MSU DBs struggle transitioning to NFL??

Submitted by Wee-Bey Brice on August 10th, 2015 at 9:16 AM

Lot of grabbing from Trae Waynes early...which is exactly how he covered at Michigan State.

— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) August 10, 2015

Every college tape I saw of Trae Waynes he couldn't keep his hands off WRs. I knew he'd struggle with the NFL's rules. Easy evaluation.

— Omar Kelly (@OmarKelly) August 10, 2015

It's been well documented how aggressive MSU DBs can be and how much college refs allow them to get away with it, not so much for the NFL. Trae Waynes struggled last night in his first preseason game, mainly because he uses his hands too much. Darqueze Dennard struggled to make similar adjustments to his game last year as a rookie.

Of course, preseason and rookie caveats apply, but question is, does Dantonio's "mug em and hope they don't throw a flag" style make it harder for his players to succeed in the big league? If so, why do they continue to be drafted so high?



August 10th, 2015 at 9:22 AM ^


Not enough data... And....I was unaware 2 corners going through rookie adjustments meant NFL execs should stop drafting on potential...

Might as well write off all Michigan basketball players going by your approach considering their mediocrity in the league.

Wee-Bey Brice

August 10th, 2015 at 9:28 AM ^

1) There's a question mark there because im asking is their style of play counterproductive to the ultimate destination, not stating it as fact.

2) "Potential" is an acceptable answer for why they continue to get drafted so high.

Don't try to so hard to be a dick. You might actually have valuable input. 


August 10th, 2015 at 10:16 AM ^

you're not asking a question, you're hoping to use the first preseason game of his career as some sort of judgment or criticism of the player to validate complaints about him in college. It's not thread worthy, and not valuable to anything other than going "Nah nah, told you" to MSU fans when complaining about their physical play


August 10th, 2015 at 1:14 PM ^

MSU commits multiple PI on every play and dares the refs to call it.  In the NFL, Seattle has gotten away with the same style of play.  But it only works if everyone does it every play.  The basketball equivalent is Duke "defense."

It's really quite clever.  No ref wants to be "that guy" who calls a penalty or foul on every play.  These teams have been able to get refs to lower the standards for penalties or fouls committed by their own team, while opponents get called for doing it.  

I just hope the refs wise up and start calling PI on every play if a NCAA or NFL team plays in that style.  As for Duke, they are always going to be allowed to do whatever they want on defense, so it doesn't matter. 

Sorry for my cynicism...

Blue Ninja

August 10th, 2015 at 4:38 PM ^

If we don't talk about them then they're not a rival. Should we not talk about OSU? Because everytime an OSU player farts there's a thread about it. Like you said, I've checked out the MSU forums a few times and they're full of UM threads. Check out any college forum and guess what you'll see, threads about their rivals along with the "who's gonna start", "how many games will we win" threads. That said I appreciate not having the page full of threads about our rivals but mostly about Michigan football (although that certainly includes rivals and teams on the schedule, along with CFB in general).

Leaders And Best

August 10th, 2015 at 9:38 AM ^

All cornerbacks struggle to a certain extent with the transition to the NFL's enforcement of the illegal contact rules.  Dennard's rookie campaign wasn't bad just because he didn't get a lot of playing time. It's hard to judge him based on the limited snaps he played last year. I think he still looks like he will have a solid NFL career based on the reports coming out of the Bengals camp.


August 10th, 2015 at 9:29 AM ^

99.9% of rookies are going to struggle. It's called 'adjusting'. And if you hadn't noticed, former Wolverines (all positions) have struggled in their 1st years. Does that mean they suck?

The Mad Hatter

August 10th, 2015 at 9:29 AM ^

That when Lloyd was coach he had the scout team play rough and dirty to prepare for MSU.  The players didn't like it, but it prepared them well for playing against the hooligans from East Lansing.

It's long past time we put them back in their place.

