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Posted on Sun, Apr 18, 2010 : 5:03 p.m.

Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez: Guys are grasping new defense

By Dave Birkett


Michigan slot receiver Jeremy Gallo, center, is brought down by James Rogers, right, and Craig Roh, left, during the spring game Saturday at Michigan Stadium. (Photo: Lon Horwedel |

The Michigan football team kept its 3-3-5 defense vanilla by design in Saturday’s public unveiling, but one thing that’s apparent is the new scheme will be very versatile.

The Wolverines opened with a base look of three down linemen, three linebackers and five defensive backs in Saturday’s spring game, but outside linebacker Craig Roh spent time at defensive end in a four-man front and Kevin Leach played occasionally as an extra linebacker.

“I guess you could call it a 3-3-5 because we’ll have three down linemen a decent amount of the time,” Roh said. “You could call it that, but there’s so many different looks that you can give out of it.

“It can be a 3-3-5, it can be a 3-4, it can be 4-3. It can be just a variety of things.”

After allowing the second most points in school history last year, Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez just wants to call his defense better.

He went to the new scheme this spring partly to match up with different offensive looks and partly to get better athletes on the field.

Rodriguez said the defense made noticeable improvements in Michigan’s 15 spring practices, though tackling wasn’t particularly crisp Saturday.

“One of our things we wanted to get better defensively is getting to the ball, getting off blocks and tackling better,” he said. “I don’t know if we did a particularly good job of that today, but I think throughout the spring we have gotten better. We were really simple today scheme-wise and I think our guys are grasping what we want to do that way. But we’ve got to get better fundamentally in August.”

Michigan played without two likely starters in Saturday’s scrimmage. Cornerback Troy Woolfolk sat with a broken right pinky finger and defensive tackle Mike Martin was out all spring recovering from shoulder surgery.

Sophomore Will Campbell started at nose tackle in Martin’s place Saturday and had a good enough spring that Martin could see time at end this fall. That would help alleviate one concern along the defensive front, where Michigan is still looking for a pass rusher to replace departed senior Brandon Graham, the nation’s leader in tackles for loss last year.

Roh will assume some of those responsibilities at outside linebacker.

“That’s my expectations going into this next season,” he said. “I’m going to train that way that I can be that kind of guy where I can fill in his type of play.

“I don’t want to throw out any (sack) numbers, but I just want to be a guy that’s constantly pestering the quarterback like BG did. Every play.”

Returning starters Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton joined Roh at first-team linebacker Saturday, and James Rogers played opposite J.T. Floyd at cornerback in place of Woolfolk.

At safety, walk-on Jordan Kovacs is a returning starter, but Michigan is breaking in redshirt freshmen Cam Gordon and Thomas Gordon (no relation) at the free safety and “star” positions. Neither has ever played in a college game.

Still, Ezeh said he saw enough this spring to feel confident the defense will be better come fall.

“Just the amount of work we’ve put in, the countless hours, it’s got to pay off,” he said. “I think this is the year.”

Dave Birkett covers University of Michigan football for He can be reached by phone at 734-623-2552 or by e-mail at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.


Terry Star21

Tue, Apr 20, 2010 : 4:52 p.m.

I think I must agree here on the attacks, verbal assaults, etc. - can't we play nice. I liked this comment page from the start, as it gave everyone a chance to comment about UM Football - and although I would like to believe I know everything about UM FB (ha ha), I don't, and from time to time, I learn something here. Take Mr. Birkett's fine article earlier today on Vlad Emilien, I was the only one to comment, yet two hours later the article on Cissoko (arrested) comes out and seven comments, on the way to 45 I'll bet - what's up with that. Up until two years ago, there was never so much outsider hate, bashing on these pages. Come on, I want to talk Michigan Football... outsiders welcome, but please don't trash the Big House.


Tue, Apr 20, 2010 : 10:03 a.m.

OSUbe... actually that was 3-11, but get your point.


Tue, Apr 20, 2010 : 10 a.m.

I don't understand here, on the Michigan Football page how discussion of msu, osu, wvu, etc. always finds it way into the comment pages... if the Michigan fans have any flaws, it's bringing these lessor teams into the talk... and their fans of course, being Michigan wannabe's always try to compare on this site, but fail - miserably.


Tue, Apr 20, 2010 : 8:27 a.m.

What were the Qb's names on those NC teams? None of them are on a pro roster. Your bs and excuses sounds like RR has been rubbing off on you. Whats the excuse this year? The pizza sucks? We don't have Pat White? In another couple years we might have an offensive line? We only have 3 defensive lineman? Are lb's suck? We still have a walk on at safety? As you can see... I've pretty much heard them all. Go IU.....The fight for last place continues............


