The Canes defense took a step back in 2020, and looked nothing like the Miami teams we’ve been accustomed to seeing on that side of the ball in recent memory. Giving up 554 rushing yards to UNC, surrendering 99 combined points the last two games of the season, it definitely didn’t look like a Miami defense.
Now, Blaker Baker is gone as defensive coordinator, as head coach Manny Diaz has once again taken over that role. Travaris Robinson was named as DB’s coach, Demarcus Van Dyke will be coaching cornerbacks, and Jess Simpson has replaced Todd Stroud as the defensive line coach.
So, with all these changes, how will the Canes defense look on Saturday, as Miami wraps up practice in their spring game. It’ll be the fans’ first chance to see this defense live on TV since the bowl game loss against Oklahoma State.
Defensive Stats from tonight’s scrimmage:— Canes Access (@CanesAccess) April 10, 2021
Bubba Bolden: INT
DJ Ivey: 2 PBUs.
Cam Williams: 4 tackles, PBU.
Avery Huff: 6 tackles
Kam Kinchens: 5 tackles pic.twitter.com/h4mJpgcGoJ
Starting up front, the Hurricanes will look to replace their stellar defensive ends from 2020 in Jaelan Phillips and Quincy Roche. Deandre Johnson transferred to Miami earlier this year, and comes to UM with a few years already under his belt having played well at Tennessee. Zach McCloud, who spent his first 5 seasons at Miami, has now switched over to DE, and has been impressing coach Diaz there.
Canes HC Manny Diaz on Zach McCloud's transition to DE: "He has exceeded my expectations...I didn't think he would look so natural so soon...he's so experienced, he's so intelligent. He wants to learn."— Christy Chirinos (@ChristyChirinos) April 6, 2021
He adds that McCloud looks like he's played DE more than 10 practices.
What will the young guys look like at DE? We have Jahfari Harvey, who is expected to become possibly the next great d-end at Miami. Second-year players like Cameron Williams and Chantz Williams look to be very much in the rotation in well. Cam played 205 snaps on defense in 2020, finishing with 7 tackles, 1.5 TFL and 1 pass-breakup. In the Canes second spring scrimmage, Cam had a solid night, with 4 tackles and 1 pass-breakup.
Quincy Roche says he's excited about seeing Chantz Williams, Jahfari Harvey and Cameron Williams as the future at DE at Miami.— David Furones (@DavidFurones_) March 29, 2021
At defensive tackle, Miami has been without rising senior Nesta Silvera, who’s still recovering from a shoulder injury. Still, there’s good depth at the position.
Name to stash away: Jared Harrison-Hunte (DE, Miami, redshirt freshman in 2020). You'll be hearing about him.— EJ Snyder (@thedraftsmanFB) March 3, 2021
Super-toolsy player out of Christ the King in NYC. Wow.
Jon Ford is back for one more year, serving as the veteran in the middle. Jared Harrison-Hunte is looking to take the next step at DT, after collecting 17 tackles, 3 sacks and 6 TFLs in 2020. Then there’s also guys like Elijah Roberts, Jordan Miller and Jalar Holley.
Simpson, Elijah Roberts made a huge jump once they got in pads, he is super coachable— Footballville Nation (@Footballville) March 23, 2021
When you’re looking for that second starter at DT next to Nesta, is it going to be Ford or Harrison-Hunte? Will the other players at the position make a case for themselves?
Linebackers is a position of concern for Miami, but there is hope. Corey Flagg looks like the middle linebacker of the future, and has been one of the MVP’s of spring practice. Will he be running with the first team defense on Saturday? Or will it be Bradley Jennings Jr., who started all 11 games at middle linebacker in 2020, but struggled at times.
At weak-side LB, Avery Huff has definitely made an impression on the coaches, and also registered 6 tackles in the scrimmage on Friday. I wouldn’t be surprised if plays with the first team on Saturday at the spring game. You also have Waynmon Steed, as well as Sam Brooks Jr., who’s been limited due to a toe injury. Is Huff ready to become a starter?
