New Miami Hurricanes defense values speed over size

It seemed Al Golden and Mark D’Onofrio‘s defensive philosophy was the more bulk, the better. The former UM coach and defensive coordinator equated size with strength.

In interviews they often would praise players, especially linemen, for weight gain when asked about their progress. The numbers always seemed to be going up. One notable example was defensive end Anthony Chickillo, who was praised for adding 40 pounds during the course of his college career. Their 3-4 scheme called for defensive linemen like Chickillo to be larger to hold the point of attack. Chickillo quickly dropped that weight and is now a linebacker with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Miami’s new defensive coaches seem to have a different approach.

Craig Kuligowski (YouTube)

Craig Kuligowski (YouTube)

Defensive coordinator Manny Diazwho runs a blitz-happy, 4-3 scheme, wants his linemen to get into the backfield and chase the ball rather than build a wall. In an interview after last Thursday’s practice, defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski said body fat rather than pounds is the figure UM assesses.

“Like a defensive end, we want them to be 15 percent [body fat],” Kuligowski said. “[Defensive] tackle we want it to be 18 percent. I really don’t care what that weight is, [if] it’s 265 or 260, or is it 275 or 270 or 260. I’d rather have them be able to run all day than have an extra 10 pounds and not be able to run to the football like we want them to. They may be lighter than they were last year, but that’s because they’re working their ass off and getting in probably their best shape.”

Though official rosters are often inaccurate — and weights of athletes can fluctuate — several expected contributors may already be lighter than they were last year. On the roster UM distributed to the media at the start of spring practice, Chad Thomas was listed 10 pounds lighter (6-6, 265). Al-Quadin Muhammad (6-4, 250) dropped six. Linebacker Jermaine Grace (6-1, 205) lost 16, but he was likely closer to 205 last year.

Asked about standouts from the first two days of practice, Kuligowski said “no one looks great” this early, but he was encouraged.

“We have some talent,” he said. “I’ve been places where you start out really rough. Here I don’t think it’s that rough. We have some talent here. Now it’s just a matter of time for these guys to pick up the techniques, the work ethic and kind of attitude we’re trying to establish on our defense.”

Kuligowski said defensive tackle Gerald Willis (6-2, 280), who impressed the previous staff with his work on scout team last year, has been “very impressive. … He’s been a breath of fresh air, really coachable.” Who impresses him at defensive end? “All of them,” he said. “They’re all good.” Regarding the potential for ends Thomas and Muhammad, both of whom were top-tier recruits, Kuligowski said this:

“I don’t know. We’ll see. Some of the best guys I’ve coached, they’re not there yet, or close. But I also think they have the potential to be really, really, really, really special players. That’s my job to get them there.”

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