ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- A public-service announcement to Big Ten fans: the area code around here hasn't changed to 335.
Those three numbers have dominated the discussion about Michigan ever since the Wolverines began using the alignment more during spring practice. In recent weeks just about everyone has weighed in on the 3-3-5: who will go where, who fits the scheme and whether it will help the Wolverines' defense rebound from two subpar seasons.
Defensive coordinator Greg Robinson has some advice about the 3-3-5: don't get too bogged down with it.
"It's not about the schematics," Robinson told me Thursday. "It's about fundamentals. The fundamentals have got to improve. To the average fan, they want to know the schematics because that's Madden football. But wait a minute. Anybody can say they play two-deep coverage or anybody can say they're running the zone dog. But the fundamental techniques and all those things -- how you tackle, how you defeat a blocker -- that's what it's about."
The truth is Michigan will run the 3-3-5 at times in the 2010 season. The Wolverines will also use four-man fronts and bring extra linebackers to the line of scrimmage. Hybrid players like Craig Roh will play integral roles this fall, just like they did last year.
An alignment won't fix Michigan's defense unless the players can execute a lot better.
"It's work," Robinson said. "There's work ahead of us. The best thing is if we can get these young people to understand that. Can we get there? Yeah, if we work really hard at it, we will get there. But don't think that it's just like a magic wand.
"It's hard work to get good."
A few quick takeaways from Robinson:
The competition at middle linebacker is really heating up between Obi Ezeh and Kenny Demens, who has come on strong this spring. "This is a dogfight," Robinson said. "And I like it. It's amazing when you have competition, how much the improvement comes."
Like everyone else, Robinson praised the play of safety Cameron Gordon (more on Gordon next week) and also singled out safeties Thomas Gordon and Teric Jones for their play this spring. He also likes the improvement cornerback J.T. Floyd has made from last fall. Robinson expected Vladimir Emilien to return to practice Thursday after suffering a knee injury early in spring ball.
The defensive line has been dealing with injuries this spring, and Robinson said defensive tackle Renaldo Sagesse is the latest player to get banged up a bit. "We're hoping we can get him back [before the end of the spring]," Robinson said. "Because if we can really count on him as a guy that's in the constant flow, that's good."
Robinson started talking about William Campbell, pointing out that the sophomore defensive tackle needed to keep growing and developing. Then he caught himself. "He doesn't have to keep growing," Robinson said. "He's got to keep developing." Campbell checks in at 6-5 and 324 pounds this spring. "That's a never-ending battle," Robinson said of Campbell's weight and conditioning, "and he's realizing that. He's maturing. God, he was a 12th grader here last year at this time. God forbid what I was like back then."