Keep hearing good things about Avery Huff so far this spring. Him and Corey Flagg name keeps coming up immediately. Fast and physical— Caneville (@caneville305) March 30, 2021
The linebackers are one of the groups I'll be watching very closely on Saturday. How will they look against the run, after the defense gave up an average of 173 yards per game on the ground in 2020. Will the LB’s look faster, will they react quicker?
We know what we have at striker in Gilbert Frierson, who I believe is the best player on Miami’s defense. Amari Carter just switched over there from safety, how will he look? Is Keontra Smith learning the position and developing?
Amari Carter could be a good fit at striker, giving Miami a veteran to back up Gilbert Frierson, who excelled in the role this past season.— Robby Espin (@robbyespin) April 6, 2021
Gilbert Frierson continued to play well against the #1 team in the country.— (@CaneFilms) October 12, 2020
2nd on the team in tackles with 7 on the night, 1 PBU & a fumble recovery.
He continues to take great angles and is always around the ball. The coaches definitely trust him on defense. pic.twitter.com/RBD9OnO7x3
With T-Rob now coaching the DB’s, I'm very interested to see how this group performs on Saturday. Safety Bubba Bolden recorded an interception on Friday, is he ready to be a more consistent player? Does Gurvan Hall rebound after a rough 2020 season?
Safe to say we know what we’re getting week in and week out with Bubba Bolden. Max effort on every down.— (@CaneFilms) October 12, 2020
Our scheme asks our safeties to do so much and Bubba is up to the challenge every time.
10 tackles, a forced fumble & two blocked kicks against Clemson. pic.twitter.com/k4iG338RZW
Also, what will we see out of Avantae Williams? Williams has been impressive during spring ball, and some believe he can beat out Hall as the starter at some point during the season. Looking at Williams and Hall, how they perform, how they react, will be important to watch.
Gurvan Hall on Avantae Williams “It’s really just him. I’ve been watching him since he’s in high school. He’s an animal. You might be hearing his name just a little bit more.”— Marsh (@hurricanesmarsh) March 30, 2021
True freshman safety Kamren Kinchens is another player to watch, as he’s been progressing throughout practice. Kinchens had 5 tackles on Friday, and could very well see some playing time in his first year at Miami.
Miami DBs coach Travaris Robinson says Avantae Williams and Kamren Kinchens are among the younger safeties beyond the experienced upperclassmen at the position that are flashing in spring.— David Furones (@DavidFurones_) March 31, 2021
DJ Ivey was up and down during 2020, though Manny Diaz said after Friday’s scrimmage that he’s has been very good recently in practice. Recent Georgia transfer Tyrique Stevenson comes to Miami with high expectations, will he look like the clear-cut CB1? What will Te’Cory Couch do in the slot corner position, after becoming perhaps the best cover-corner on the roster in 2020.
One reason why DJ Ivey is living up to that potential? They’re letting him be physical. Terry might as well have just sat on the bench on any play DJ got his hands on him. Got way down deep in Terry’s head, too. pic.twitter.com/JErFAChwNc— Canes Legacy (@CanesLegacy) September 27, 2020
Manny Diaz on Tyrique Stevenson “Long body, big strong individual, good movement skills. Competitive excellence. He’s got great self confidence.— Marsh (@hurricanesmarsh) March 16, 2021
Diaz on Avantae Williams “It’s really early, but he plays 100 miles an hour. He goes full speed.”
One thing we’ll hopefully see from the DB’s on Saturday is them making plays and creating turnovers. As a whole, the defensive backs snagged only 6 interceptions in 2020, going down from 8 INT’s in both 2019 and 2018.
Finally, what will this Manny Diaz led defense look like? Are we going to see more aggressive packages and blitzing schemes? How will the defensive line look after losing their top two players from a year before?
I know it’s only the spring game, but hopefully Saturday is the first glimpse of this defense returning to its dominant ways.