Craig Kuligowski isn’t as loquacious as Manny Diaz, but he’s certainly sharp.
Miami’s defensive line coach took our questions on Wednesday, in advance of Saturday’s season-opener against Florida A&M (6 p.m., ESPN3.com). It’s been a busy game week, to say the least: one starter was dismissed from the program, his replacement broke his hand, another key lineman dislocated his shoulder, and the group is already without a key reserve, who was suspended for a game.
Is Kuligowski worried?
“No,” he said. “I’m happy to be here. It’s a great place. We have a great defensive line. I hope we perform our best on Saturday. That’s my expectation.”
To Kuligowski, it “seems like a normal game week. Guys are excited to play the first game, like I am. The stadium is beautiful. Everybody’s excited about that.”
The loss of Al-Quadin Muhammad, the injuries to Trent Harris and Anthony Moten and suspension of Gerald Willis means Kuligowski will rely on true freshman earlier than he may have expected. At defensive end, Joe Jackson and Pat Bethel will see early action. A source told the Post that Harris, who has a broken left hand, is likely to play, but Moten (dislocated right shoulder) will not.
Kuligowski didn’t say whether any of his tackles would flip to end or vice versa — “they can all do that … we practice all over the place” — but it’s likely redshirt sophomore Demetrius Jackson will play more on the opposite side of the line. Jackson, listed as junior Chad Thomas‘ backup, could start at the opposite “Viper” end position (where Harris starts, and Muhammad did before).
He believes Demetrius Jackson, a 6-foot-3, 260-pound former high school basketball player (and teammate of Thomas at Miami-Booker T. Washington High) can “be a force vs. the run and the pass. He’s got good change-of-direction, too. All the things that you look for that may hurt [opponents], he does a good job. He just needed more experience. He’s gone through spring ball and two-a-days, so he’s getting a lot of that.”
The difference between Jackson from the spring to now: “He’s shown more toughness,” Kuligowski said. “He’s a tough kid, but on the football field he wasn’t demonstrating that in terms of effort and physical-ness, and now he is.”
Joe Jackson, a 6-5, 250-pound four-star recruit from Miami-Gulliver Prep, had that when he arrived. “He’s very physical,” Kuligowski said. “He’s got great speed. He’s got a lot of things a lot of freshmen don’t have in terms of being able to handle coaching, being able to handle the assignments. He said both Jackson and Bethel (6-3, 260), a four-star recruit from Vero Beach, have “done a really good job.”
What does he expect from them on game day?
“I think they’re going to be great, and then we’ll get to the locker room and we’ll see if they’re puking or not, and we’ll go from there,” Kuligowski said. “I had one of my true freshmen who played for me last year [at Missouri], he came over to me before the game and said, ‘Coach, I feel like I’m going to throw up.’ I said, ‘Well, go throw up. Then it will be over with.’ Once you go hit somebody, it’s all football.”
- Defensive tackles Kendrick Norton and R.J. McIntosh, both sophomores, separated themselves as starters because they’re “big, talented guys and now they’re playing like big, talented guys. God’s given them a lot of talent, and it’s between them and me to get it to work the right way,” Kuligowski said, praising them for being “consistent, trustworthy, hardworking [and] smart.”
- With Muhammad gone, a reporter suggested, Thomas may try to take on too much responsibility. Has that come up in their conversations? “You know, I try not to get in the players’ heads too much,” Kuligowski said. “It’s kind of scary in there. I just want him to play the best he’s going to play.”
- On its FAMU-week depth chart — the first Miami has released since Mark Richt became coach — one of the defensive end positions was called “Viper.” Why? “Scary-sounding,” Kuligowski said, smiling. The Viper, which some teams call a “Jack,” a “Buck” or a “rush end,” is a pass-rushing defensive end who can stand up if a team switches from a 4-3 to a 3-4 look.
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