Welcome Back, 4-3 Under: The Linebackers

Welcome Back, 4-3 Under: The Linebackers

April 20, 2011
Shawn Crable would be ideal for the new regime

Last week I put up a post explaining how Michigan’s defense will look in the coming years under new defensive coordinator Greg Mattison.  Today we’ll take a look at the linebackers.

Alignment:  9-technique, which is on the outside shoulder of the tight end
Gap responsibility:  D gap, which is outside the tight end
What should he look like?  If you’re building a team, this guy should be your best overall athlete with the best combination of size, strength, and speed.  He resides on the strong side of the formation and holds the point of attack on most run plays.  He will be blocked on every running play and take on blocks from fullbacks, tight ends, and pulling guards.  He also needs to cover running backs out of the backfield, drop into flat or hook zones, or occasionally slide inside and blitz the interior line.  These varied responsibilities require unique overall athleticism.  Shawn Crable, who was about 6’5″ and 245 lbs. and could run like a deer, would be the prototype.The physical freak you create in NCAA Football who’s 6’6″, 260 lbs., and runs a 4.3 forty . . . he’s a SAM.
Best physical fit:  Jake Ryan (6’3″, 224 lbs.).  Keep in mind that Ryan is just a freshman and probably weighs more than 224 at this point, but all these players are coming from a defense that didn’t recruit players for the SAM position.

Alignment: 3-off, which is on the outside shoulder of the strongside guard and off the line of scrimmage
Gap responsibility:  B gap, which is between the strongside tackle and guard
What should he look like?  Your middle linebacker should be the tackling machine.  As opposed to the middle linebacker in the 3-3-5 (who lines up directly over the center), the MIKE in a 4-3 Under aligns himself on the strong side of the formation.  The formation of the defense funnels most running plays to the MIKE’s vicinity.  He often has to defeat blocks from fullbacks, which means he has to have a sturdy frame.  He also needs to have a nose for the ball and roam sideline to sideline.  Unlike the 4-3 Tampa Cover Two defense, though, the MIKE in the 4-3 Under is somewhat protected in the passing game.  He needs to be able to cover crossing routes and hook zones, but the deep middle of the field will be covered by one of the safeties. Obviously, everyone would like to have a great athlete at every position, but the MIKE can afford to be a little stiffer in pass coverage.  The ideal size for a middle linebacker would be about 6’2″ and 245 lbs.
Best physical fit:  Isaiah Bell (6’1″, 245 lbs.)

Alignment:  1-off, which is on the inside shoulder of the weakside guard and off the line of scrimmage
Gap responsibility:  Flow to the ball
What should he look like?  Michigan had a great deal of success with smaller weakside linebackers when Hoke and Mattison were in Ann Arbor earlier in their careers, and I see no reason why that philosophy would change in the near future.  Guys like Larry Foote and Ian Gold were both very effective while being a shade over 6′ tall and 205-225 lbs.  The WILL rarely needs to take on a fullback because of the defense’s alignment; with a NT over the center and a DT over the weakside guard, it’s difficult to create enough space in that A gap to send a big fullback leading up through the hole.  That means the WILL often gets a chance to flow to the ball and make things happen.  He will blitz often and pick up running backs or slot receivers on rare occasions, so he needs to be somewhat more agile than the MIKE.  So despite technically being an inside linebacker (aligned between the tackles), he can get away with being smaller.
Best physical fit: Antonio Poole (6’1″, 210 lbs.)


  1. Comments: 21383
    Apr 20, 2011 at 2:46 PM

    TTB, this is basically a follow-up to a question I asked yesterday about Cass Tech guys:

    If you were Hoke/Mattison, what (if anything) would you envision for these guys:

    * Mike Jones
    * Brandin Hawthorne
    * Marvin Robinson
    * Josh Furman

    Don't feel obligated to address every point. 🙂 I'm just curious about the RichRod 'tweeners. (I realize that, for example Furman != Hawthorne, but I decided to lump them together.) There are a fair number of guys that don't appear to map well to Mattison's plans. Are they destined for special teams?

  2. Comments: 21383
    Apr 20, 2011 at 2:56 PM

    @ Anonymous 10:46 a.m.

    Jones should be a WILL, but I'm not too excited about him there. I've never really been a fan of Mike Jones, but maybe he'll prove me wrong.

    Hawthorne…special teams.

    Marvin Robinson ought to be a free safety. I'd still like to see him in pass coverage a little more, so…maybe strong safety.

    I still think Furman is a WILL, too. I just don't see the instincts to put him at safety. He's not used to playing the ball in the air. He needs to add a few pounds and play LB, in my opinion.

  3. Comments: 21383
    Apr 20, 2011 at 4:49 PM

    I want a safety pair of Carvin and Marvin just so I can call them CarvMarv. I have no idea why.

  4. Comments: 21383
    Apr 20, 2011 at 7:45 PM

    I appreciate the linebacker structural explanation and the physical fits. but who do you think will actually play those positions?

