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Quarantine helps Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown embrace 'gift' of coaching

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown has been huddled with his family during the COVID-19 pandemic, but is itching for a return to his office in Schembechler Hall to watch a “million hours of tape."

Brown has been working out of a spare bedroom, watching film, staying in touch with his players via Zoom calls, and having virtual meetings with head coach Jim Harbaugh and the defensive assistants. He appeared this week on the most recent “In the Trenches” podcast with host Jon Jansen.

Don Brown is entering his fifth season as Michigan's defensive coordinator.

“The one thing I’ve learned in this process: Don’t take coaching for granted,” Brown said on the podcast. “Work hard every day. Have fun with the guys. Just realize that coaching football is a gift, it’s not a right. That’s what’s important.”

He has found them to be an extremely attentive group.

“One of the other things I’ve noticed, when we’re running our virtual meetings, guys are never late,” Brown said. “I don’t think I’ve had one discipline issue through the entire seven weeks. You can tell the ol’ love of football is there. They’re anxious to learn.

“The No. 1 question I do get is, ‘Coach, when are we coming back? When are we coming back to play?’”

His message to his players is not much different than usual: Focus on controlling what they can control.

“Take care of your grades, which our guys have done, do the very best they’ve done to find options to maintain conditioning. Do a great job of the mental process,” Brown said. “When they tell us, ‘On your mark, get set, go,' let’s make sure we’re ready to go.”

Brown said he has reduced what the staff is teaching to eight installs, and he has made sure to tell the assistants there is no need to rush through anything and to take time to teach.

The defensive leaders also have emerged during this stay-at-home time during the pandemic. Brown said defensive ends Kwity Paye and Aidan Hutchinson; tackle Carlo Kemp, a captain last season; linebackers Josh Ross and Cam McGrone; and defensive backs Ambry Thomas, Brad Hawkins, Daxton Hill and Vincent Gray have all stepped up.

“We feel like we can hit the ground running as long as our conditioning allows us to,” Brown said.

The players have had to be resourceful while at home as they’ve tried to maintain and build on the work they put in during winter conditioning. Some have home gyms, many do not, and they’ve utilized whatever they can find to help them stay in shape.

Provided the season starts as scheduled — although no decisions have been made — Brown said getting back to campus by mid-June would be ideal so that strength coach Ben Herbert can get back to more detailed work with the players.

“So you'd have six weeks where the guys focus on conditioning, training, those kinds of things, so that they can be in quality shape going into the preseason period,” Brown said. “I would say six weeks would be, I'd be pretty pleased with that.

“However, I can remember, when I was in 1-AA, Division III, you have three weeks to get the guys ready and then it's time to go play football. So, we just have to be smart on how we handle the players in terms of their time on task and give them a chance, so you don't have a lot of those soft-tissue injuries and let the professionals take care of those guys and get them right so we can have a healthy football team come the opener.”

Jansen asked Brown how important it will be to rotate players, keeping in mind they’d be coming off a limited conditioning program. Typically heading into a season, the players would have engaged in spring practice, which was canceled before it started two months ago when Michigan went to online instruction and encouraged students to leave campus, and then offseason conditioning before the start of preseason camp in early August.

“It's an absolute must. You’re hitting on a huge point there,” Brown said. “I see the Christopher Hintons, I see the Donovan Jeters, I see the David Ojabos jumping in as a pass rusher. Taylor Upshaw, a lot of these guys are outstanding athletes and we just got to make sure that we have them ready to compete at a high level and especially mentally for those young guys, so we can obviously stay efficient and minimize mistakes.”

achengelis@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @chengelis