Tue, Apr 20, 2010 : 4:04 a.m.

It seems absurd to me that Rich Rod could not find a place in his Offense for a guy like Ryan Mallat. If the cubbords were bare it is because Rich rod threw all the groceries away. Mallat was only the #1 HS Qb in the nation, But a genius like Rodriguez just couldnt figure out how he was going to be useful, So instead he spent his weeks on the phone with Pryor and ended up with Threet. And Ill bet threet ends up being a great college quarter back before its all over.


Mon, Apr 19, 2010 : 10:15 p.m.

'131 years, I'm just saying'...seems we're hearing more about Michigan's storied history by the day... fact is it's going to take a lot more than a couple down years from a new coach to tarnish tradition. I agree with osube here, that Mr. Rodriguez wasn't left with a lot when he arrived and did drastic changes to an offense, such that Michigan has never seen. He will be successful. Does anyone think sponsers aren't jumping for the 11' night game with ND, and that America will probably set a tv viewing record - didn't think so. Michigan is respected by the America's fans, sportwriters, polls, bowls, you name it and being named favorite college town in America by Forbes, don't look for college football's storied program to be anything less than #1 the rest of this century.


Mon, Apr 19, 2010 : 6:29 p.m.

I'm just saying... a hundred-plus year reputation can be lost in as little as 2 years. In that amount of time, a program can become irrelevant, a non-threat, an also ran, a run-of-the mill has-been, or a footnote. To many young fans today, ND, Nebraska, U Miami are not even on their radar screen among the top football programs. They used to dominate. Unless Michigan does something differently this season, add them to the list.


Mon, Apr 19, 2010 : 5:20 p.m.

Make that 129 years of football excellence. The last 2 years were not even close to excellence. AD Martin gambled with 129 years of excellence and lost big. Now, the fans will be paying for that loss for many years to come. I'd like to ask what sets UM apart from other football programs at this point? The answer is: they lose more often. 4 times more often than they win within their own conference. Lost the gamble, big time.

Terry Star21

Mon, Apr 19, 2010 : 4:21 p.m.

It is for sure 131 years of Michigan football, all those years and 877, Michigan is the best of them all. tressel, saban were handed players on platter, Rodriguez said please sir can I have some more, what's the matter. The rewards will be great for our school this fall, our king building from scratch and winning it all. UM FB - 131 years of Football excellence..... sparty doll - nobodys buying


Mon, Apr 19, 2010 : 4:16 p.m.

I replayed the game on tivo and especially counted the down linemen.If a guy is so low that his hand is on the ground,he can't get up and go backwards quickly.I would say that the 3-4 and 4-3 were about equal Also I counted the of guys in the box after the ball was snapped.Most of the time it was 7 but many times there were 8 Also bringing the safetys up to the corner on a 3-3 setup making it a 5-3 was done a lot.Its too bad we don't get some TV shots from behind because you can see the setups and where they go.I hope they know what they are doing because I don't.

Robbie Webb

Mon, Apr 19, 2010 : 2:07 p.m.

Haha! It looks like everyone answered for me, and thank you! Because that's what I was going to see. Rich Rod had nothing to work with his first year. Threet and Sheridan? Really? Come on now. Lead in scoring the second year. We still had youth and inexperience on defense. Eight of those players are coming back.


Mon, Apr 19, 2010 : 11:37 a.m.

That is the one thing about the 3-3-5 that will certainly help UM this year and leave many confused - it's versatile... it can be many things but mostly bad news for opposing offences... @ rightmind250.... it is 131 years, not 125... and as usual, your other facts are off as well. You have said you are an indiana fan, so in it itself, I won't be harsh on you... I see your anger.


Mon, Apr 19, 2010 : 11:33 a.m.

rightmind250; Jim Tressel inherited a boatload of talent. John Cooper may not have been a good coach, but he was a great recruiter. Bama also had some talent for Saban to work with. Everyone knows that Carr left the cupboard bare. RR had to essentially rebuild the team from the ground up. Two years is not enough time to recruit players, implement a system and win a National Championship. Tressel did it with Coopers recruits. Saban did it with Mike Shulas recruits as did Urban Meyer did with Ron Zooks recruits. On the bright side I noticed that Devin Gardner looks comfortable in the backfield for a freshman. I predict hell w1in the Heisman before hes done at UM.

Terry Star21

Mon, Apr 19, 2010 : 10:58 a.m.

