Brandon Graham, the 4-3 under, and other defensive musings

Submitted by remdies on July 15th, 2009 at 12:39 AM

Warning! I am not a coach and I haven't played football since eighth grade. However, I have taken an interest in offensive and defensive schemes lately. Most of what I have learned has come from reading Smart Football, Three and Out, Trojan Football Analysis, and of course Brian; especially his piece in HTTV 2009.

I think one of the biggest reasons why the hybrid positions are getting so confused is the fact that coaches all have different names for the same hybrid position. To Pete Carroll the “Spinner” is called the “Elephant” and others call it the “Quick.” All this position really is, is the WDE. Now in the 4-3 under (at least the one we are using) he is moved way outside the tackle. The reason I believe we do this is so that we can use a smaller player and that is able to speed rush the passer, hold weak side contain, and fall back into coverage for a zone blitz. With the player being so far outside they don't need to be as refined in their technique and can use their athleticism in space. This is the position that is being battled for by Evans, Herron, and Watson.

Brandon Graham is going to be the SDE this year. This of course could limit his effectiveness as a pass rusher. However, he has the most refined technique of all the defensive ends and will probably draw many double teams. These double teams will most likely lead to one-on-one battles for at least two defensive linemen (which I am considering the “Deathbacker/Spinner/Quick/Elephant” to be).

The other hybrid position in our defensive is the one occupied by Steve Brown. But just like the “Spinner” is just a WDE but with a fancy name, Mr. Brown's position is just the SLB but not the John Thompson version. Obviously, spread offenses are everywhere and to combat this defensive coordinators made the SLB more like a safety. But they also want someone who can handle a tight end in man coverage and in run situations so this may be why the coordinators just didn't use a normal nickel package. In the 4-3 under the SLB is in an inside-foot to outside-foot alignment on the tight end also called a 9-tech. If there isn't a tight end then I believe he will play nickelback to the strong side – however GERG determines which side is the strong side.

Different coaches use different conventions for which side is the strong side. Some call the strong side the side with the tight end. Others call the strong side the side to the quarterback's front (non-blind) side. I am not sure but I think that we will be using the first convention.



Note that Steve Brown and Brandon Graham are going to be on the same side. And both will be lined up on the line of scrimmage.

According to Pete Carrol the WLB is protected in this scheme, so they don't have to be “thick necked jokers” either, they need to run sideline to sideline and make plays. This is Jonas Mouton's position.

It looks to me like a guard might have a free release on Obi in this formation, but I would like to defer this question to someone who knows more about football than I.

Earlier someone posed the question as to why we don't use Brandon at the WDE position (they called it the 'Shembackler' which I like but for clarity's sake I'm sticking with WDE). This was actually why I started writing this in the first place. It seems to me that what is most important for the WDE position in this scheme is the ability to rush the passer and the ability to play in space. Brandon can most certainly rush the passer and given that he played linebacker in HS he could probably play in space – not to mention his freakish athleticism! So why don't we move him there? I think the answer is because we don't have a DE as polished as Brandon to play the SDE, especially since Ryan Van Bergen could be starting at the 3-tech DT! We have athletes, and this is the number one criteria to playing the WDE spot in our 4-3 under; as far as I can tell anyway. Hopefully they can at least speed rush the passer; playing well in space would also be helpful.

On to other musings! If our starting D-line is going to look like BG, Martin, Van Bergen, someone at WDE then I would think we should be pretty good at penetrating the O-line (clean thoughts people!). Does this mean we will be susceptible to counters and traps? Can someone weigh in on what the advantages of having a small line like ours might be? Plus, I think we can all envision what the disadvantages are so I was wondering what the bright side could be.

If you are craving more info I would recommend reading this Trojan Analysis link keeping in mind that Steve Brown is the SLB in the diagrams and BG is the DE on his side. Then delve as much as you wish! Chris Brown and gsimmons85 have so much football knowledge packed into their sites you can read on for days andlike Brianforget what the sun looks like!

I'm not one to get defensive so feel free to tear this apart! In fact I welcome any criticism since I will most likely learn something or get a laugh.