Space Coyote

August 10th, 2015 at 9:29 AM ^

But it'll take time. Ignoring the complaints of grabbing and holding in press coverage for a second, the problems really stem beyond that. MSU, on 90+% of their plays, has the CB do one of two things: MEG (either in Cover 4 or Cover 0, it's press man whereever the receiver goes) or deep 1/3 in their blitz package. They'll occasionally trap coverage and they do a knob check (essentially making that side of the field a Cover 2), but they do not mix up coverages much, and when they do, it's for specific situations (their deep 1/3 is only a part of their blitz package).

What this means is that they simply don't have experience learning other techniques and executing them. Off-man is terribly difficult for a lot of their DBs because they aren't consistently taught the fundamentals of playing it. Their zone coverage often struggles because they don't have a great grasp of where to take their eyes or how to utilize their feet. They get away with it in college because: 1) you can be physical as long as the ball isn't in the air; 2) college QBs struggle more to hit deep passes against tight coverage; 3) college QBs struggle more to take advantage of change-up coverages that aren't as strong because they take longer to identify the change-up.

Dennard was more pro-ready than Waynes IMO, but he was stuck behind a fairly loaded depth chart. Waynes has a higher ceiling IMO, but has more work to go. There is a decent depth chart ahead of him, so he has some time, but that doesn't excuse his play. In my critique of him pre-draft, I noted his struggles in transisiton areas of his game. He's good at the snap and he's good at the end of the play, but he's a little stiff in his hips and his footwork sometimes gets sloppy in the transition areas. These are fundamentals that he wasn't asked to do a lot at MSU. It'll take time for him to improve those areas. I think he has the tools to do it, but does he have the time? NFL is a pretty cutthroat league, he has to get it down in the next few years.

FWIW, Bama and Saban (who Dantonio learned a ton from) have had similar critiques. Bama is significantly more multiple than MSU, but Saban has a very meticulous way of coaching DBs that sometimes takes time to translate to the NFL. Either way, but Dennard and Waynes I believe were 2-stars coming out, and both ended up 1st round picks. It's hard to run and tell recruits that Dantonio is struggling to develop guys for the NFL, it'd be similar to someone doing that to Beilein because Burke isn't lighting the world on fire in the NBA. 

Wee-Bey Brice

August 10th, 2015 at 9:36 AM ^

I wasn't suggesting that Dantonio struggles to develop players lol, what I was focusing on is their DB technique and how it prepares them for play beyond MSU. As a coach, there is always a balance between doing what it takes to win and preparing your players for the next level.

Thank you for sincerely answering the question.

Everyone Murders

August 10th, 2015 at 9:54 AM ^

A question for Space Coyote (or Magnus or any other coach on the board):  If the clutch and grab techniques continue with MSU, how does a team's WRs successfully get them called for it? 

In soccer we teach players to separate from an opponent holding their jersey, to speak respectfully to the ref ("sir/maam - #28 has been holding me every time we make a run"), and other techniques to either shine a light on the holding or break away from it.  (Like football, many a center ref will ignore obvious holding, so it becomes imperative not to whine or be confrontational with the ref.)

And in football I've seen defensive linemen use techniques to cause a holding offensive lineman to extend his arms, making the OL guy have to either release or risk a penalty.  Aren't there things that Michigan could coach to make DB holding less profitable for the likes of MSU?  Or is the lesson "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em"?

Space Coyote

August 10th, 2015 at 10:12 AM ^

To be up front about it, I think the complaints about how much MSU actually commits penalties is over-stated. They do grab and hold more than more teams. They do get called for more penalties than other teams. They do likely get away with more penalties than other teams, but I don't think their style of play lives up to the hyperbole that sometimes comes from opposing fans. I also think, with the college rules that allow you to have contact as long as the ball isn't in the air, it's frankly very difficult for refs to call. What's holding and what is press coverage? It's not clearly as cut and dry as the NFL rules which is anything beyond 5 yards is illegal contact (and a lot of NFL refs lean on that rather than making defensive holding calls, you'll note).

