Evidence that Michigan is headed for a 3-4 defense by 2013?

Submitted by UMaD on July 13th, 2011 at 2:20 PM

We've seen the following trends in recruiting since Hoke (and Mattison) arrived:

  • Heavy numbers at LB.
  • Low numbers at  DT.
  • DE that project better to a 3-man front or as linebackers.  (This is debatable but bear with me...)

Furthermore, Mattison is coming off successfuly running the Ravens' 3-4 [edit: really it was a hybrid with multiple looks] and is using that fact to sell recruits.  Add it up and you see circumstantial evidence that could point towards Michigan moving to a base 3-4 defense within the next few seasons (obviously not yet).

LB:  When Hoke was announced as head coach, the 2011 recruiting class added 2 more LB recruits (to the 2 already committed) - a surprising number given the quantity of players returning from the 2009 and 2010 classes. 
For 2012, LB seemed to be a minor need, but the coaches have taken 4 more commitments anyway.

DT: The critical recruiting need for the 2012 defensive class seemed, at least to most fans, to be for several 'true' DTs to a) replace Mike Martin and b) provide a talent infusion where no proven players return.  Despite the need, it's rumored that the coaching staff is only taking one player for the position in 2012.

DEs who might be DTs: The 2011 class included the late addition of Keith Heitzman, an SDE type who some project to DT.  Chris Rock had a similar profile and was already committed to the class. Previous recruits like Wilkins and Black were also thought to be potential DTs at some point.  In 2012 we've seen a number of similar DE recruits - larger players who could be moved inside like Strobel, Godin, and Wormley (who is not part of the class but remains a target and, to many, a likely commit).  These type of versatile linemen are generally considered to be prototypical fits for a 3-4 DE (e.g. 6'6 290 lb JJ Watt).

DEs who might be LBs:  DE recruiting under Hoke has included three players weighing in the neighborhood of 220 lbs (Ojemudia, Brown, and Beyer).  This is light even for a LB at the college level.  Brown and Beyer are tall, but Ojemudia is indisputably LB-sized and has been quoted as saying he's a linebacker.  Some of the DL recruits have been told they're seen as a 'Terrell Suggs' type player.  Suggs is a LB, at least technically.

. .  One can easily make numerous arguments to rationalize all of the evidence above: The 4-3 under personnel isn't necessarily dissimilar from a 3-4 defenses; Mattison's run both defenses; staff wasn't impressed with the returning LB talent; the DT and SDE positions can be secured by a variety of players; the 4-3 WDE and 3-4 RLB are roughly the same thing (e.g. Woodley); etc. ...However, as the circumstantial evidence mounts, the hypothesis begins to look more feasible. The rumor that the staff will take only O'Brien or Pipkins, but not both, seems particularly curious if the plan is to stick with a 4-man front.

This was discussed before to some degree http://mgoblog.com/category/post-type/3-4-defense but we've seen a lot change in recruiting over the last couple months. 



July 13th, 2011 at 2:30 PM ^

When Mattison arrived, the Ravens were running a 3-4.  Under Mattison, they became a bit of a hybrid, running 3-4 and 4-3.  So, down the road we're probably going to be a 4-3 base with some occasional 3-4 looks.


July 13th, 2011 at 3:50 PM ^

I don't know if this is exactly what you are looking for but Touch the Banner had a couple blog posts about what to expect from the different positions in the 4-3 Under and that might give you an idea about it.

Defensive Line:










July 13th, 2011 at 4:02 PM ^

On a basic level it seems to be a shift in the way the linebackers are lined up. Check out the picture in the post below, which shows the SLB as basically lining up as a 5th lineman while the other 2 linebackers almost look like a nickel line up.


I believe the 4-3 Over is the opposite with the WLB lining up near the line.


