Miami defensive line ready to dominate under new scheme
To redshirt junior defensive tackle Gerald Willis, Miami’s defensive line is a brotherhood.
“The d-line, we just like family,” Willis said after practice on monday. “We hang out everyday, we talk everyday -- so it’s just more like a family now.”
But like any family, sibling rivalry takes place every day.
“ The competition between both of us [Al-Quadin Muhammad and Chad thomas], you know, we make like little push up bets and stuff,” junior defensive end Chad Thomas said to the media after practice. “It is real, the competition is real [right now].”
Whether it is by betting over sacks in practice or points based on their performance, Miami’s defense feels as if they have been let out of cage under the ‘Canes new scheme. Rather than reading the offense and reacting to what is in front of them, Miami’s defensive players now simply attack, and go back to playing football.
“I’m very comfortable, this is like my high school defense,” Thomas said after practice Monday. “I feel, on the line, that’s what it feels like -- I feel free when I’m out there running.”
Due to the aggressive nature of the scheme, many teams run it throughout all levels of football. And because Miami’s players have worked in the scheme their entire lives, they are more comfortable with it than any other scheme, and play carefree football while on the field.
“ Most of us here, that is what we came from, our background in high school,” redshirt sophomore Demetrius Jackson said after practice. “That’s what we come from, 4-3 attacking styles -- it’s playing; we are natural rushers. So man, it just helps us a lot, being able to go after the quarterback and make plays in the backfield.”
Not only do the ‘Canes benefit from an attacking 4-3 scheme made famous by many of the top programs across the country, but Miami’s defensive line also has an advantage due to defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski’s familiarity with the scheme.
“I love him,” Demetrius Jackson said Monday when speaking about Kuligowski. “He brings a lot of his technique that he taught some of the greats before like Aldon Smith, Shane Ray, Michael Sam -- He’s bringing it here and, you know, we trust him because of his resume.”
Kuligowski brings a lot of experience to Miami as their defensive line coach, as he tries to implement his techniques up front. And although many positions for the Hurricanes may be considered thin under Mark Richt’s first year as coach, the defensive line has plenty of guys who are ready to contribute.
“I think that we have some guys that look like you want them to look, played like you want them to play in terms of athleticism,” Kuligowski said. “Now it is just getting them to do the right things and do them the right way, and so far, the guys have progressed in a way I’ve expected. I haven’t been disappointed -- they’ve bought in, they’re working hard, they are teaching each other the drills now, so they are making it their own.”
As Kuligowski stated, the ‘Canes are where they need to be with athleticism up front. Redshirt Junior Al-Quadin Muhammad has been extremely focused on football and has stepped up as a leader this offseason, according to his teammates, and junior Chad Thomas is stronger than ever entering a make or break year. Gerald Willis and Demetrius Jackson also return as veterans on the team; but regardless of who they are, Miami’s experienced players are eager to put past struggles behind them.
“My last two years [have motivated me],” Thomas said on Monday when speaking to reporters. “I didn’t live up to my expectations, you know, I made some plays but I ain’t make enough -- so just going off that and being in a defense that I like, I just got to perform.”
With a new coaching staff and new defensive scheme, the ‘Canes defensive line is entering a new era in the program. Miami is going back to their 4-3 attacking roots, and at the end of the day, it is all they are talking about.
“We talk a lot in the locker room about the scheme,” Gerald Willis said. “This year is gonna be crazy because that 4-3 is going to be crazy -- I just can’t wait.”