Ryan to MLB and Other People Doing Other Things: What it All Means

Submitted by Seth on February 21st, 2014 at 12:19 PM



I'm going to skip the user-generated content column, since there wasn't very much of it this week, and talk about the position swaps. The top two diaries at right are new this week.

Something completely different. Brady Hoke attended the Detroit alumni association's annual event yesterday and went on WTKA this morning, leaking out some position changes and player updates, as well as explaining the thinking behind the defensive position coach shakeup. News via nickbob:

Jake Ryan moving to MIKE

Chris Bryant to take medical

Magnuson will miss "most" of spring, will do some individual stuff, surgery went well

Tuley-Tillman had hand surgery

Drake Johnson and Darboh are limited and working their way back

Some other odds and ends related to the D coaching moves

Also Taco Charlton will be moving from WDE to SDE. Let's discuss.

More Ryan is a good thing. [Fuller]

Moving Ryan. This, like the coaching changes, is a response to college football going mostly spread. Hoke said that Ohio State effectively neutralized Ryan against the run by spreading out, thus moving him out of the box. Here's your matchups for strongside linebackers on Michigan's 2014 schedule:

  • Vs tight end/manball: MSU, Minnesota, PSU*
  • Vs slot receiver, spread-to-run: App State, Utah, Ohio State
  • Vs slot receiver, spread-to-pass: ND, Miami(NTM), Maryland, Indiana, NW'ern

The * for PSU is because Franklin's offense is a bit of a hybrid; when adapted to Penn State's current roster I'm guessing it ends up a zone-blocked, tight-end-heavy passing offense that moves at warp speed. Northwestern will be a lot more passy with Trevor Siemian instead of Colter. Only two games will heavily feature a SAM taking on tight end blocks.

Upside: anyone who's watched Te'o or Bullough against us in recent years can attest how much of a difference a great middle linebacker can make. The downgrade from Demens to last year's linebackers in deep zone coverage was probably the defense's biggest liability, and Ryan to date has been a plus zone defender.

Downsides: SAM just went from Michigan's strongest position on defense to a huge question mark, since Cam Gordon graduated and Beyer was moved to SDE, leaving just unheralded Spur (i.e. safety)-like object Allen Gant and neophytes.

The obvious thing would be for Beyer to switch back, though Hoke told Sam Webb that isn't happening. Rather James Ross may swap to SAM, and Morgan/Bolden/Gedeon will compete/rotate at WILL and backup MIKE. Weight Watch 2014 just became how big will James Ross be watch. If Ross seizes the position this spring I think things will work out fine, though this has to be a comedown from our hype going into last year. McCray or one of the freshmen could factor in.

The other downside is the most consistent generator of pass rush is no longer on the pass rush.

[Jump: moving Taco, OL damage, coach position switches]

Moving Taco. Clark and Ojemudia to the backfield, please. Lawrence Marshall is now the third and last WDE on the roster, though if the coaches continue to use the SAMs as rush ends in the nickel that is mitigated. Between Charlton and Beyer the SDE position just got an upgrade in the pass rush.

OL damage: bad. The injuries to Tuley-Tillman and Magnuson are both seemingly minor things that I will tell you right now I plan to use all year as we complain about the state of the tackles. Michigan lost two NFL draft picks at tackle from an offensive line that performed worse than the 2010 secondary. This was an important spring for their development, for getting used to Nussmeier, and for getting a new-built offensive line to gel. Mags played guard last year and was expected to use this spring and fall to learn the intricacies of left tackle; LTT is one of those bodies you hope to develop into Long/Lewan.

Once again, it's doubtful there will be enough hale OL to field two teams for a spring scrimmage.

Bryant's shoulder was what's been holding him back. He gave it a go last year but any job he won would be tenuous depending on how well that held up. Losing one more of their precious few upperclassman linemen isn't a good thing but this was mostly expected.

