Week 5 Game Day Intel: Fred Jackson

This week we sit down for a one-on-one session with Michigan running backs coach Fred Jackson. The Wolverine assistant assesses his unit's improvement during the bye week, discusses implementing a rotation at his position, the impact of the changes along the offensive line, and more.

Sam Webb: I’ve known you a long time, and I know when you go into a season saying that you’re going to play a lot of guys, that’s your intent. I heard Brady say earlier this week that that’s a goal for you guys this week is to play more guys. Is that going to unfold early in this game?

Fred Jackson: “I think it has to because of the fact that you’re getting ready to get into the Big Ten season. Playing with one running back is detrimental, I think. When you get into the third and fourth quarter with one guy, he’s going to be beat up. You have to play guys early and see how they’re going to react late, and we would have done this earlier… we just haven’t had the opportunity to, but it’s going to start this week because we have to now. If not you wait too long, you’re going to have some issues. “

Sam Webb: So back up and kind of evaluate, as much as you can publicly, Fitz Toussaint. What has he done to your liking, and what has he done that he needs to improve upon?

Fred Jackson: “What I really see him doing better now is being able to see holes, seeing reads, and reacting to them sooner. What he needs to work on is more in his pass protection because he’s recognizing what he needs to do; he just needs to be able to go and attack it more. “

Sam Webb: Your other guys that we’re going to see in there; I kind of have a vision from the outside looking in of what I think they do well, but you see them every day, so kind of first break down to the fans some of the different nuances of the running game because it seems like you guys are doing a lot. We see outside zone, inside zone, power. Are there challenges to try to do all of those things at the same time?

Fred Jackson: “It’s very difficult to run all three. If you’re going to be a zone team… some people are all zone teams, but we’re running outside zone, which I call a stretch play. We’re trying to make the defense get as wide as we possibly can before we create a seam. The inside zone is more of a cut back kind of play after you’ve got them running, after you made them run with the outside zone. In a power play, it’s just hit them in the mouth play where you can get a chance to pick zones – A, B, C, D zones – and it allows the guy to show his ability more as an inside runner. “
Sam Webb: Like I said, I think I have a feel for what different guys do, but take me into your room and tell me which running plays do certain players do better than others?

Fred Jackson: “I call Justice Hayes the power king because of his patience, his ability to see the front side A gaps and back side A gaps, and read it out B C front side. He’s our power king. I think Thomas Rawls is an outside zone guy who once he runs it, there doesn’t have to be a lot there; he’ll get yards for you. When you think about Derrick Greene, he can run the power inside… he runs all the inside plays well. Fitz obviously can do all of them pretty darn good, and that’s why he’s a starter, but I really feel that these guys strengths are going to allow them to help us as the season progresses. “

Sam Webb: Ideally, you have to have a plan as much as you can about how many you want to play. If the game allows you to play everybody, you will, but game-plan-wise, I don’t know if you should, but how many ideally would you play?

Fred Jackson: “When we were running the ball back in the early ‘90’s, 60% of the time, you could play three running backs and get them all multiple carries.  Right now, based on defenses, you can’t necessarily say you’re going to run it 60% of the time. You have to run it based on what they give you. You probably can play two guys almost equally, and the third guy sparingly.  But I don’t think we’ll do that because Fitz is right now the starter, but I’m saying that you can play Fitz and if a couple more guys can be effective… I think we can do that.”

Sam Webb: As we’ve seen over the first four games, the stretch play, as you called it, you guys have done that fairly effectively. Is it blocked better? Is Fitz reading it better? Why has that play been more effective for you guys?

Fred Jackson: “I think it’s a combination of both? We’re blocking it better.  I think when you stretch the field it allows creases to create sooner as opposed to saying it’s an outside zone because when you stretch the field and make them run outside of the tight ends, the lineman, and get the linebackers running, you can create your seams. So, I think that’s a lot better basically because our lineman have been able to get on guys and run them, and the backs have been able to cut and see, it’s going to make it a lot better play. “

Sam Webb: Take us over the course of the last couple of weeks.  You got the bye. It was clear you guys were going to be working on the run game. Did you have to see Fitz as much, or did you kind of have an idea of what he brought to the table already?

