Explaining U-M’s Defensive Approach

Michigan will deploy multiple schemes defensively under new coordinator D.J. Durkin. Big Ten Network analyst and former Michigan All American Marcus Ray joined GoBlueWolverine’s Sam Webb to explain how it will work.

Sam Webb:  Michigan is telling kids that they are going to be basically 50/50 as far as 3-4, 4-3.  As best you can without having a visual aid or a grease board, explain to people, how that will come to pass and why Michigan is saying that, why that makes sense.

Marcus Ray:  “The reason why they saying that is number one, Michigan has the personnel to run a 4-3 or a 3-4.  It is just that when a 4-3 team, which is normally four down lineman and three linebackers standing up, that’s really how the math works.  Most people think of it as a stack look, four lineman and three linebackers standing up.  There is another way to play a 4-3, where it looks like a 52 defense, where you have four lineman up there and then the outside linebacker, the SAM linebacker walks up into what is called a 9-technique and he is just standing up and he is the end man on the defensive line of scrimmage.  So that is the fifth guy up front.  Then you have the MIKE and WILL, they are off the ball, so it looks like a 5-2 defense, but technically it is still a 4-3.  It is just that the way the gaps are being played changes the name of the front and where the linebackers are, but it is still four down lineman and three linebackers, but it is just the way they play their gaps.  The reason I started off by saying it that way Sam is because when a team plays a 3-4, when a team plays a true 3-4, it can look like a 4-3 under front.  Just to kind of keeping it real simple, in a 3-4, you have two outside linebackers standing up.  They can be on the ball or off the ball playing in space, but you have three interior lineman and then two linebackers standing up behind those lineman.  So you have two outside and two inside.  The 3-4 base defense can also look like a 4-3 under and just to keep it very simple, an under front, when people hear that, there is a defensive tackle in the A gap.  That’s the first gap between the guard and the tackle, shaded over the center a little bit.  There is a 1-technique the B gap is guarded by the MIKE backer off the ball.  He’s lined up in what is called a 30 position.  That means he’s off the ball, in the three ball for little league coaches, but it is the B gap to upper level coaching.  Then you have a defensive end and a strong side C gap right to the tight end and there is the 9-technique, the SAM backer.  To the weak side, you a have what is called a 3-technique, Suh would be in between the guard and tackle, a little bit on the guards shoulder.  Then you have that defensive end, called a 5-technique, he’s the James Hall of the situation.  He’s that guy who if he puts his hand on the ground, he’s a 4-3 D-end, but if he stands up, he is a 3-4 outside linebacker.  With the evolution of the spread offense, the 3-4 gives defenses the flexibility of playing in space or protecting the edge better, having an athlete blitz off the end, a guy that is probably 240 instead of 280 rushing off the end to guard against a quarterback who can scramble and play in space.  It gives you a better chance to defend the outside zone.  Teams that like to run the running back directly lateral towards the sideline, just to get outside right now.  It gives you a guy that can line up and walk out and play over top of a slot receiver and you can zone blitz a little bit differently.  It gives Michigan a lot of flexibility and it helps in recruiting when you say, we’re going to be multiple defense, but really they are going to be 3-4 defense with the ability to play a little bit of 4-3, but remember that 3-4 base defense can also look like an under front for a 4-3 defense.  It is really interchangeable and people will see the more they watch Michigan football.”

Sam Webb:  It was last night breaking that part of it down, I thought it was particularly enlightening why you would line your nose head up on a center and slant angle, as opposed to just lining up in the gap in the first place.  That was I thought maybe the most enlightening piece of what you broke down last night.

Marcus Ray:  “Yeah Sam, in the 30 front, meaning you have a true noseguard who lines up right over top the center.  Then you have two defensive ends or whatever you want to call them, your other two down lineman, they can line up in what is called a 40, which is head up on the tackles, or they can line up in the 30, which is 2-3 technique.  The 3-4 gives you the ability to line up in one spot and slant or angle in either direction and it is harder for the offensive lineman to cut you off.  If you line up in a gap, if you line up in that A gap or that center believes that they know you have this gap then it is easier for them to block you because you‘re more of a standing target, they know what gap you’re responsible for, but in that 30 front, you can slant and angle in either way.  They don’t know which gap you are responsible for and they have to guess and try to figure it out once the ball is snapped, but it gives the D-lineman the flexibility to go either way.  And then let the truth be told, in that same 30 front, if you have a noseguard that is lined up right over the center and he slants to the strong side, then that is technically going back to under.  If that noseguard slants to the weak side, in the weak side A gap, then that technically puts you in an over front, because the entire front has to shift along with him, so now that gives you some 4-3 flexibility from a 30 front if you just slant and angle, it puts you right into a 4-3 defense.”

Sam Webb:  Obviously, they are going to be multiple defense, but will they be simple enough for these guys to be able to play fast?

Marcus Ray:  “Yeah because really in a 3-4 defense, it’s is very simple.  It is like you would shift, you’ve got four linebackers, but one of them is really like a defensive end.  A fourth rusher is coming from somewhere and you just replace the fourth rusher.  So let’s say they line up with two backs in the backfield, I-formation.  Michigan comes out with a 3-4 linebacker and they call a slant weak where the whole line is slanting away from the tight end and the SAM backer is blitzing from the tight end side.  Then the strong safety will just walk down and now it is a cover-3.  Now that’s how you get your fourth rusher and you have to replace it from the secondary.  You can blitz a MIKE backer and then bring down one other person and then that gives you your fourth rusher and then four guys underneath.  The 3-4 is actually very simple.  You just have to send one more guy, one of those four linebackers are blitzing.  It is a 3-4.  You want to rush four people, so you are going to call a linebackers name and somewhere in the defense, he blitzes and then the coverage makes up for the area…a defensive back will come down depending on what coverage they play, will make up for the underneath coverage.  It is kind of the way it goes.  This is very simple.  That defense could be called 30 MIKE cover-4.  It means they are going to be lined up in a 30, the MIKE backer will blitz and they will just play cover-4, very simple.  That’s a little bit different than when you play a 4-3 defense because you have to have a certain check system in there, this guy does this if they line up like this or like that.  In the 3-4, you just kind of line up and play and the offense has to figure out where the fourth and fifth blitzers are coming from.  It worked down in Florida for Durkin and I’m sure he came in and looked at Michigan’s personnel, you know what, the 30 is going to work, it’s simple, kids can just line up and almost see ball, get ball, with just one responsibility.  Hey I’m an A gap guy or I’m a cornerback sitting the flats in cover-2 or I’m an outside backer that is either going to blitz or I’m going to take the first guy to the flat.  It is going to be very simplified and it doesn’t look simple when you watch it on tape, but the way they teach it is so the kids will be able to pick up on it and play fast.”


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