The University of Miami got violent again.
That’s how defensive coordinator Manny Diaz likes it.
Hurricanes coach Mark Richt called it “a little feisty out there’’ during practice Wednesday. “Guys wanted to get after each other, which was healthy.”
Three games in 12 days against Atlantic Coast Conference teams with a combined 16-6 record beat up the Hurricanes physically and mentally. Three losses — 20-19 to Florida State, 20-13 to North Carolina and 37-16 at Virginia Tech — made it worse.
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Now, the Hurricanes (4-3, 1-3 ACC) appear to be on the mend. With three defensive starters and one productive backup having returned this week to practice, and nine days between UM’s whupping by the Hokies and the next game Saturday at Notre Dame, things appear to be back to some semblance of normalcy in Coral Gables.
Starting defensive end Chad Thomas (broken hand and another undisclosed upper-extremity injury), starting safety Rayshawn Jenkins (lower leg/ankle), starting cornerback Sheldrick Redwine (lower extremity) and defensive tackle Gerald Willis (knee) practiced again Wednesday.
The other injured starting defensive end, Demetrius Jackson (knee), has been working with the training staff.
The players have finally had time to breathe between games, their wounds are healing and the energy level is high again.
“It’s going to be a lot better this week for the D-line, especially because we will have more guys to come in and rotate,’’ said 6-4, 290-pound defensive tackle R.J. McIntosh, a sophomore who has started all seven games and has 28 tackles, 6 1/2 tackles for loss, 1 1/2 sacks, two pass breakups and two blocked kicks. “We’ll have more fresh legs, and that will be a big help.”
Hard-hitting safety Jamal Carter said the key defenders returning to practice are “giving us rest time so when we do substitute, everybody can come in fresh.’’
Is Carter surprised that Jenkins, UM’s leading tackler (43) with two tackles for loss, half a sack, an interception and three pass breakups, is practicing after seeming to be in excruciating pain in the third quarter at Virginia Tech?
“He’s tough,’’ Carter said with a grin. “He’s tough.’’
Diaz said he was pleased to have the additions, especially because they’re playmakers. Against the Hokies, UM allowed a season-high 523 yards, missing several tackles and looking disorganized at times.
Notre Dame is 66th nationally in total offense, averaging 413.9 yards per game, and 61st in scoring, averaging 30.3 points.
“I felt like the last game,” Diaz said, “for the first time, we did not always play like Hurricanes. We had some guys that had been very violent and had been very physical all year that, for the first time, showed to not be. I think three games in 12 days with our limited numbers [took a toll] on us a little bit. With the little break, the little nine-day rest that we’ve had, and getting some guys back, will give us a boost.
“Notre Dame will have no sympathy for us. It will be important that we reestablish our physical identity on Saturday.”
Said Carter: “He’s right about that. In practice, I know these last couple days we’ve been going hard, thudding up each other, trying to bring the physicality back and redefining our defense. It feels way more refreshing. We have way more energy. It just feels way better.
“It’s going to come back this game …”
TIGHT END DOBARD PROGRESSING AT DE
Diaz said that 6-4, 252-pound senior tight end Stan Dobard, who has practiced the past two weeks at defensive end, is working hard to attempt the transition to defense. Dobard only has two catches for 32 yards this season and has been mostly replaced by Chris Herndon and David Njoku.
“Let’s see the way the game goes,” Diaz said about Dobard possibly getting a shot at playing defense on Saturday. “What I appreciate is that he’s a senior that’s just trying to fight and find a way to make an impact to help this football team in any way he can. That will be big down the stretch.”
The first thing Diaz looked at in analyzing Dobard on defense, he said, is, “Does he have the initial toughness? When 300-pound men come and put their hands on you, how do you respond to that? It seems like he has responded pretty well. When you get out there in the game it’s at a different speed. Like we do with all our players, we will make sure to put him in a position to succeed.”