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Michigan’s defense could look a lot different schematically next season

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A new era for Michigan’s defense.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 21 Michigan at Rutgers Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Michigan’s defense is going to look different in 2021. The defensive staff has plenty of new blood. Along with new blood comes a new mentality. Along with a new mentality comes a new scheme.

Former defensive coordinator Don Brown was replaced by co-D coordinators in Mike Macdonald and Maurice Linguist. Along with the two co-DCs there are two new defensive assistants in George Helow (linebackers coach) and Ron Bellamy (safeties coach).

With the new additions to the staff offensively and defensively, Michigan has already gotten a jump start on their preparation for next season. Spring practices are underway. How Michigan forms their defensive identity will be a process that evolves throughout the months leading up to the regular season in September.

“Mike (Macdonald) is really good, really smart. Right now, what we’re seeing on the field is putting in the systems, players understanding them, growing. A lot of coaching going on. Drill work,” head coach Jim Harbaugh told the media on Thursday. “Installation, on-field coaching has been really good. Really pleased. So far, so good with the way the defensive staff is working together and where we’re at at this time.”

Macdonald, who was previously the linebackers coach for the Baltimore Ravens, was highly regarded by Jim Harbaugh’s brother, Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh. The Ravens scheme had the highest blitz-rate in the NFL last season, and implemented a mixture of zone looks and press man-coverage in their scheme out of a 3-4 set. Baltimore has had some really great defensive outputs in recent years, and it wouldn’t be surprising if some of the Baltimore schematics became part of the operation at Michigan.

No matter what Michigan’s defense ends up looking like, it’s going to be different in a variety of ways. “That’s hard to say right now, how different is it going to look,” Harbaugh said. “Definitely different language, different front structures, different coverages, different blitz patterns. Hope it looks really good.”

When asked if the new scheme would be a big departure from what’s been seen from the defense, Harbaugh said it could be, but didn’t get into the x’s an o’s of the matter. “It could be a lot, it could be (a big departure),” Harbaugh said. “No sense talking about what exactly, specifics of what it’s going to be.”

As it stands right now, Macdonald is getting the defense acclimated with the base fronts and coverages of the scheme before moving on to the more intricate levels of the defense. “It’s in the making. Starting with the base fronts, the base coverages. How quickly our guys can pick up,” Harbaugh said. “Mike’s definitely got the philosophy of mastering a front, a coverage, before we move to the next layer. We’re still in the process of those first beginning layers. What we want our guys to know best. The principal of first learning. It’s good. I see a lot of coaching, a lot of communication. Definitely like very much what’s happened the first few days of practice.”