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Posted on Tue, Mar 23, 2010 : 5:29 p.m.

Michigan football team hoping 3-3-5 defense solves some of its issues

By Dave Birkett


Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez speaks to reporters before Tuesday's spring practice.

Lon Horwedel |

Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez wants to give opposing teams a variety of different defensive looks this year, depending on what type of offense they run.

“We got to have enough in our package that it’s simple enough for our guys to understand yet have enough schemes to be in the right type of defense to face (a variety) of offenses,” Rodriguez said Tuesday, before Michigan’s fourth spring practice. “As we go through 15 practices, we’re going to look at a few of those things without making it overly complicated for the players.”

One concentration this spring is the 3-3-5 defense. Though Michigan gravitated toward that look last year, using safety Stevie Brown as a fourth linebacker, the scheme has evolved into a full-blown feature of the Wolverines’ playbook this year.

So far, players like it.

“I think it’ll be one of the best defenses for the type of athletes that we have,” cornerback Troy Woolfolk said. “It fits us well.”

Using three defensive linemen, three linebackers and five defensive backs, the 3-3-5 emphasizes speed and versatility over strength and power. The fifth defensive back is a hybrid-type player who can play both close to the line of scrimmage for run support and in the secondary for pass coverage.

“We’re taking it really step by step this year to kind of change the problems we had last year with blowing coverages and missing assignments,” Woolfolk said. “So I think as a whole defense we’re taking it on pretty good.”

From an offensive standpoint, guard Steve Schilling gave the new scheme his stamp of approval, too.

“I like it,” Schilling said. “There’s a lot of things they can do out of it.”

One player who stands to play a bigger role in the 3-3-5 is nosetackle Will Campbell.

The sophomore is seeing extended work this spring as starter Mike Martin recovers from a shoulder injury. At 6-foot-5 and 324 pounds, he has the makings of the run-plugger teams deploying three-man fronts covet.

“With Mike Martin being out he’s getting a lot of reps and I think he’s gotten better each day,” Rodriguez said. “We still got to get Will to play a little lower at times and he’s using his hands a lot better. But he’s had a pretty productive first three days and I think he’s going to continue to get better.”

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.



Fri, Apr 2, 2010 : 6:53 p.m.

good athletes will solve the problems.Tinker all u want Rod,you still need the bodies


Wed, Mar 31, 2010 : 12:45 a.m.

some of you people are clueless. How many of you have ever played football?


Thu, Mar 25, 2010 : 4:13 p.m.

@PortageLkBlu "Bo used to always say, win the big 10 then win the bowl game and everything else will take care of itself" I havent the time to run to Wikipedia, but i think my facts are accurate. Glen was the coach of Michigan for twenty something years. He won 5 bowl games. he failed to get to a bowl game 4 times. is that right?


Thu, Mar 25, 2010 : 12:05 p.m.

Listen to PortageLKBlu, me rikey the way things are shaping up. he King is about to set out and conquerer the land of the Big Ten.


Thu, Mar 25, 2010 : 9:10 a.m.

hill jk come on son get back on track let's talk football lets not give our phyciatric opinion of whatever. Come on boys and girls our Wolves are starting to shape up and I don't mean a traditional 10 bunch of Neanderthals I'm talking flash and style and some great entertainment. So what if we lost a few games we were getting left in the dust with the big boys and I'm not talking about the (boring) usual butt whippings we and the Bucs give the rest of the 10 I'm talking about "the big boys". I hear the same ol well we beat Florida a few yrs. ago what about that? Well, let's analyize that whole season, there ya go now ya get it, we couldn't sustain those kinds of wins all season, good morning. Under the oooolllldddd system we might beat a third world team then again we could very well lose, we beat Florida so we had a good year give me a break boys and girls if I can't beat a 3 yr. old child in a foot race I need to see the doctor. We are going to be just fine maybe great under RR, and maybe for once in a long time consistant. To beat up the big 10 and then lose your bowl game is not consistant at least not in my book. Bo used to always say, win the big 10 then win the bowl game and everything else will take care of itself, got it boys and girls, win the bowl game.


Wed, Mar 24, 2010 : 11:59 a.m.

"Yeah, the 3-3-5 is terrible. It didn't work at all when the Saints used it against the Colts in the Super Bowl. Uh, what was the final score of that game again?" Agreed but Indy WAS the worst rushing team in the league last year.