Position 2013 2014
Nose Hoke Smith
3-Tech Mattison Smith
5-Tech Mattison Smith
WDE Manning Smith
SAM Manning Mattison
MIKE Smith Mattison
WILL Smith Mattison
SS Mallory Mallory
FS Mallory Mallory
BCB Mallory Manning
FCB Mallory Manning
Nickel Mallory Manning


Position Coach Changes. The coaching changes by defensive position are at right. Hoke explained his reasoning in yesterday's press release:

"Greg and I met and felt this was the best for everyone, including him and his ability to coach a position group and run a defense from the middle.

When you look at Mark's experience on the defensive line, then being able to split the secondary, where you have five positions and 20-plus guys, and with the way offense and passing has changed in college football, I think it balances our staff on that side of the ball."

He reiterated to Sam that this is mostly about getting more coaching in the secondary. Given they were in a nickel about half of the time last year, Mallory was effectively in charge of 4.5/11 positions on the field. That wasn't such a big deal when the secondary had virtual coach Jordan Kovacs and the coaches were raiding the maternity ward for linebackers and DL. With Wilson and Thomas your prohibitive leaders for the safety jobs more coaching is very welcome. 

Mattison handling the linebackers is billed as a way for him to have a better feel for who should blitz and who should cover as he's calling the defense. Given Ryan's move and no more Jibreel Black, it's possible Michigan intends to have its DTs focus more on eating rather than beating blocks, while its interior rush comes from blitzing linebackers more often.

Manning - Rose
Roy Manning has experience jamming and rerouting tight ends. [photo from my file of stuff grabbed from MGoBlue.com in the early 'aughts]

Can lifelong linebacker Roy Manning coach cornerbacks? All I've got on that is a bunch of guys who played with him, most of them cornerbacks, who think he's a future BCS head coach, plus a coaching resume as a generalist. As a grad assistant at Cincy and Michigan he handled film breakdown and generally helped with the defensive staff. He was running backs coach in his second Cincy stint.

With all the young cornerbacks the idea of someone trying to learn on the job is less than squishy. Cornerback is nearer the talent end of the needs-talent-or-experience spectrum. But when we brought that up to Todd Howard at the Chicago event last November he said that coverage is talent but jamming technique is a learned skill. That is exactly the skill they need if the goal is to move toward an MSU/Seahawks style of defense.

I'm a bit peeved, given these changes, that Michigan didn't pursue Larry Johnson Sr., Penn State's legendary DL coach who landed at Ohio State. Passing on that opportunity made sense if Hoke and Mattison themselves were coaching Michigan's defensive line, not so much if it's a spot to land the LB coach.



February 21st, 2014 at 12:25 PM ^

Is this a move to be more like MSU on D? MSU has used their cat-quick, undersized, instinctive missile at the SAM to great effect the last three years. They also generate a lot of pass rush and disruption from blitzes as well. Perhaps they're trying to now put those players in an MSU like position i.e. Ryan providing pass rush up middle on blitzes and Ross from the edge. Just please god, have Manning be a good DB coach.

Taco to SDE makes fine sense considering his frame. Considering the DL recruiting, it also seems like they want to get on the lighter/quicker side of the DL spectrum. Perhaps why they want more beef on the inside at LB?

And I'm peeved as well at Johnson going to OSU. But wouldn't they have had to fire someone to make room for him?

Space Coyote

February 21st, 2014 at 1:16 PM ^

I'm not really sure he has the size/length that you desire, but also, I'm not really comfortable with him as a guy to hold the edge. Ross is great at slashing. He can take on and disengage and be effective as well. But at SAM, he'll have to engage and maintain and hold the edge for longer, and I don't really see that as a strength of his game. 

Stevie Brown did it (I think Stevie Brown is more athletic) and you can get away with being a little bit leaner and smaller, but I'm just not sure Ross has the tools that are desired for the position. I'm much less a fan of this than say, moving Bolden over to SAM.

This does make me believe that the coaches were tired of the opposing OL killing Michigan's ILBs though. Part of that was on the DL, but these moves and potential moves show they want more size inside to do better at holding up. The benefit of moving Ross to SAM is that he would more likely take on TEs and FBs, which he is better at doing.