  5. Comments: 21383
    Apr 20, 2011 at 7:54 PM

    @ Anonymous 3:45 p.m.

    I think your starters in the fall will be Evans, Demens, and Cam Gordon at WILL, MIKE, and SAM, respectively.

  6. Comments: 21383
    Apr 20, 2011 at 8:38 PM

    If the offense replaces the FB with a Slot Receiver, then I suppose the WILL covers. Or, does a safety creep up?

    How many of our opponets will consitently use a FB? IOW, what % of snaps will we see a FB throughout the year? I'm asking because it seems like this defense will do well with offenses that attempt to threaten the middle of the LOS, but might struggle with lots of receivers on a regular basis without going to a regular nickel package, which I've heard is something that Miattison uses regularly. I'm just wondering how "regularly."

  7. Comments: 21383
    Apr 20, 2011 at 8:44 PM

    If the slot receiver is on the weak side, the FS would roll up to cover the SR and the SS would be the deep guy.

    I would imagine we'll see a lot of fullbacks against WMU, SDSU, Minnesota (?), MSU, Iowa, and OSU. I don't know what percentage of plays, though.

    If opposing teams go to 4- and 5-wide sets, then yeah, we're going to go to a nickel package. And I don't think we have great personnel for a nickel, because I'm not entirely convinced that Thomas Gordon can be that guy and that our safeties can hold up. However, Mattison seems eager and ready to blitz, so getting to the QB might offset our issues in pass coverage.

  8. Comments: 21383
    Apr 20, 2011 at 10:07 PM


    Thanks for the great info.

    This might be a long question and I understand if you don't get to it all:

    It seems like we are thin at guys who can potentially play the SAM position. Can anyone else other than Jake Ryan from the 2010 or 2011 provide depth at that position?

    Also do you think it is important that we go after a SAM type of linebacker in the 2012 class? If so who?

  9. Comments: 21383
    Apr 20, 2011 at 10:16 PM

    @ Anonymous 6:07 p.m.

    No problem.

    Frank Clark and Jordan Paskorz are both SAM-type guys. I don't really think we're thin there. There are four guys who are SAM linebackers (or who have the skill set to play the position), and none of the four are older than Cam Gordon, who's a redshirt sophomore.

    Because of the ages of those guys, I don't necessarily think SAM is a priority for the class of 2012. It's a small class (for now) and there are big needs elsewhere.

  10. Comments: 21383
    Apr 20, 2011 at 11:30 PM

    I didn't know that Frank Clark or Paskorz projected to the SAM. It is starting to make more sense now.

    Do you think Paskorz has the athleticism to play the SAM effectively. In essence are SAMs LB and DE tweeners that are really athletic?

  11. Comments: 21383
    Apr 20, 2011 at 11:35 PM

    @ Anonymous 7:30 p.m.

    No, I don't think Paskorz has the athleticism to play SAM. I was in favor of him bulking up and becoming a DE when he was recruited. He's 242 lbs. now so that's still a distant possibility, but he's way down the depth chart. I would be somewhat surprised if he presses for playing time with the other guys who are there and with Jake Ryan as a classmate.

    You could say that the SAM is a DE/LB tweener. He's almost a 3-4 outside linebacker. So you can see why the coaches want Cam Gordon to bulk up considerably.

  12. Comments: 21383
    Apr 20, 2011 at 11:49 PM

    Enjoyed the post. Good work.


  13. Comments: 21383
    Apr 21, 2011 at 2:28 AM

    Agreed. Good post, Magnus.

  14. Comments: 21383
    Apr 21, 2011 at 4:40 AM

    Given Cam's need to bulk up, can you explain why Cam is be a better fit at SAM as opposed to WILL? Thx.

  15. Comments: 21383
    Apr 21, 2011 at 1:52 PM

    Thanks, Lankownia and Matt.

  16. Comments: 21383
    Apr 21, 2011 at 1:55 PM

    @ Anonymous 12:40 a.m.

    I think Cam is probably a little bit too tall and lanky to be an ILB. Most WILL linebackers for Michigan are going to be 6'0" or 6'1", and Gordon is about 6'3". You want your WILL to be able to step up into a hole and stone a running back. I think Gordon's a solid tackler, but he's more of a wrap-and-drag guy than a run-stuffer.

  17. Comments: 21383
    Apr 21, 2011 at 5:55 PM

    Given Royce Jenkins-Stone's size and athleticism and the fact that Ringer, Ross, and Bolden all seem to fit either MIKE or WILL, do you think RJS is likely to get a look at SAM? It seems like a nice future look for our linebackers (in several years) could be RJS at SAM, Ringer at MIKE, and Ross at WILL.

  18. Comments: 21383
    Apr 21, 2011 at 6:10 PM

    @ RDB 1:55 p.m.

    Anything's possible, but no, I don't expect Jenkins-Stone to play SAM. We have lots of youth at SAM (Gordon, Ryan, Paskorz, Clark), so there's really no need. Gordon and Ryan both look like they'll be pretty good, and they're both still pretty young. We don't necessarily need a SAM in this class.

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