Fred Jackson: “I know what he does, but what I wanted to do in that bye week was to go back and get fundamentally sound on the basic things of being a running back. From day one, from your stance, your starts, your alignments, your reads, how you envision plays happening before they actually happen. By that I mean the faster you play is based on how you can slow the game down, and I tried to make them be in a position this week where they learned a lot to slow the game down, but make a play fast.”

Sam Webb: Did you wind up giving those younger guys more reps?

Fred Jackson: “Yes, I gave them more reps because I think Fitz’s experience has allowed him to see things a little bit better, so I tried to catch them up to him with a lot of plays, our three major plays anyway, and I think it really helped those guys this week. “

Sam Webb: Do you feel like – and I’m not asking you to give away any game plan things – but kind of compare what you were seeing in practice from the run game before the bye week, and what you’re seeing from the run game during the bye week practices. Do you feel like you guys got tangibly better in that regard?

Fred Jackson: “I really think we got better because everybody got a little more fundamentally sound, but I think what we did more and more, we ran these plays over and over again and it allowed us, the backs, to see the blocking schemes better.  In the process of that you had a lot of guys going in and out of the offensive line making different position changes, and those kind of things in there… so this bye week was helpful to us, and I think we’ll be  able to see the difference.”

Sam Webb: Give me your take on the revamped line because you guys see the offensive line from a different perspective.  The pairing that Brady talked about for this game, Graham Glasgow at center and Chris Bryant at left guard, what does that tandem  do well? What do they bring to the table from what you’ve seen?

Fred Jackson: “I think what you see when you put those guys in there is big, strong, powerful guys and it allows you to secure the inside better; not to say that we hadn’t, it’s just that these guys are bigger and stronger and it allows us to be able to push the read a little longer than we probably could have earlier.  That’s going to help the backs on the inside run game.”

Sam Webb: Let’s talk a little bit about the opponent, the Minnesota Golden Gophers; a team who’s coming in this season thinking that they’re going to take the next step. One loss on the season thus far. Last week they took on Iowa, and Iowa was able to run the football on them, so tell me a little bit about what Minnesota brings to the table defensively.

Fred Jackson: “I think right now, we primarily, looking at last year I thought it was a 4-3. This year when you look at them, they’re more of an over and under team, so you spend a lot of time preparing for something you thought they would do, and obviously it changed, but I think right now they’re getting into just a little bit of over and under, as opposed to the four-three, and that probably hurt them some at Iowa, but now they’ve had another week to prepare for it, so they’re probably better at it. So now, as an offensive coach, you have to prepare for a four-three defense, you have to prepare for over defense, under defense, and I think what that does for them, that gives them an advantage to the fact that we don’t know exactly what we’re actually going to run against; but the key is being able to recognize whatever that front is, and be able to block it effectively. “

Sam Webb: You said we were going to see some young guys. Everyone wants to hear about what you’ve seen; so talk to us – I’m just going to give you the names – we haven’t seen much of Derrick the last couple of weeks, but how is Derrick coming along?

Fred Jackson: “Derrick is a very, very hard working kid. He’s really picked up on the offense, and what I see in him most of all is explosiveness after he gets through the hole. I knew he had it, but now you begin to see it more because he’s more comfortable with the plays, and he’s run them more, so he’s feeling it a lot better, so I think you’ll see a big guy who weighs 235-lbs who can really go, because of his knowledge of it.”

Sam Webb: And what about Deveon? How’s he coming along?

Fred Jackson: “Same kind of guy, I mean, big powerful guy, tough – I mean, just a physically tough kid that will run through anything, and he’s getting better on his reads, and I like him because of the way he plays the game. He’s a very physical football player. “

Sam Webb: I want to give the fullbacks a little bit of mention. I know they are blockers. You told me 98% of the time they’ll block, 1% they’ll run, and then the other 1% they’ll block again, so what have you seen from your fullbacks?

Fred Jackson: “I really like both of them. What I’m seeing right now is fullbacks getting underneath linebackers and being able to move, and I tell them they have to create space for the running back to carry the football, and they have to have (defeat) they’re man, and they’ve been blocking at about 80%, and that’s not bad, eight of ten times they’re winning, and I don’t give them a plus unless it’s a win and their man is not a part of the tackle, so if you can get close to 80% out of your fullbacks, you’re doing pretty good. They’re doing well.”

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