Coaching Points: Michigan State 2015 Spring Game

Base Offense: Pretty even between 21 and 11 personnel, with some 12 personnel which I bet you see more of in the season. Lot's of man blocking, lots of run game variety.

Base Defense: Still Cover 4 MEG. 3-3-5 nickel package.

QB - Cook looked great. He had one bad decision when he got "sacked" and threw an INT, but the missed post route was on Shelton who didn't run the seam against a one-high safety (he ran the post because the FS came down to cover the first post through; but you can't make up your route adjustments as you go). I believe it was Cook's first throw of the game that was most impressive though, on the intermediate cross. That's a pass that isn't open until it completely gets to the opposite side of the field because Colquhoun had good coverage, but he threw it over the top and to the outside with good ball velocity and trajectory. Those are the throws that tantalize NFL scouts. Didn't see him have to make a lot of complex reads, but he looked to make the correct reads when asked to.

O'Connor was a little more hit and miss. His first fade, while completed, didn't have a very good trajectory and really wobbled coming out of his hand. He made some nice throws though, it just looked like he had some happy feet back there and the OL didn't help him out being split didn't help him. From what I saw, I wouldn't be overly concerned if O'Connor was forced in to the lineup. Obviously, Cook is ahead by a solid margin, but I saw traits in O'Connor's game that would allow him to suffice if pressed into duty. He just needs to get more comfortable in live action and with a stronger OL.

RB - I know London had the big carry, but I think Holmes was pretty clearly the guy based on what I saw. London has a bit better burst, but he still looked tentative going into contact, had much more wasted motion, and I think was further behind with pass pro. The biggest issue for London was that he isn't getting high enough in the pocket with his pass protection and is still taking to long to diagnose where pressure is coming from. This tentativeness is likely due in part to simply not getting enough reps yet, but at the end of the day, I don't think he's ready to handle the bulk of the carries. He can make for a nice change of pace back, and the burst I saw through the first level indicates he'd be a good 3rd down back that can run some draws and things of that nature where there is a little more space, but he has work to do in several aspects of his game.

Dale G. Young/Detroit News
Holmes wasn't a whole lot better in pass protection, but was marginally better in that you could mostly feel somewhat comfortable with him back there. This will be the biggest difference between Langford and whoever steps in this coming season. Tripping Cook, for instance, was on Holmes for not completing his run action sufficiently or abandoning it to get into his set. You need to clear the QB and get up in the pocket before you get into the block or you need to abandon the run action if you don't believe you can get there doing that, otherwise what happened happens, which is why Cook was upset. But as a ball carrier I really liked his footwork. I think it was Holmes first carry that really made me reevaluate where I thought he'd be for this season. His feet get up and down very quickly, he saw a small hole, threatened the edge a bit, and squeezed through the hole and into the 2nd level. Very quick feet in the hole, can squeeze to get through smaller gaps, and then keeps churning on contact (it was the same run where he carried the pile for 5 or so yards). Less of a homerun threat than London, but I think a much better down-to-down back right now. I'd still like to see him be a little more consistent though. There was an inside zone run where Williams stepped up from the secondary, had to fill a pretty decent size hole, and fairly easily squared up Holmes, got underneath him, and made a nice tackle. Those are the plays that you want to see him either get low and pick up 5 yards or make a man miss in the hole.

FB - A few mistakes, some in pass pro and some in the run, but overall not bad. Most of the mistakes (and the OL suffered from this a few times) was not diagnosing well enough how the DE was charging. Pendleton, in one instance, tried to cut a DE that was anchoring rather than charging, and the DE was able to use his hands to push him into the ground and make a play on the ball carrier. Some mistakes that looked like were on them were actually on the OL, FWIW, though, on plays where some of the younger OL didn't identify the correct defender to block.

Pendleton is still far ahead here, which shouldn't surprise as he was a plus FB last year. My biggest issue with Lucas is that it looks like he's still trying to pop guys every time he gets into a block. He's got to be smarter with how he blocks and understand when to latch and drive or seal and things of that nature. Still a bit raw in the details yet.

TE - I liked what I saw from Lyles as a more polished player. He ran better routes than last year, a bit more crisp and better sinking and coming back to the ball. This allows him to be more of a threat on the intermediate routes rather than just routes breaking outside like he has been the past couple years.

I still like the combination of blocking/pass catching that Price brings. He had a couple really nice blocks, one where he had an outside release on a DE and got out to the SAM, latched on about 5 yards deep, and then drove him another couple yards. Those are things that spring big plays. The ability to get movement out of TE blocks really helps the run game.

