The way Donovan Jeter sees it, last year’s season-opening demolition of then-No. 21 Minnesota was the worst thing to happen to the Michigan football team.
“We were feeling ourselves a little too much,” the fifth-year defensive tackle recounted on Tuesday, ten months later and two weeks into Michigan’s 2021 fall camp. “All the players were on social media. I don’t wanna say, ‘took our foot off the gas,’ like we weren’t preparing hard, (but) we started feeling ourselves too much. In college football, you can’t do that. It doesn’t matter who you play.”
The Wolverines learned that the hard way last year, slogging through a calamitous 2-4 campaign and reaching the nadir of the Jim Harbaugh era. By the time a COVID-19 outbreak brought the season to a merciless close, the victory over Minnesota seemed like a mirage.
Michigan’s defense played a significant role in the Wolverines’ demise. As a collective unit, it bottomed out as the third-worst defense in the Big Ten, sinking Michigan’s season along with it.
Those struggles induced an offseason overhaul. Out went defensive coordinator Don Brown, replaced by Mike Macdonald. In came a new scheme and an array of new philosophies.
“Coming from last year, we really didn’t have too much to really show our true talents,” Michigan safety Daxton Hill said. “Now I feel like we have more freedom, a lot more tools to work from, whether it’s our talent or the coaches’ calls. That comes with more abilities, more freedom to the ball, not being one dimensional.”
While players are confident that Macdonald’s system will pay dividends, the early reviews come with an asterisk. Fall camp discourse is often fallacious, with the season looming as the true barometer of a team’s success. No one knows that better than Jeter.
A 4-star prospect out of high school, Jeter has been met with lofty expectations since he first arrived in Ann Arbor. And yet, four years into his Michigan career, his production has been subpar.
Last week, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh noted that Jeter is in the midst of his “best month, best offseason” as a Wolverine. Entering his fifth and perhaps final year in the program, Jeter recognizes that it’s time to make good on Harbaugh’s words.
“The compliments from Coach (Harbaugh) are always nice, but dude, I’ve been getting compliments since like 2019,” Jeter said. “… I don’t want to say it doesn’t mean nothing because that comes off wrong. But I just really got to go and show it on Saturdays in the Big House.”
That holds true for the whole unit. If Michigan is going to out-perform its preseason expectations, the defense will surely be at the forefront of the revitalization.
And that starts with a fresh mindset, as much as anything.
“Don’t rest on what you did yesterday,” Jeter said. “When you go to sleep and wake up, what you did yesterday does not matter — it doesn’t matter if you had a great day, terrible day, doesn’t matter. You can’t go back and change it or fix it.
“We’ve all been preaching to, every day, find something to get better at. Every day, get a step closer to where you want to get to.”