New DC plans to deploy 'dynamic' Peppers at linebacker

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Bradenton, Fla. — It hasn’t taken long for Don Brown to become acclimated as Michigan’s new defensive coordinator.

Brown, who has spent most of his coaching career in New England, was hired from Boston College, where he led the Eagles to the nation’s top-rated defense last season.

After two no-pad spring practices here at the IMG Academy, Brown said he likes what he has seen so far from the Michigan defenders.

“I think our athleticism’s there,” Brown said Tuesday night after practice. “We’re developing at a couple of positions, but I love their enthusiasm, I love their energy, I love their athleticism, but we haven’t put the pads on yet and as you know that separates the men from the boys. I like what I see so far.”

Brown philosophy basically is this: Be aggressive and blitz as much as possible.

“Like I told them the first night, there’s two ways to play this game, and it involves pressure,” Brown said. “One, you apply it, or two, you feel it. I’m not big on the feeling it, so we’re going to apply it.

“That’s not a hard formula to sell the players. They want to play on the balls of their feet and attack and get after it. You’ve got to find specific ways of how you’re going to go ahead and do that and we’re kind of sorting our way through it, but early indications (have) been encouraging.”

Most interesting through two days of practice has been Jabrill Peppers, the Big Ten’s Freshman of the Year last season who played on offense and in the kick return game, as well as starting at safety. Peppers has played mostly strong-side linebacker for Brown, who must replace all three starters from last season.

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Brown said he has no concerns about the linebackers.

“This is a system where I think it’s friendly to the linebackers,” he said. “It’s aggressive in nature, so they’ll do a lot of different stuff, but based on their learning curve, we’ll adjust to them.”

He spoke highly of linebacker Mike McCray and Ben Gedeon, but focused must attention on Peppers, the team’s most versatile player.

“I just think we’ve got to give this guy a bunch of jobs,” Brown said of Peppers. “He’s a dynamic athlete, and we’ll keep him around the line of scrimmage and let him do a bunch of stuff whether it’s cover (receivers), whether It’s in certain personnel groups playing linebacker — our SAM’s kind of a hybrid. Between (Noah) Furbush and him, I think we can put those two guys together and create some dynamic ability from that position. That’s what we’re searching for.”

Brown, who said his SAM at Boston College last year had 6.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss, was asked if it’s easier to change personnel groups by not having to take Peppers out.

He smiled before responding.

“That’s the beauty of it,” Brown said, explaining that while Peppers might technically be in at linebacker in a certain alignment, “Who says he has to be in there playing that position?

“He’s got juice. I like guys like that. We’ll see where that takes us.”

Brown and Harbaugh did not know each other when he was hired in December. They knew a lot of the same people, but Harbaugh liked what he saw on paper and film from Brown’s defenses, and he liked what he had heard about him.

After attending the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day, Brown spent the next two weeks watching film and figuring out where he wanted to go with this defense. Then, of course, it was back to recruiting and, more recently, planning for spring practice.

Ultimately, for Brown, 60, this was an offer he couldn’t refuse.

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“I just think having the opportunity to come work for coach Harbaugh, I think obviously Michigan provides you an opportunity to play at the very, very highest level,” Brown said. “I’ve been in New England most of my career, and I felt like this was an opportunity I did not want to pass up for sure.”

Harbaugh on Monday after practice spoke glowingly of Brown.

“Love him, love him, love him,” Harbaugh said. “Had a meeting (Sunday) night and there was a nice partition between the offensive and defensive (rooms) and the paint peeled off the walls.

“He is an intense man, a ball of fire. We’re going to have the meeting room repainted because he was peeling the paint off. Very exciting watching him coach.”

And Brown wanted to work with Harbaugh, who hired him after D.J. Durkin left after one season as defensive coordinator to become head coach at Maryland.