Wed, Mar 24, 2010 : 10:36 a.m.

Tressel is probably shaking in his shoes right now! Paterno may retire upon hearing the news! Or - they both might be rolling on the ground with laughter. If the 3-3-5 was functional, why wouldn't more teams be using it? Reading between the lines tells me that they don't have the guys around to run a real defense. I fear they will be lit up regularly - again!


Wed, Mar 24, 2010 : 9:40 a.m.

I agree, that this is a beautiful picture of our King.


Wed, Mar 24, 2010 : 8:55 a.m.

Yee of little faith, except in variations it's not going to be used cause as you all know playing in the 10 requires a mixed bag of tricks which in one form or another are being developed yes everyone is tired of hearing about our young players but the concept or excuse is not entirely confined to age it's also meant to concider the age of this new diversified system, when the age factor and some seasoning of this new style at Mich. combine then we'll be back on track and in a hurry probably signs of it this year and inevitable results next yr. This whole thing is not for the faint of heart, patience truly is a virtue. I suspect this thing that RR Is doing will pay off in big dividends but at the expense of some die hard Wolve. fans with anxiety issues. When this thing kicks in one of the incredible payoffs will be how unbelievably slow teams like Iowa, Wisconsin and Ohio State will appear. I truly have a vision of the incredible teams we will field and I mean in the near future most likely a taste of that this coming season.


Wed, Mar 24, 2010 : 8:52 a.m.

...did robinson run a 3-3-5- in the pros?? :\ Go Blue! v


Wed, Mar 24, 2010 : 1:17 a.m.

they could play a 5-5-10 and still get lit up.


Wed, Mar 24, 2010 : 12:39 a.m.

This defense could work, just need to get fast physical LBs. The NT will have to be Cambell big, DE's nig, fast and physical. Lets judge on this defense after next season. Who knows Greg Robinson was a DC in the NFL wit 2 Superbowl rings i think he knows wat he's doin. The defense has more size next year so it wont be as bad as last year. Go BLUE!!!!


Tue, Mar 23, 2010 : 9:22 p.m.

TeeBob, How about we wait until he doesn't have a freshman QB, injured RBs, and a functional OL before making sweeping generalizations. Sound fair?


Tue, Mar 23, 2010 : 9:20 p.m.

why not just play a 1-1-9? it will have the same effect


Tue, Mar 23, 2010 : 9:08 p.m.

Actually jax, those reasons would really make the wolverines afraid to use the 3-3-5 defense. vor, I like the "he is not a good coach" way mac put it just fine. Afterall, the coach couldn't change his offense to take advantage of a defensive short coming, or change the defense to stop anything that anybody was known to have as a signature offense. The horrible third quarters show that he cannot tweak anything from his game plan if things start to go south. That equals not a good coach. All I can do is hope something good comes out of this. Go Blue!!!!


Tue, Mar 23, 2010 : 9:03 p.m.

Rumor has it they may also go to a 2-4-5


Tue, Mar 23, 2010 : 8:41 p.m.

My comments will address the probability of success for the football team using the 3-3-5 defense this fall against teams in the Big Ten. Let's review the opposition and determine if there is a likely strong up-the-middle rushing attack. MSU - probably will not be able to continue its recent history of strong rushers like Javon Ringer and J. Caulcrick. PSU - Evan Royster - not as good as his statistics would indicate. OSU - had 3 rushers in top 10 within the Big 10, but that was probably just a fluke. Wisconsin - John Clay - will probably take time off when he hears about the 3-3-5. Iowa - they have 2 guys Robinson and Wegher - may transfer to the hockey team. Purdue - anybody heard of Ralph Bolden? Illinois - Leshoure they say is a sure thing, but I'm not so sure. Indiana - Darius Willis is probably over-rated after rushing for 607 yards as a freshman and scoring 2 TDs vs Michigan. So, I'd say our prospects for success are pretty good.


Tue, Mar 23, 2010 : 8:37 p.m.

I know we've seen some variations on this that have not worked out well in the past two seasons, maybe they've got the talent to make it work now, we'll see. I just hope this is Greg Robinson's idea and it's not being forced on him by RR and/or his defensive buddies since Robinson is the d-coordinator with the pedigree of top notch defenses at top notch teams on his resume. In Michigan I Trust.

