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Posted on Thu, Apr 1, 2010 : 2:32 p.m.

Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Robinson talks 3-3-5 defense

By Dave Birkett


Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Robinson instructs the the team during a time out in the first half of the Wolverine's last game of the year at Michigan Stadium on Saturday, November 21, 2009.

Melanie Maxwell |

Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Robinson started his pre-practice meeting with reporters Thursday with an April Fool’s Day joke.

“We’ve gone to a 6-2-3 scheme,” Robinson said. “We’re playing with six defensive linemen and it’s very aggressive.”

Michigan is transitioning to a 3-3-5 defense this spring after playing a 3-4 last year, but Robinson said it’s not the drastic overhaul some have made it out to be.

The Wolverines used hybrid starters at both outside linebacker spots last year. Converted safety Stevie Brown played strong-side linebacker, and true freshman Craig Roh worked as a pass-rushing linebacker opposite Brandon Graham.

This year, safety Mike Williams is moving to Brown’s spot, backed up by Floyd Simmons and Thomas Gordon, and Roh is back for his second season as starter. Williams, Simmons and Gordon are all listed as safeties on Michigan’s official roster.

“I would say that that still fits very much in what we do,” Robinson said. “We might have some different terminology where I think we can all talk on the same language together. But I think that you’re going to see that there’s a lot of things that are very, very similar. That’s what I would tell you.”

Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez ran a 3-3-5 during part of his tenure at West Virginia, but Robinson said the entire coaching staff was on board with the change. In the 1990s, he said he ran a similar scheme as defensive coordinator with the New York Jets and Denver Broncos.

The defense, while sometimes susceptible to power football teams, is designed to get more speed on the field and be versatile enough to match up with different style offenses.

“When I was with the Jets, it was very suited to when we were playing Buffalo,” Robinson said. “When you were playing these deploy teams that were all over the field it was to our advantage really to play them that way, and we used to play them pretty good.”

At the midpoint of spring practice - Michigan holds its eighth workout Thursday - it’s too early to judge what impact the new defense will have.

But after allowing the second-most points in school history during last year's 5-7 season, Robinson said some things were bound to change.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever been in a defense where there wasn’t areas altered each year to your personnel or to what the offensive world is doing,” Robinson said. “You have to do that. You tweak constantly, you do throughout the season because you begin to see what you have more in your talent level and you also say, ‘Hey, this is what we have to do to defend.’ That’s kind of where I see it.”

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.



Sun, Apr 4, 2010 : 11:38 p.m.

Post something positive then... sounds like you enjoy UM Football, but not going to let it change your life if they lose... a lot of us are like that, but in between we love our team, can't wait to read about them, see them play... welcome my friend, you belong here.....


Sun, Apr 4, 2010 : 10:37 a.m.

It sure is nice to read all these expert opinions. I have no idea how Michigan will do this year (which probably disqualifies me to post anything here), but I do know I will be cheering for them and that my life will go on whatever they end up doing. Go Blue!


Fri, Apr 2, 2010 : 11:50 p.m.

amaizenblue said "I am sick and tired of hearing all the naysayer's talk like they know football better than the coaches who eat, sleep, and drink football 24/7!" Tell you what I am six and tired of. Coaches who "eat sleep and drink football" who have a 3-9 and 5-7 record with the only win after a 4-0 start being against a D2 team. Your mentality is like saying nobody has a right to ever question a CEO, who lives his job, but the company fails (GM anyone). RR has no plan, and changes it every season. I haven;t even brought up the embarrassment hew has heaped on the program being under investigation. What would Bo say about that? I can guarantee you if this happened with Bo as AD, RR would not be working at UM.

Sean T.

Fri, Apr 2, 2010 : 1:28 p.m.

Funny how we can't have an educated opinion on the program that we grew to love. Or how we're supposed to support the culprit who robbed us of winning seasons because of stupidity and arrogance. There has been very little to be happy about in our Football program because how it was run. And we're supposed to pat this dude on his back and say "we support ya" after all the negatives he's brought to the program. We are Michigan not Indiana! If RR wins this year and turns this thing around I would be ecstatic but based on what we have I can't be that optimistic. Even the late Terry Hoeppner went to a bowl at Indiana and his team progressed a little every year. There were no violations, personal lawsuits and his kids had few off the field problems. Even us "Haters" root for RR to make us a winning program but our own common sense says very different. A sad time to be a Michigan Fan.


