Defense Looking to Take Next Step
By David Villavicencio
CORAL GABLES, Fla. – The Miami Hurricanes featured one of the best defenses in the country in 2016, and that same unit is already working to be even better this coming season.
Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz is excited about his group entering the 2017 season. One year after the Canes made exponential gains in nine statistical categories – including team tackles, for loss, team sacks, total defense and third down defense – Diaz sees a confident bunch early in camp.
“Their confidence, I think, comes from their preparation,” Diaz said. “True confidence comes from preparation. I think they feel like they’ve worked hard in the offseason, which they have. The only downside is that all the people we compete against, they worked hard in the offseason as well. We do remind them that they’re not special because they’re working hard. That’s just the standard.”
Miami’s defense is experienced, bringing back 13 players with a combined 122 career starts. Senior defensive lineman Chad Thomas leads all defenders with 20 career starts, while fellow senior Trent Harris has started 17 games. A versatile and athletic lineman, Harris believes the talent on the defensive line is the deepest that it has been in his time at Miami and that only makes the players better.
“It’s a lot different. We haven’t had it like this at Miami since I have been here,” Harris said of the depth. “The practices are a lot more competitive now. We have three or four guys at D-end that can all play right now. Every day we are all out here competing and making each other better. It’s going to be a good camp.”
While many look at the bevy of talent on the field as the reason for Miami’s defensive success, Harris credits Diaz’s coaching for so much of why the Canes are great on defense.
“He has a standard that he wants us to play at and meeting that standard, you’ve got to push yourself,” Harris said. “That’s what makes us better. It’s him pushing us and he does a great job of explaining the defense.”
Miami’s trio of freshman linebackers were impressive in the collegiate debut season, but Shaquille Quarterman, Michael Pinckney and Zach McCloud have much bigger goals heading into Year 2 of college football.
“We can get a whole lot better,” McCloud said. “After watching all the games from last year, we see a lot of missed opportunities and things that are easy to fix as well as things that are not as easy to fix. That’s why we have this period – to get better at all those things and see what we can do during the season.”
Quarterman, who was a Freshman All-American after an outstanding season in which he ranked second on the team with 84 tackles, is one of the leaders of the defense and he has embraced that role early in camp.
“I am just trying to lead by example,” Quarterman said. “I can’t be slacking and then getting on the younger guy. It doesn’t work like that. I have to push myself to the best of my abilities. Instead of breaking down a younger guy – or even an older guy – because it’s hot out here, I just lift them up, explaining to them that we are all working hard out here in the heat and it is going to build great results come a couple of seasons from now.”
Diaz sees great leadership skills in Quarterman, and he appreciates what the talented linebacker brings to the team as a player and person.
“As a coach, you’re always blessed to have a guy like Shaq,” Diaz said. “The package of not only what he is on the field, but what he is off the field – the type of person he is – you could argue that if they were all like Shaq, you really wouldn’t need coaches. You could tell the bus drivers to drive them to the game. You appreciate when you have guys like that, but you also understand that you have a real duty to be at your best as a coach, because you want to take them, still, to reach maybe a height that they don’t even know that they have in them. That’s kind of what you feel as a coach, that you’ve got to get this guy to really a special place.”
Miami opens the season at home on Sept. 2 against Bethune-Cookman. Kickoff is set for 12:30 p.m., ET. Click here for ticket information.