One last thing. If you frequent mgoblog and you don't buy HTTV 2009 then you are a fool! In fact you will be known as a fool all your life and when you die all people will say about you is: 'The fool is dead.' So don't be a fool and buy HTTV 2009 today!



July 15th, 2009 at 1:57 AM ^

Nice post, formatting issues aside. One question though: you say Stevie Brown will be lining up on the line of scrimmage? Do you just mean in the box, or actually up at the line? (I realize positioning can vary from play to play; I'm talking about base set here.) If his is sort of an all-purpose tight-end-covering run-supporting nickelback-type role, wouldn't lining up a few yards back make more sense?


July 15th, 2009 at 4:46 AM ^

I did mean on the line not just in the box. But now I'm not so sure what exactly his role is from the clips of the spring game. He seems to be more like a nickel. But I think there will be some plays where he lines up like a normal 4-3 under Sam.

He will probably play on or off the line depending on the play call and the match up. Not very insightful I know but that is all I got right now.

I have some print screens of the spring game that I'll try and do something with, but I'm not sure how useful they will be since you can't see the whole field.

I wish I knew more so I could give you a better answer but alas I have a lot to learn.


July 15th, 2009 at 3:46 AM ^

first off, thanks for the shout out, glad i could help you with stuff, and enjoy reading my stuff, when i get a chance to do something!!

now on to a couple of things, i havent had a chance to talk to Brian much, and i know he is really in touch with what michigan is running defensively, i havent had a chance to read his book yet, but it sounds like a lot of it is from expert defensive minds. It also sounds like they have a good handle on the scheme that Michigan is running. All i have to go by is what i saw at the spring game, and what i see watching the film of the spring game. Obviously if i get a chance to ask him all ask Bill WIlliams (g robinsons tackling consultant) if he has any insights into G robs defense when i work with him in acouple of weeks. I dont have any conections to Michigan, and know nothing except what i read around places like this, so take what i have to say with a grain of salt. but i did want to point out a couple of things.

the film im looking at is from the media on the spring game, the first group defense comes out against the 2nd string offense at 23.40 this is the first tiem we see the hybrid defense (first time out the 2nd string defense was working against a hurry up offense and was running a pretty basic 4-2-5 even front)

notice the first play, heron the stud lb (hybrid de/lb) is lined up on the TE, not brown, brown is lined up on the slot (its an overloaded front, brown playing the spinner position is the adjuster, and obviously playing man to man) brandon graham is playing the weakside de, or the rush end, away from the TE... 1 safety has come down and is blitzing off the weakside (doesnt have a slot due to the over load ont he strong side)

couple plays later you see heron and graham switching sides, they obviously are to be on opposite sides, with heron the hybrid on the te, and graham on the weakside, now when there is no te in the game, things get a little bit less obvious, depending on coverage called, stunts, blitzes etc, you may see graham lined up to the most recievers, but he is opposite of the hybrid..

the spinner ont he other hand (brown) on this series, is lined up on slots, when its an overload, you see him on the same side as the hybrid, if the slot was away from the te, then he was on the weakside...(thus why he isnt called a wlb)

28.23 is the next time we see the first defense...

again spinner is on the slot, graham is to the most recievers time, but with out a te, its not really a strong run side, just like before, he isnt playing the strong side when their is a te in the game that could double down on him.

(by the way this is play that brown gets juked out of his boots on, but its grahams responsibilty that gets blowned and leaves brown out there by himself with a qb comming and a slot that he is responsible for.)

29.23 again te in the game, heron is on him, graham is on the weakside (notice we are a player short, the strong side dt is not on the field, right where the play goes) again brown the spiner is on the slot away from the te...

like i said long ago this defenes has some similarites as far as dl techs go with a 4-3 under. but in realitiy its a lot more like a 3-4, a 3-4 with a wlb that can go strong or weak depending on where the extra slot is linning up.

sorry this is so long, and im not trying to be a pain, i just am having a hard time understanding why i am seeing something different from what brian, and you, and others are telling me. Like i said, im not "in" so i am probably missing something, but if im breaking down film on michigan for my offenses coaches to attack, im not explaining it the way i hear some people explain it. of course im not a big 4-3 guy, so its not out of the realm of possibilites that im wrong. but a 4-3 "under" is a strong side reduction, think of it as taking your 4 dl, and bumping them to the weakside, as a strong side lb, comes down to the los on the strong side, so now you have 5 on the los (not what i see on film), 4 dlmen, and 1 strong side lb. a 4-3 over is basiclly the opposite, a weakside reduction. I see some elements of carol's defense in this, but its not the same as far as i can see from the few glimpses i got in the spring...

thanks for listening...