But that's a great combo at TE right now. Lyles is still probably a bit more of an H-back, while Price can be an in-line guy or H-back, but their talents lead me to believe that 12 personnel should be a pretty decent chunk of MSU's offense this coming fall (it's always been there, but I expect a little more of it this year).

WR - I thought Arnett looked like they guy he was recruited to be. Nice speed and good feet underneath, he should contribute. Kings is pretty much the same player he looked like last year, which is a good thing. Troup is what he is at this point, he can win some jump balls and such, but athletically he just struggles to gain any separation or threaten deep. Barksdale looked like Walk-ons typically do, I don't expect you'll see much from him.

Eric Seals, Special to the Free Press
Overall, you'd like to see the WR group get a little more separation from the defenders. Burbridge was out, and he really stepped up his game in the Cotton Bowl, but it's still to be seen if he can do that consistently without the major help of Lippett taking attention away from him. Someone at the opposite outside receiver position needs to step up though, otherwise MSU may be playing two slot types at the off-line positions, which isn't the worst thing, but limits some of what they would like to do.

OL - I think the starting OL group is pretty well established, but the young guys really looked like young guys out there. But J. Allen looked great, flat out. It was his smart block that sprung the long run by Clark on the throwback. He really played well throughout. And while Clark still is a little sloppy in his footwork at the OT position, he showed again that he is a good enough athlete to get the job done. I wouldn't have any issue with him at OT, and MSU does enough with their run game variety to still utilize him as a pull player in space from that position. Conklin didn't have his best day and looked a little sloppy on some fundamental things (not getting enough depth on his drop before opening up; trying to cut a DE from too far away and letting himself get pushed into the ground), but that's just an off day for a guy that otherwise is a first or second day draft pick when he declares. B. Allen is a guy I didn't see a lot of, which isn't at all a bad thing, it means he did his job.

But some of the other younger guys...Salmon got completely abused by LT and McDowell, and it wasn't all the DTs doing great things. Beedle has a long ways to go yet, especially in the mental aspects of the position (he's a FR and was playing DT in the fall, so it's to be a expected a bit). Machado didn't really impress in his individual things. But I still speak here from an individual standpoint, other aspects are difficult to tell, as always, with a split OL and a few guys out.

DL - Looked good as far as the starting 4. LT made a few mistakes from the 3T position that he made at times last year (getting out of his lane, not finding the ball, etc) that, with MSU's talent up front, you like to see him do away with. This is a front four, at least as far as the starters, that can overwelm a lot of OLs, but they have to play within their jobs. But other than that, LT still has a great first step, even displaying it once at DE, albeit against one of the younger OTs. But that first step on the interior really allows him to get into interior OL quickly and overwelm them a bit, making him a very disruptive player on the inside. I really expect MSU to run more of the Dog blitzes (OLB blitzing the D gap, DE angle inside to C gap), especially with LT's quickness inside.

McDowell really flashed, making some very impressive plays and for the most part holding up to doubles well, but still want a little more consistency there. There was a spin move he pulled (again, on one of the younger OL) that was really nice. The spin move is not an easy move for DL to pull off, because a lot of young guys waste too much motion and don't gain ground with it (meaning they don't win their shoulder behind the OL's shoulder), but McDowell cleared the OL and had a free shot at the QB.

Calhoun is what Calhoun is. He's a really good player. Not much more to say there.

The backup DEs still have some work. I thought Cooper was the next best because I thought he held up against the run better than Sweat and Jones. He flashed a little better hand usage and stayed low a little better than the other guys. Sweat and Jones really struggled a bit against the run, particularly when asked to angle inside, where on a Power O run one of them got really washed inside. Need to be stronger at the point of attack from the DE position in this scheme. Both look to be more pass rush specialists at this point.

LB - Bullough is so far ahead of Jones right now. It's not even close. I was more impressed than I thought I was going to be with Bullough, and very unimpressed with what I saw from Jones.

Jones was late diagnosing plays, late reacting, and struggled in the wash. I really expected him to look more comfortable at the MIKE position, particularly going up against an offense he was familiar with, but he looks like he's fallen behind.

Dale G. Young/ Detroit News
Bullough, on the other hand, was instinctive and made plays he needed to make. More so, he was very physical. One play he picked through the wash, got low, wrapped up really nice, drove through the RB's hips and didn't let him get forward lean. That's what you want out of a MIKE. I was on record saying I preferred him at SAM, but he may have changed my opinion in the spring game.

