Watch U-M football defensive coordinator Don Brown meet with media at Schembechler Hall on Thursday morning.
Junfu Han/Detroit Free Press
Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown gave a football tutorial using reporters as props Thursday afternoon. Don’t worry, he didn’t insist anyone put on pads.
Even if we had, no amount of padding would keep Brown from demolishing us if he’d wanted to. We’re sportswriters, and he’s a football coach. And, damn, I’m shaking as I’m typing here.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh may eclipse the sun – especially if the sun were stealing his spotlight – and he’s entertaining to watch on the sidelines during games, but even he might not be as animated, or intense, as Brown.
U-M’s second-year defensive coordinator brought an attacking style to the Wolverines’ defense last season. Now he’s got to do it minus 10 starters, many of whom are playing in NFL camps at the moment.
Despite the incoming youth, the philosophy isn’t changing. Not as long as Brown is here.
“We are going to be aggressive,” he said. “That’s just the way we play defense.”
I mean: Yes, coach.
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Brown may be 62, but his intensity hasn’t aged at all. Good thing, too. Because he will need all that passion to help teach the youngsters. How quickly they catch on is the key to the season.
Well, that and the quarterback play, and the receiver play (they’re young, too), and the offensive-line play. And, well, you get the idea. U-M is young. Very young.
But don’t let that be an excuse for what’s out there for Brown’s defense this fall. Or, for that matter, what’s out there for these Wolverines, period.
They are talented. Maybe as talented – or more – as they were a year ago. And these days, coaches don’t get the excuse of youth.
Just look at Ohio State last season. Sure, they got blitzed by Clemson in the College Football Playoff.
But, they got there. Primarily by beating a far more experienced U-M team. These Wolverines should have the skill to do something similar.
They get the Buckeyes at home (let’s face it, it’s time for Harbaugh to beat OSU.) They get Michigan State at home; not that it matters. They get to open against an SEC team that is not Alabama.
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Yes, Florida isn’t Air Force, and will provide a good test. Which gives Brown and his defensive staff not quite a month to get ready.
“Lot of learning to do,” he said.
And what has he learned so far?
That it’s “fun to go to work every day.”
Great, coach. But what else?
“That it was a good start (the) first three days.”
Brown said the first two days of camp essentially meant his players were wearing “pajamas.” You know, running around in shorts and T-shirts and helmets.
On Wednesday, they added shoulder pads. At that point, he could start to see what his defense is going to be.
More than anything, he wants to see leadership. Wants to identify the handful of players who can exert calm when adversity arrives.
“Who is going to provide that rock?” he asked.
Well, he’s seeing those qualities in linemen Maurice Hurst and Rashan Gary and in linebacker Mike McCray. That’s helping him sleep.
So is the talent he’s seeing when he gets to practice, despite the search for 10 new starters. The challenge in the next month is to teach them how he wants to play and, more important, to teach them how to play fast.
That means not thinking as much as reacting. This allows for increased pace and tempo, two words Brown uses a lot.
Without them, he can’t create the kind of chaos and unpredictability he likes to unleash on an offense. And so, he will push. And bark. And instruct.
And demonstrate, as he did Thursday in the lobby of Schembechler Hall, positioning himself among a few reporters to illustrate his attacking style.
Because he wanted us to see why he likes his cornerbacks to aggressively press receivers when the ball is snapped. Because he’s a coach, yes, but also because he’s a teacher, and showing is always better than telling.
A lesson to which sportswriters can relate.