With the Michigan football team’s spring camp nearing its end, the Wolverines’ defense and its new coordinator, Don Brown, seem like a perfect match.
Brown’s new unit finished fourth in total defense last season, narrowly trailing his old unit at Boston College, which finished first. Michigan’s defense also gives Brown significant talent to work with as he installs his new system.
And Brown himself? Well, as redshirt sophomore linebacker Noah Furbush said last week, his nickname is Dr. Blitz.
“His motto is ‘Solve your problems with aggression,’ ” Furbush said. “As a player, you love to hear something like that, so that’s definitely what he brings to the table. We all love it.”
Furbush (6-foot-4, 242 pounds) only saw action on special teams in his first two seasons, but he has worked his way onto the depth chart at SAM linebacker, along with versatile redshirt sophomore Jabrill Peppers.
Furbush has gotten to work closely with Brown, who specializes in the position after leading Boston College’s unit from 2013 to 2015. Brown spends the most time with the linebackers, alongside position coach Chris Partridge, who is in his first season coaching at Michigan. Of all areas of defense, the Wolverines return their least depth there after losing Joe Bolden, Desmond Morgan and James Ross. Besides Furbush and Peppers, only redshirt juniors Ben Gedeon and Mike McCray have played snaps in the past, so Brown’s leadership has helped smooth the transition.
Of course, the entire defense is working with his scheme for the first time, though the players agree it hasn’t been a difficult switch. Brown’s defense is similar to former coordinator D.J. Durkin’s, with only some stray new concepts introduced. Tuesday, after the Wolverines’ 14th spring practice, Brown said he was pleased with how much his new defense has picked up.
“We’ve come a long way,” Brown said. “We’re starting from scratch, really, in essence, for the third year in a row.”
The aggressiveness in Brown’s defense also fits in well at Michigan, where the Wolverines got after the quarterback to the tune of 2.5 sacks and 6.8 tackles for loss per game last season.
They return most of their leaders in that area, ready to bring the heat again in 2016. On the defensive line, Brown said he’d like to have seven to eight players rotating in and out to provide depth. Michigan is close to that number right now and will be aided further when fifth-year senior defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow (pectoral) returns to full health and five-star defensive end recruit Rashan Gary arrives on campus.
If the Wolverines can get healthy — and, of course, stay healthy — they should be in good shape to retain the success Durkin’s unit had in 2015. In fact, the players praised Durkin’s enthusiasm and passion last season, and they speak just as highly of Brown.
“He’s amazing,” said redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Bryan Mone. “He knows his stuff. He brings energy to practice every day. There’s not one time I remember him not bringing energy.”