The OLBs were a little hit or miss. The young guys have some fundamental things they need to clean up (which shoulder to attack with, for instance), but they recovered pretty well. Harris is a nickel LB, nothing more, he struggled in the box and got caught flat footed, which you can't in MSU's scheme at LB; but he should be a plus player against certain schemes as an apex LB to the field.

Harrel did some nice things, but still young.

Owens I thought struggled in a few instances, one in particular where he tried to wrong arm a trap block and wasn't nearly physical enough, which just ended in him with his back turned to the play and washed out. Harrington is a bit limited athletically, but I thought he made some plays out there, which was nice to see.

Frey is pretty much who everyone though he was. He needs to improve technique, but he's a downhill, physical, straight line player. He'll make some mistakes, but he'll overcome some of those mistakes with his tenacity. I still think he might be a year away from being an every down player, but he should be very good in the role of a situational blitzer in this scheme (assuming he gets a little bit of the timing and technique down, particularly when asked to blitz on the interior; but he certainly has the tools for it), though we didn't see a ton of blitzing from him in the Spring Game.

I'd also like to mention Harrison. He's a little athletically limited, and it showed at times, but he also made some plays and got the job done quite a few times. That's a kid who could contribute at some point this year. Still would like to see more consistency there, as there were times where his lack of athleticism put him a little behind the 8 ball, but I liked seeing him out there making plays.

CB - Copeland still has some work to do, particularly on his jam technique. Was a bit late with his hands and cheated a little bit inside, allowing for a really clean release a few times on the outside and not being able to control the receiver with his body. But he is a long player that showed some decent speed, just has some work to do before seeing the field regularly.

 Colquhoun (I'm probably not spelling it correctly) looked solid in man but struggled identifying some crossers when he stuck with zone. Overall, not a bad showing though, and I think he's in the starting lineup based on what I saw. Much more fluid turning and mirroring his man.

Still waiting for Hicks to be physical at the point of attack. This is a guy that has the tools, but the game (or the scheme MSU is running) just doesn't seem to be completely clicking for him in terms of technique at times. I want to see more from him.

I saw more MOD coverage than I saw last year, and I think that's a weakness for the CBs right now (because they don't run it as much), but looked to me like something they were working on for going into the season (I'll get into this more with another post a bit later this spring/summer).

Safety - Big improvement here I think. Last year, these were guys that flashed a lot, in both the positive and negative direction. I know this isn't a scheme that tested them as much as some others, but I thought Nicholson was much improved on his angles and when to break down and when to work over the top. Williamson I was very impressed with as well. Made some really nice reads against bunch sets, was in the action coming down hill, filled some really nice run lanes. The safeties had a really nice day. I expect big things from them this year.

Dale G. Young/ Detroit News
Schematic - BTN loves tight camera angles, so determining coverage is typically an art form in and of itself. I thought I saw more MOD coverage (MOD = Man on Demand; MEG = Man Everywhere he goes), and MSU looked like they may have flashed a little Cover 1 when they went to the Dog stunts (LB hits D gap, DE slants inside to C gap), but I couldn't really tell; looked like a single high behind it though and CBs didn't open up like Cover 3. But I thought for the most part it was their standard Cover 4 MEG with a 6/5 coverage behind their 5/6 man pressures from the 3-3-5 (6 coverage is 3 high, 3 underneath; 5 coverage is 3 high, 2 underneath). So new wrinkles some have hinted at (or running some of the old wrinkles more often), but they didn't show their hand much.

Still a lot of run game variety from the offense. I have to do a post about it. I love that they utilize the trap play. But MSU's offense does a lot with the blocking schemes, it's really impressive and something that I'll get into a bit more in the coming months.

Raw Notes (1st Half)
Weak I to start. MSU in typically Cover 4 press. McDowell blows up Salmon with a great first step. But help comes from the side and can contain him. Pendleton really doesn't do enough with his kick block. DE to weakside is not coming hard, but Pendleton still attempts to block low. He needs to square up and block (not lunge) if DE isn't charging hard inside. London also needs to do better here with pass pro. TE chips and releases as third option, but London fails to step forward and meet the DE after this. He catches him almost with the DE on top of the QB. This puts pressure on the QB off a 3 step drop. Copeland does a really poor job with his press at the BCB position. Very late with his hands, cheats inside, and allows a perfectly clean release outside on the fade. When he flips his hips and can't control at all with his body and there is a 2 yard gap between receiver and defender. Boundary Safety (Meyers) cheated down too much for what wasn't much of a PA. With no vertical threat to his side, he has to provide over the top help. O'Connor could put a little more air on this ball to help out his receiver, but Troup does a nice job basket catching this one high over his shoulder. Copeland did recover nicely to make the tackle, but he needs to do better at the point of attack.

