With the excitement yesterday centering around the re-release of the 2017 DC Comics Blockbuster, The Justice League, I, like any action movie buff or comic nerd (I’m both), I decided to dedicate some time to check it out.
To set some context, the 2017 version of The Justice League was originally filmed and directed under Zack Snyder. The director, however, was not able to complete the film due to startling news in Snyder’s personal life that forced him off the movie.
From there, Joss Whedon, who also directed The Avengers, stepped in to complete the film. The Studio producing the film, Warner Bros., originally rejected much of Snyder's work, despite multiple variations. What would follow was a series of reshoots and rewrites that drastically changed the look, feel and depth of the movie. To Warner Bros. discredit, the changes and various cuts were met with much criticism by movie-goers and movie critics, despite its nearly 700 million box office draw.
Shortly there after, news broke of the vast amount of changes to Snyder’s original film, from music, stills. opening scenes, story lines, and even the big bad. As any twitterer knows, where there is a reason, there will be unrest. This unrest, lasted FOUR YEARS. Over the course of the continual fan backlash, the consistent vibe was the same:
Release the Original Snyder Cut.
Seeing an opportunity, Warner Bros. and the director agreed to complete the vision of his cut and release it to the masses on HBO:Max. Thus, the arrival of Justice League: The Snyder Cut.
Caught up? Good.
Soooooo what does this have to do with Miami you might ask? Well, while watching this version of the film, and understanding the context on how it came to be, it dawned on me. The promise of the original film was much like what our defense had in 2017, and much of 2018. Great anticipation surrounded those defenses. The maturation of players like JaQuan Johnson, Gerald Willis and Shaq Quarterman created plenty of hype within the fanbase and in Coral Gables. Manny Diaz brought back the fast and nasty version of Miami defenses of old, creating disruption and fear in opposing offenses.
Right when it felt like Miami was on the cusp of something special, as the director of that defense, Manny Diaz stepped into a new role, and a new director, Blake Baker, stepped in.
Much like Whedon, Baker, on paper, had similarities. For one, he was a Diaz disciple and ran an attacking defense at Louisiana Tech. He seemed to be able to bring an inroad for Miami recruiting to infiltrate Texas, as Baker is a Houston native. Baker even had a big time development of a player in current Ravens Linebacker Jaylon Ferguson.
On paper, he checked most of the boxes.
What was to be a seamless transition, however, was anything BUT. What used to be a frightening and fast defense with nation leading Havoc Rates (calculated by tallying the total number of tackles for loss, passes defensed (interceptions and breakups), and forced fumbles and dividing it by total plays), REAL swag induced from splash plays and consistent defense, turned into a bend don’t brake defense that eventually, broke.
Much like Whedon, the changes under Baker were apparent, glaring and called out heavily by Canes faithful. Tackling had taken a nose dive. A defense that prided itself on being BETTER in the second half began to see the floodgates open more often. Despite great star power on the defensive line and in the defensive backfield, similar to that of Henry Cavill (Superman), Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman) and Ben Affleck (Batman), the team felt more like a sum of its parts without much direction.
Thankfully, the outcry that soon followed the 2019 season into the 2020 season was enough to stir change on the defensive side of the ball.
Much like the production of the Justice League saw in it’s original authors return to reintroduce his version of events, the Miami Hurricanes welcome back its author of the last great defense, Manny Diaz, back into its directors chair.
(WARNING: SPOILERS PAST THIS POINT)
So what parallels could we see from this return as were seen in Zack Snyder’s Justice League?
The Lost Art of Tackling
What was stark contrast of the two films was the obvious attempt of the Whedon version to copy the Marvel look and feel, which the Snyder version created a unique and much darker adaptation of the DC heroes. The previous version tried too hard to please every style of viewer, staging enough action to stay true to its source material but soft enough to keep the kids in the room. Well, when you only pretend to be aggressive in play calling and on the field, it shows. Under Manny Diaz, the Hurricanes defense from 2016-2018 played HARD and tackled even harder. There was almost an extreme premium placed on tackling. Our Justin Dattavio hit on it in his article, The Art of Tackling. From his first season with the Hurricanes, Manny put a ton of emphasis on tackling, taking points and drills directly from Pete Carroll’s Legion of Boom defense of the early 2010s.
“Three years ago at Louisiana Tech in our office, we watched the video Pete Carroll put out. Hopefully, he’ll go down as a guy that (helped the game). This video may do more for this game’s future than anything else,” Diaz said. “With no incentive competitively, other than for the game he loves, they put out the video on how to teach tackling, the rugby, leverage shoulder-style of tackling.
“We sat there as a defensive staff. Man, some of this stuff goes against the way you were taught how to tackle from peewee football. But it takes the head out of the tackle. Furthermore, it’s more sound because of keeping leverage of the football, keeping the ball on your inside pad at all times.”
I fully expect the passion that Manny Diaz brings to his coaching to directly refuel the state of tackling for the Canes defense.
Attention to Detail
While the Whedon version of Justice League felt very much like a rushed and duck taped superhero flick, Snyder’s was purposeful in creating context, structure and empathy in nearly every scene. This resulted in more meaningful scenes that made sense, and less desire to just fast forward to the fight scenes, despite the 4 hour billing.
Enter in Jess Simpson, Travaris Robinson and Bob Shoop. Now in his own right, as many Canes players would attest, Manny Diaz coaches very tough, and expects close to perfection from his players. That note only personifies the impact that will be seen from the three mentioned coaches. Anyone that has seen coach Simpson teach, understand that he is a coach built on discipline and repetition. This is not to say Coach Stroud is a pushover, but Simpson brings a meticulous style of coaching that is missed on the line.
Coach Robinson, in his first week with the team had already watched film and given players thing to begin fixing leading up to spring camp. Coach Bob Shoop as an analyst provides 30 years of experience, most notably as the top defensive coordinator of 2018, to fill every gap that the defensive coaches have, completing the transformation of the defensive coaches unit to a discipline heavy group.
There Will Be Blood
As mentioned earlier, the Snyder version of the film was in stark contrast to the softer, more Disney flavored Joss Whedon version. If I remember correctly, every fight sequence featured plenty of blood and seemed to invent new ways to kill bad guys. While we don’t want to see our defense try to take heads off (cough Amari Carter cough) we do want, and EXPECT to see the defense consistently dealing blows to the offense. Whether a big (clean) hit each drive, wrapping up better in the back field, or achieving more takeaways on the back end, this defense will be expected to deliver more than one or two big defensive plays per game. The idea of Diaz returning to the helm sets the stage for this defense to recapture its ability to create more negative plays and more consistently give the ball back to our offense each and every game. This responsibility will live squarely on the shoulders of Diaz. The intensity he will bring to practices combined with more experienced play calls must result in a return to a defense resembling what we had with Diaz the coordinator.
All that said, the new version of the movie still had its flaws. Some moments were cringe worthy on the graphics or noticeably patchy in the scene structure. All in all, it was still night and day compared to the Whedon version from 2017. That is what we need to see from this re-release of the Miami Hurricanes defense, a return to form that had become an expectation not too long ago. With Diaz and crew back in the saddle, we are ready to see what Manny has in store.