Rays of Light: Peppers a Natural at Safety

In the first part of this week's chat with former Michigan All-American and current Big Ten Network studio analyst Marcus Ray, he shares breaks down Jabrill Peppers' likely move to safety, the newfound freedom the secondary will have to make adjustments, and more.

Sam Webb:  Iman Marshall, the #1 corner in the country came on his visit and he confirmed something that other recruits have been alluding to, that Jabrill Peppers will be playing safety.  I’m curious as to your thoughts on that move, do you think it would be a good move, is he better at corner or safety and does it matter?

Marcus Ray:  “First and foremost, Jabrill Peppers is a big time football player and you can line him up anywhere and I think he’ll have success.  By nature, his natural position I think is safety.  I spent a lot of time with Jabrill last season and we spoke about that and he told me that what he wanted to do was move to safety.  Honestly, coming out of high school, he said he really wanted to play safety, but everybody projected him as corner. Corner was the biggest need and so that is why he lined up.  He’s a team player and he went with the program and played corner.  I think he gives you that Earl Thomas feel for the Seahawks and he’s probably on that level at safety if not better.  He just has to be coached up.  That’s the only thing.  That goes for anybody.  For a big time corner like Iman to actually put that out there that Jabrill is going to safety… that may help him make his decision.  That’s just all a part of recruiting and it’s a good thing.  I think hopefully they can put together four guys like that someday who are highly touted (and) who are well coached.  Then you’ll see a little mini “Legion of Boom” come back in the Maize-N-Blue.”

Sam Webb:  Let’s talk about safety play.  I was telling this story of watching the Rutgers film with you and you explaining how they were beat on that 80 yard bomb.  They were beat from the snap, beat from the (defensive) call and how being able to adjust is the true key to great safety play.  Take us back through that play and tell me do you see on the horizon, Michigan’s defenders, the secondary, having the ability and freedom to make the kinds of adjustment that you were talking about.

Marcus Ray:  “Yeah I believe the secondary will have the liberty to make certain adjustments and I say that because these two secondary coaches are coming directly from the NFL.  When you coach in the NFL, adjustments is where the game is.  If a guy goes in motion or a receiver lines up a certain way or a tight end moves over to the other side, that could change everything.  So when you coach at the NFL level you have to be able to teach your guys, a bunch of grown men, ‘hey we’ve got to be able to do more than one thing.’  We’ve got to have more than one trick in this hat.  When you think about Jarrod Wilson, I don’t think he was ever turned loose.  What I mean is that I think he was put into a box where it was, ‘hey, I can only do this and I’m a robot.’  I think a lot of the kids felt like they were robots last year on defense for whatever reason. Who knows (why).  But in the secondary I used to spend time with those guys.  I would tell them, ‘hey you’ve got to be able to line up.  It’s all about the three A’s… alignment, assignment and adjustment.  It’s not all about ‘my coach said do this, (but) I’m going to do that.’  When you get out there, I know what your coach told you… you don’t want to make wholesale changes to his call, but you might need to make a minor tweak.  Briefly let’s go back to the Rutgers play.  Michigan was in a coverage which is called ‘four hard.’  If you just take the field and break it up into fractions, ¼, you’ve got four defense backs, so that means four guys can go deep.  On this particular play, four hard is cover-2.  So half of the field is cover-2.  That’s half of the coverage is a rolled up corner to the boundary and a half field safety to the boundary.  But to the field now, they’re playing quarters coverage.  So that means if two guys go deep then the corner has his guy in his quarter and the safety will have his in his quarter.  Four hard is a different, it puts the safety in heavy run support and he has zero vertical pass responsibility.  So the corner now could end up on his own.  The corner has to play inside leverage.  So just to keep it real simple, the cornerback plays outside because if the number two wide receiver, the tight end or slot, doesn’t go vertical, he’s going to get help from the safety in regular quarters.  But when you say “four hard” now that removes the inside help for the corner, so he has to change his leverage, slide inside to the wide receiver.  The problem at Rutgers, the wide receiver, he didn’t line up way out there by the sideline.  He lined up like one yard inside the hash, which put Countess in a position where he probably couldn’t play inside leverage.  So he lined up outside, and there is the breakdown.  Jarrod Wilson the safety should have looked out there (and) he should put on his Marcus Ray hat… ‘hey Charles (Woodson), I think you should slide outside… I’m not going to play heavy run… how about I help you on this post… let’s  just go regular four.’  Those are conversations I was having with Roy (Manning) last year, even with Mattison.