Fri, Apr 2, 2010 : 11:49 a.m.

"we never have to brag to other people constantly that we are 'True Blue Huge Fans', etc" Funny. Instead you just tell everyone else they aren't real fans.

Terry Star21

Fri, Apr 2, 2010 : 11:40 a.m.

AMaizeNBlue... good for you... that was very well written, from the heart.... the good thing about you, me Theo, BlueSC, Voiceofreason and other UM faithful (that you have described) is - we never have to brag to other people constantly that we are 'True Blue Huge Fans', etc.,.... because we know inside, and if you 'have it you don't have to flaunt it'! Man... I am having trouble sleeping waiting for that Spring Practice Game - anyone else? Those who stay - will become Champions...... and those UM Faithful already are!

Mitch Johnson

Fri, Apr 2, 2010 : 11:03 a.m.

Why do so many people think the 3-3-5 is a gimmick D, a spread only D, or is unable to stop the run? It's all about personnel not alignment. Go big up front and walk Roh up to the line and it's a 4-3. A 3-3 can look like a 3-4, a 4-3, even a 5-2 if you want. Just like a base 3-4 can look like a 3-3 or a 4-3. Don't get caught up with base alignments. 3-3-5 allows for an infinite numer of blitz and stunt combos and pre snap movment. Defense is gap responsibility, solid fundementals, sound technique, tackling, and making reads. Do that and it does not matter what you run.


Fri, Apr 2, 2010 : 8:50 a.m.

Who said anything about "we" or "our"? I'm not down with the RichRod experiment. This isn't Michigan football, but I'm not a Michigan man either, so we're even.


Fri, Apr 2, 2010 : 8:38 a.m.

I think this defense will work with the speed that RR has recruited for OUR TEAM! You are either a UM football fan or you are not! What do you think Bo would say to all those "fans" who are calling for the coaches head and predicting a horrible season. I think he would tell you to go root for that team down south and get the hellouta here! We are UM faithfull and we root for our team no matter what the circumstances! I am sick and tired of hearing all the naysayer's talk like they know football better than the coaches who eat, sleep, and drink football 24/7! If you think RR is just collecting a paycheck and doesn't care about UM football you're stupid!! Take a look at the new found wrinkles and grey hair he has from worrying and working to make all you people shut up!! I am sure these are the same people who wanted Carr fired after the 2007 season. Things you need to worry about are family safety, job, financial stability. Personally I cannot wait until we get our 8 to 10 win season this year and these message boards are filled with people who have changed their tune about RR. For the first time in 2 years we will not have a freshman QB. For the first time in 3 years we will have the same DC. For the first time in 2 years we will have atleast a starting offense and defense that have played college ball. Yes, our team will still be mostly underclassmen, but all that means is we will have them for a few more years to kick everyones you know what!!! Go blue! and Screw OSU!!!


Fri, Apr 2, 2010 : 7:26 a.m.

voiceofreason if Michigan goes to a bowl I'll go as my wife is an alumnus (who is embarrassed what RR has done) if they don't make a bowl will you admit Martin screwed up and hired the worse possible coach for a tradition rich program like Michigan.


Thu, Apr 1, 2010 : 11:04 p.m.

Illnois and Purdue were supposed to be easy wins last year. I am thinking nothing is a guaranteed win. Take out the gaudy stats against D2 Delaware State and the offense was not overly impressive. The defense is losing its two best players with a new system. Seems like a recipe for disaster. I am even more concerned that RR is so set in his offensive philosophy, but is pliable to change every year on defense. Championships are won with defense period. I will just point to Alabama, and OSU


Thu, Apr 1, 2010 : 10:49 p.m.

I am a UM fan and have been for 40 years. I still hope for the best but cant believe how we are content to hope for, pray for, crawl to a 6 or 7 win season. Wow how the mighty have fallen. I will say this: if we DO lose the first two games, Conn. and ND, starting 0-2 the season will quickly unravel.

Terry Star21

Thu, Apr 1, 2010 : 10:18 p.m.

