What George Helow said about Michigan football before Maryland

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Among his many travels as a coach, George Helow’s last stop before he came to Michigan was his one year at Maryland as a linebackers coach and special teams coordinator. On Saturday, he’ll be returning to College Park for the first time in another school color.

The Terrapins offense is formidable, but Helow knows all about it having coached against it for a year. On Wednesday, he shared more about what the Wolverines can expect as well as many defensive philosophy points, including how to defend shallow crossing routes, linebacker blitz timing, and even why Hassan Haskins is such a good running back for the maize and blue.

Here is everything Helow said at his Wednesday press conference.

List

What Michigan football OC Josh Gattis said before Maryland

On his return to Maryland

“Yeah, I’m fired up. Obviously, coached there last year. Had a lot of friends on that staff. Looking forward to the opportunity to watch the guys play.”

What has Junior Colson done so well to earn so much playing time?

“Junior just continues every week to understand what we’re doing, how the defense all fits together. He’s really been playing well. Between the tackle boxes, he’s like a tackling machine. Has a really good feel, has good natural instincts. He’s a young player, so the more experience he gets, the better he plays every week.”

What are the challenges of Maryland's offense?

“Well, they’ve got a really good passing game. They’ve got some receivers that are down, but the ones that are playing are still good players. I know that offense really well. They get the ball out fast. You’ve gotta challenge them and you’ve gotta be aggressive. They’ve done a really good job of recruiting and bringing players in that can make the one-on-one plays.”

Is Colson still in Josh Ross' hip pocket off the field?

“Josh is such an experienced player that a lot of the guys kinda lean on him. He’s a really good leader in our room, always helping all the guys. Junior’s learning what to do, and we preach on defense as a whole having obnoxious communication and always knowing what to do, and how to do it, and why it’s important to do it that way. Junior’s learning it and he’s doing a tremendous job.”

What makes Hassan Haskins such a special running back?

“I think Hassan is one of the best running backs in the country. He is just unbelievable. He’s a team guy, he plays on the punt team, so he understands the importance of team football and special teams. You’ll see play vs. Penn State where he’s blocking and hits the guy under the chin. Just plays like that make you love Hassan. And everybody sees what he does, he hurdles guys every week, he’ll run through you, he’ll run around you. I’m glad he’s on our team.

“I actually kid with Josh, too — ‘Send him over and he could play a couple snaps at linebacker, if you want!’

What has he made of Michael Barrett's performance and role thus far?

“So, Mike’s done a really good job all year on special teams. He’s earned the right to get some defensive reps. He’s done a really good job in practice — we have a package, ‘buffalo,’ where bigger personnel groupings come in and some plays that gets Mike on the field. He’s also in the rotation at dime. He does a good job, he understands the position. Mike can blitz, he can play man-to-man. Doing a really good job.”

How has the offense benefitted the defense?

“That starts with Coach Harbaugh and the tone that he sets. He does a great job of relating to us what we’re trying to do. The ultimate goal is winning the football game. The offense has done a great job this year of keeping us off the field in a lot of situations. When you’re limiting the reps that you have to play on defense, it allows those guys the rest and be fresh. It really helps us. Our running attack, as everybody knows, has been really good this year and it really helps the defense out a lot.”

How is the freshness helping the pass rush?

“It’s everything. You look at — this is the time of year when people are a little banged up. You could say that Maryland has got a couple receivers out, but everyone does. That’s horizontal, that’s across the board. The more you can stay off the field and limit the amount of reps, especially late in the season, that helps you out.”

How do the LBs develop blitz timing?

“Our guys up front have done a great job. Shaun Nua does a great job with our defensive line, our edge guys, as you know — Ojabo and Aidan Hutchinson, the list goes on. Mike Mo, Upshaw, Jaylen — they do a really good job of playing their technique. I think the defense has really tied in and everybody understands how to execute their individual assignments. So those guys doing a good job up front helps us at linebacker to play downhill and execute fast. We like striking blocks and staying square. We talk about blitzing all the time with speed and intensity and playing fast. Playing fast has to know what you’re doing on every play. I think guys understand that and do a good job. It’s a good question.”

How does he assess the LBs in pass coverage?

“Feel good about it. Starts with knowing what to do, putting your eyes in the right spot. A lot of people, whether you’re playing man-to-man or zone, if you don’t look at the right stuff, it’s hard to play. Starts with that and then understanding how they’re trying to attack in the passing game. A lot of teams — are they throwing perimeter? Are they getting the ball out fast? Are you getting the RPO stuff? Are you getting intermediate passing downs, say five to 12-yard range? And different hi-lo concepts and layer routes? Are they taking shots on the outside? So, having a good understanding week-to-week of how teams are trying to attack, that’s the first thing the linebackers have to understand. It’s a great question, because linebackers are tied into the fronts and they’re tied into the coverage, along with the safeties, too — especially at that position. Understand how they’re trying to attack and put your eyes in the right spot and execute.”

Penn State tried to attack the middle of the field, how did the LBs do there?

“There was one where we could’ve been better that hit down the middle. A lot of it guys, when you play zone coverage, your exit angles and the way that you take a departure angle has gotta be good. We talk all the time about vicing the football, if they throw and underneath route it’s not killing us. But if we twin tackle it and we use each other and keep the ball on our inside pad, keep our onside and outside leg free, and squeeze the football, then it can’t get out on us. It’s something that happens sometimes throughout the course of the game — tempo or they give you different looks, you make a mistake or have a mental error, that’s what we call it.

“But our guys, they understand it, what’s broke after the game, we look at the film and we fix it, we move on and we keep drilling it. We look forward to doing it the next week, you know?”

How does the defense defend the mesh concept?

“When teams play a lot of man-to-man, you get a lot of mesh concepts. They’re trying to pick you. It’s also check-down for first or second-level reads not there. It’s a common route that you get. A lot of offenses run it. You play some zone with it and you drive it from top-down and don’t let the guy run after he catches the ball. That’s a good way to defend it. But you see it, a lot of times you’ll get it when a receiver has got a short split or a condensed split. A lot of times you’ll get it out of a snug formation. A lot of the time offenses could give it away. It’s different from week to week, it’s something you study. We tell our guys and they look at the splits and they tie it together. We have really good communication across the board to know when we’re getting those certain plays.”

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