A group of reporters surrounded cornerback Donovan Warren in the Crisler Arena parking lot following Michigan’s crushing home loss to Oregon.
But the gathering would have to wait a few extra minutes to talk to the disheartened freshman. It was Michigan secondary coach Vance Bedford’s turn.
“These guys can wait,” said Bedford, motioning to the reporters. “I need to know if I can count on you.”
That was the lowest of lows for the Michigan defense.
Two weeks into the season, the unit with the most questions coming into the year, failed to positively answer a single one.
The players’ responses following the Appalachian State and Oregon games, in which the defense surrendered a combined 73 points and 1,011 yards, were ambiguous. Nobody seemed to grasp the crux of the problem.
“A lot of people didn’t feel comfortable, and we really weren’t meshing that well,” cornerback Brandon Harrison said. “But now it’s rolling.”
Two weeks removed from a trying 0-2 start to the season, the Michigan defense has regained its swagger.
The unit has forced 10 turnovers in the last three games and surrendered just six points in the second half during that span.
And the players are promoting a new company line – fun and trust.
“We’re starting to become more of a family,” Harrison said. “Our motto is trust. You have to trust everybody to do their job, to do their responsibility, to play their technique, and everything will fall into place.”
Defensive end Tim Jamison traced the new look to having fun in practice, where he can count on hearing defensive tackle Terrance Taylor.
Taylor, never short on words, likes to tell the coaches when Jamison is tired, and in the same breath, point out that he’s still on the field.
Jamison said that kind of fun competition carries over into games.
“We keep that going, and that motivates everybody else to call each other out,” Jamison said. “That sounds fun to me.”
Coming into the season, those around the program knew the defense would be inexperienced. The feared unit of a year ago would be just that – a thing of the past. Defensive coordinator Ron English had to fill both defensive end spots, a pair of secondary positions and two linebacker openings with young, raw talent.
Taylor admitted he went into the season trying to do too much, but now he’s focused on doing his job and allowing everyone else to do theirs.
“We had people willing to do their job and not worry about everybody else’s job,” Taylor said after the Notre Dame game. “It’s just do their assignment.”
The fun has even rolled over from the practice field to gameday, when the defense gets together and chants the lyrics from the 50 Cent song “I Get Money.”
Harrison started it with a few other defensive backs in the locker room, and what had once been a secondary tradition soon created a more crowded circle.
“It was just the DBs,” Harrison said. “Now it’s the linebackers and the linemen. Now the offense is getting into it. Everything’s starting to come together.”
And all it took was a little trust and fun.