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Hurricanes coaches seek new defensive strategy

They rank 109th in pass defense and scoring defense, 89th against the run and 114th in total defense out of 120 teams in major college football.

Hurricanes defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio is well aware of how awful his unit has looked. The Canes haven’t been lit up like this (1,000-plus yards, 84 points in two games) since coming off probation in 1998.

“I can’t worry about any of that right now,” D’Onofrio said Monday of the criticism he has received since Saturday’s 52-13 loss at Kansas State. “The only fans I need to worry about are my wife and my kids. As long as they still like me, I am in good shape.”

D’Onofrio didn’t offer any quick-fix remedies Monday. Instead, he asked for more patience and compared Miami’s defensive mess to a reclamation project, like the ones he undertook as a linebackers coach at Rutgers and then as defensive coordinator at Temple under Al Golden.

There, D’Onofrio mixed what little talent he inherited with a lot of freshmen and sophomores. Eventually, the garbage was weeded out, and the defenses improved. The plan here (17 freshmen and sophomores on the two-deep depth chart) is essentially the same.

“Go back and look at his statistics; his statistics say it all,” Golden said of D’Onofrio. “We finished 17th against the score last year, 15th the year before at Temple. Again, is it what we want right now? No. But who is more upset than we are?

“I appreciate everybody’s passion, but there were too many players out of position and too many plays we didn’t execute, and too many times where we just didn’t have 11 guys doing their job. We always look at ourselves as coaches first so we know what we need to calm down, and what we need to call more of, and what we need to eliminate based on what we’re seeing.”

“There’s no panic button right now. We’re in it for the long haul. We’ll get this fixed. I’ve seen this before. I’ve seen this drill before, trust me.”

As for the immediate future — including Saturday’s home opener against Bethune-Cookman — D’Onofrio said he’s trimming the rotation. Golden said 26 players have gotten into games on defense.

“It is not going to be like Pop Warner football where everybody gets in,” said D’Onofrio, who said he has simplified UM’s playbook and turned the focus in practice to filling the right gaps and improving tackling.

On the other side of the ball, where UM also struggled mightily at Kansas State, right tackle Seantrel Henderson made his 2012 debut against the Wildcats.

Henderson spoke to reporters Monday for the first time since media day. He seemed self-assured and motivated after being promoted last week from the scout team to the backup to starter Ereck Flowers.

“I was just ready to get out there on the field,” said the 6-8, 340-pound tackle, who missed a substantial amount of fall camp with a concussion from a car accident and attending two separate funerals in his home state of Minnesota. “I was ready whenever coaches were going to give me my opportunity. I hate that it had to be one of my teammates getting hurt.”

Henderson said he graded out at 91 percent Saturday, and felt well-conditioned competing in 22 plays after Flowers sustained what appeared to be an ankle injury. Golden said that Flowers was back at practice and fine.

“I hope that’s his floor, not his ceiling,” Golden said of Henderson’s performance. “I hope he’ll come on for us now.”

Henderson said it is easier for him to play on the right side because of his previous lower-back injury that required surgery last year and makes it harder for him to get leverage from the left side. “I’m still strengthening my left hip and left leg, so I’m getting back stronger.”

As for drowning out all the outside noise, he said he doesn’t pay attention to it.

“I just stay within the team. As long as … we’re preparing for the next team so we can get a better outcome, I’m all good to go,” Henderson said. “I’m not really worried about the outsiders or any social network and websites that are only distractions.

“No matter what, I’m always going to be a Cane. In my heart, I bleed orange and green every day.”

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