July 13th, 2011 at 3:57 PM ^


The Under 4-3 put the playmakers in position to make those plays. One major advantage is the one-on-one rushing match-ups created on passing downs; while still placing a emphasis on stopping the run. The Basic Responsibilities of the Over 4-3 are as follows, remember that as formations change, through shifts or motions, some player responsibilities will change .



Under 4-3 Responsibilities

Strong Defensive End

Lines up On the outside shoulder of the Strong Tackle; the DE is a C Gap Defender. Can drop back in zone coverage, generally during blitzing situations.

Strong Defensive Tackle

Shades the Center to the Strong Side, and is the Strong Side A gap defender. Focus on stopping runs and occupying combo blocks. In passing situation, the SDT pursues the Quarterback.

Weak Defensive Tackle

Lines up on the outside shoulder of the Weak side Guard, and is responsible for the Weal side B gap. Focus on stopping runs; In passing situation, the SDT pursues the Quarterback.

Weak Defensive End

Lines up on the outside shoulder of the Weak side Tackle, and is the C Gap defender, and outside containment responsibilities. On running plays is responsible for counters, and cutting off any weak side cutbacks. In passing situation, rush the quarterback.

Middle Linebacker (Mike)

Lines up 3-4 yards deep over the Strong Side B gap. The Mike Linebacker is responsible for shedding blocks and stopping the inside runs, or scraping out on outside runs. The Mike Linebacker can also blitz in zone schemes, and cover the running back in M4M schemes.

Strong Linebacker (Sam)

Lines up on the outside edge over the Tight End. The Sam Linebacker will never allow the Tight End to make a clean break off the LOS. Can be used in both zone coverage and blitzing schemes. On run plays, the Sam Linebacker must avoid the Tight-End’s reach block, and maintain the outside contain; this should funnel any runs into the formation.

Weak Linebacker (Weak)

Generally the fastest and best pass covering linebacker, the Will linebacker lines up 3-4 yards deep over the Weak side A Gap. The Will Linebacker is responsible for Shooting the A Gap and stopping the inside runs, or scraping out on outside runs. The Will Linebacker can also blitz in zone schemes, and cover the running back in M4M schemes

Strong Safety

Lines up 12 yards off the LOS. On running plays, the SS plays run support. In Cover 2 zone the free safety is responsible for 1/2 of the deep secondary. The SS can also cover the flat in the Cover 2 Invert; where the cornerbacks are responsible for the deep secondary. In Cover 3, the SS will be responsible for 1/3 of the deep secondary; the Flats on corner blitzes; and as a blitzing backer in
3 Deep/ 3 Under schemes. In M4M Coverage, the SS will be responsible for the # 2 receiver, or involved in run blitzing schemes.

Free Safety

The Free Safety generally has the same responsibilities that the Strong Safety has, except there is a greater emphasis on pass coverage than blitzing and run stopping


Both Cornerbacks have the same responsibility. The Corner is the outermost containment on running plays, if the play-action, they pursuit to the ball, watching for the counter or play-action. In Cover 2 the corner is responsible for the flats, or blitzed in 2 Deep/4 Under. In Cover 3 the corner is responsible for either the deep 1/3 of the field, or the flat areas; can also blitz in 3 Deep/3 Under Schemes. IN M4M Coverage the Cornerback lines up in front of the WR, as the WR pushes out, they re-route the WR inside. After the receiver breaks, the Cornerback will trail, the WR looking for ball delivery.





July 13th, 2011 at 2:31 PM ^

I disagree. I think James Ross, Royce Jenkins-Stone, and Joe Bolden were too good to turn down, or retract a scholarship offer. Along with Ojemudia, too good to not accept their commitment or tell them we don't have a spot.

If you don't mind me asking, where did you hear the rumor about taking either Pipkins or O'Brien? Also, if true, is it possible they will only take one of them to save a spot for either Sheldon Day or Aziz Shittu?

Interesting read and post though. I just like the 4-3 more than the 3-4.

Blue in Seattle

July 13th, 2011 at 5:50 PM ^

and really a teenagers fragmented perception of a statement, we have built an entire hypothetical discussion around it.

