In a year with a new head coach, defensive coordinator, and defensive line coach with very similar defensive philosophies, the Miami Hurricanes looks to do something they haven’t done in five season...attack!
The Al Golden/Mark D’Onofrio era was dreadful for the Canes in every way, shape and form. They couldn’t dominate on defense and get the press necessary to strike fear into their opponents. Now, with Manny Diaz as defensive coordinator and Craig Kuligowski as defensive line coach, along with plenty of talent along the line, the Canes can overcome their previous issues and return to the old-fashioned Miami teams that built the winning tradition.
While depth may still be a concern, the Canes return Chad Thomas, Al-Quadin (Quan) Muhammad, Demetrius Jackson, Trent Harris, and Scott Patchan, who reportedly suffered another knee injury in the spring. While this group looks good on paper, none have quite lived up to their (I hate this next word) potential. Granted, the previous scheme hindered much of their talent, but now with an attacking-style defense, its time for this unit to put up or shut up.
Chad Thomas, a 6’6" 265 lbs. junior who was a former five-star recruit, totaled just one sack and 1.5 tackles for loss (TFL) last season. Those numbers are going to have to improve drastically in order for this unit to truly be successful. In this new defense, 10+ TFLs and the potential to get double-digit sacks should definitely be in Thomas’ range this season.
Quan Muhammad, arguably the team’s best pass rusher, led the team in TFLs (8.5) and in sacks (5). The redshirt junior decided to spend another year in Coral Gables in order to improve his draft stock and play in a system that better suits his skill set. He should lead the team in these categories again, so expect 12+ TFLs and a double-digit sack amount for this specialist.
After these two, the water gets a little less clear with the freakishly athletic, but inexperienced Demetrius Jackson and Trusty Trent Harris serving as the primary backups. Jackson is easily one of the best pure athletes on the team and playing in a defense like this one should only highlight that athleticism. In only his third year of football, the then-redshirt freshman recorded 2.5 TFLs and .5 sack on the year. Rather pedestrian numbers, but one couldn't expect too much from Jackson last season.
Trent Harris has virtually done it all for the Canes defense, lining up with his hand in the dirt, playing stand up, outside linebacker, and even played a little inside linebacker due to Miami’s lack of depth. Now, he will serve as a full-time defensive end in Diaz’s new system and will look to flourish. Trusty Trent had a decent season last year, posting 49 tackles, five TFLs and 3.5 sacks. Shoot...under the last regime, that seems like a pretty good year. What Harris lacks in athleticism, he makes up for it with his smarts...he always knows where to be and makes relatively good decisions (that’s how he got the unofficial alias of ‘Trusty Trent’). With his reps looking to get cut short - Thomas & Muhammad look to lock down the positions full time, as well as Harris now sticking with one position - his numbers are most likely going to take a slight drop, but may remain depending on Miami’s progress on defense. His tackles are sure to decline, but there is a chance Harris can achieve the same numbers he posted in 2015.
The good news: Miami has a chance to return to prominence on defense, especially up front. With the talent on the edges along with the new defensive system, the Canes’ play will definitely improve.
The bad news: While talented, they are still a relatively unproven group. They may look good on paper, but there’s a reason why you play the game.
Expect improvement in most, if not all areas on the defensive line/pass rush, but be cautiously optimistic about this group. The goods are there, but the players will need to buy into the system and put it all together in order to become a force along the line. The pass rush has the, dare I say it, potential to be one of the best in the Coastal, in not the best in the Coastal, but the players will have to go out, execute and give max effort to be great. This unit will define how the rest of the defense plays, so it is imperative guys like Chad Thomas and Quan Muhammad live up to their billing and bring that old-school Miami football tradition byke.