Great quote from Roh,..'I just want to be the guy thats constantly pestering the quarterback...' - I love it! Read some of these naysayer's comments, the circus must still be in town... though they left.... Big difference in the commenters here, if you read the intelligence of their commentary - Michigan faithful are accurate with the facts/truth in their statements, the naysayer's/bashers have no clue what their talking about... difference of night and day. Theo and Terry Star have staked their claim, Michigan will run the Big Ten table, their all so lame. Bowl for Blue will not be the question, Our own selection, then we'll teach them a lesson. Our king RichRod this year wins 10-thirteen, With support from everyone and Rita his queen. Michigan FB - greatest in the land.... all others - bury your heads in the sand.


Mon, Apr 19, 2010 : 10:28 a.m.

Craig Lounsbury,? With no defensive lineman who do you suppose will take on the offensive lineman's block? Of course lb's and db's make more tackles. No matter how you spin it, the 3-3-5 is designed to take on a spread offense. "Designed", after the spring game it looks like UM's version is having trouble taking on the spread. Wisky's running back will leave cleat marks on UM's db's. I would say by the 4th quarter there won't be one db willing to step up and take on Clay one on one. Good luck. At leats IU runs a spread, passing offense.


Mon, Apr 19, 2010 : 10:18 a.m.

robbiewebb, what year was tressel in when he won his NC? What year was Saban in when he won his NC? Answer:2 RR is still trying to get 9 or 10th place in the B10 in year 3. No comparison, your statement is unfounded and makes completely no sense. When you talk about RR, he sets his own standards. Most losses in one season in 125 year history. 2nd most points scored on a UM defense in 125 year history. 3 B10 wins after 2 years. I hate to say it but those are Indiana football numbers. Congrats UM, you are competeing with IU for B10 doormat. By the way the game is in Bloomington this year, Good luck!

Josh Ditton

Mon, Apr 19, 2010 : 9:01 a.m.

First things first: It was a spring game, a PRACTICE. This is not at all how the team will look this fall, it was just something to quench fans' thirst for football. Everything was simplified, bland, and unoriginal - but that is the point! You shouldn't expect the entire offense and defense to be showcased for all of U-M's opponents, some things have to be secret. As far as defense not being intense, I have a feeling it had to do with the off-limits QBs. It's hard to be intense when you know you can't tackle the QB.

Robbie Webb

Mon, Apr 19, 2010 : 8:58 a.m.

Sean, what you saw was a vanilla scheme of the 3-3-5. It woulndn't make sense to show your whole scheme to the public during practice. Plus there were going full speed against there own teammates.

Sean T.

Mon, Apr 19, 2010 : 8:47 a.m.

Regardless of the formation these guy's didn't look good at all this spring but there's always fall. And for the record, Florida has never ran a 3-3-5 defense!


Mon, Apr 19, 2010 : 8:08 a.m.

RichRod deserves the right to succeed or fail with his own recruits. Give the man a chance. Haters, I know it's not in your nature to do so but please try being optimistic once in a while.

Craig Lounsbury

Mon, Apr 19, 2010 : 8:02 a.m.

most tackles are made by linebackers and DB's anyway. Stopping a run game is more about linebackers and DB's containing the outside, plugging holes, moving to the ball, and making tackles. Its not about down linemen.

Robbie Webb

Mon, Apr 19, 2010 : 7:40 a.m.

Timeatwork, it's not a mistake. The 3-3-5 gives multiple looks, as Roh explains in this article. They wont line up that way to stop the run. It's all about player execution. They are adding this to their package to match different offensive looks. It's about time they did that. Last year they ran the same thing in an attempt to stop the run and the pass and the pass is what killed us.


Mon, Apr 19, 2010 : 7:01 a.m.

i can't believe uofm is making this mistake. line up 3-3-5, the other teams will run it down their throats for 4 yards at a time. unstoppable.


Mon, Apr 19, 2010 : 3:56 a.m.

jcj--of course you're paying more! Look at the salary difference between Coach Carr and Incompetent Rodriguez. Cut the losses NOW. Read my lips UofM: NO MORE DONATIONS FROM THIS ALUMNUS -- you are blatantly wasting money a faux coach.


Mon, Apr 19, 2010 : 12:55 a.m.

They just need to learn the one tried and true play. One hard step forward, then get up off the ground, find the ball, and chase the play down from behind.

Atlas Shrugged

Sun, Apr 18, 2010 : 11:11 p.m.