July 15th, 2009 at 4:31 AM ^

I appreciate your insight! I'm looking at the spring game now and I definitely see things that don't quite jive with what my understanding of the system is/was. I guess what I was expecting was something more like the second case, where brown is outside graham on the bottom of the screen and herron is on the top of the screen.

Could the coaches just be moving Graham around to give him the best match ups? I guess they like him best on the RT if there isn't a TE and if there is then they put him on the LT?

It also seems like they want herron to out flank the o-line whether or not there is a tight end. Is this just for one back sets? Would they put brown over the tight end and move herron inside if there were two backs in the backfield?

They are moving brown all around. Looks like they want him manned up on someone. I'm curious what the zone blitzes look like.

Well, I'm really glad you chimed in! I am about as green as they come with this stuff so it gave me more to think about.


July 15th, 2009 at 8:02 AM ^

how much can we take away from the spring game since the D was going against a spread offense? In other words would the D take on the appearance of a 4-3 Under if they were going against a more pro-style offense. Or do you think what we saw out there in spring is representative?

Or is the more likely answer, wait until September, which I keep trying to tell myself.


July 15th, 2009 at 9:32 AM ^

One thing I really like about using the 4-3 under with Graham at the SDE, is that he will be that much closer to the QB's and RB's. He can use his leverage to step through the double teams and fight for position. I agree that the spring game film shows a variety of fronts, and not many base 4-3 under looks. However, the recent post regarding having to match up with a spread offense is a good reason to change alignment. We will play several spread teams this year, and it seems that Brown will be man-2-man with the slot receiver on the strong side in this situation.
Brian's book was awesome, and I read the whole thing in one sitting. I really can't get enough information about the year coming up... I will be buying his preview book every year now. It blows "The Wolverine" away as far as real schematic breakdown, and lack of fluff BS. I would reccomend that all of you who come to this blog often order it.
The main reason you don't want BG at the weakside is he's not fast enough. He is perfectly suited for DE, but for the spinner - you want a guy who is really fast to be able to cover the TE's, slot recievers, and backs out of the backfield. Will Linebackers are usually the fastest of the three for this same reason. I bet they play around with "who fits where" for the first few games of the season. Even though it is a bit unnerving running a new Defensive scheme for the third year in a row, this one seems to put pressure in the backfield without giving up too much on the back end.


July 15th, 2009 at 10:21 AM ^

Traps and counters aren't what kill small lines. A smaller line can react to a pulling guard and attack underneath it and spill. What kills it is straight down blocking where the o-line engages immediatley before the speed can react. That is the reason for the schembacker. You want to give your athletes space to work with because the space gives them more time to make there move before the hogs on the o-line can engage.


August 11th, 2009 at 1:21 AM ^

Could the coaches just be moving Graham around to give him the best match ups? I guess they like him best on the RT if there isn't a TE and if there is then they put him on the LT?

I really hope that's the case...BG at the WDE lined up wide outside the LT...oh man. I don't like the idea of him having to worry about double teams on the strong side. I understand the concern with BG playing in space, but I'm sure we could scheme around that. You can cover the 'flat' zone with say...Mouton at WLB while BG embarrasses whatever fat slab of meat is in front of him...

And what's the deal with RVB...Is he going to predominately be a 3-tech? I'd assume we'd switch him to SDE from time to time...he'd be a PERFECT fit for handling the C gap while handling run-stoppage duties. Martin could play the 3-tech with the French Canadian/Campbell handing A...

Or we run the 1-4-6 with Zoltan at NT.