Manny Diaz‘ first spring as Mark Richt‘s defensive coordinator is complete. Let’s assess each position and offer a grade:
2016 SPRING FOOTBALL
SPRING GRADES: DEFENSE
Defensive line: A-
A lot to like here. Granted, they were working against UM’s inconsistent offensive line, but Craig Kuligowski’s charges instantly loved Diaz’ get-upfield-now scheme. Let’s talk ends first. After three years in the program, Al-Quadin Muhammad emerged as a consistent leader. He appears to be, in the words of Common, rough and rugged, rugged and raw. The rest, Kuligowski said, have yet to reach his level. Chad Thomas pressured and got his hand on plenty of passes, though he’s still far away from his former-five-star ceiling. Demetrius Jackson, the 6-5, 260-pound former basketball standout, showed flashes of his athletic ability. Trent Harris isn’t the most gifted athlete but is productive; he seems to be finding his footing in Diaz’ scheme. The position isn’t as deep as UM would like — particularly with another knee injury to Scott Patchan and Pat Bethel’s inexperience — but possesses considerable talent. The tackles? Kuligowski seems to have a capable rotation of Kendrick Norton, Courtel Jenkins, Gerald Willis, Anthony Moten and R.J. McIntosh (another ex-hooper). They have length and bulk and decent speed and should continue to improve this summer.
No newcomers have made an impact on the Hurricanes like Shaq Quarterman and Michael Pinckney. They enrolled in January and earned the starting roles at middle and weak-side linebacker, respectively. Several factors assisted in this — Diaz’ simplified scheme, the injury to Darrion Owens, the graduation of Tyriq McCord and Raphael Kirby, a lack of depth – but it’s apparent both will be productive players as true freshmen. Senior Jermaine Grace, happy with his new “rover” role as a strong-side linebacker, is a surefire starter. The third true freshman, Zach McCloud, was held back by a lingering shoulder injury but was a solid contributor on the second unit. A contributor from last year, junior Juwon Young spent spring as a second-teamer and was credited with zero tackles, one interception and one pass deflection in the first two scrimmages, then had a team-high eight tackles in the spring game. UM needs more from reserves Jamie Gordinier, Charles Perry, Mike Smith and Terry McCray.
Defensive backs: C-
Not much has changed here: still worrisome. Corn Elder had a nice spring game, but he and Sheldrick Redwine are UM’s only mostly-reliable cornerbacks (and even they struggled to cover Stacy Coley, and in the spring game, Braxton Berrios). Neither Michael Jackson, Terrance Henley nor Ryan Mayes distinguished themselves. UM needs summer arrival Malek Young – or, ideally, a ready-to-play transfer – to make an impact (and pray for Elder and Redwine’s good health). The safeties are in better shape, with seniors Rayshawn Jenkins and Jamal Carter mostly solid (despite some issues tackling David Njoku and Chris Herndon) and Jaquan Johnson providing depth and versatility; it’s still easy to imagine the sophomore sliding to cornerback or the nickel/dime position if Diaz needs one. Sophomore Robert Knowles (two interceptions in UM’s second scrimmage) seems to have made a leap, and shined against the second- and third-team offense. UM, which moved James King from linebacker to safety for depth purposes, adds more this summer with Texas grad transfer Adrian Colbert and signees Cedrick Wright, Romeo Finley and Jeff James. Ideally, they would redshirt.
Special teams: incomplete
In scrimmages UM didn’t rush or return punts and kicks, so it’s hard to assess things. Kicker Michael Badgley missed a couple longer ones, but has shown he can make pressure kicks and shouldn’t be a worry. Likewise Justin Vogel, who was mostly solid (and was last year). Position coach Todd Hartley shored up the position by adding a kickoff specialist (Diego Marquez, who arrives Aug. 1). Braxton Berrios, Corn Elder, Trayone Gray, Mark Walton, Stacy Coley and Malcolm Lewis worked at returner; the incoming freshmen receivers (Sam Bruce seems a natural) and junior college transfer Dayall Harris will likely get a shot.