Fast-forward to the 0:15 second mark for the play in question

I think this staff is going to make sure that those players are going to be students of the game and are going to be able to make those adjustments because you don’t give up big plays in the NFL.  You’re going to get beat and you’ll get fired and you’re not going to give up big plays in this secondary with this new regime.”

Sam Webb:  Ultimately what it boils down to is your safety being that quarterback… the quarterback that YOU were on the back end and being able to make that call.  Maybe (the coaches) weren’t to the point last year where they were confident in giving their safeties that kind of freedom.  Between the coaches that they have coming in with their NFL pedigree and experience and now Jarrod Wilson now has… those have to be a huge aid as well.

Marcus Ray:  “You’re exactly right.  He’s going into his last season.  He’s played a lot of football.  He’s going to get the coaching I think that better suits his game, because he’s a smart kid.  The one thing that a great secondary coach does is, he’ll take his brain and put it in the brains of the guys on the field.  It could be one, it could be two.  When you’ve got smart guys back there, you’ll have a chance to win because you won’t have missed assignments.”

Sam Webb:  Give me an example, maybe one of your most vivid examples, hey this was the call, and you said, no, no we’ve got to change this up.  We have to adjust this and it wound up, it wound making a difference for you guys.

Marcus Ray:  “I can give you one, I’m going to stay with ’97.  Let me make a comment before ’97.  Greg Mattison was our defensive coordinator in ’95 and ’96 and I don’t think he turned us loose because he has kind of a like a zone blitzing mentality, but there is always a conservative feel to it to on the back end.  When we were sophomores, we really didn’t get a chance to make too many adjustments.  I was kind of explaining that to some of the players.  ‘Hey I’ve played for Greg before, but I don’t think he’ll get angry if you make an adjustment that will save ya’ll from giving up big plays.’  As far as me making a call that kind of trumped what our coaches had called… we were playing against Iowa and Iowa was up 7-0 on the 20 yard line.  As a matter of fact, remember that play when I said to Jabrill, ‘there is no one on that roster that can make that interception?’  That’s the play I’m talking about.  We were in a defense called combo-11.  11 just means the number one receiver on either side.  So you got one outside to the right and got one over there.  Basically the corners and safety would double the number one receivers and the three underneath linebackers would play man-to-man on the two running backs and tight end.  That’s basically how it went.  I had a feeling that it was going to be play action, so I checked out of combo and I told Charles, because I saw where Tim Dwight was lined up.  Now if Tim Dwight would have come inside like David Boston, I would have picked him up, so that’s what combo was when we played Ohio State.  I looked out there and I saw a problem and I don’t think combo was the right call, because we’re in the red zone and it looks like cover-2 and teams like to attack you right down the middle of the field.  Now Rob Swett was playing outside linebacker at the time and he had a tendency to play a little bit with his eyes in the backfield.  Now I recognized the formation, I checked out of combo, and I said, ‘Charles, you’re by yourself… I’ve got to go.’  Luckily I did that because they ran play action, and Rob Swett ran up and looked in the backfield.  His man was running right down the middle of the field wide open.  If I went to go help Charles, we would have given up a touchdown and we would be down 14-0.  That’s how I got that interception.

Vance (Bedford) said, ‘how did you know to check out of combo?’  I said, ‘you told me in the meeting, when they line up in this formation with this down and distance, they like to take a shot and they like to play action and go down the middle.  So I left Charles by himself.’  That’s not what I was coached (by the call) to do, but I made that adjustment and Charles went from playing outside leverage to playing inside leverage because he knew he didn’t have any help.  So we were on the same page.  Now if the tight end didn’t go down the middle and went across or a run play, then things would have worked out differently, but it just so happens that I made the coverage and actually made an interception.  So that’s the detail of what goes into the communication of playing that position.”

Stay tuned for part two of Rays of Light for Ray’s discussion of how Peppers’ to safety affects the rest of the secondary, and his unique solution at the corner spot opposite Jourdan Lewis.

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