ORLANDO, Fla. – It’s not uncommon the week of bowl games for press conferences to essentially become love fests. Everyone respects everyone else and doesn’t want to provide the dreaded “bulletin board material” an opponent can use for motivation.
Such was the case as players and coordinators from Michigan and Alabama met the media Sunday morning just three days before Wednesday’s Citrus Bowl.
Many people have wondered about Alabama’s defense this year after losing leader/Heisman candidate Tua Tagovailoa, including Alabama fans. Don’t add Michigan defensive coordinator Dan Brown to that list. He doesn’t see much drop-off from Tua to current starter Mac Jones.
“To be quite honest, I don't think they've changed all that much. I think they've stayed systemically right on track to where they want to be,” Brown said. “(Jones) does a great job of getting the ball out quick, which is obviously a trait for their offensive football team, as they want to get it out quick. So, you know, I don't know if he's changed all that much, but he's certainly been efficient and has certainly kept them playing at an elite level, for sure.”
Brown added that Alabama’s uber-talented receiver group is one reason Jones is so effective.
“Oh, they're pretty good now. They've got a nice group,” Brown said “You know, it sounds like DeVonta Smith is back at practice, so that just enhances their ability to get down the field. Jerry Jeudy, obviously, Biletnikoff winner a year ago. (Henry) Ruggs, (Jaylen) Waddle and (John) Metchie, with some of the injuries that they've dealt with, has made a name for himself as a young guy as well. So we understand the challenge that's in front of us. We're confident in our ability, you know. You know, you're not going to beat them one way. You're going to have to play a number of different coverages. And, you know, we're confident in our ability to do that.”
Brown said that Tide receiver group is as good as he’s seen in his career.
“Boy, I'm going to have to say top three to five (ever). One year at (Boston College) we had Sammy Watkins and company when we faced Clemson. And, you know, I would think this group might have some similar traits. But the bottom line is, when you have four of them, that makes it a significant challenge because you've got to be strong at all your defensive back positions and, you know, your linebacker's got to be in sync in the coverages that we'll utilize, so this is probably the deepest group across the board. But, you know, [we’ve] seen individual talent like these guys in the past.”
Former Michigan recruit and 2019 Alabama leading rusher Najee Harris also has Brown’s attention.
“(Harris) is probably the best jump cut guy I've seen,” Brown noted. “You know, in meeting him, when he was a senior in high school, to see his development physically, he’s certainly taken his physicality to a different level. But the thing that I'm most impressed with is his ability to change direction and jump cut and be in the strong side A gap, end up in the backside B gap, or vice versa.
“(He’s) a good back, a guy that we're going to have to tackle, for sure. You're not going to be able to one-arm, (leg) whip him down on the ground. He's not one of those type of guys. He's kind of a throwback because of his size and strength.”
Wolverines linebacker Khaleke Hudson is also impressed with Harris.
“I think he's a very good player. Just like Coach Brown, I knew him from recruiting, his senior year, when he came to Michigan for his official visit,” Hudson said. “I really think he's a really good player. I really think he has speed. He has power. He has a really good jump cut. He knows offense well and he can see the hole very quickly. So I think he's a very good back and, you know, it's going to take our whole team, our whole defense to be able to slow him down and stop him.”