it worked but clearly SDSU adjusted to it. Against better run defenses this might end up going splat. To be fair, the third one was a second and one from the seven.

Coaching points with coach Rod. In the Illinois game Michigan adjusted to the Illinois adjustment by the end of the game, coaching that pulling TE to ID the scraper hiding behind the line and blocking him into the endzone for a touchdown. It'll be interesting to see whether Michigan makes that adjustment if necessary in future games.

Further wrinkles. So there was this, which was brought out right at the end of the game, and the speed option you've heard and read so much about, a speed option that seemed to use outside zone "basketball on grass" blocking. That's an encouraging echo of the Rodriguez ground game, when most games of import saw new features being deployed.



September 28th, 2011 at 12:40 PM ^

Hey Brian

Did I mention to you that one of the scouts (Bill Greene) I interviewed for the 2010 HTTV piece totally ragged on Fitz. Said he would never become a factor at Michigan or in the Big 10. Tenor wise, he seemed offended that Rodriguez thought he could be a player.

I keep thinking about that conversation as this season has worn on.

Fitz is soooooo close to shoving it up that guy's alleged know-it-all ass

steve sharik

September 28th, 2011 at 12:44 PM ^

Think Vincent Smith (and even Shaw and Rawls) bring things to the field, but I think Fitz is the best.  Big time injury history suggests he will continue to get injured, though, so we'll need the other guys.

This will always be a concern.  RB is the most dangerous position.  Sure, punt returners and kick returners get the conventional wisdom on injury potential, but the statistics bear it out: RBs get injured most often and have the shortest careers.  I have a young son, and while I would love for him to play football someday, he will be steered away from RB as best I can. Also wedge blocker or wedge buster.


September 28th, 2011 at 12:48 PM ^

that probably the 5tech end is the read,  when he crashed hard, robinson should have pulled the ball...   then the hole is inside of the trap block... if the outside lb wouldnt have you showed,  then the end wouldnt have crashed,  and the hole would have been tighter,  as the trap block would have been on the end...



unless this was a called give, i thnk denard made the wrong read...   




September 28th, 2011 at 1:46 PM ^

It's a wrinkle in the ZR Option.

Look at Koger 86 - In a standard ZR he goes forward and zone blocks. Here he "pulls" and actually blocks the wrong guy. Koger should block the guy straddling the blue line here


(Can't see a number). Which would give Toussaint a HUGE hole in the middle of the field. The Defense did a "scrape exchange" here - kinda like an OLB Blitz. If you take Koger out of the picture, we're screwed on a Zone Read. The play we ran is to counter a "scrape exchange" pretty much, Koger is supposed to blow up the guy straddling the blue, and Denard is supposed to hand off. Now the guy 2 yards deep (who Koger actually blocks) is out of the play - scrape exchange (OLB Blitz) Negated.

That's how the play is supposed to work. Koger blocked the wrong guy and Toussaint got 9 yards anyway with the jab-step Brian is talking about.



Found some pictures:

 Basic ZR option, watch the backside end.

 - Scrape exchange. End crashes, Backer comes around, Zone Read blown up. (http://smartfootball.com/defending-spread/defending-the-zone-read-athleticism-and-the-scrape-exchange)

The Offense's counter I can't find a diagram to, but you put a tight end on the right and pull him to block the end who crashes, give it to the back and boom



September 28th, 2011 at 2:29 PM ^

Kick out the contain rusher and then read.


Koger is just past the mesh point when it happens, adding a read would develop this play too slowly. It's a designed handoff. Koger just blocked the wrong guy.

I'm not saying you couldnt run the same play as a designed keeper - have fitz block the DE and Koger the LB, but that's not what's supposed to happen here


September 28th, 2011 at 3:14 PM ^

There is no read. there's a giant seam in the middle of the field that the "contain" guy just blitzed out of. The 5-Tech squeezes no matter what - look at the scrape exchange diagram I posted above. The Defense isn't running base, and the offense countered.

O: I'll run ZR!

D: I'll counter with Scrape Exchange!

O: I'll counter with a designed handoff and changed blocking that blows your scrape exchange up!


