Nov 2, 2013; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines head coach Brady Hoke (left) and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison (right) during the first quarter against the Michigan State Spartans at Spartan Stadium. The Spartans beat the Wolverines 29-6. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan DC Greg Mattison should explore 3-4 defense when Spring Practice arrives in March

Michigan Wolverines head coach Brady Hoke (left) and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison (right) during the first quarter against the Michigan State Spartans at Spartan Stadium. The Spartans beat the Wolverines 29-6. Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison often speak about having their best 11 on the field.

A hard look at the Wolverines’ defense reveals that the best players were sometimes on the bench.

There’s no denying that the Wolverines results at (3-tech) defensive tackle and nose tackle have been spotty at best.

The entire Wolverine squad had a paltry 1.92 sacks a game, which ranked 66th in the FBS. To translate, it means very, very bad.

Another curious stat identified Michigan’s top seven tacklers as either linebackers or defensive backs.

Control the line of scrimmage

In addition, Michigan’s defensive front rarely controlled the line of scrimmage and hardly ever pressured the quarterback.  In the last few seasons, teams with mobile, dual-threat quarterbacks often gave Michigan fits.

And looking down the roster, there aren’t any Mark Messners, Glen Steeles, or Brandon Grahams on the two deep.

Back in 2012, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison toyed with using the 3-4 defense along with the normal 4-3 under. Mattison was a huge believer of the 3-4 when he coached the NFL Baltimore Ravens. While in Baltimore (2008-10), his defenses allowed just 16.6 points a game.

 St. Jabrill Peppers (5) Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Jabrill Peppers (5)  Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

So why consider the switch?

First, Michigan has a shortage of experienced down lineman. Ondre Pipkins has been penciled into the nose tackle slot, but his effectiveness right away is uncertain.  The logical choice would  be Willie Henry, leaving the other tackle slot be be filled with inexperienced players.

Second, assuming Jabrill Peppers becomes a Wolverine on National Signing Day,  he should move into a starting slot at either corner, nickel or free safety. Michigan will be solid at both corners and both safety positions, even if  Allen Gant and possibly Jeremy Clark move to linebacker.

Third, depth at that linebacker in the best on the squad. In the 3-4, Jake Ryan and James Ross III would play outside while Desmond Morgan and Joe Bolden will handle the inside.

Fourth, Michigan would also have good depth at both defensive ends.Taco Charlton (who might beat out Brennen Beyer) and Frank Clark could be the starters, with Chris Wormley,  Keith Heitzman and Mario Ojemudia  as the reserves.

Being familiar with the 3-4 in Baltimore, teaching the nuances of the new scheme shouldn’t be a problem.

Todd Grantham, who just left Georgia to become  Louisville’s defensive coordinator, says the biggest advantage of a 3-4 scheme is its unpredictability. “Any of the four linebackers can blitz on a given play, or one of the outside linebackers can move to the line of scrimmage as a stand-up end.

“If you’re multiple in what you’re doing, you can bring any of the four linebackers at any time,” Grantham added. “They have to be accounted for in protection on every play. They don’t know which guy is going to be coming.”

Making the switch is easy

Switching from one to the other is rather simple. You can always move one of the ends back to  linebacker, giving you four upright players instead of three, increasing the versatility of the front seven. With Countess and Peppers in the secondary, Michigan will be able to play more man coverage, allowing Mattison to dream up more blitz packages.

When it comes to playing the best 11, having a talented linebacker on the field could be an advantage over an inexperienced defensive tackle.

Here’s how Michigan’s lineup might look in the 4-3:

WDE-Frank Clark, NT-Ondre Pipkins, DT-Willie Henry, SDE-Brennen Beyer, SLB-Jake Ryan, MLB-Desmond Morgan, WLB-James Ross III, CB-Raymon Taylor, CB-Blake Countess, FS-Jabrill Peppers, SS-Jarrod Wilson.

Here’s how Michigan’s lineup might look in the 3-4:  

DE-Frank Clark, NT-Willie Henry, DE-Taco Charlton, OLB-James Ross III, ILB-Joe Bolden, ILB-Desmond Morgan, OLB-Jake Ryan, CB-Raymon Taylor, CB-Blake Countess, FS-Jabrill Peppers, SS-Jarrod Wilson.

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Written by GBMWolverine Staff — Joel Greer

 

 

 

 

 

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