There is a long list of Wolverines who have built the Michigan football team’s defense into the fourth-ranked unit in the nation.
But when defensive coordinator Don Brown was asked Wednesday about the state of his unit, he sang the praises of a Wolverine that might catch people by surprise. That’s because he doesn’t play defense.
“When we’re going in practice, not only are we good on defense,” he said, “Our scout team, without question, with Dylan McCaffrey at the helm, they go now.”
The true freshman quarterback may not have taken the field in a Michigan uniform yet, but he wasted no time making his impact on the team.
According to Brown, the past two weeks of practice have reached a new peak of intensity, as the Wolverines have taken it upon themselves to continue to improve on a daily basis. Even though Michigan has two losses on the season, Brown claimed that the expectations for the team haven’t been reduced.
But in order for the defense to push itself to compete at a high level, the scout team has to prepare for the particular offense of the upcoming opponent. That is where McCaffrey has proven to be most valuable.
“This is a special guy now,” Brown said. “… From our standpoint — to get ready — it’s nice when you have a scout team that is committed to the defense.
“…These guys take it seriously, and they help us get ready to play on Saturdays. And he spearheads it.”
Brown noted that he sees the young quarterback inside Schembechler Hall “all the time”, eager to bury his head into the playbook of the next team the Wolverines will face.
Leading up to their game against Minnesota, that preparation has shown up on the practice field.
“There’s a couple plays yesterday where he has to re-center the tight end, re-center the back and then run this specific scheme,” Brown said. “I swear it was the quarterback from Minnesota doing it ‘cause he did it exactly the same way.
“Our guys got him watching a little tape there, but then to come out and actually do it the same way. … It just gives you a chance.”
Instead of simply going through the motions and lamenting their standing on the scout team, those Wolverines have bought into the importance of their role in Michigan’s success. Taking the reins as the leader of that unit, McCaffrey has helped them do just that.
“When a guy takes it upon himself like that, he takes the whole group with him,” Brown said. “That gives us a chance to have a quality practice. And you don’t realize how important that is until, at the end of practice, you go, ‘Wow, that was really a good practice. We got a lot of work done.’”
Brown isn’t the only coach who has noticed McCaffrey’s influence on the scout team. Passing game coordinator Pep Hamilton noted how well McCaffrey has been able to handle the challenge of facing off against one of the best defensive units in the country.
“He has really good football instincts as far as having an understanding of what the defense is trying to do to him,” he said. “And with (Brown’s) defense, it’s real simple: they’re trying to hit the quarterback. … But he’s responded well in the situations that we’ve put him in.”
On a unit where it would be easy for him to fly under the radar, McCaffrey has stood out instead. Despite entering as the No. 6 quarterback in the nation, the true freshman knew he wouldn’t have the opportunity to play on Saturdays in his first fall in Ann Arbor.
He has done the next best thing: prepare his teammates to play.
“It’s next door to what you want on a Saturday,” Brown said. “So in terms of giving us a chance from a preparation standpoint, all those things are in place.”