Anyway, the main thing is technique. Using your hands and setting up routes will help you get off of DBs more than any other thing and will help expose penalties because it results in separation. Luckily, with more and more teams focusing on a press scheme, this is something WRs are practicing significantly more than they were even five or ten years ago. The emphasis on getting off the LOS (through route conversions, hand usage, and footwork) has really increased at the college level.

So we talk hand usage, and really the closest parallel is DL techniuqe. Here's a post I wrong about pass rush technique for DL. DBs control you with: 1) their foot work to get into a good position to control the receiver, and 2) their hand placement. That's the same thing an OT does for a DE. So you close the gap, you screw up their footwork, and then you get narrow or shed their hands by having violent hands yourself. You look at a rip move, a swim move, and a jerk and you use those to get a DB out of position and therefore get separation; at which point the only thing the DB can do is reach out away from his body and grasp jersey, which will get called.

Obviously, there are other things you can do. You can point it out to the refs in pre-game, say it's something to watch for that you've seen on film (I'm sure this happens oftern). You can have the coach work the refs in game, not just yelling, but working them (Lloyd was a master at this). I personally don't want my player doing anything. If he's focused on that, then the DB has likely already won, because now he's focused on working the refs or other things; I want my WR to focus on getting off the press and getting open and winning his match up.

I'll leave it with this. Pat Ruel, a great OL coach for the Seattle Seahawks (and formerly of USC, the Giants, Bills, Packers, Lions, MSU, Kansas, Texas A&M, etc) once said: "I don't coach holding, but I strongly recommend it."  It happens, it's part of the game. You have to do things that expose it and get the better of it. 

Everyone Murders

August 10th, 2015 at 10:30 AM ^

I don't view holding as a moral issue whatsoever.  I recall that Jake Long once said something along the lines of "there wasn't a single play I had in college where I didn't hold".  He was just really strong, with great footwork, and kept the holding out of the limelight.  It's just that I've been hearing the "MSU holds all the time" complaint for years, but it seems pretty smart on their part to do it if they can get away with it. 

It was interesting to see that many of the moves you might see a DLineman deploy (a swim move, for example) are also useful for a WR seeking separation.  Another thing that might be useful is to have larger and more physical WRs, which seems to have been the trend lately (certainly since the RichRod days).

Anyway, thanks for the insights!

Space Coyote

August 10th, 2015 at 10:57 AM ^

Bigger receivers certainly help, simply because the DBs aren't big enough to actually handle them. But that only helps you get through contact, you still need the technique to get around it and get separation or get a flag.

That's why you see some smaller receivers have success even lined up on the LOS. They are so quick that they can set up their routes and force DBs to try to jump or cheat the routes. Likewise, it's part of what makes slots so effective, that they line up off the LOS and are more difficult to jam.

I'll leave it with something interesting, and that's how the last three OCs/coaches different in their primary way of combating press coverage (all sound techniques that can work very well assuming the rest of the offense works).

Harbaugh uses a lot of motions, as that's a core belief for the West-Coast passing game (and he uses it to assist his rushing attack as well). This makes it difficult for a DB to get set up initially as they are often forced to change their coverage assignment (a motion underneath another receiver, or into a stack, etc) or actually have to motion with a receiver.

Nussmeier used a little motion as well, but also loved to invert receiver and change splits. Harbaugh does his fair share of these things as well, but I saw a lot of inverted WRs and reduced splits and things like that from Nussmeier. These things change the DBs assignments, such as forcing the outside CB to cover a guy off the LOS.

Borges utilized a little bit of receiver inversion (less than Nussmeier, probably less than Harbaugh as well) and a little bit of motion (though he help his motions reletively simple while at Michigan), but loved route conversions (routes that change based on how the defender covered the receiver) and stack/bunch sets. I personally love stack/bunch sets, but they do require a way for the up-receiver to get off the LOS because he's in a confined area and more easily pressed. That's why you saw a lot of route conversions and bigger receivers in his system. The rubs and picks got the other guys separation, it just needed something for the up-man (this sometimes means they take a bit longer to develop). You'll note that Borges was able to run concepts that could get receivers open against MSU, but the OL couldn't protect nearly that long or Denard wasn't able to make the downfield throws, making the scheme not really condusive with the players he had (even if the scheme in theory was sound).

