CORAL GABLES — Not too often does one hear a coach say his group “failed spectacularly” in a given area, but that’s Manny Diaz for you.
This spring Miami’s defensive coordinator has been candid in his assessments of his new players’ performances, asserting he wants more competition and lacks depth. Making his first comments in review of last Saturday’s open scrimmage, Diaz expressed his displeasure with his unit for allowing too many big plays, and was blunt about his cornerbacks.
Asked if sophomore Sheldrick Redwine – who had a sack on a cornerback blitz but allowed a 40-yard catch to Stacy Coley on a pretty throw from Brad Kaaya – has emerged as the No. 2 cornerback opposite senior Corn Elder, Diaz said this:
“I’ll be very honest: it would be hard to say who our best corner is right now, let alone our second and third,” he said. “That position has got to continue to really improve and all those guys know it. It would be a disservice to all of them if we told any of them that – you know, Corn knows he has the most experience, but he’s got to play at a much higher level for us to have any chance to slow anybody down.”
Diaz was pleased with his defensive line, which produced seven of the eight sacks in last Saturday’s scrimmage. But Elder was roasted by Coley on a 48-yard catch, unable to recover after biting on a fake to the inside, and sophomores Michael Jackson and Terrance Henley did little of note.
“I thought in the back end we were very poor in tackling,” Diaz said. “To their credit we’ve got some guys that are hard to tackle, but with the way we’re trying to teach it, it’s obvious we’re not ready for prime time yet. We have to continue to improve on that and some of the guys we have may not be able to. We told them, ‘Those who will tackle will play.’”
Coach Mark Richt noted that cornerback is one area he’s looking to add this summer, in addition to fullback and wide receiver. He said he may only have one available scholarship, however. He added that post-spring “attrition for different reasons” — players leaving because they realize (or are informed) they may not see much playing time — “may free up a spot for us.”
Granted the cornerbacks weren’t solely at fault, but the Hurricanes allowed several plays of 25-plus yards, including Coley’s pair of long catches, tight end David Njoku’s 45-yard touchdown, receiver Darrell Langham’s 26-yard grab, and rushes by Gus Edwards (35 yards) and Mark Walton (26).
“The encouraging thing was I thought we made plays behind the line of scrimmage,” Diaz said. “This defense is predicated on two things: making negative-yardage plays and not allowing big plays. I thought we succeeded in one, and failed spectacularly in the other.”
Big plays are a concern in Diaz’ defense, which blitzes and rushes aggressively. If it falters, nights like Sept. 7, 2013 happen. That’s when Diaz’ Texas defense allowed a program-high 550 rushing yards to BYU; he was dismissed the next day.
Diaz’ assessment of his defensive line:
“I’ve been very encouraged with the guys up front,” he said. “We’ve got some guys that are hard to block, that make plays on their own, that can make plays even when – you don’t have to manufacture a play for them. That’s encouraging. Obviously, it’s really hard to be good defensively if you’re not good on the defensive front. I think coach Kool’s done a great job with those guys and getting them to play hard and getting them to get their feet across the line of scrimmage. I think they enjoy being disruptive and making plays behind the line of scrimmage.”
Noteworthy: Diaz said linebacker Darrion Owens, a redshirt sophomore who suffered a season-ending knee injury against FAU last September, will play either the middle or weak-side linebacker spot when he returns, depending on “how we feel about what we have at either spot. He can play either – he also may play both,” Diaz said. “We may have some guys we need to swing between Mike and Will.” To this eye Juwon Young seems to fit that category, as does Jamie Gordinier. UM’s current starters are Jermaine Grace (Sam), Shaq Quarterman (Mike) and Michael Pinckney (Will). The latter two are freshmen who continue to impress … As reported by Peter Ariz, senior fullback Gage Batten, a former Dwyer High standout, is out indefinitely with a foot injury. Junior tight end/H-back Chris Herndon and walk-on Cory Giordano have been handling that spot.