Don't get me wrong, all of the discussion of the benefits of the 4-3 under have me convinced that it will be Michigan's base defense for a long long time.  Considering how much growth happens to college players versus NFL players, I don't think any of these recruits have a nailed down spot yet.  Look at Will Campbell versus Mike Martin.  All the comments I've heard about their body type is that Will should be the 1-tech and Martin the 3-tech.  Clearly Martin has a much better DL technique and thus is the best available player for the 1-tech.

So now, I hear all of the discussion in this thread of kids who aren't even 18 yet and their body weight now, and you expect me to buy into a hypothesis that we're headed for a 3-4?  No way, some of the DE's will become 3-tech's.  Also consider the very thin difference between WDE and the SAM.  I think a couple of those recruited DE's could end up being much better in space and coverage, thus "backing" into the SAM spot, or they could even bulk up and shift into SDE, or just stay become monstrous WDE's.

To me the 4-3 under provides the best range of shades of grey from NT down to the WILL.  But the discussion seems to force these guys into much coarser buckets of LB or DL.  Then consider the fact that keeping a defense fresh allows them to be aggressive, and wouldn't you want a two deep where you really couldn't pick the starter?

Just go back to the 90's of Michigan Football and watch the rotation of players, especially at the LB level.  I don't ever remember Ian Gold being listed as a starter, but you always saw that guy on the field slashing into a ball carrier.  I don't think I've ever known what position he played, the the name "deathbacker" certainly seemed an apt description.


Marley Nowell

July 13th, 2011 at 2:31 PM ^

Mattison ran a 4-3 Over/Under when he was DC of the Ravens, not a 3-4.  Just because there are 3 down-lineman does not make a defense a 3-4.  Brian also had a post detailing how having more linebackers doesn't automatically provide the personal to make the 3-4 defense feasible.



July 13th, 2011 at 5:06 PM ^

If you are going to run a 3-4 normally you have one kind of larger hybrid DE/LB type of player in as a LB.  Look at the LOLB in NFL 3-4s and how the guy is normally bigger than average by LB standards.  We haven't really been recruiting that kind of LB.  Or a DE who is fast enough we could consistantly stand him up.


July 13th, 2011 at 2:37 PM ^

I tend to agree with you that the more we recruit the more things tend to look like a 3-4. My question would be how many college programs run the 3-4 successfully other than Alabama?


July 13th, 2011 at 2:33 PM ^

in interviews that we'd be running a 4-3 in either an over or under look. Mattison is currently in the process of installing the 4-3, and by next year they'll have the system fully implimented. They're not doing all of this just as a detour to the defense they REALLY want for 2013. They're taking so many kids because they plan on using them. They're going to cycle in players quickly on defense to wear the OLine out, similar to the way we ran our hurry up offense last year and had Adrian Clayborn gasping for breath on the sidelines. They also took alot of players this year because last years defense was the worst in Michigans history and the 2 deep at a lot of positions looks shaky. The coaches not only have recruited starters to play the new system, but their backups as well.


July 13th, 2011 at 3:04 PM ^

"They're not doing all of this just as a detour to the defense they REALLY want for 2013."

It appears they are doing exactly that on offense.  Obviously the circumstances on offense and defense are quite different [i.e. the D stunk]. Still, I wouldn't out-of-hand say they're unwilling to attempt a gradual transition process to better fit personnel - a leasson learned from Rodriguez perhaps.

Its feasible that they see Campbell, Roh, and a bunch of meh LBs and think that they're better off sticking to the 4-3 till they get through a couple recruiting class cycles.  The lack of a prototypical NT might preclude the move any sooner.  Anyway, the schemes aren't THAT different so it's not exactly going from I-form west-coast passing to spread-run.