September 28th, 2011 at 3:57 PM ^

The 5-tech's entire responsibility is to NOT get trapped by Koger as the LB behind him is vacating. Forcing a bad-angle trap (little player separation, defender not upfield) usually just ends in a pile up. I agree, though, that if Koger is MANBALL enough to get a good fit on the 5-tech, and if denard decides to hand it off, and if Fitz actually reads his block correctly, and if he manages to squeeze through what will undoubtedly be a tiny crease, there is potential for big yardage. It just seems like a low percentage play when the defense voluntarily runs the contain man into an easy trapping position.  


September 29th, 2011 at 9:51 AM ^

Look, man.

Yesterday, in a post, you typed this:

so I drew up some MS Word stuff, these are my understandings of the terms as used in the NCAA 11 (and 12) playbooks.

This leads me to believe that your X & O expertise is based on videogames. Maybe I am wrong.

You are arguing this with a man I know to be the Head Coach of a large High School football team.

I think you need to cede this argument.

As much as I appreciate Brian's efforts, they encourage this "amateur football expert because I went 12-0 in NCAA 2012" nonsense.

Hoke doesn't get to turn down the AI sliders on the SDSU defense.

M Wolve

September 28th, 2011 at 2:08 PM ^

This is what is supposed to happen.  Thanks for putting up the diagrams-- it makes it much easier to understand with the visual.  Again, this was the correct read as Denard saw the WLB swing around.  The 5 tech was Koger's man to block.  Fitz is supposed to go between Omameh and Koger here (if Koger blocks the 5 tech). 


September 28th, 2011 at 2:35 PM ^

his job is to trap the man that shows contain... 5tech 4i,  olb, safety, mr rogers,  whoever,  first thing that shoes contain,  kick out,  open up the lane if the tackle squeezes


when pulling players  across the center you usually dont tell him the man he is blocking as much as you are telling him the responisiblity he is blocking, 


again this is MO,   obviously i dont know for sure,  i just know i wouldnt even know how to coach a pulling te on how to block a 5tech on the other side of the field  that is doing his job and squeezing a downblock, chances are that te would get killed...

its like a counter play,  you block the man that shows up field,  kick out and thats where the hole is...


September 28th, 2011 at 12:51 PM ^

I see the potential in Toussaint for sure, but I can't help feeling like he's still a few games - or maybe one big game - away from figuring out how to be a big time back. Once he does I think he could be great given his physical skills and cut making ability.

At the same time, Smith just won't let you write him off. How does he get those yards? I think the competition is doing everyone good. It's good to see both guys doing great things. If one of them finally does win the competition it will mean even better things to come.


September 28th, 2011 at 12:53 PM ^

If Toussaint ended up on the other side of Molk after clearing the line, he would have had a lot of room to run.  I think by that point he had already decided to just put his head down and drive.  Otherwise, I have absolutely loved the way both Smith and Toussaint have run the ball.  Fitz does seem to have regained some burst and wiggle, but I wonder if his top-end speed is back yet.


September 28th, 2011 at 12:57 PM ^

Fitz has that rare quality: the ability to have a little shake and a dance, yet somehow always be getting upfield well doing it.  It forces the defense to react to you, rather than vice-versa (as seen with the NT in the play you highlighted).  It's the Biakabatuka quality, and if the guy can stay health and get some traction, I see him doing great things for Michigan.


September 28th, 2011 at 1:14 PM ^

I understand what you're saying about the "Biakabutuka quality" but Tshimanga had the best feet of any running back I've seen at Michigan.  Watching him run was awesome.  Toussaint is perhaps the most complete back on the roster, although we haven't seen him catch a pass yet.  He can block, run through tackles, make people miss, and outrun people.  Health is obviously the biggest issue there.

It will be interesting to see how much Toussaint produces if and when he becomes the featured runner in the offense, perhaps in 2013 when Denard is gone.

M Wolve

September 28th, 2011 at 1:12 PM ^



What was the complaint against Fitz that some readers mentioned in their emails?  I guess anyone who doesn't like Fitz can answer this as well, but what has Fitz done that you don't approve of?  Runs very hard, great agility, great vision, and good to great speed.  This isn't a Vince vs Fitz argument, just trying to see what holes in Fitz's game people may see  (besides being injured).


