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Spring Game Preview: Canes Defense

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Lots of questions to be answered on Saturday for Miami’s defense

247 Sports

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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?

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?

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.

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.

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 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.