For those that missed part one of GoBlueWolverines feature on Ron English, click here.
For the first time in time in 37-year-old Ron English's professional career, he is heading into a spring practice with more than one position group to worry about. It will be a hectic few weeks for the 14-year coaching veteran, as he sets in motion the process by which he will make his imprint on Michigan's defense. He will have to burn the candle at both ends for the foreseeable future if he is going to squeeze the necessary prep work into the allotted amount of time.
His first major undertaking is helping complete the assembly of the defensive coaching staff. The Detroit News revealed today that Michigan headman Lloyd Carr is looking to fill two openings on that side of the ball, including the now vacant linebackers post. GoBlueWolverine has learned that the other opening is for a defensive backs coach. Much like former defensive coordinator Jim Herrmann did in splitting up the linebacker coaching duties (he coached the inside, while a grad assistant coached the outside), English will similarly split up the tasks in the defensive backfield. The plan at this point is for him to take over the safeties, while one of the new hires coaches cornerbacks.
"Right now we are going to finish up with our staff hirings," English said regarding the work that must be done leading up to spring practice. "Then after we do that, we'll talk about philosophy in terms of what kind of defense we want to be. We'll go through personnel and decide who our best players are AT THIS TIME. Not who projects to be our best players, but who our best players right now today. Then we'll talk about what we want to do in terms of installing defenses for the spring. We'd like to go out at this time of year and study other teams, but I don't think we're going to have time to do that."
Many have speculated that English's familiarity with the defensive backfield and his Pac-Ten pedigree will cause him to emphasize that position group in his defense. One oft-mentioned manifestation is a scheme featuring five defensive backs. That would call for a hybridized strong safety to step in for one of the linebackers. In optimal circumstances the move increases the speed and versatility of the unit, assuming the safety is strong enough to hold up against the run and athletic enough to hold up in coverage against a back or receiver. English admitted that that modification is a possibility, but stopped far short of saying it was set in stone.
"I think that will be based on the development of some of the DB's," he said. "What I can tell you is the very best players are going to play regardless of position. What I'm interested in is getting the best 11 on the field. If it's five DB's that's good. If it's three linebackers, that's good. It just depends on who the best players are. What I've found is, if you get caught up in trying to match up, the thing that sometimes shows up is the next guy you put in isn't as good. If he isn't as good the one you took out, it makes no sense to put him in … even if you're matching up."
Another speculative topic has been English's impact on the players in the box. According to the Wolverines' new coordinator of defense, while there will be some change in the way they are deployed, the more tangible difference will be in their mentality. That goes for the unit as a whole.
"They are going to attack and play downhill," English regarding the front seven. "But the thing is, they're going to be held responsible for being physical. I'm not so sure that everybody knows what that really means. We're going to be held responsible for that. We're going to be held responsible for triggering to stimulus. Again, I think it comes down to how fast we play, how violent we play, and if we know exactly what we're doing. If we know exactly what we're doing, we'll play fast."
Stay tuned to GoBlueWolverine for part three of our feature on Ron English. In it he goes more in depth regarding his defensive philosophy.