Terry Star21

Tue, Mar 23, 2010 : 8:21 p.m.

What's going on here? UM isn't going to run the 3-3-5 every series, every down - read the article,"Rich R. wants to give opposing teams a variety of different defenses this year, depending on what type of offense they run..." The 3-3-5 does work, in certain situations... I for one will leave it up to Coach and his staff to call the right defense at the right time. In RichRod we trust!

Macabre Sunset

Tue, Mar 23, 2010 : 8:10 p.m.

VoR, I thought the ship has already sailed on that one. Do I need to outline what he has done to the greatest program in the history of organized football?


Tue, Mar 23, 2010 : 8:09 p.m.

The only thing that made me spend five minutes on this article was the adoration of our beautiful King pictured above... other than that... defense this, defense that... blah, blah, blah... BORING! This offense will be so damn scary fast and productive, defense will be a thing of the past! Long Coach The King


Tue, Mar 23, 2010 : 8 p.m.

ridiculous, absurd, stupid. 3-3-5 really? Teams are going to control the ball for 40 minutes a game and rack up hundreds of rushing yards against UM What a disaster


Tue, Mar 23, 2010 : 6:59 p.m.

Macabre, Why don't you start saying, "I don't believe he is a good coach" instead on "he is not a good coach". Us rational minded individuals would appreciate it.

Macabre Sunset

Tue, Mar 23, 2010 : 6:54 p.m.

Ken, college football is complex, and name-calling doesn't help your case. There are four elite conferences representing four major sectors of the country. The Big East and the ACC aren't as big. The ACC's reputation is helped by having three recent powers that have risen by existing in talent-rich areas. But if you add up the at-large selections to the BCS, you'll see the Big Ten and SEC way, way out ahead of the rest. And those schools will be able to win neutral-ground recruiting battles time and time again. The BCS is a political body, as are ranking systems. The reality of college football is different. And what RichRod did in the Big East is exposed as gimmickry in a major conference. He has shown an inflexibility in working with different talents. He is not a good coach. Again, I hope he proves me wrong, but the last two years have been shocking in how bad the team has performed given the athletes he had on that roster.


Tue, Mar 23, 2010 : 6:53 p.m.

Nickle defense eh? Could work. I wouldn't think so against a strong up the middle running team but we shall see.


Tue, Mar 23, 2010 : 6:11 p.m.

Macabre, Now that we have some serious talent in the secondary, the big plays given up should gradually diminish. We are not going to exclusively play the 3-3-5, but it is one of the packages.


Tue, Mar 23, 2010 : 6:08 p.m.

Not the 3-3-5! In the Big 10, that defense will get eaten up and spit out. Teams will run us out of the building.


Tue, Mar 23, 2010 : 5:24 p.m.

I saw a separate story about how the D would be simplified this year to allow more production and contribution from the youngest defenders. I'm not sure this is consistent with that overall goal, because a defense that wears down coupled with an offense that hurries at every chance = big problems. Macabre - your posts always seem relatively thoughtful, but are always negative. Your name suits you. I guess I would only add that Rodriguez got the job done big-time in the Big East (and in BCS bowls) and I can't understand how you'd suggest that's not a major conference. Your credibility suffers with ridiculous statements like that.

Terry Star21

Tue, Mar 23, 2010 : 5:14 p.m.

Rich Rod is making changes in a much needed area... this 3-3-5 defense should have been implemented more last year, as we got continually killed, including the short-out sidelines pass... this setup can evolve into several different options. I still really believe in Will Campbell, he is a sleeper just waiting to wake up and explode - I hope the more responsibility with him (if at nose) could make a huge difference... we do need Martin healthy. I think we should have a pre-Spring Practice Game on April 3.

Macabre Sunset

Tue, Mar 23, 2010 : 5:09 p.m.

That's the obvious knock on the 3-3-5, it's vulnerable to the inside run. If Campbell can stop two linemen from taking on the Mike every play, that's a big deal. But it also takes enormous discipline, because you have quicker, smaller defenders playing in more space. A couple of missed assignments, and you suddenly become a defense that gives up big plays. Which pretty much describes RichRod's defenses the last two years anyway. We're stuck with the schlump for another year, at least. Let's hope this works. No one would be happier than I to be proven wrong in my opinion that RichRod will never be a successful major conference college coach.