As you have probably read by now, Michigan’s players have revealed that the defense is moving to a 3-3-5 alignment for this season. Rich Rodriguez employed that defense at West Virginia, and now Greg Robinson will be in charge of using it to take advantage of the speed Michigan has on defense.
For those of you with a Rivals account, there is a great message board post about the 3-3-5 and how it is deployed. In short, the three down linemen can choose to attack the gap on either side of them, and the three linebackers either blitz or fill the gaps left by the defensive linemen. This allows a lot of flexibility for blitzes and adds a lot of unpredictability to the defense — the offense never knows for sure which way the line will attack and where the blitzers will be coming from. This switch makes a lot of sense for a team with a solid X’s-and-O’s guy at defensive coordinator in Greg Robinson and a lot of team speed (and not a ton of size) on defense. Here are four guys who I think will greatly benefit from the move to the 3-3-5:
- LB Craig Roh — Yes, that’s linebacker Craig Roh. The switch to the 3-3-5 means Roh will be occupying one of the outside linebacker spots, and he will likely be the fourth player attacking the line of scrimmage on every play. Unlike last year, with Roh at quick end usually coming off the edge on every play, where the offense could easily account for him, the flexibility of the 3-3-5 allows Roh to attack several different gaps and makes it harder for the offense to help keep him out of the backfield. Roh was already poised for a breakout sophomore season after playing his entire freshman year probably 15 pounds underweight and without any college experience, even in spring practice, and now it seems even more likely that Roh could put up some very impressive numbers this season.
- DT Mike Martin — While reading about the 3-3-5, I couldn’t help but think of Martin and how perfect this defense sounds for a player like him. Martin is at his best when he gets to pick a gap and penetrate into the backfield, something he couldn’t do a lot of while stuck at nose tackle last season. Now, with five players likely heading for the backfield on any given play, and with Martin shifting over to DT, offenses probably won’t be able to send two offensive linemen at Martin on every play. We should see the Mike Martin everybody expected to see last year after his stellar freshman season — a freakishly strong and quick defensive tackle who is liable to blow up any play in the backfield.
- S Jordan Kovacs — The benefit of having five defensive backs is that you can tailor the safeties’ responsibilities to their strengths — with one deep safety and two strong safeties (one who plays up and one who has to be able to drop back deep), Michigan has a lot of options for their defensive backs. Kovacs seems to benefit the most from the change — his strongsuit is playing aggressive run support and attacking the backfield, something Michigan will need from at least one of their strong safeties. With four other defensive backs on the field, Kovacs won’t have as much responsibility for pass coverage, the weakest part of his game. Michigan can mask Kovacs’ athletic deficiencies somewhat with this change, and allow him to play to his strengths.
- LB Obi Ezeh — Ezeh now has linebacker help on both sides of him, and what I believe is a much simpler read on most plays (reading the defensive lineman in front of him and assuming responsibility for the other gap). With Ezeh, the problem has never been his physical skills, but being aggressive and making quick reads before the offense accounts for him. This should free Ezeh up to be a more aggressive player, and also allow him to blitz and take advantage of his physical skills. This move may save Ezeh his starting job, and could turn him into the type of player we expect to see from a four-year starter.
The scheme as a whole should benefit the team, which has a lot of speed on defense but also a lot of inexperience. The 3-3-5 plays to the strengths of Michigan’s personnel, something last year’s defense didn’t seem to do all the time (asking Kovacs to play deep safety, forcing Ezeh and Mouton to cover the field sideline-to-sideline, etc.). Also, as Hiesman84 stated in his message board post, this allows Greg Robinson to play “mad scientist” with his blitz schemes, something that should both benefit the defense and be fun to watch as a fan. This move makes sense to me, and should help the process of rebuilding Michigan’s most disappointing unit.