CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Continuing with the second part of our Q&A with Hurricanes defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.
Click here for Part I (we’ll have more with Diaz in the coming weeks).
Who’s your smartest defensive player, as in, football-smart?
“There’s some guys in the secondary who do a good job. Trent Harris up front, he’s probably the smartest guy we have up front.”
The previous staff loved him. He’s going to play a role this year, isn’t he?
“I think so. There’s usually always a place for people like Trent. We actually did something this summer that [safeties coach] Ephraim Banda spearheaded, that we did last year at Mississippi State, we gave our players a crash course in offense. We taught them offense. Defense, you have to have something to defense. It can’t exist in a vacuum. Offense you don’t need anybody, you can just go run plays. We’re running this pass. Defense, you’d just be standing there. Somebody has to do something to get us to activate our coverage.
“So what we do is we spend the summertime, the first summer term, teaching them offense. Here’s what we call this formation, and here’s how this play runs, and we tested them. Every day. We had a final exam, and gave a reward to the guys that did the best on that. I think Rayshawn Jenkins, he and Corn Elder had the best overall scores. Guys in the back end. Those guys stand out.”
Adrian Colbert, what’s he going to bring at corner?
“What we felt was so important with him is age and experience. Guys that have that fifth-year mentality, my experience with those guys are they get it, they understand, they know this is their last go-round. All the things you expect out of a senior, but even more so because they’ve changed schools. They know this is it. Their sense of urgency for every practice, every lift, everything, is so much greater. We felt like we needed more maturity in that cornerback room. Because really, after Corn all those guys are freshmen or redshirt freshmen [or true sophomores].
“And, I also like even more so that he’d been in the system — that was almost secondary – I like that he had seen the change at Texas. He had seen everyone changing the scheme, but what was more important is they had to change the culture. It’s the culture that in essence sunk us at Texas. I wanted a guy who had seen that and could even explain it to our players: I’ve been through this, I’ve seen it, it was this way and it changes. Cover-3 is cover-3, but it was better because we lifted better in the weight room. Or we ran harder in the summertime, or whatever.”
At a certain point in the spring you weren’t really happy with that effort level of the cornerbacks … are you starting to see that rotation shake out now?
“Well, we’ll find out. When you see the guys in the spring and they’re not always as conditioned for everything, now having spent a whole summer … but we’ll have to make some quick decisions in the first two weeks of August camp. Because again, all we care about in the secondary is sense of urgency, toughness and tackling. If you can bat a ball down better, if you can catch it when they throw it in your direction, bonus. But bad tackling secondaries make bad defenses. We’re really trying to make a point that our toughest players will play.
“When Miami became a fast defense [in the 1980s], everybody thought they were talking about in the back end. But they were talking about the defensive linemen. The toughness of your defense should be determined by your little guys. If your little guys will strike, then usually you’ll be a tough defense. If your big guys will run to the ball, and your little guys will strike, then you probably will have a pretty good defense.”
Linebackers … Jermaine Grace and Shaq Quarterman, Michael Pinckney, are you starting to see enough guys? I know depth isn’t where you want to be, but …
“Well, any time you’re talking about a true freshman at linebacker, that’s a heck of a proposition. Especially where the game is now, with what people are trying to do with tempo and the decisions you have to make quickly. But Shaq as an example, and really Pinckney too – they’re not normal freshman linebackers. They’re mature beyond their years. They have that sense of urgency more like an older guy.
“Shaq – the two of them in different ways – but Shaq just has that alpha male thing, like all the little dogs follow the one guy. He’s got that. Pinckney has this fearlessness, being willing to challenge any of the older guys.
“Again – our problem is still here. The problem still exists. It’s not eradicated. It’s important for even a young guy to point that out. We’ve told them. You can’t go four years and not beat Florida State, and don’t think you’re not the problem. You were a recruiting mistake. If you don’t beat Florida State in four years, you were a recruiting mistake.
“To be at this school, with what it means to be at the University of Miami, this is what’s expected of you. It’s a standard. You’re held up to the standard. No one likes that, that’s kind of harsh, but hell – same thing as a coach. That’s what you’ve got to live up to. And if you don’t, you’ve got to find somebody else.”
Al-Quadin Muhammad is entering his fourth year in the program. Chad Thomas is entering his third year. Both were so highly rated coming out of high school. Can they be those dominant ends for you guys?
“Yeah, I feel like they kind of have to be. But you have to go do it. At some point, you have to stop talking about how talented you are. In college football, in this day and age, everyone’s got a ranking, and you’ve got to stop talking about it. No one cares anymore. You are what you are. You are what your film says of you. You’re running out of people to blame.
“Now, their success is not always defined by plays made. You can be really disruptive, and it’s not always easy to tell. We had Mario Williams at N.C. State, and he didn’t have a sack in the first six games, then he had a bunch in the last six. When NFL teams were trying to find a reason not to draft him, they were like, ‘What happened in the first six games? Uneven production.’ Sacks, quarterback pressures, hurries, there’s a lot of ways to affect the game. But again, everyone has to play at a much higher level. That’s the thing.
“On our defense, the guys that had played were like, oh no, we’re good. I was like, no. You’re not. You have not — in the big-time games, you have not made as big a difference as you think you have, in terms of what a big-time player really is. In a way, when you come in, those are the guys you challenge harder than anybody else.
[As in,] ‘If you’re so good, why haven’t we beat Florida State? If you’re so good, why haven’t we won the Coastal?’
Well yeah, but what you’re trying to do is get those guys uncomfortable with being good players. Good is the enemy of great. Yeah, OK, congrats. You’re a good player.
“If that’s all you want to be, that’s all we’re going to be. A good program — 8-4 is a good year. You’re trying to break them of that. It’s way harder to get from good to great than it is from bad to good.”