X's and O's Mailbag: Def. Fronts & Shotgun

In GoBlueWolverine's weekly X's & O's series, Josh Turel tackles your questions about anything football. In this edition, Turel tackles some of the pressing questions surrounding how shotgun will be utilized, the offensive line, and defensive fronts that we may see more of this year.

This week's question was submitted by Victors Club Message Board poster, “goblu79.”

Question: Really interested in your take on the defensive front. At one time there was a lot of talk about Brandon Graham moving "inside" along with Patterson. To me, this might signal a move toward an odd front with Taylor at NT. I see the coaches using Crable as a blitzing pass rusher most of the time, but I'm thinking he'll be a 3-4 OLB at the next level, so he needs some work on dropping into coverage. Will English use that as a change of pace?

Offensively, I'm hoping we see some shotgun thrown into the offense, with some zone runs out of the gun. I don't see this line being dominant enough to run the passing game from a normal set against the top foes, and a few new wrinkles would be mighty nice.

Josh Turel: Goblu, I’m with you on utilizing the shotgun. Fortunately, Michigan seems to be with you also. There are a lot of teams across the country that hang their hat on the zone play from the shotgun, and it has been effective for them. The issue is this. In Michigan’s offense, they want to pass from their run formations to not only have an effective play action game, but to also maintain balance. Can Michigan achieve balance from the shotgun set? Other teams have shown that it is possible. Jim Tressel is able to do that at Ohio State, Bobby Petrino did it at Louisville, Toledo has a pretty consistent play action game off their shotgun sets as well… and those are just a few of the examples. One factor that may make this option a bit more plausible option for Michigan is the lack of depth at fullback and tight end. Those are absolute cornerstones in the Alex Gibbs inspired schemes that Michigan runs. Certainly I think this offensive line is more run blocking oriented and the shotgun would help Michigan’s quick game and hot reads in blitz situations.

As for the offensive line situation, I think Michigan going to the zone blocking scheme helps out big time here. The reason being is, in zone blocking, the technique for covered lineman is pretty much the same throughout the line. The same is true for uncovered lineman. This is why you saw Alex Mitchell bounce around last year. That transition is easier than it would seem in a scheme sense. That being said, you can get your absolute best five on the field. If your backup tackle is better than your starting guard, you can slot that tackle in there as long as he knows the covered and uncovered principles. Most of the starting line positions should be settled by now. The front runner for right tackle would seem to be redshirt freshman Steve Schilling. The guard position has been up for grabs. Alex Mitchell’s injury opens the door a little bit wider for Jeremy Ciulla, but don’t rule out Mark Ortmann is he proves to be the fifth best lineman. Like I said, this scheme allows you to get your five best on the field.

Finally, on the defensive side I think we will see more of the same from last year. Michigan will be a 4-3 over/under defense. There is no need to transform the defense at this point. It was stout all the way up until the OSU game. It did a good job in the first half before tiring in the second half thanks to the combination of a relentless Trojan aerial barrage and spending to much time on the field thanks to the offense’s inability to sustain drives. One thing I do think Michigan will do more this year, as was shown in their spring game, is mix up their reduced fronts. I think we will see more of the 3-3 front mixed in with the 4-2 front with a nickel back. The 3-3 front has spread like wildfire at the high school level because of the different ways to pressure from it. Like I’ve said previously, I don’t believe it is a great base defense… and it won’t be that for Michigan. But it is a very good pressure front. I expect Shawn Crable to really excel in this front because he can be a roaming player and attack defensive weak spots. I don’t see Brandon Graham moving inside like last year. I expect them to mold him into another LaMarr Woodley-type of end. Everything I have heard about Brandon Graham so far has been very positive. I would expect him to really start to impact games this year.

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