Defensive Breakdown: How Manny Diaz Sees the Defense So Far
The expectations are as high as they have been all decade in Coral Gables.
With playmakers such as Ahmmon Richards, Mark Walton, and Chris Herndon who rival any player at their position in the ACC, Miami will be locked and loaded with weapons on the offensive side of the football. Despite several proven players at vital positions, however, question marks surround Miami’s offense.
From who will be starting at quarterback, to who will line up as Miami’s second tight end, the ‘Canes will have to see how things play out and hope they stay healthy.
But while the offense’s future remains a question, there is one thing Miami fans aren’t questioning heading into 2017 -- the defense. But despite the hype, defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has one simple goal in mind.
“We have to win more games,” Diaz said after practice. “Ok, well how do we win games on defense? How can we be a more dominating defense? There is a million things that they understand that we can improve on -- the most obvious thing is we got to get more turnovers.”
Despite finishing with a top 15 turnover margin nationally, Miami finished 70th in the nation in turnovers gained last season.
“We didn’t get enough turnovers to win football games,” Diaz said. “When we lost games we didn’t create any turnovers.”
Diaz went onto say that there are different things Miami’s defense needs to win, including a larger success rate on third down.
But while the coordinator pointed out all of Miami’s defensive deficiencies early on to the media, anyone with a roster can tell show you that the positives far outweigh the negatives. Writers from publications all throughout the country have harped on the fact that Miami returns every starter from a year ago on their front seven.
“I think if you’re sitting around moaning who your fifth defensive tackle is then that’s kind of something that people stop having sympathy with you for,” Diaz said. “At that same time I think we do know that things happen during the course of the season, you know, and those guys may be called on.”
The men being called upon at defensive tackle include senior Anthony Moten and Sophomore Pat Bethel, whose work ethic excites Diaz.
While who will back up Kendrick Norton and RJ McIntosh at defensive tackle is a larger question, the rushers on each end are commanding more attention.
Veterans such as Joe Jackson, Trent Harris, Chad Thomas, and Demetrius Jackson have all proven themselves worthy of valuable snaps next season, but several young players are pushing behind them. Freshmen Jonathan Garvin and DJ Johnson are both expected to be impact players in the future, with Garvin drawing several Joe Jackson comparisons during the Spring. Johnson enrolled over the summer but was praised by Trent Harris after practice for wanting “to be great.”
Similarly in the linebacking core all three starting spots are solidified with Quarterman, Pinckney, and McCloud, but an infusion of depth has put the ‘Canes at ease. Although the Hurricanes have more numbers at the position this season, Diaz has stressed versatility, and is teaching the young players multiple positions.
“I’ve kind of kicked the ant hill at inside linebacker a little bit,” Diaz said. “And I want all those guys sort of scrambling around, and sort of, let may the best man win.”
Diaz applauded Jamie Gordinier’s confidence, in particular, coming off a knee injury that ended his season last year, saying that he has “flexibility to play both of our inside linebacker positions.” Diaz also said that he wants Darrian Owens, Bradley Jennings Jr., and Mike Smith to play both as well.
Smith most notably came away with an interception against Appalachian State last season, and is among the group that will perform with high expectations this fall.
Behind the vaunted front seven lies some inexperience at the cornerback position, and although the talent is present with transfers Dee Delaney and Jhavonte Dean, the defensive backs are currently working through some details.
“Dean and Delaney -- they have the talent that we expected,” Diaz said. “Now what they are learning, in a crash course, is how we operate and how we work. And understanding the standard of major college football and how much more it takes than just being tall, fast, and things like that.”
Diaz went onto say that “silly things” like proper leverage and positioning on tackles are new concepts for the two, and that he will be looking to see who gets through that stage of development first.
At the safety position, Diaz said that freshman Amari Carter “continues to impress,” and that Robert Knowles has made a “big leap” from where he was last year. After speaking to Romeo Finley’s turnaround halfway through the Spring, it became clear that the coordinator is encouraged by the depth at the position.
Like last season, Diaz is ready for a rotation at the position, with the players highlighted above looking for snaps behind JaQuan Johnson and Sheldrick Redwine.
“It has been fun to see all those guys get in the mix,” Diaz said. “We can roll, sometimes we can rest a guy and put one of those guys with the ones to see how they respond in that situation.”
But while young players are vying for snaps at safety, Miami’s montra of the best players playing reigns true, regardless of what position they play.
“What we do on third down will be simply predicated on who our 11 best third down pass defenders are,” Diaz said. “That could be four defensive ends, that could be six cornerbacks, that could be three outside linebackers. We can adapt schematically to who we have, to try to have our best guys covering and our best guys get after the quarterback.”