Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown called it “craziness” that he was nearly down two starting linebackers before the season opener really got going.
With Mike McCray dealing with a minor injury from pregame, Brown waited as officials reviewed a targeting call on Devin Bush on the first play of the Wolverines’ 33-17 victory over Florida.
Brown appeared on the “Jamie and Stoney Show” in place of regular guest coach Jim Harbaugh on Thursday and was asked his thoughts on that first defensive play.
“Holy moly!” Brown told the hosts on 97.1 The Ticket. “And we had Mike McCray up the tunnel. I was looking at it like, ‘Whoa, I could be down the starting MIKE and the starting WILL and guys that have taken virtually every spring snap. We started Devin Gil at the WILL position for Mike, and Devin credited himself extremely well in that first series. I think he graded out almost perfect.
“He didn’t even know he was starting until I grabbed him by the throat and said, ‘Let’s go, baby, you’re up.’ And then you run the risk of, now you may be down two guys to start the game before you get your feet wet. Craziness. But obviously, they went to the videotape and you could see it was grazed with the shoulder pad. I thought the officials did a good job administering that situation, and then we got Mike McCray back for the second series, and life was good again, that’s for sure.”
Harbaugh said the defense in the opener was the fastest to the ball that he’s seen since he’s been at Michigan.
Brown was asked if it’s faster than last year’s defense.
“I don’t know you can make that comparison,” Brown said. “Those guys have been around here a long time and certainly played at a high level virtually the whole season. We’ve got a long way to go, but as I said, I think between our four-down package and our three-down package, there were some positives to be taken away.
“Our ability to run to the football as a defense was probably the most striking thing that stuck out on Saturday. We had five or six missed alignments, not gross error but areas of improvement-type scenarios. But we certainly ran to the football to take care of any of our ill effects, and I think that showed up in the stats in the game. I think the longest run from scrimmage was a quarterback scramble of 16 yards.”
He felt good about how the defense performed. The Wolverines allowed Florida 11 rushing yards.
“Usually you can make your biggest gains between game one and game two, but in terms of game one preparation and the execution of the plan and just watching our guys run around on Saturday, I really felt good about our first challenge,” he said. “We faced some adversity as a group, as well, so that’s always a positive when your guys stay in the fox hole and keep fighting. A lot of positives to be taken away from Saturday’s performance.”
Here are some other highlights from the “Jamie and Stoney Show” interview with Brown:
On the intelligence of Michigan’s defense: “Smarter than I thought, to be quite honest. Our guys take great pride in doing things the right way. We’re not perfect, but at the same time we’re playing a lot of concept and with that, in some of those pieces, there’s some pressure scenarios. It’s all gapped out and guys in the wrong gap, bad things happen. It’s important the guys function as a group. One guy not functioning properly can cause you problems, but for whatever reason it just seemed like we got off on the right foot and played well. The only thing I was disappointed in was we gave up a couple fades, but we were able to tackle it and move on.
“This was not an easy training camp for these young guys. Not pretty. Very demanding. As coach always puts together a camp, we’re going to develop a callus.”
On how the young secondary held up: “Florida does a great job with the bunches, getting three receivers close together, with the stacks where they get two receivers close together obviously trying to get you to lose a guy in coverage. We worked extremely hard going into it to be prepared to handle all those scenarios. Give a lot of credit to Mike Zordich and Brian Smith, in conjunction with working with the front guys putting that whole thing together with coach (Greg) Mattison and Chris Partridge, so it’s all got to function together. Everybody has to do their job and there’s a lot of communication, and I think the communication on the back end is what struck me. I felt going into it we would communicate well, because in practice you could see the communication get better and better on a daily basis.”
On why it took so long for Brown to join the staff of a major program: “I’m a guy that grew up in the New England area, and for whatever reason I’ve kind of stayed in that area except my two-year stint at Maryland. I just thank Coach Harbaugh for giving me an opportunity and providing me with the direction and creativity necessary to (work with) this outstanding group of young men, keep us going on the right track together. Life is good in Ann Arbor.”
On Saturday’s opponent, Cincinnati: “They’re a spread offense. They’re going to play two different tight ends, they’re gonna play four different receivers, they have two tailbacks, quarterback’s got experience. We’ve got our own challenges there. Obviously, we’re shifting gears from Florida, which is kind of a combination power-spread. (Cincinnati) spreads you out much more. They’ll go to vacant (backfield) and put a running back out there, as well as a legitimate receiver. I wouldn’t be surprised if they end up throwing the ball all over the lot. We have to make them one dimensional and go get that pass game.”