Anyway, different ways of reaching the same goal, all sound, and all working a bit in combination with other things. I'd say I preferred one over others, but in all honesty I'm a big fan of all of them. I think the last two OCs for Michigan had trouble implementing them a bit to get the maximum impact out of them for other reasons, so you didn't really see the whole idea under either (you saw it much more from both at previous stops); but hopefully the coaching under Harbaugh allows him to utilize his offense how he wants to.


August 10th, 2015 at 10:25 AM ^

When I've seen it called, it's usually because the QB threw at the PI.  The problem is that MSU does the grabby-grab every play.  When they did call it consistently, everyone said the refs fixed the game for ND.  Refs are human, and they know when the fans are getting frustrated, so eventually they swallow the whistle and MSU is capitalizing on that.

Here's the thing though -- once everyone saw it work, a bunch of teams rushed to implement the same thing, including Michigan.  So while we were way worse at it, we don't have any moral high ground here.  MSU does it because it works, Michigan's going to try it for the same reason.

Having said that, I think it's a moot point because it's quite possible offenses have figured them out anyway.  The straw that stirs the drink isn't the CBs but the safeties -- they're asked to do an awful lot, so offenses had success lately against MSU by attacking them.  They like big, aggressive safeties playing up to shut down the run game so when they're matched up against an athletic slot receiver the little guy just runs past him.  In this case it doesn't matter if the CBs are mauling the wideouts because all the latter are doing is drawing aggro.  As a final note, the reason why Durkin isn't merely being a copycat is that the safety expected to cover the slot will be Peppers.


August 10th, 2015 at 11:17 AM ^

Yes that is what oregon did (your last paragraph) and purdue was able to have success the same way.  But you need an accurate and consistent QB to do that and the Big 10 lacks them.  It would be far less successful in leagues where middle tier QBs on middle tier teams actually complete passes at a rate greater than 53% i.e. Tommy Armstrong, Mitch Leidner, Trevor Seimian, et al. 


August 10th, 2015 at 9:30 AM ^

You could say that Seattle DBs play the same way. I can't find the link but I read an article last year about this. You could throw a flag on Seattle almost every play but obviously it doesn't happen.

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August 10th, 2015 at 9:33 AM ^

It's the preseason. It doesn't matter. Waynes will be a good pro.

And Michigan State defensive players continue to be drafted high because they are great players.


August 10th, 2015 at 9:45 AM ^

A coach that identifies something - here, a glitch in refereeing - that allows him to take players that might be good, but not great 'talents' and turn them into elite performers, is a superstar coach!  It is EXACTLY what separates the elite coaches from the merely good (who can collect and stay out of the way of talent, but don't have the ability to push players to overperform their raw ability.

I would kill to have Dantonio coach at Michigan, because everything in his track record suggests he's the sort of elite coach that finds tricks, loopholes and glitches that squeezes the most out of each player.  It is a sign of coaching excellence when your players underachieve at the next level compared to what you could get from them while they played for you!

Harbaugh has flashed the same kind of elite coaching ability in previous stops during his career . . . hopefully he still has it.



August 10th, 2015 at 9:54 AM ^

Exactly (except the part about wanting Dantonio to coach here)!

If our coaches are not taking advantage of the rules, then they're not doing it right. Fortunately, it sounds like we want our DBs to play more aggressive, and in fairness this started with Hoke last year, but we didn't have the right personnel to pull it off, I guess.


August 10th, 2015 at 10:09 AM ^

Dantonio squeezes the most out of MSU's limited recruiting pull.  It take a good coach to do that, dirty play or no.  That said, I'd say Harbaugh's a bit different.  His players seem to do quite well and a few, such as Luck and Sherman, are elite.  His players strike me as generally more NFL-ready.  That's kind of a separate question of whether or not he's a good college coach (you can underperform with an NFL pipeline, right Lloyd Carr?), but there's a strong correlation.  Stanford's NFL pipeline and 12-win season were not coincidences.  I don't think Harbaugh's looking up to the pedestal you're putting Dantonio on.