I read quite a bit of commenters here saying, 'we', 'our' and 'us', and then go on to bash the coach and team.... come on - your not UM Football faithful... your own team is pitiful, disappointing, etc., so you register a name (might sound UM) and then try to bash UM Football. At least be honest, if you need to bash UM Football then do it, we've taken it for 131 years, but please don't act like your a UM fan, student, etc. Now, how great is it to have Robinson, a former NFL coach at UM Football, you know it's just a matter of time when UM FB's defense is #1 in the nation. You have to agree that altering your defense depending on the personal is needed... not sure about every year, but then I believe in coach Robinson. Altering Defense for Personnel - great........... Altering every year - not sure


Thu, Apr 1, 2010 : 9:57 p.m.

I keep hearing how "we almost made a bowl last year" blah, blah, blah. Sure, we were one win away from 6-6 and a bowl, but we were also a mere 7 points away from being 3-9. Think about it, 2 late, come from behind wins is all that seperated us from a repeat of 2008. I think we'll be lucky to see 6-6. UConn was a young team last year, a bowl team BTW. Kelly will have a successful year at ND, the guy can coach and has been a winner where ever he's been. BG was a bowl team last year too, don't forget. UMass, IU, and UofI are the only games that I think we'll have an advantage against. The offense may, MAY, be better than last year, but the defense will most definitely not be better, particular now that we've paired up the gimmick offense w/a gimmick defense. 3-9 or 4-8 are what we're looking at next year, IMO.


Thu, Apr 1, 2010 : 9:13 p.m.

Michigan had so many close loses last year and were still only one win away from a bowl game. Obviously, we can make a bowl in 2010.


Thu, Apr 1, 2010 : 9:03 p.m.

NoBowl4Blue, I've got a question for you. When Michigan makes a bowl this year, what are you going to change your name to? Or are you just going to fade away into obscurity?


Thu, Apr 1, 2010 : 8:36 p.m.

Conn. is a better team than you may think. I will put in toss up with a heavy lean towards Conn. Kelly will have his team ready even with the question marks and I believe has better talent than Michigan. Weiss always recruited great but sucked as a coach. Michigan has been set back several years after making the mistake of hiring RR.


Thu, Apr 1, 2010 : 8:23 p.m.

Michigan will go 8-4 If we beat an average Uconn team we should be 5-0 heading into the MSU game, which could also very well be a win... I probably will get attacked for this but whatever. Also, i think we will be able to beat a suspect Iowa team @ home during our homecoming...if all this can happen that would put us at 7-0 going into the penn state game for a likely loss. 7-1 at that point, i would take. Either way, Go Blue and support your coach...


Thu, Apr 1, 2010 : 8:15 p.m.

getting to 6-6 by winning the toss up games is gonna be tough. Michigan's weakness is defense. nd's new coach's strength is offense. It doesn't look good for michigan against nd. Hard to tell about u-conn, strong coaching tacticians could really put it to u of m. i give us bowling green and mass. I hope we get u conn and indiana. We could get msu, ill, purdue but probably not all three. 6-6 is positive thinking.


Thu, Apr 1, 2010 : 7:41 p.m.

nobowl, I don't believe in RR at all, but even I see UM beating UConn and ND. 8-4 is probable, but the 3-3-5 is geared to stopping the Indiana's and Purdue's of the world, not the power teams like Wisconsin and OSU. Unfortunately, to climb to the top of the Big 10 (and therefore the BCS/NC), you've got to beat the top teams in the league. I don't foresee the 3-3-5 as being a defense geared to do that.


Thu, Apr 1, 2010 : 6:29 p.m.

"6-6 best case" I would agree with that but I ND a loss? New coach, QB/WR gone. I don't have an opnion as I havn't read that much into them, but I always think ND is pretty bad.


Thu, Apr 1, 2010 : 5:40 p.m.

Loses to Conn., Notre Dame, Iowa, Penn St, Wisc and OSU toss ups: MSU, Ill, Purdue wins: Mass, BG, Indiana 6-6 best case


Thu, Apr 1, 2010 : 3:28 p.m.

I hope Williams improves quite a bit from last season, when he didn't look very good most of the time. But, one of the keys this year is to find 5-6 guys on the D-line the coaches can cycle through the lineup during a game to keep people fresh. One big problem last year was playing the starters too much. Guys like Banks, Patterson, and Campbell have to bust out and provide quality play. And of course, the linebackers have to play MUCH, MUCH better. Obi needs to have an outstanding senior year - unlike last year's junior season.


Thu, Apr 1, 2010 : 2:54 p.m.

Too little too late.. they'll be lucky to go 4 and 8.