September 28th, 2011 at 1:38 PM ^

on what "vision" means in regard to running backs?

maybe i am confused by the actual word, but are we talking about the split second ability to react to movements of other players in motion, both teammates and opponents (instinctual) ? or are we talking about the ability to see as part of some sort of physical trait, like being tall or running with your head down (physical) ?


September 28th, 2011 at 1:46 PM ^

I don't think he runs with his head down.  I think he's a little bit slow to see blocking schemes develop and he doesn't read his blockers' butts very well.  There have been numrous occasions where I've seen him get to the point where he needs to make a cut off his blocker and then he cuts into traffic rather than away from it.  Vision is somewhat instinctive, although players can get better if they concentrate on watching their blockers more.  I think Vincent Smith has pretty good vision, whereas Toussaint is average and Shaw sorely lacks it.


September 28th, 2011 at 1:48 PM ^

I think (and this is my completely amateur opinion) that when people refer to "vision", they are referring to a backs ability to see the blocks developing to form the hole and to know when to hit the right hole. The best example I can think of with this being a problem with Fitz is that long run against WMU where if he had cut the other way, it's possible he would still be running (although I'm sure more football knowledgeable people could come up with more examples).


September 28th, 2011 at 1:52 PM ^

This was the complaint I was screaming four to five times on Saturday. He is our rb of the future, I don't doubt that. But every time he dances a second too long or takes the wrong hole, it infuriates me. I don't dislike him, I just feel that as of this moment, Smith is the best back on the team.


September 28th, 2011 at 1:17 PM ^

Id like to echo the sentiments of many here and say I love this kids running style (Smith too), but this is the guy they need to get going full throttle.  For any of the doubters out there, his highlight tape in high school says it all, he has something that the other backs dont possess.


September 28th, 2011 at 1:25 PM ^

Hello all. I've been visiting this blog for quite a while; finally registerted just today because I am also particularly excited about Fitz and wish he'd get more carries.

This is no knock to Smith, because his tough TD run against SDSU was quite nice (not to mention the Notre Dame screen scamper). But often I see a Vince run and think "If Shaw/Fitz hit that same hole, he's gone." I see a Toussaint run and I often ask, "how'd he get anything?"

That's the seaparation. This jab step is creating. It's making plays. I can more readily tell when a Vince run is going to go for nothing than with Fitz. I feel that's something you either have or you don't.


September 28th, 2011 at 1:26 PM ^

Someone tell me if my thought process is way off, but why don't we give Fitz and Smith more carries? Fitz is ave 5.7 yards a carry I think, and Smith somewhere in the 8's. Yet we are still running Denard 20 times a game. I realize Denard is the most dynamic runner on the team, but other than the ND game, have we really needed his heroics? The coaches want an RB to step up and be "the guy", but how do they expect that to happen if they don't give them the chances to show they can carry 20x a game?


September 28th, 2011 at 1:34 PM ^

Oddly enough, Denard has proven to be the most durable of our "running backs."  Smith tore his ACL and got concussed, Toussaint has had several injuries (knee, shoulder, etc.), and Shaw always has something nagging him, too (groin, hand).

Meanwhile, Denard gets more carries than any of them and misses some chunks of games, but doesn't get seriously hurt.

Magnum P.I.

September 28th, 2011 at 1:29 PM ^

I am completely in love with Fitzgerald Toussaint and have been since the day we signed him. I'd really like us to spend the entire Minnesota game half working in short passes for Denard and half feeding Toussaint just to see what he can do with 20+ carries. 


September 28th, 2011 at 1:38 PM ^

i agree with this sentiment. I would not be opposed to seeing fitz get 15 carries and smith 15 carries, and have denard work on throwing. i would rather not see denard have more than 5 carries or so unless the situation really called for it. 

i also hope to see gardner get some playing time, as minnesota quite possibly could be the worst opponent we face all year (there won't be many opportunities left for gardner to play)


September 28th, 2011 at 1:40 PM ^

Not only does he help Omameh, but check out #45 for SDSU, the left end. Hyuge moves past him to make a block on the second level. I think Toussaint is actually reacting to him. He fills the cutback lane, but Toussaint has no hole. Toussaint freezes him, and then watch what happens: he slides across Omameh and effectively uses him as a pick on the unblocked end. If the hole exists already as designed, this pick happens purely by traffic in the box.

This strikes me not just because he freezes him so well, but it shows patience for the hole to develop.