Love the trap play, and MSU goes to the short trap here that pulls an OG to block the backside DT. IZ from the rest of the OL with the FB kick blocking playside (picture page). Thomas does a really poor job here, getting sucked way too far upfield on the playside (opposite the trap block) and taking himself and Cooper out of the play. Harris is extremely slow diagnosing this play, and the TE is 5 yards downfield blocking him before he reacts down hill. Two OL allowed to release to the MIKE (need more from McDowell at the nose when they are trap blocking you. I like what Price is doing downfield, as he latches on his block and starts driving. Would like to see London be more natural in the 2nd level; too much wasted motion and passive going into contact (slowed his feet before contact). Blocking was great though.

This defensive stop is due to Harrington, who comes down at the point of attack and meets the pulling OG (Power O) in the backfield and gets into his legs. I'd like to see Padla do a little better with this block as he comes around too high and lets to LB cut him down. Nicholson and Jones in the mix as they come through unblocked and do a nice job making a play behind the LOS. London better hand onto the football.

MSU goes X Snag. Troup really doesn't do enough with his route here. He doesn't pick off the LB who can cover the swing, and he doesn't drive Copeland off the ball. Absolutely no separation on Copeland on the snag route. I like that Copeland controls Troup with his hands and then finds the QB to get the PBU. Apparently got a little too handsy and got a PI.

Salmon having a rough day and clearly struggling with the DTs. This time, LT has his way with him with a great first step and shoving him backward, cutting off the pulling OG. Jones and McDowell get sufficiently handled on the playside, particularly McDowell who gets swallowed (but maintains) the double. (This is lead power O, the TE kicks and the FB leads through the hole). If the pulling OG could get playside this would have been a nice gain, but London was forced to drop his head and pick up what he could. (picture page)

MSU switches up the coverage a bit and brings the SAM. But Harrington gets sucked into the PA in that direction, and so does McDowell who gets caught peaking inside as he is mistakenly left unblocked by the LT. Not sure what the coverage was behind as angle is too tight.

MSU OL having some issues picking up the zone blitz. MSU D only brings 4 from the 3-3-5 look and two get left unblocked. Padla has at least one of the issues.

/Missed FG

MSU goes PA. OL picks up the WILL blitz well. Cook drops and absolute dime over the top of the defender to Arnett, who is covered well (Colquhoun), but does a great job bringing int his pass.

MSU goes to counter dart (picture page - long trap with the OT pulling and kicking the DE). Really great feet from Holmes here, who squeezes through a narrow hole and gets vertical and then drives the pile.

Go to Counter F to the weakside. Ball is actually received on backside of play though. Bullough does a really nice job here, making a play he really has no business making. Two things though, Beedle blocks the wrong guy (should be down blocking to MIKE, takes OLB; same guy the FB is blocking) so Bullough is free. But Bullough still picks through the wash and makes a play at Holmes legs, getting through his legs and wrapping up very nicely. This is a play that would have bounced and gone for a decent gain if not for that play.

Tight End Around to Lyles. A play that I do not think is in enough teams playbook. Like the playcall. Need more out of Lucas (FB) here on Frey. Frey actually takes himself a bit out of the play by dipping his head and losing the ball carrier. He dips inside of the FB and should be sealed, but Lucas never squares on him and instead keeps shoulder blocking him and almost trying to box him out. This allows Frey to fight back into the play and forces the pulling OG to block Frey, negated the extra blocker MSU would have otherwise had.

Clark gets a little sloppy with his footwork at the RT position, but does a really nice job recovering. This was a play that he looked like he was about to have Calhoun whoop him with a fake outside, swim back in, but Clark regained inside leverage. The same can't be said for Beetle, who didn't get depth, and then worked lateral and gave up an easy inside move on the DE on that side. Cook does well to subtly work backward but keep his eyes on the crossing route and make a nice throw while retreating. Would like to see a little better recogniton here from Williamson to identify the drag.

The old throwback screen to the OT. Clark actually shows quick hands here to make the snag, as Cook throws it a bit hot and high to the tackle. It's Jack Allen that springs this play though. Does a great job with his eyes working them back inside and identifying the inside threat that is coming very flat to the LOS. His block springs this play from a negative play to a big gain.

