Don Brown is known as Dr. Blitz because of his aggressive playcalling, but he could also be called Mr. Makeover. He once turned a dismal Boston College defense into one of the best in the nation. He did similar things at Maryland and Michigan.
Overhauling Arizona’s defense is his next big project. The Wildcats have been one of the worst defensive teams in the country for several years. They couldn’t cover. They couldn’t rush the passer. They couldn’t tackle. Not that it matters to their new defensive coordinator.
“With all due respect, because I love the coaching profession, I don’t care about last year,” Brown said. “We don’t run that system. I don’t even know what they run. I stopped watching it after the first few plays because it’s completely different than what we do.”
And even though Brown has only coached two days of preseason practice, he likes what he’s seen from Arizona’s new-look defense so far.
“We got a core group of guys that are getting better every day, and Coach (Jedd Fisch) has done a good job allowing us to get some defenders in here that are going to be immediate helpers along with the core group,” Brown said, noting that Arizona’s linebacker depth has increased “four fold.”
“So I can tell you I feel pretty good about where we’re going. But we haven’t put a pad on, we really haven’t hit anybody yet. And the strain of camp, we haven’t been challenged.”
Brown was asked if there are any statistical measures he hopes to hit in his first season Arizona. You know, a certain number of points allowed, turnovers generated, etc. He’s focused on wins.
“You can’t get bogged down with all that,” Brown said. “Just try to win the game, get your guys functioning at a high level. But I do feel this—if they don’t buy in, and I’m not saying they haven’t because I really feel they have, but if they don’t buy in...you got no shot. So first thing is get them to buy in, get them to be competing animals in the classroom and on the field, and feel good about themselves. Then we got a chance.”
At the same time, Brown, 65, scoffed at the idea that he’s an old school coach who’s oblivious to analytics or in-depth analysis. After every practice, he says he and his staff evaluate every play. They make note of the ones that work and the ones that don’t.
“What you’re trying to do is just give your guys a working menu,” Brown said.
Apparently that will mean a lot of looks with a single high safety.
“The thought has always been that to defend the quarterback run game, which is more prevalent in college than it is in the NFL, you need to play quarters or some form of that. ... Clearly, that’s not the case,” said safeties coach Chuck Cecil, who was also part of Arizona’s previous staff. “And the other part of that is that you can be very successful bringing pressure and oh by the way you can also stop the run game.”
The freshman five
To cap Saturday’s practice, the Wildcats went 11-on-11 (no pads) with younger players, mostly freshmen. They repeated five plays twice. The idea is that the repetition will give them the best chance to memorize the playbook. That way they can think less and run more when they’re on the field.
“They gotta be athletic. They gotta play fast. They gotta run to the ball,” Brown said. “Now that’s easier said than done because you want all 11 going and they got to have a degree of understanding of the concepts. If they can get to that point, we got three full weeks to get them right.”
Brown said the plays Arizona ran Saturday were “functional.”
“What does that mean? Well, it’s not 100 miles an hour, but it’s starting to show 11 working as one,” he said. “That’s what you’re really searching for, and you can tell because when they start playing fast, that’s positive. Now, like I just told them at the end, it’s stressful. Here you are away from home, some of these guys for the first time, new system, and it’s not like ‘hey, here’s the five things for today.’ I mean, we put in 10 today. So by the end of next week we’ll be in our 50s. We’re a multiple defense. Now there’s a lot of common denominators, but there’s a lot for the guys to learn, and you just don’t want them to get discouraged. You want them to go do the best they can do.”
To that note, Brown is a big believer in allowing his players to play to their strengths. It’s the easiest way newcomers can make an immediate impact.
“My philosophy has always been: don’t play the guy as a full-time player,” Brown said. “That would probably eliminate every one of those guys. You take the things that they’re good at. Oh, this guy is a good internal blitzer, he knows how to get skinny, put his hands on the hips and rush the passer. Find a blitz that he can do just that. We got a guy that’s a good edge rusher, let him be the edge rusher. We got a linebacker that can cover, put him in and let him cover. Don’t put them in situations where they can fail. Put them in situations where they succeed on the field. And then what happens to them? Their confidence rises...and it’s a lot easier to coach.”
Play to your players’ strengths!— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) August 7, 2021
Loved listening to Don Brown discuss his philosophy on finding ways for freshmen to contribute. Every coach can learn from it. pic.twitter.com/f72ktZ64fe
Despite his age, Brown’s voice can often be heard from across the practice field. He’s a self-described “in your face” coach and there’s a method to his madness.
“All I’m doing is creating chaos,” Brown said. “If they can’t handle the chaos on the practice field...how are they going to handle playing on Saturdays?”
Arizona DC Don Brown on why he’s so fiery at practice: “All I’m doing is creating chaos. If they can’t handle the chaos...how are they going to handle playing on Saturdays?”— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) August 7, 2021
His impression of a flustered player was hilarious. pic.twitter.com/uB1yvsNt0Q
Brown will coach Arizona’s defense from the sideline, not the press box, during games
“If I was in the booth, I’d probably be scaling the booth to the ground,” Brown joked. “I’ve tried that once, didn’t work so well for me. I think I made it to a quarter and ended up coming down and that was the end of that.”
Will Don Brown be running Arizona’s defense from the press box or the sideline this season? I think we know the answer. pic.twitter.com/xJkb6QdwT9— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) August 7, 2021
Plummer had the pass of the day
Second-year freshman Will Plummer continues to look like a strong candidate in the quarterback competition. He made the throw of the day, perfectly placing a fade to Boobie Curry for a touchdown during red zone drills. The sophomore wideout high-pointed the ball over a defensive back.
Let’s get Loopy
Second-year freshman Tyler Loop was the star of Saturday’s practice, regularly booming punts over 60 yards with impressive hang time. Even the one time he got a bad snap.
Freshman receiver Dorian Singer, a three-star recruit and preferred walk-on from Phoenix’s Pinnacle High School, was Fisch’s star of Friday’s practice.
“Singer came out today as a true freshman had just arrived and had no spring football and competed his tail off today,” Fisch said Friday.
Fisch did not speak to the media Saturday. He interviews every other practice.
The Wildcats are planning to be in pads for Sunday’s 7:30 p.m. practice.
Tomorrow night will be the best one yet...we are in Pads! We will be fired up and ready for you. DJ at Fan Fest, DJ at Practice and all of the activities. Prax begins at 7:30 - 1 on 1's start at 8:34 - Team Periods start at 8:52 -- Don't miss out on the fun!! @AZATHLETICS https://t.co/w267YJE5UY— Jedd Fisch (@CoachJeddFisch) August 7, 2021