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Taking a Look back at the First Month of Spring Practice: Defense

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Now that one month of practices are in the books, how do the Hurricanes look? What are the story lines we've learned so far? Check out this edition of what the defense has been getting accomplished during the first month of practice.

Will he be the man with the plan or simply too aggressive next season?
Will he be the man with the plan or simply too aggressive next season?
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

After the first month of practices twice a week and one scrimmage in the books, the University of Miami Hurricanes have several notable headlines starting to take shape heading into the 2016-2017 season. Let’s take a look at each one and discuss them:

Defensive Line

A new scheme and position coaching change can breathe life into a recent sore spot. It’s odd how after just one season and no real player attrition how one position group can go from a weakness to a potential depth position. Although the Canes don’t have a known (meaning he’s already been nominated for the award) all-conference player along the defensive line the attitude and confidence Coach Kool exudes is breathtaking. Miami has usually had solid-to-good players along the entire defensive line but under the last defensive coaching staff the players under performed. With Coach Kool at the helm and a new more aggressive defense, all of a sudden those high three star, four star and even a five star recruit or two are looking like a pretty formidable rotation.

Alquadin Muhammad isn’t being shy about his expectations for next season. A few years ago when Muhammad arrived in Coral Gables as a freshman he said he had rushing moves “no one has ever seen” and he was going to break all the Miami career sack records. We all know how the last few seasons have gone for Muhammad so let’s fast forward to this spring, he’s spouting off again but this time in a more focused fashion: he wants to be the best defensive end in the country. A tall order? Possibly. But if the way he’s been practicing the last month is any indication of what is to come, Canes fans should be excited as the coaching staff has lauded his work ethic and tenacity to bring his best every single snap.

A schematic change has made all the difference in the world for some players. Coach Kool prefers players to be at a specific body fat index rather than play at a specific weight per position. The reason for that is because Kool prefers players that can play at a high level over a prolonged period of time. Yes, they will rotate players in and out but gone are the days where Miami had to have a defensive tackle over 300 pounds. If the player is 270 or 280 it’s all good as long as they execute the way they’re needed to which is to pin their ears back and get into the backfield as soon as possible. Specifically, this change has made a difference for RJ McIntosh. Once a defensive end at 280-290 he’s slimmed down a bit and is now wreaking havoc on the inside. He’s currently in the rotation of defensive tackles and may start next season on the inside along with possibly Gerald Willis or Courtel Jenkins.

Linebacker

Uncertainty is abound as starting roles seem to change hands on a per practice basis. Instead of going over all the reasons the linebacking group is the way they are, check out my position breakdown for the 2016 season HERE. Now that you’re caught up, let’s get into what’s going on! The first week or so the starting three linebackers were Jamie Gordinier at Mike and Grace at Will with Young and others sharing the duties at Sam. After the first scrimmage which was last week we’re now seeing freshman man-child Shaq Quarterman at Mike and Grace has been kicked over to Sam with yet two more freshmen, Zach McCloud and Michael Pinckney sharing the Will responsibilities. Where have all the upper classmen gone? Guess they didn’t show enough in the scrimmage to warrant reps on the two deep. With another scrimmage on the horizon we’ll have to see if another shakeup is in the cards.

Let’s get back to that question: Where have all the upper classmen gone? The root of the question is potentially damning to both the previous team’s makeup and the previous coaching staff. Coach Richt and even more specifically Coach Diaz are striving for impact players that make plays every day and bring the same high intensity both on the practice field and in game situations. Diaz has openly complained at times about the lack of effort exhibited by the team throughout camp noting “they bring their ‘A’ game sometimes and other times it’s simply not there.” This example may be most apparent at linebacker as the rotation keeps tweaking due to who’s got “the hot hand” per practice.

Secondary

All is quiet in the defensive backfield for now besides potential position changes. To be honest, there are only two things we’re really hearing about the secondary out of Canes camp. First, Jaquan Johnson may have to play some cornerback instead of his natural position of safety due to the fact of the lack of depth. Second, Coaches Ephraim Banda and Mike Rumph are leagues better as coaches when compared to the one previous position coach. Both are active in social media (Banda is awesome, you should really follow him) and both seem to be leading their units to improvement throughout the spring. We’ll have to see how the group plays out next season, I won’t say there will be two Sean Taylor’s out there and two Darrell Revis’ shutting down the aerial attack of the opponents but I will say definitively the two coaches are bringing their “A game” when it comes to trying to squeeze out all the production they can out of their two young (more at corner than safety) and inexperienced defensive back groups.

Overall Vibe from the Defense during Camp:

As noted in the linebacker section, Coach Diaz is trying to weed out the strong from the weak. Now, I’m not going to say that Coach Richt is running a Bear Bryant style of spring practice (who needs water breaks, am I right?) but Coach Diaz is really pushing the mental exertion limit with these kids. Many times the last few years this defense quit on the field. You know it, I know and the coaching staff knows it. For Coach Diaz in his “havoc” style defense, that’s not acceptable. He wants the defensive line to get into the backfield, the linebackers sprinting every play and the cornerbacks dictating the tempo to the pass catchers and that takes a certain attitude from each and every one of the players. To groom players into that attitude, to find players with that attitude, is very difficult especially if they haven’t been used to it for one, two or three plus seasons in college. They may have been able to find a few freshmen that will “bring it” every day in the linebacker unit and it sounds like Muhammad is already becoming a leader in the effort department but they need more to show out as we get closer to the real season.

My personal opinion after the first month of practice when it comes to the defense..: I think this group as a whole is going to be boom or bust from game to game, arguably from quarter to quarter. Coach Golden’s style of defense was almost literally the opposite style to what is being installed now. Golden believed in a plodding, bend but don’t break philosophy. Diaz and Richt are going to throw everything but the kitchen sink at the opponents and see how they respond. Will there be lots of pick sixes and strip fumbles on QBs? Oh, you betcha’. Will there be blown coverages and deep balls given up? Oh yea. You just hope that you’re on the side of the ledger where there are more positive plays rather than negative ones.