March 04, 2016

BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) Michigan has a new defensive coordinator and a new role for its most talented player.

Don Brown is now running Michigan's defense, replacing DJ Durkin, who was hired by Maryland to be its head coach. The 60-year-old caught head coach Jim Harbaugh's attention by running the No. 1 total defense in the country by yards allowed per play (4.07) and per game (254.3) at Boston College last season.

''I think Coach Brown's an older version of Coach Durkin,'' Michigan defensive end Chris Wormley said Thursday after the Wolverines' third of four spring practices at the IMG Academy this week. ''That intensity and that fire and passion that he has for defense, and playing and coaching the defense is something that we all love and we're used to from being with coach Durkin last year.''

Michigan ranked in the top five in both yards per play and yards per game allowed last year, too, with versatile defensive back Jabrill Peppers emerging as a star. In Brown's system, Peppers, the 208-pound former five-star recruit, is now a linebacker - at least he will be listed that way on the depth.

''I just think we got to give this guy a bunch of jobs,'' Brown said earlier this week. ''He's a dynamic athlete. We'll keep him around the line of scrimmage and let him do a bunch of stuff, whether it's cover, whether in certain personnel groups play linebacker-type stuff.''

With defenses trying to get more speed on the field to contain spread offenses, defensive coordinators have been moving toward players who can play the run like a linebacker and the pass like a defensive back.

''Our Sam (strong-side linebacker) is kind of a hybrid,'' Brown said. ''Last's year's Sam had 7 1/2 sacks and 17 (tackles for loss) and he's out covering slots.''

The move to linebacker won't be that drastic for Peppers, who had 5 1/2 tackles for loss and 10 pass breakups last season and often played a similar role for Durkin.

Moving Peppers into the linebacker spot will also help Brown and Michigan patch the biggest hole on the defense. The Wolverines have no returning starters.

Ben Gedeon is the most experienced returning linebacker. Mike McCray and Noah Furbush are also vying to fill those spots.

''This is a system where I think it's friendly to the linebackers,'' Brown said. ''It's aggressive in nature. Based on their learning curve, we'll adjust to them.''

Harbaugh liked Brown's aggressiveness and that his defenses bring pressure more often than not. Michigan will still lean on a strong secondary, led by star cornerback Jourdan Lewis, and man-to-man coverage.

''He's been extremely fun to work with,'' Lewis said of Brown. ''He lets us do what we do best, which is man and he has some coverages that'll mix it up. So I'm excited.''

Now that Brown is part of the staff, Harbaugh likes him even more.

''Love'em. Love'em. Love'em,'' Harbaugh said. ''He is an intense man. Ball of fire.''


Follow Ralph D. Russo at

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