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Michigan may have new defensive coordinators, but they’re calling it ‘Year Two’ of the system

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“We ought to be able to be more advanced and start to add more dynamic pieces to the defense.”

Northwestern v Michigan Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Mike Macdonald made an incredible impact as Michigan’s defensive coordinator in 2021 — the long hours of preparation he put in turned the defense into one of the best in the nation, ranking 8th in scoring defense and 20th in total defense. However, Macdonald’s success came with a price, quick career ascension — Macdonald is now the Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator.

There will be new leaders steering the ship, but the nuts and bolts remain firmly in place.

It’s Year Two of Michigan’s defensive scheme.

Michigan has a new defensive coordinator in Jesse Minter, someone who is friends with Macdonald. The two crossed paths during Minter’s time at the Ravens from 2017-20, where they were both assistants. The Wolverines also have a co-defensive coordinator in Steve Clinkscale who was Michigan’s defensive backs coach in 2021 and has now added co-dc to hit duties. Both of these men aim to carry over what worked from Macdonald’s scheme.

“There’s a lot of carryover. We kind of try to just go through a fine-tooth comb every year, no matter where you are, no matter how long you’re there. Trying to watch what you did, try to make corrections try to make it simpler for the players and the coaches to understand,” Clinkscale said. “You have a better understanding after going through one year of how people try to attack us, and we’re able to make adjustments. It’s fair to say it’s the second year of the system.”

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh previously noted that one of the reasons Minter was hired was because there would be continuity in scheme, and not only that, but they believe Minter is a good coach. As far as what Minter thinks, he sees the value in having carryover, and just like Clinkscale, he thinks it’s year two of the scheme.

“One of my goals with the players was for those guys that feel like it was year two, probably one of the reasons I’m here. I think there’s a lot of continuity in the system. You want the guys to feel comfortable,” Minter said. “I think anytime you go from one to two, whether it’s whether Mike was still here, or I’m here. There are steps you can take. There’s tweaks that you make, but definitely, definitely year two of the system.”

As far as tweaks, Minter it will be a collaborative effort, with Clinkscale having a voice, new defensive line coach (previously at Notre Dame) Mike Elson will have input, as will safeties coach Jay Harbaugh and linebackers coach George Helow. Minter would like to take a look at some of the things they’ve done at their various stops in their coaching careers and see if any of that can mesh with the system already in place.

“It’s like year one is just the first step, And so year two you always look at things you can do better, maybe look at tweaks you can make to the system. And so there’s ideas that things that I’ve done, things that other coaches that we have on staff have done in previous places,” Minter said. “We’ll always look to find a better way to do things. I think that’s what a good coach, what a good staff does is always try to take that next step. There’ll be some things that may look different, but I think a lot of it will look the same.”

Whenit comes to what may look different, it’ll be a collaborative approach for Michigan’s pass-rush with Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo — instead of having two players accumulate nearly 30 sacks, it may take a few to hit that number. Beyond that, something else they’d like to make tweaks and see improvement with is takeaways — a category Michigan ranked 68th in last year. For Clinkscale, he wants to see Michigan manufacture more turnovers, and not shoot themselves in the foot.

Clinkscale said the secondary left too many opportunities out there last season.

“There are some critical games, some key games that we if come down with the ball outcome could be a little different, or we can separate the margin of victory more, and I want to continue to do that,” Clinkscale said.

Now in year two of the system, the expectations have been heightened, the players that were around a year ago should know the ins and outs of what’s happening and the ways in which the defense operates. Last spring the scheme was getting stalled piece by piece, layer by layer, this spring they’re hitting the ground running.

“Continue not to make mistakes,” Clinkscale said. “Now we’re in the second year, like you say, in this defense — we ought to be able to be more advanced and start to add more dynamic pieces to the defense, and I see we’re doing that.”