On paper, Michigan only returns one starter from the nations No. 2 defense in 2016.
That's right, a defense that yielded only 253 yards per game.
But now, well, most of that defense is off to the NFL, and the Wolverines must reload.
So you would think preparing a relatively inexperienced defense this spring would be concerning for U-M defensive coordinator Don Brown and his staff, right?
Well while most of Michigan’s players lack big game experience, they certainly make up for it with their familiarity with Brown’s system. That's the opinion of U-M’s second year defensive coordinator anyways.
“It is a big difference,” Brown said in an exclusive interview with The Michigan Insider's Sam webb. “Last year when we were at this point, we were already in spring practice and everybody was learning, seniors, juniors, it really did not matter. Everybody was learning the system, where now, our younger guys or are youngest guys, at least have some guys that can help them in terms of alignment, assignment and direction.
“That’s a big deal.”
Brown, however, isn’t making any excuses. He knows what has coming back, and he’’s completely okay with it. Because one thing he’s not changing is his attitude on coaching, which, of course, is pushing his players as hard as they can go.
"I can assure you this, we’re going to put a pedal completely on the gas all spring and we’re going to find out if we can just pick up where we left off,” Brown said. “If we have to dial it back to some degree, we will, but we are not going to change the way we make our living.”
So U-M's aggressive style stays, says Brown, who pointed out U-M’s secondary will play the same way whether it has Jourdan Lewis and Jabrill Peppers back there or fresh faces in sophomore’s Lavert Hill and David Long Jr.
"If you even approached our young corners and said, ‘hey guys, you’re not capable of playing press or one of those types of scenarios,’ I think they’d fight you,” Brown said. “I think they’d fight you in the alley and I think we have got really talented guys. (Assistants) Mike Zordich and Brian Smith have a big challenge. We’ve got to get those young guys ready to play and no free access. When the quarterback goes back to pass and looks out there and there is not an eight-yard cushion, life can be a lot tougher. I don’t know what it was, right around 140 yards a game last year. We’d like to think that we can just keep our foot on the gas and keep moving forward, playing Michigan defense and that’s really our thought going into spring. I’m confident that we’re going to be able to do that.”
And it helps when you have player like junior Tyree Kinnel, says Brown, who noted that Kinnel filled in at both safety positions last season and became well versed in Brown’s coverages and assignments.
“We’re very happy with Tyree Kinnel and he has played a bunch now,” Brown said. “He wasn’t the starter, but he was that third safety for us that got to play a lot of football in our sub-package stuff. Now it is time for him to take a leadership role, grasp and teach some of the younger guys and he along with Khaleke Hudson who is doing a great job, Josh Metellus, the new guys, J’Marick Woods and Jaylen Kelly-Powell, we’re trying to get them solidified at strong and free safety, but all those guys have coverage skills. To be quite frank, they really need it to play in our system.”For more of Brown breaking down the his approach with his young defense, press play below.