Michigan defense quickly winning over Don Brown

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News


Ann Arbor — Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown, looking in midseason form Tuesday night even though it was only the third spring practice, likes what he sees from his defense.

While he’s not ready to anoint them anything just yet, he does know he has an abundance of experience returning from last year’s team that was ranked third nationally in total defense.

“Been doing this a long time,” Brown said after practice Tuesday. “This might be, if not the fastest, at least one of the fastest groups I’ve ever been around. Pretty excited about it.”

Playing Brown’s high-energy, blitz-heavy defense is a lot about football smarts which ties into playing fast — players knowing their assignments intuitively and instinctively, so no one has to think before making that first move.

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Developing that starts now, during the spring, and coming off an 8-5 season, Brown has seen a motivated group.

“It’s about energy and the character of the guys when they show up in the building,” he said. “That is a trait that can’t be measured by how many stars the guy has. That’s something you evaluate, and we’ve got a lot of high-character guys. If this is their ceiling, we’re getting their ceiling.”

The defense is far from a finished product, but with defensive ends Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich, linebacker Devin Bush and defensive backs Lavert Hill and David Long, Brown likes the direction.

“Obviously we’ve got a lot of things to work on, but we’ll get there, there’s no question in my mind,” Brown said. “I was just saying this to (defensive line) coach (Greg) Mattison, I’m watching our guys work, and I’m just saying, ‘Can you imagine being in this environment and not taking advantage of every opportunity that you have on the football field?’ I can’t even imagine it.

“Just as a general process, I think we have a lot of guys taking advantage of their opportunity.”

The defensive line has been Michigan’s strength the last several seasons. Defensive tackle Maurice Hurst is preparing for the NFL Draft, so Brown and Mattison will look for his successor, but generally speaking, the depth is not a concern.

“Rashan Gary is Rashan Gary. He’s a good player, a tremendous player,” Brown said. “Chase gives you everything he’s got every single day. Kwity Paye came in here 235, 236 (pounds) out of Rhode Island and he’s 263 right now. He’s like a muscle from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet. He’s really exceeded expectations. Lo (Lawrence) Marshall has done a very good job, Aubrey Solomon, the sky’s the limit. The guy that was taking great steps a year ago during bowl prep was (Michael) Dwumfour. He hasn’t slowed. I feel very strongly that we’ll have seven or eight guys there. I’m glad Lo Marshall is coming back. Bryan Mone is playing really well.”

Brown feels that with Long and Hill, the secondary has some polished players there, but he mentioned Ambry Thomas as someone who has stood out this spring.

“This Ambry Thomas now, different level, confident, fast,” he said. “Jalen Kelly-Powell, we’ve got him at safety. A really smart football player. He’s playing so much better, so those would be the two guys I would say, (Josh) Metellus is, some people were critical of him in the fall, not me, but some people, but the bottom line for him is he’s taken this offseason as an opportunity to get better. It’s a beautiful thing. Some guys just wallow. He’s taking it and his arrow is completely up and doing a really good job of directing traffic back there.”

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At the viper, Brown praised Khaleke Hudson and said his coverage has improved.

“He’s playing at a much faster rate,” Brown said. “He should go kiss (new strength coach) Ben Herbert on the lips, because he’s helped him tremendously. This Josh Ross is going to be a dude. He’s going to be a really good player. Drew Singleton will be a very good player. Noah Furbush, his arrow is so far up from a year ago, I’m just very excited about where he is. (Jordan) Glasgow, we’ve made the move to viper behind Khaleke. Took the slot coverage off his plate and that’s helped him improve.

“(At the WILL) this Devin Gil is a dude now. Probably if you said to me, who’s benefited the most from Ben Herbert, he has. He’s faster, he’s bigger, he’s stronger. Smarts was never an issue. Mike McCray was so damn smart and had such a good solid instinct about how the game is supposed to be played and his fits. If you would have asked me a year ago athletically can this guy (Gil) make it, I would have been, ‘I don’t know yet.’ He can make it. It’s he, Josh Ross and Drew Singleton right now. We’ve got Jordan and Devin Bush, then you take (Josh) Uche, he’s a package guy, but now he’s becoming a linebacker, played in high school, hand on his ground and now he’s doing a better job in coverage.”

How much better this defense can get depends on how consistently they practice this spring.

“Are they going to put the work in all 15 (practices)?” Brown said. “Are they going to cut corners? Or are they just going to grind? Every indication that I can give you, our guys are on this plateau going this way (up). We’re three practices in and you know how sometimes you can tell, is the room with you or are there a lot of distractions and a lot of stuff going on. We just don’t have that. Really happy where we are. A long way to go, obviously, (but) really happy with where we’re at.”