February 21st, 2014 at 1:23 PM ^

Have you watched much of MSU's D?  I ask because I haven't and I'm wondering how they use Denicos Allen.  He's a small, quick SAM linebacker who always seems to be missle coming into the backfield, and is very effective.  I think MSU's 4-3 is different from the way UM has been running theirs, but could UM make a similar change to get Ross slashing into the backfield from the SAM spot?


February 21st, 2014 at 2:04 PM ^

MSU typically plays with a truly even front, and then they spread the DEs wider, daring you to run up the middle where Bullough would eat you for breakfast, unless they're double-A blitzing and he eats you for dinner last night. They can get away with that because their DTs can both hold up to doubles and even two-gap.


      TE  OT  OG  OC  OG  OT

SAM   DE     DT        DT       WDE


      TE  OT  OG  OC  OG  OT

SAM       5T       NT    3T        WDE

Their SAM is a much more free wreaker of havoc than Michigan's, but he's also a more true outside linebacker whereas Michigan's SAM in a 4-3 under has some defensive end to him. The difference is made up for in the middle: Michigan wants its NT to clog up the middle and keep the LBs free to flow to gaps that form; MSU makes their MLB responsible for the A gaps.

If you remember Gholston getting free sacks all the time, it was because the DT, Jerel Worthy, would jump the snap and preve3nt the OG from getting anywhere. The OT would take Allen and that would leave Gholston (the SDE) free.

I wouldn't say one is superior to the other, but I also wouldn't say Ross's role would be anthing like Denicos Allen's was. If M was going to try to deploy an Allen-like object they'd probably try Ojemudia there. Or Allen Gant. Or...I don't know--Michigan doesn't have a lot of guys on the roster like that. Shantee Orr is the 1-to-1 comparison from history.

Ross at SAM is a solidity move, not an explosive one. He'll have to take on blocks and reroute, and he'll have to play zones, but he'll be also be free to read and attack from a position to blow the play up when he reads faster than the offense can pull a guy. Also when offenses motion the strength to the opposite side of the formation you have a guy who's been a WILL before already there.


February 21st, 2014 at 2:38 PM ^

Fact is every team is multiple but yeah MSU went Over last year. Here's the front breakdown from the UFR database:

D Form 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
Even 88% 70% 97% 80% 81% 5%
Under/30 fronts 13% 30% 3% 16% 14% 21%
Over 0% 0% 0% 5% 5% 74%

When Allen was a wreaker of all things it was from the Even front. Last year his role changed to something much like the WILL in Michigan's defense.

Space Coyote

February 21st, 2014 at 2:37 PM ^

But MSU's 4-3 Over - Cover 4 is very different than Michigan's 4-3 Under - Single High scheme. Not just in how they align or how they play coverage, but to what they task their LBs with doing.

MSU's LBs aren't taught gap assignment or leverage spill technique, and that all stems from their cover 4 scheme. They still have rules like how you take on a block and stuff, but an MSU LB is never directly responsible for spill on the front or backside; that falls on the safeties. This comes directly from Mike Tressel. MSU LBs are not supposed to shuffle. They are supposed to read their key quick and attack forward at the snap, clear/cloudy, get to the ball. The rest falls into place. That's why so many people confuse MSU as "blitzing" or as their safeties playing in the box, when that really isn't the case.

Now, I'll disagree with Seth on some things, MSU runs more of an Over front, but they align field/boundary a lot rather than to strength. Here's a 4-3 Over:

Notice that the SAM and WILL, when lined up traditionally, look to have very similar responsibilities. But MSU puts their STAR (WILL) to the field so that he can have more pass responsibility (more often a slot will align to the field) and the SAM can stay inside. They then adjust their ends a bit to account for that, but that's beyond the scope here. But note that the SAM (who could be the S or the W on the diagram above, but lined to the boundary) will slice based on keys. Play away: he'll either run straight to the ball or read the first direct line to the ball carrier through the LOS if he can make it there. Play to: He'll attack straight down hill or play inside-to outside.

Michigan's defense tends to play outside to inside, aka, bottle everything up inside and squeeze it. MSU tends to play inside out. Michigan's WILL is closer to what Allen played at MSU in that he could be more of a slicer and downhill player, but he still had different rules, they took on blocks different, they had different pass responsibilities, etc.


