When thinking about the 2016 season for Miami I have a sense of finality. Obviously that's because we're moving on from the underperformance of the last regime to hopefully bigger and better things in the new one. For all Coach Golden's shortcomings as a gameday manager did he actually leave the Canes in a better position to compete then his predecessor, Randy Shannon? It's an interesting thought so let's delve into it, shall we?
How The Breakdown Happens
Coach Golden's first season at the helm of Miami was the 2011-2012 season. Therefore we'll look at that same year's roster and evaluate that team to what Miami will have entering into next season. Thus, we'll be able to look at what Coach Golden had relative to when he entered his tenure at Miami and also what "he left in the cupboard."
In the last installment we looked at the offensive side of the ball. You can find that link HERE. For this piece we'll be finishing off the discussion on the defense.
Our first unit breakdown isn't really close. Even though Miami heads into next season with only one seasoned corner in Corn Elder and a host of younger talent in Michael Jackson, Ryan Mayes and a few others the group, at least in my opinion, is already stronger then the '11 players. Just for your to review (lament?) the 2011 players Miami had on the roster as the corners were: Brandon McGee, Lee Chambers (who just had switched positions from running back), Keion Payne and Mike Williams (transfer from Wake). Gewww..
For the safety comparison the canyon may be even wider. Miami is returning in ‘16 monster hitter Jamal Carter, a more seasoned Jaquan Johnson and a senior leader in Rayshawn Jenkins. The safeties heading into '11 were Jojo Nicholas (played corner as well), an under performer in Ray Ray Armstrong and the "tweeners" who weren't quite safeties but weren't quite corners: AJ Highsmith and Kacey Rodgers.
I'll go with the guys Golden brought in, next position group.
For all the shortcomings that the '11 secondary may have had in talent, the linebacking group made up for it in both experience and skill. I think the most frustrating issue that Golden never seemed to accept was that he always had personnel for a 43 defense but always tried to make square pegs fit into round holes. The '11 group had a senior leader in Sean Spence and also a young up and coming freshman by the name of Denzel Perrymen. There were other solid contributors to the group too in Jordan Futch, Ramon Buchanon and lastly, Jimmy Gaines. The top five for the grouping weren't too shabby. Lest you forget about the transfers that would soon leave the program as well in Gionni Paul Antonio Kinard and Eddie Johnson as well..
Heading into '16 Miami has a lot of unknowns due to returning players coming off of injury (Owens, Gayot) or relatively little experience amongst the backups (Young, Smith, etc.). However, they do have a trio of high school recruits who were all rated highly and could make an impact next season so there is some optimism looking ahead.
However, when picking between the two groupings, I go with the '11 unit. Especially now that Miami is going back to the attacking style of old.
The chasm between the next grouping, in my opinion, is even larger than the one seen from the safeties. Safe to say, the '11 group really didn't have any memorable pieces besides junior Olivier Vernon and a freshman upstart Anthony Chickillo. For your indulgence, here are some of the other players along the line: Curtis Porter, Micanor Regis and Marcus Forston/Robinson.
Now, although the '16 group hasn't played yet the pieces are there for a nasty defensive line. With Chad Thomas and Alquadin Muhammad as your fulltime defensive ends and the rotation of Moten, Willis and Norton clogging the middle the group could be stout.
Due to his recruitment of high level talent (not necessarily the development of it yet) I'll go with Al Golden's recruits heading into '16 then what was currently on hand in '11.
Overall Conclusion for the Defense
Looking back and comparing '11 to '16 was quite easy, you have to go with the latest crop of players. Golden wasn't left with much to work with both in the secondary or along the defensive line. The line backers were probably the best overall defensive unit Miami has had top to bottom in a long while but due to the change in the defensive philosophy they didn't quite work out well when it came to the transition. Looking ahead, next season will be all about coaching. Can Coach Diaz, Kool, Rumph, Banda and company coach the pieces in place to surpass just their recruiting rankings? We'll have to wait and see next season.