JCJ: All you have to do is send an invoice to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, Washington, DC, and request your stimulus check to pay the difference between your ticket price difference between '97 and now. Claim hardship, or the unfairness of life, or at least the unfairness of the Big 10. Of course you will receive the money, but you'll probably have to (or perhaps want to ) give most of it to Rich Rod for his legal fees to keep him and his masterful winning ways here. The balance will go to spelling lessons for the team. Somehow I wound up listening to Ufer tapes today, and gosh do I miss the old days.


Sun, Apr 18, 2010 : 10:36 p.m.

Grasping a new defense? I would be happy if they learned how to spell defense!


Sun, Apr 18, 2010 : 10:33 p.m.

Just ran across the bill for my 1997 set of 4 season tickets. Total $756. 2010 Same 4 tickets will cost about $1500 +. And everyone complains about the insurance companies and oil companies gouging us!!


Sun, Apr 18, 2010 : 9:11 p.m.

Winning is not important. That's what we've learned from the past 2 seasons. We're looking back on just 3 conference wins in two years. There was a decision made to gamble away the football program's solid reputation and results (Carr 9-3 on average). We thought this was done to take the program to even greater heights, but now it's clear that winning was not a priority. The priority was doing it the coach's way. Well, it's going to be a long way back to respectability.


Sun, Apr 18, 2010 : 7:37 p.m.

I heard lots of predictions of 9-3 or 10-2 in the first year, with at least as good in the second year, and contending, if not winning, an NC in year three. I'm sure that wasn't all UM fans, but some vocal ones (such as "Huge" Simonson) were making such predictions. And he had no shortage of callers to his show agreeing with him. At least most UM fans are back to earth now. I agree with azwolverine: somewhere from 7 to 9 wins this year. Maybe next year UM competes for the Big Ten title. 7-5 and a bowl and RR gets a 4th year. It should be interesting.

Terry Star21

Sun, Apr 18, 2010 : 7:32 p.m.

@ BowlForBlue... I like that sound, and remember Roh came in last year as a freshman, started every game and did a great job. All freshman aren't going to do that, but we can be encouraged and have something to be excited about... can't wait to see them... let's believe....


Sun, Apr 18, 2010 : 7:26 p.m.

Good to see Coach Rodriguez's expectation... sounds like at least two redshirt freshman will be playing and you knows how many more once the freshman defense arrives this summer... there will be youth.


Sun, Apr 18, 2010 : 5:54 p.m.

Line up anyway you want. The only things this team needs to GRASP are opposing running backs and receivers. 3-4, 4-3 or 3-3-5 makes no difference when you don't tackle people. Hopefully some of the young kids learned how to tackle in High School.

Robbie Webb

Sun, Apr 18, 2010 : 5:37 p.m.

Yes he will. It wasn't going to happen in two years, dude. So if BCS and championships was on your mind his first two years, then that's not realistic at all.


Sun, Apr 18, 2010 : 5:30 p.m.

I'll be honest, I really don't care what defense UM runs, this team should win 8 games minimum this year based on schedule alone. What bothers me is that RR was supposedly brought in here to elevate UM to the 'next' level and win BCS games and National Championships, and I just don't ever see it happening. He's won one BCS bowl in his 9 years at D1, 2 bowls overall, and 0 NC's at any level in 17 years as a head coach. The BCS and NC hype is completley unfounded. As far as him building consistent programs, in his 9th (and final) season at Glenville St, his team went 6-4. Maybe he didn't quite have all of 'his' players yet. People criticize Lloyd for averaging 9-3 seasons; RR's average over his career is 7-5. To me, the defensive scheme we run is irrelevant...what is relevant is that we are wasting precious years with a mediocre coach who won't reach the heights Michigan demands.


Sun, Apr 18, 2010 : 5:16 p.m.

what defense does florida run? oh yea thats right a 3-3-5


Sun, Apr 18, 2010 : 4:56 p.m.

I would be very careful using terms like countless hours around here. Some people live to count them and turn you in when you don't. I'm just sayin

Robbie Webb

Sun, Apr 18, 2010 : 4:19 p.m.

NoBowl4Blue, of course it can work. It's all about player execution. But they wont always line up in a 3-3-5, that's what Roh was talking about. It gives multiple looks to match your opponent, because you're right, it wouldn't make much sense to stop the pass against a team that runs. There will be players like Roh on the field who can play linebacker or line up as a fourth lineman to give a look to stop the running game.


Sun, Apr 18, 2010 : 4:13 p.m.

Will a 3-3-5 work in the Big Ten? Somewhat doubtful when playing power running teams. Gimmicky defenses can work at times but in the end you just can't be gimmicky and consistent.