February 21st, 2014 at 2:42 PM ^

Heh. once again we agree but were talking about different things.

I figured he was asking why Michigan's SAM won't be a Denicos Allen thing, and I assumed he meant the Denicos Allen thing we saw in 2011-'12 who was blazing into the backfield with regularity. The wide even front and the over front are not that different considering how MSU used it, and their defense functions on the same principles in either look.


February 21st, 2014 at 3:03 PM ^

I suppose the over arching question I'm trying to get at (and no one probably has a good answer to this yet) is do y'all expect any philisophical defensive changes to accompany these moves?  Yeah, I was getting at all the Allen production when MSU lined up in the even fronts.  Just seems like having such different personel would call for some scheme changes, not that it has to be as drastic as running MSU's even fronts all the time.  I know that while UM runs several different fronts, the under is the 'standard', so I was wondering if that will change with a Ross/Gant platoon at SAM.

As an aside, any idea why MSU changed their alignments so much to the over from that even front which was very good in previous years?  I must admit, I watched almost no MSU games this year once I realized they were, you know, good, and UM was, well, not.  The heart can take only so much hurt.


February 21st, 2014 at 3:12 PM ^

i don't think Mattison would characterize these as philosophical changes, but that's maybe semantics. i think they're further adapting to how little they get to line up in a traditional 4-3 Under where it makes any sense to play the SAM on the line. they see Ryan as a box player, so they're going to give him a position that always keeps him in the box.



Space Coyote

February 21st, 2014 at 3:16 PM ^

I'm assuming Seth's numbers are just from the Michigan games, and Michigan's spread offense probably had a lot to do with those breakdowns (the Over and an even front are hard to distinguish when the offense is spread out), but Narduzzi has been a spokesman for the 4-3 Over sense his arrival at MSU. But I don't expect Mattison to follow Narduzzi's lead anytime soon, he'll continue to coach the scheme he is most comfortable with.

These position switches aren't really strange, even within the Under scheme (though I don't like moving Ross to SAM as much). But Mattison will prefer a single high look but in the end wants to be very multiple with his coverages so that he can run a variety of blitzes and give the defense a lot of looks so as to scheme for anything and allow the defense to not scheme for one thing.

Narduzzi will continue to be 4-3 Over - Cover 4 and will rep it until they are great at it. He does run two different styles of cover 4, one more traditional and one more like a cover 0. On obvious pass downs he'll run more cover 3 behind his blitz package. That's who both of them are and I don't see either changing too far from that.


February 21st, 2014 at 12:59 PM ^

Listening the whole way through, you hear Sam W. speculating on Beyer moving back to Sam and there being a logjam at Will.  At the end of the show, he makes it distinctly clear that he's saying Ross at Sam.  That sounds to me like someone he trusts cleared it up for him 1/2 way through, but he didn't elaborate on his sources.


February 21st, 2014 at 1:07 PM ^

Maybe I'm not remembering things correctly, but I swear that I've seen very effective pass rushers coming from the MLB spot, both in college and in the pros. Maybe not on every down, but an inside blitz can be devastating if you've got a guy with the size and quickness that Ryan has.


February 21st, 2014 at 1:12 PM ^

What's the very first play Jake Ryan made in his UM career?  In 2011, he came on an inside blitz stright over the center and hit the ball while hitting the QB causing that 98 yard Herron return for TD.  While the generality may be correct (although MSU uses LB's on iside blitzes for pass rush effectively), I think Ryan is the type of player to make plays everywhere.


February 21st, 2014 at 1:10 PM ^

If Ross is probably going to be our "spread" SAM, I think of the other options I'd most like to see Gedeon as the "power" SAM. I don't see Bolden or Morgan having the size/strength that Ryan offered, or the speed/quickness that Ross offers for pass coverage, but I think Gedeon has the strength to play it like a run stuffer and make some of the plays Ryan has. Could be wrong, obviously.


