Following Brad Kaaya’s decision to declare for the NFL Draft, many Miami fans rightfully wonder what the future will hold for the QB position moving forward into 2017, although that future seems to be so bright, ya gotta wear shades. There are a number of candidates to fill Brad’s large shoes in Jack Allison, N’Kosi Perry, Malik Rozier, Cade Weldon, and others.
But, growth and maturity take time and experience. At least those concepts were flying through my head as I watched Brad Kaaya go from Clark Kent to Superman about 23 minutes into the Russell Athletic Bowl. I saw it in person in Boone, NC and it was even more evident in the final 2 ½ quarters of the RAB. Brad Kaaya simply is a player with special abilities, even if they aren’t always as consistent as we’d like them to be.
And surely it took him awhile to develop into the talented player that he’s become. The throws he makes are NFL-level and will not be immediately replaceable; at least many won’t be next year.
But while the pending disappointment of Kaaya’s departure and what he brings to the table may have been a bit of a cloud hanging over the bowl for some fans, the performance of the Miami defense was a bright ray of sun that broke through it. Appropriate, given the aggressive and attacking defense Manny Diaz has instilled in Coral Gables.
Because that’s what can make the 2017 season a memorable one for the Hurricanes. Who woulda thunk it? Who would have thought, as Clemson was putting point number 58 on the board, that at the same time next season we’d be seeing dominating, play-in-the-other-team’s-backfield kind of play from the unit? I’m not going to raise my hand.
But that’s just what I will take away from 2016 and let be the vision dancing through my head for the offseason. Seeing Joe Jackson, who tallied 8.5 sacks on the year, put tread marks on the West Virginia tackle and quarterback. Watching Chad Thomas bully his way into backfields (finished w/11 TFLs on the year) and continue the trek towards that five-star billing/hype he entered UM with back in 2014.
Gerald Willis and Courtel Jenkins helped solidify the middle, giving us the ability to talk about a position – defensive tackle – that feels like a lifetime ago since we’ve had continuous, solid play. Going back to….who – Marcus Forston (?) Probably beyond that. I’m not saying Matt Walters and Vince Wilfork are walking through the door, but the defensive tackle position hasn’t looked this good in many years. Regardless, defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski has lived up to his preseason billing and turned around an area of weakness .
Behind them sits a trio of young linebackers that you already know and love. I don’t really need to go into what Zach McCloud, Michael Pinckney, and Shaquille Quarterman have done this year. You know. Behind them is the bigger question mark, with Jamal Carter Sr., Rayshawn Jenkins, and Corn Elder having played their final games as Hurricanes.
Look, there’s no doubt losing a player like Elder will hurt in a big way. But, one thing I feel comfortable in saying is this staff has managed to squeeze more juice out of the current roster than I thought imaginable. So, while we’re looking at Sheldrick Redwine, Malek Young, and Michael Jackson, along with incoming freshman Trajan Bandy and Deejay Dallas, I feel confident Mike Rumph and Diaz will get the right bunch prepared and ready for September.
The year-end numbers jive with what we saw from this bunch: total yards per game (345.5) (20th nationally); sacks per game (2.85) (T-22nd); tackles for loss (108)(8th); points per game allowed (18.5) (18th); passes intercepted (8)(T-93rd) ; fumbles recovered (11)(T-23rd); third down % (.386) (T-53rd); and defensive TDs (3) (T-19th). It’s a team that, rather than sit in a two-gap responsibility and react to what the offense did, attacked the line of scrimmage. Got into the backfield. Gang tackled. Made life difficult for the opposing quarterbacks and ballcarriers from the snap.
Manny Diaz and his defensive staff have turned this thing around, y’all. Hopefully it can carry the freight in 2017 and help make the transition for the newest Canes’ signal caller an easier one. Go Canes.