Mike Macdonald ready to run Michigan defense: 'This is a dream of mine'
When new Michigan defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald first met with his players last month, he stressed how he wants them to play ahead of sharing his vision for what the defense will look like.
Macdonald, 33, spent the last seven seasons with the Baltimore Ravens and is a first-time coordinator, hired last month by head coach Jim Harbaugh. He has used the last few weeks working to get to know the players while establishing his staff and re-learning the recruiting ropes.
He shared his outlook for the Michigan defense during an appearance this week on the “In the Trenches” podcast with Jon Jansen.
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“Trust me, we’re going to be multiple and we’re going to get after people and we’re going to be aggressive, and we’re going to blitz, and we’re gonna look like we’re blitzing and we’re not gonna blitz, and we’re gonna play man, and we’re gonna play zone,” Macdonald said on the podcast. “We’re going to be complementary, but it’s how you play that makes the difference. Do you strike blockers? Do you stay square? Do you communicate? Do you sign and co-sign? Do you guys run to the ball like your hair’s on fire? Those are the things that are important.
“That’s the standard about how we want to operate. And so if you can visualize 11 guys playing for one another every down for 60 minutes, that’s where we’re going. That’s the first meeting we had with our guys was how do we want to play, what’s our standard.”
Macdonald said he will blend the approach of trying to fit the defense around the players he inherited while also shaping them to fit his system.
“We’re gonna install our staples and our base package, our fronts that we want to live out of and that sort of thing,” Macdonald said. “The great thing about our system is it’s a series of concepts. We’re going to install our base concepts and then at that point think of it as interchangeable parts that fit what our guys do well. But in order to do that, we’ve got to practice, we’ve got to get after it, we’ve got to compete, and we’ve got to evaluate, and then we’ve got to give them feedback on who’s doing it the right way and who’s not on how we’re playing the game.
“And then as coaches it’s our job to say, ‘OK, this is who we’ve got, this is who’s good at what, OK, how do we structure the defense on a situational basis to put us in the best position to win?’ So we’re gonna have our staples, our core concepts, and our core fronts. We’re gonna install that, but the guys have to understand those concepts before we can start moving things around to kind of accentuate who’s doing what and to make sure guys are doing what they do well, if that makes sense.”
While with the Ravens, Macdonald spent the last three seasons coaching linebackers. He said because he’s installing a new scheme and working with a new staff, he won’t coach a position at Michigan. He stressed, though, he will be hands-on and involved during practices.
“I feel I have a better feel for what’s going on with the defense as a whole if I’m not married to one position,” he said. “When we’re on the field, trust me, I’m not going to be just standing there watching. I’ll be in the drills, now. There will be times we’ll take the outside 'backers and I’ll grab them to work on something or if we’re working a certain concept we’ll grab a couple of the DBs and a couple of the linebackers, and that’s where I see myself getting in on the field. In the meeting rooms, I’m hopping back between each room as well as talking to the entire team. I just feel I have a better feel of the pulse of the defense if I didn’t have one particular position group.”
Macdonald admitted he’s playing catch-up in terms of developing relationships with high school coaches in the state and around the country as he gets back in the recruiting game. He described a challenging learning curve and said he is leaning on his coaches. But he does have an NFL resume and knows that can be appealing to high school players that have NFL aspirations.
“I don’t think you sell them on them on the fact, ‘Hey you’re gonna do this, and you’re gonna get to the league, and I guarantee that,’” Macdonald said. “It’s, I know what it takes and what it looks like when you’re there, so I can help you get through the process to achieve your goals.”
Macdonald is a first-time coordinator, which means he will be making the defensive calls for the first time in his career. He said he is looking forward to this role.
“We need to do a great job from now through the spring and summer of preparing ourselves for the different situations throughout training camp so we feel like we’re used to the process of calling a game, and the players understand what we’re going to call and when throughout the week so they can anticipate that,” he said. “It’s a great challenge and a great responsibility, but bring it on, let’s go. This is a dream of mine. We’re going to work our tails off to be successful.”