February 21st, 2014 at 1:19 PM ^

So thinking about this more, is this something the coaches have been considering for a while?  I'm just thinking, and Gant got moved from safety to SAM in June of last year, then in August the coaches offered Jared Wangler who then committed.  That's two young guys who seem to fit the 'undersized, quicker, safety-y' mold of SAM LBs.  Now moving Ross over there with Gant as back-up?  Perhaps they've been mulling this decision over for a while and now decided to pull the trigger with a full offseason and everyone healthy again?  Also where does this leave McCray and Winovich?  MLB like Ryan as well?

One thing that does worry me, is that this seems to be a philosophy switch.  Not a drastic one, true.  But still...we keep pointing to MSU, and they've run the same system for like 7 years now.  And they're reaping the benefits of consitancy on a high level.  How much will a switch hamper development?


February 21st, 2014 at 1:38 PM ^

Gant was always heading down the linebackery-safety role, by "always" i mean after his senior year when it was clear he was still gaining size but his speed was never going to be what you want in a pass-sound defensive backfield (and he isn't a born Kovacs who can make up for it by reading and reacting faster).

There isn't a very big leap you have to make, since Hoke said he and the staff met after the Ohio State game to discuss what happened to their defense and how they can make sure that doesn't happen to them again. Offering Wangler may be part of that. Moving Jake Ryan is something they've mulled before.

As we saw in 2010 when Cam Gordon and Carvin Johnson and Thomas Gordon all played Spur relatively effectively as freshmen, it's not a very hard position to pick up. Your zones are typically the flats with plenty of help over your head, your reaction to the run game is super aggressive, and your blitz route is into a tackle/tight end/back whom you should be able to beat one-on-one with either size or quickness.

Ross is the most disappointing part of all of this. He showed that quick-react instinct in 2012 that I thought when they add some pounds to him he'd be very effictive WILL. Bolden was the guy getting picked on over the top, and Morgan was second in that regard.

If they had more safety depth instead of corner depth and all things were equal I'd want Dymonte Thomas at SAM. Alas that isn't going to be in the cards with this team.


February 21st, 2014 at 1:49 PM ^

What's the longest stretch of time we can point to where we had an absolutely firm idea of our defensive philosophy (i.e., at the positional level) and what type of athlete we want at each spot?  It takes years of consistent recruiting and player development to reach elite status as a unit on that side of the ball, and every reshuffle, in a way, just feels like restarting the clock yet again.  

1. Believe in your system.  

2. Recruit the players who are the right fit, not just the most starry.  

3. Coach and develop with consistency over several years.  

4. Profit.

I don't know man.  Yes, trust the coaches yada yada, but Jake MF Ryan was pretty comfortable where he was and good at what he was doing, as ugly as OSU was (which you're not going to convince would have been different with the new scheme the way our DL was getting blown off the line).



February 22nd, 2014 at 5:16 PM ^

sure believe in your base system / philosophy all you want but failure to adapt, even ever so slightly, typically results in failure.  the goal of most teams will always remain signing players projected to fill specific roles within system however thats never 100% possible. ...always need to reaccess your roster and players abilities every chance you get and then redeploy certain players in different roles as they develop / grow / learn etc and as your scheme evolves or adapts to challenge ever evolving offenses, at least thats what most great coaches and great sqauds do.   mattison is a sharp dude and i think its great he identified some areas of improvement....seeing ryans impact lessened in some games over the years by floating over the slot and reacting by moving your best playmaker (also w best instincts)  to the middle of the field is a plus.  id be worried if mattison did not make any changes vs the changes hes made.  but unfortunately the LBs impact or improvement by DBs will be inconsequential if the DL does not improve both vs pass and run.  pass rush aside, the DL was slashed for big runs far too often last year and opponents frequently stayed ahead of the sticks....if you dont stop the run, not much else matters, including pass rush.  ryan at mike hopefully goes a long way towards shoring up middle of D


February 21st, 2014 at 4:05 PM ^

our disbelief at Furbush to MLB* and Wangler to SLB.  It appears that the coaching staff have been thinking about this for a while and maybe would have even shown some of it last year if JMFR wasn't injured.

On a positive note, our SAM depth 2015 and beyond will look much better and we are much better stocked at MLB to compensate for the loss of Jake to graduation.


*Still think there is a decent chance he never plays LB at Michigan