A six-pack of UM nuggets on a Tuesday:
• Considering UM lost arguably its top two defensive players to dismissals, and then played parts of the season without several key contributors, it’s awfully impressive that UM enters Saturday’s regular-season finale ranked 28th in total defense and 16th in points allowed (18.7 per game).
I asked Mark Richt if defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has extracted everything possible from his group.
“They’ve done a great job,” he said. “Obviously, it’s not over yet. We’ve got another couple games, but I’m really pleased with coach Diaz, the staff, the rest of the defensive staff, the players. We had no idea.
“Really, when you watch how it started in the spring to how they play right now, there has been a huge change in my mind, in my opinion, the way I see it. I’m really proud of all our coaches, but those guys did a really beautiful job on the defensive side.”
And Richt is bullish about the future.
“We’re senior-laden loaded in the back end and we’re going to miss those guys for sure, but everywhere else, we’re relatively young,” he said.
“Most everybody should be back and that’s a really good sign. Hopefully we’re strong enough up front to be able to handle some youth in the back end. We handled youth at the linebacker position, but they’re not young anymore. So, hopefully we’ll find some kids very much like we found at the linebacker position and [have them in the] defensive backfield and be ready to be a pretty strong group.”
• Some people inside the UM program are very concerned about the possibility of junior tight end David Njoku turning pro, unless he can be convinced to return and play one season along his brother, UM oral commitment Evidence Njoku.
Offensive coordinator Thomas Brown said David Njoku has been “really good. David is a very versatile player. Can do a lot in space, plays a lot like a wide receiver at times. He's a mismatch. He's big enough to overpower most safeties and DBs... and fast enough to run past any linebacker you want to put against him. Coach [Todd] Hartley has done a really good job of staying on him.”
• Brad Kaaya’s return is also in question; he hasn’t told UM his intentions.
Asked if he hopes that Kaaya will return and whether another year would benefit him, Brown said: “Absolutely. I hope everybody returns. A couple guys who have a chance to [go to the league]. We can be really special if those guys come back.”
He said he has no idea if Kaaya will turn pro – he said he has never even thought about the subject - and Richt said he wouldn’t discuss that with Kaaya until after the Duke game.
• I asked Brown if he believes four-star offensive tackle George Brown, an LSU transfer who becomes eligible next season, will be a high-impact player.
“He better be,” Thomas Brown said. “We brought in for a reason.”
• On a couple of freshman skill position players we haven’t seen a lot of, Brown said: “The young kid, [running back] Travis Homer is going to be really good. He's with some very talented backs. He's done an unbelievable job on special teams.
“[Receiver Dionte] Mullins did a really good job of coming along, learning the offense. He will be in a spot to help us down the road.”
• Richt wasn’t pleased with Tuesday’s practice: “I just wasn’t sure if it was just all-out effort. I thought there was a lot of effort, but I’m not sure if it was unanimous. So, a couple things got under my crawl…. I just let them know. I ask them who they want to be. What do you want to be known for?”