I did find it ironic that Sherman coverted to CB while at Stanford then eliminated Harbaugh's 49ers as a Seahawk.  Harbaugh's his own worst enemy sometimes.


August 10th, 2015 at 1:54 PM ^

While I'd like to assume that Harbaugh is still a killer college coach, we don't KNOW that.  We know he WAS a killer college coach in 2010.  He probably still is - but just like players, coaches have peaks and then decline phases. 

THere are plenty of coaches that were really good in their 40s and then not that great in their 50s.  Off the top of my head, an easy B1G example:  Kirk Ferentz finished out his 40s by going 11-2, 10-3 and 10-2 at Iowa, and then went 18-18 over the next three seasons and basically turned into The Ghost Formally Known as Kirk Ferentz who now walks the Iowa sideline.

None of this means that Harbaugh isn't an awesome hire, the best one possible, or that he's not more likely than not to kick ass and take prisoners.  But Dantonio has a better record for being a kick-ass college coach NOW than Harbaugh does - hopefully, in 4 months the tables will be turned.


August 10th, 2015 at 2:41 PM ^

So what I'm hearing is that in the 5 years since Harbaugh coached in college, the years in which he took his NFL team to the Super Bowl after they hadn't had a winning record in a decade, he has lost the ability to coach college football? I am not quite sure I understand your logic. If your point is that Dantonio is a better coach now, well, no shit. Dantonio is a better college coach than Bill Bellichek also. That doesn't mean he is a better coach. All it means is that Bellichek hasn't been a college coach.

And I'm not even going to mention how ridiculous it is that you compared Harbaugh to Ferentz


August 10th, 2015 at 2:58 PM ^

Dantonio is the surer bet.  I.e., if you have to pick a coach for this next season, ignoring alumni ties, marketing power, long term success, etc - just you need a coach for 2015 (and 2015 only) for your hypothetical B1G team, I think you'd be nuts to pick Harbaugh over Dantonio.  Dantonio is a close to a sure bet as there is in CFB - he's spun gold out of mediocre talent for the last several years.   Harbaugh could be just as good as Dantonio in terms of player development (and hopefully better as a recruiter) but there's just much more risk that he crashes and burns in year 1. 


I don't understand why it is anathema to admit that MSU has a hell of a coach, maybe the best college coach right now.  He's doing a better job at MSU than Nick damn Saban did!  You can wish for a firey hurricane of hell to rain down upon East Lansing while still admitting that, yeah, its pretty damn impressive that they built their program into one of the top 10 in the country.


August 10th, 2015 at 6:45 PM ^

Oh good fucking God. Best college coach right now? 2 and a half fucking years ago he won a bowl game to finish one game above .500. Close to a sure bet...except when he isn't. And he is a gigantic cunt. The blowing of Dantoinio gets old. He is a great coach. No one really thinks he is a bad coach. No one. But you'll have to excuse me if I wouldn't pick him over Harbaugh because while he was apparently being better than Nick Saban, Harbaugh was racking up one of the five best winning percentages in the history of the NFL. Also, you are ignoring a fuck ton when you are picking Dantonio. If you ignore everything that makes a great coach, sure I would pick Dantonio for one hypothetical season in which nothing counts and I don't have to care what happens before or after the season. His mediocre players aren't really mediocre players. He has plenty of 4 stars on the team.


August 10th, 2015 at 10:22 AM ^

What indication is there that Harbaugh doesn't "have it" anymore? Dantonio is a great coach and doesn't get enough credit, but Harbaugh has done it at every level and took over a really bad Stanford team and turned it around. I'd take Harbaugh any day in this matchup even if the ability might be close.

Everything you described about Dantonio is what Harbaugh has proven good at and Harbaugh has the personality to draw people here from all over while Dantonio is obviously much less personable. I think they are pretty equal except for this, but I also think this will be the benefit Michigan in the long run.