Mailbag question: Ezeh, Fitzgerald, and more slant passes?

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Opinions on MLB Obi Ezeh seem to be all over the map. Some think he had a decent year. I think he had a terrible year. No MLB is perfect, but to me, it seemed he was way too often either rushing to plug the wrong gap or unable to shake free from a block — in both cases which often resulted in big rushing-play gains for the opposition. Can he be coached up to be better at this? On the other hand, is he just playing at the wrong position?

Why wouldn’t the Michigan defensive coaches last year put true frosh J.B. Fitzgerald in at MLB? I think he only played special teams. With Ezeh struggling, especially late in the year, wouldn’t it have been good to get him some quality playing time?

Why didn’t Michigan throw more quick slants to the slots last year? Wouldn’t that have prevented teams from cheating wide to stop the ceaseless ‘long handoffs’? On the other hand, were those passes not there because nobody respected Michigan’s ability to throw deep?

Thanks, guys!

Enjoy your site.

John

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Thanks for the question and comments.

1) Ezeh is a superior overall athlete and, from what we saw, one of hardest workers on the team. He just has an outstanding attitude. No one questions this kid’s effort in our opinion.

So far, he has not shown the ability or performance to play middle linebacker. He does not take on or shed lead blockers very well and struggles on scrap-and-fill situations. He is good in coverage, and plays the outside stuff well.

From watching him in practice, we think he would make a very good defensive end. Can he improve? Sure, remember this is just his second year playing linebacker. He was a fullback only for most of his high school career and his first year in college.

2) Reports we received were that while talented, Fitzgerald was just not ready to play middle linebacker yet. Remember he was an outside linebacker / defensive end in high school. Moving to the middle provides different challenges, and moving back off line of scrimmage makes the change even more difficult.

3) Slants to slots are tricky. They line up closer to the ball than split ends and make the pass tougher to complete.

First, because of where the slots line up the throwing lane is different and the defensive end can get his hands into the lane easier.

Secondly, the outside linebacker drop is shorter and that makes it easier for him to get under the slot and make a play.

Many, if not most, teams will clear the area by taking the slot vertical and then bringing the split end underneath with a slant. Another route I learned from Coach Kelly and Molnar at Cincinnati is called “vertical access”: you take the first slot vertical and then drag the opposite side slot across where slot #1 just vacated. You read the outside linebacker and hit the slot he does not cover. If the outside linebacker goes vertical with slot #1, you hit slot #2 on drag. If outside linebacker sits on slot #2 running the drag, you hit slot #1 going vertical in front of the safety.

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