July 13th, 2011 at 3:20 PM ^

are of a high enough quality to run the defense, but we would need true DTs to do it. It would be expecting too much for  Strobel and Wormley to turn into anything more than a 4-3 SDE. Godin will, I'm excited about him. He'll get bigger than RVB, but even RVB wasn't really a servicable 3-4 DE last year getting double teamed.


July 13th, 2011 at 3:36 PM ^

NT is really the critical piece.  They need someone like Pipkins to build the line around.  The 3-4 has to have a space-eater in the middle.

Strobel and Wormley are both around 6'4-6'6 and weigh 240-260 now.  There's a pretty good chance they end up at 280 or higher and there's no reason to think they can't be 3-4 DEs in the long-run.  I actually think Godin might be too tall to move inside.  Van Bergen's big enough, he's just not a great player.  I'd certainly call him serviceable though...

To me, the issue is on the other side.  Roh and Black look like good players, but they're small to be DEs in a 3-man front and not athletic enough to be RLBs.  If you want to use them, you probably have to run a 4-3.


July 13th, 2011 at 2:47 PM ^

I personnally would not mind running a 3-4. If you look at some of the most well-run and aggressive defenses in the NFL (not saying it will work as well in the NCAA) they have a lot of 3-4 looks (See: Ravens and Steelers). They are consistently good and for one I would love to see a blitzing defense, especially with a proven NFL DC and obviously college QB's who are less knowledgable about reading defenses and sniffing out blitzes.

That being said, I really do not care what defense we run because I have complete and utter confidence in our coaching staff as a whole to evaluate the talent they have and make the best decision regarding defensive alignment. Just can't wait to see the defensive look on the field against WMU!


July 13th, 2011 at 2:49 PM ^

It's still amazing that there is still such a huge dropoff on talent from our starters to backups. "Reloading" is a word not associated with MICH football latelTakIns coaches are taking all the good players they can - some will make it, some will not - opening new spots. We need depth desperately.


July 13th, 2011 at 2:55 PM ^

our defense be in one year under Mattison? I was watching the 2010 Illinois game on BTN and one of the commentator mention that Illinois had a first year DC and their total defense went from somewhere in the 90's to being ranked 15th. That was before the game of course.


July 13th, 2011 at 3:08 PM ^

Sorry, not enough points to start a thread, but thought that this was some nice inspirational news for the day. Eric Legrand, the Rutgers player who broke his C3 and C4 vertabrae this fall stood up for the first time in therapy according to his twitter. He also said that he is starting to move his arms little by little. Love to hear stories of perseverance like this.


July 13th, 2011 at 3:12 PM ^

that they will run either a pure 3-4 or 4-3, that these things are very situation and personnel based and that the genius of the coordinator is developing a system where players can understand and execute in both


July 13th, 2011 at 3:36 PM ^

Anyone thinking we are switching to a 3-4 needs to understand 2 things. One, how a 4-3 under is run and the players most effective at running it. Two, 4-3 is a base front which will certainly run some 3-4 looks out of this package. Most likely our 3-4 package maybe used as a substitute for our nickel on 3rd and long.


July 13th, 2011 at 4:33 PM ^

Previous recruits like Wilkins and Black were also thought to be potential DTs at some point.

Black was never considered a candidate to move to the interior of the line. He was a rush end from day 1.


July 13th, 2011 at 5:32 PM ^

I know they all thought that there is a chance for him to move inside.  Almost all DEs it seems like are a candidate to move to DT unless they are clearly a WDE.

I should have said when he got on campus he was probably never a candidate to move inside.  If he was going to ever play DT it was clear he had to put on some weight.  With the numbers on the DL the way they were he needed to come off the bench to play DE.


July 13th, 2011 at 9:29 PM ^

Not to take anything away from Tim (who does an excellent job of researching), but the people you should trust about positions are a) ones like TomVH who talk directly to the recruits, b) the recuits themselves, who often state in interviews what position they're going to play, and c) recruiting analysts like Allen Trieu and Josh Helmholdt who do in-person evaluations.