Short trap. Owens has to do better here as he's getting trap blocked. But he's too high and tries to wrong arm but is not disruptive (if you wrong arm technique and you aren't disruptive, you only take yourself out of the play.

/TD White

Need better from Conklin here on the cut block. Cooper does well with his hands keeping some distance, but Conklin needs to get through the knee if he's going down to the ground he doesn't. But still, nice play by Cooper, then he goes on to show why he isn't a LB. Gotta stay on back shoulder of ball carrier and trace inside to out. Gets too far and lets Kings have a nice cutback. Jones needs to do better from his MIKE position as well, as he gets too deep and then trips in the wash. So both cutback defenders lose their assignment, and it allows a big gain.

Nice slip screen to Price.

Jones late reacting down again, catches the block and allows a gain that shouldn't have been as big.

Conklin having a bit of a rough showing, this time getting beet by LT on the first step. Conklin does not get the depth he needs to get and allows the speed rush by him. McDowell with a great spin move on Salmon, who can't get his hands on him. Looked very fluid on thee spin and got behind the OL clean. O'Connor does a nice job relieving pressure by escaping brielfy right and finding the open receiver.

/picutre cuts out until 6 left in 2nd).

Another mix up by Beedle, who looked like he thought the TE was staying in to block. Calhoun gets the sack.

Lyles tried the hook and ladder, but the drag route that is supposed to be the ladder gets jammed off as the MIKE does a nice job picking off the crossing receiver underneath. More troubling and Colquhoun being late breaking on the hitch route from Lyles. WR to his side goes on a drag and he releases him inside and plays his MOD coverage. Him and Morrissey were both late breaking on the hitch.

Cook has Shelton wide open, but didn't "throw to open". Cousins talks about exit angle from Shelton, but exit angle is based on coverage. The coach was talking to Shelton after, so I guess Shelton didn't adjust appropriately to the coverage, but to me it looked like Cover 0 that Shelton read correctly (my guess is it was actually Cover 3 and the FS picked up the first post, so Shelton is to run the seam not the post).

Nice job by Harrel filling the alley. Would like to see him make the play initially, as he goes low and leaves his feet (drops his head, a big no-no), but him being where he is allows the defense to pursue on Nicholson end around.

Great throw from Cook on the backshoulder fade. Think Barksdale and Cook are on different page. Barksdale doesn't adjust well to it and doesn't get Edmondson to sell deep before working back to ball (Barksdale late tracking the ball and working back to it).

Williamson identifies this play very well and gets outside the rub receiver just as he's taught to do (MSU's outside WRs  need to be better getting into their routes, but vs press coverage on outside it can be tricky).  Williamson maintains outside leverage and forces Arnett back inside but still makes the play.

Think it was LT that laid the wood from the RB position for an essential pass pro pick up.

Someone running wrong routes. Three guys in same spot. Cook through to wide open guy, but dropped.

MSU goes 3-3-5 and drops a 5 coverage. Beedle having a rough day as R. Bullough gets in free. "Sacked" before not making a good choice on a thrown INT.

\end half

Inside Zone to Holmes. Williamson with a hell of a fill from the 3rd level. Then MSU D has two more defenders at point of attack.

\can't see shit from this angle

Holmes was a little tentative in hole, but kept feet moving on contact, fought out of an ankle tackle, and made a nice gain.

Nice, downhill run from Holmes. Not much of a hole for him and you'd like for him to stay square here, but feet are churning on 3rd down rush.

Gotta clear your feet if you're Holmes. He's too tentative on pass pro here, slowing down when he sees Calhoun get free on edge. You can't slow down, you need to break off PA if you can't get wide enough. Slow down, and your feet get tangled with your QB.

Nice hot read by Cook. Morrissey needs to lock this play down though, but lets Arnett back inside of him. Pursuit is coming but a bit of over-pursuit. Still, defense is solid after Arnett slipped back to the backside.


Long trap. E. Jones does a really poor job here. He's trying to pinch inside on a SAM blitz, but gets inside and then absolutely driven out of the play completely. Need to be under control, need to stay low, need to have leverage. S. Jones still too passive at the MIKE spot, catches a 2nd level block, and the run lane was clear for London who showed good burst through 1st level.

No one finished the play on the Counter F. Jones over runs it, rest of D lets up, and London keeps his feet moving and squeezes through for a big gain. Hicks needs to be stronger at the POA.

O'Connor had the corner route to the wide side but was late with it or didn't trust it, went back to the corner route on the other side and over-threw Price.