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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — In 2020, Michigan’s defensive players looked like they were going through the motions, executing a slow death march to the season’s end. Now, before any games have been played, those returning are singing a different tune, eager to prove that the past season was an aberration.
“I think right now, we’re hitting our stride right as we’re going into Week 1,” senior captain Aidan Hutchinson said. “I think that’s super crucial in what you need from your team in camp. I thought we just had our best practice yesterday. In the stadium, we had another scrimmage. I mean, we were flying around out there, executing. We watched the film this morning – it was fun to watch us fly around. I think we’re hitting our stride heading into Week 1.”
‘Fun’ was a word used often on Thursday, as the Wolverines defense prepares to wrap up fall camp for full-on game prep next week. ‘Fun’ is the opposite of what we saw a year ago, a big part of why the maize and blue were just 2-4 in 2020.
So what changed? Of course, there’s a new defensive staff led by Mike Macdonald, but the attitude of the players has also taken a 180. There’s a certain eagerness by the seniors to prove the entire team won’t let what happened last year happen again.
As linebacker Josh Ross says, the defense is in show-don’t-tell mode, as they’re ready to prove to fans that things are different than a year ago.
“The mentality of ‘let’s work!’ and ‘let’s move!’” Ross said. “You know the work we’re putting in. We’ve been (expletive deleted) grinding! We’ve been grinding. We’ve been grinding this offseason, changing the culture, doing everything the right way and we’ve been grinding this training camp. We’re just ready to go and play ball – enough talk. We’re not talking no more, let’s just go do it. Let’s go do it and let’s play.”
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“Buy-in is at an all-time high,” Hutchinson said. “What I’ve seen with this defense, guys – we all love the coaches, we love what they brought to Michigan. We’re all just ready to go. We just talked about it in (our meeting) – we’re done talking about it, we just want to go out there and do what we do and play our best ball.”
Both Ross and Hutchinson have been around for a while — 2017 and 2018, respectively — and both are team captains. Both have been part of some Michigan defenses that were among the top in the nation. How do they feel this new-look unit compares to some of the previous iterations they’ve been a part of?
“It’s just different because the schemes are pretty different,” Hutchinson said. “Yeah, it’s just a completely different feel in terms of my responsibility and everyone’s responsibility in the defense. It’s just really fun when you can turn on film and watch guys fly around like that and just doing their jobs. It’s just a fun defense to watch – when we’re doing things right.”
“I’m not gonna compare, because this is a new year and this is us and we’ve gotta show it starting Sept. 4,” Ross added. “This is a defense that’s tenacious, this is a defense that’s gritty. This is a defense that y’all gonna see is playing together and having each other’s back every play and having fun. I can’t wait to go out there and have fun and play ball. And that’s what we’re about to do in a week – eight, nine days. Thank God!”