Please don’t tell University of Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz that his defense is dominating – at least not until the end of the season.
This is August, not last December, when Diaz, miffed about his players getting passed up for some post-season conference awards, said during a radio interview, “Maybe just everybody tripped on the way to the end zone when they played us.’’
Fast forward to earlier this week, with the Canes back to the zero in every category.
“You have your first scrimmage coming up,’’ Diaz was told after practice Tuesday. “If the quarterbacks are live, your defense is so dominant. Are you concerned about some inexperienced quarterbacks getting crunched?”
Diaz didn’t bristle.
“Well, let’s address two things there,’’ he said, serious again. “Our defense has not established any dominance over anything. And that’s important.
“I told them I heard a great saying in church this weekend: Strength assumed is weakness doubled. And there are a lot of assumptions being made.’’
The assumption, Diaz explained, goes something like this: ‘“Well, if this guy plays as well as [former starting cornerback] Corn Elder… ‘Well, if this guy plays as well as [former starting safety] Jamal [Carter].’
“We don’t know until we play. So the fact that we’re being told that we’re dominant is really just, that has not been proven yet. So we have to have a little bit of an edge and a chip on our shoulder to prove that.’’
Sophomore defensive end Joe Jackson, who led the Canes last year with 8.5 sacks and had 13 tackles for loss, two fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles, said his teammates “are embracing’’ the positive expectations surrounding the defensive line, but keeping it in perspective.
“We are not trying to get big-headed by it,’’ Jackson said Wednesday. “We know we have to work hard to get where we were last year and we have to work even harder to get past that and meet everyone’s expectations and our own.’’
After the regular season, when Diaz gave the “tripped-on-the-way-to-the-end-zone’’ interview to WQAM-560, the Canes were 8-4 (before their Russell Athletic Bowl victory against West Virginia) and had gone from 69th in total defense to 26th; from 86th in yards-per-play to 13th; from 77th in scoring defense to 14th; from 105th in tackles for loss to sixth; and from 70th in sacks to 22nd.
Now the Canes are working on everything from takeaways to turning the takeaways into touchdowns. They had three defensive touchdowns last season, but like the early 2000s, are hoping for many more this season.
“We’re making a big point of emphasis to score on defense this year, so we’re practicing the procedure of turning defense to offense,’’ Diaz said.
As for that scrimmage Saturday morning at Hard Rock Stadium…
“When we scrimmage the first thing is, and you’ll be tired of me saying it, is ‘Will we tackle?’’’ Diaz said. “And especially in the secondary. We told our guys, ‘All we have to do is miss two more tackles a game that Jamal Carter, Rayshawn Jenkins and Corn Elder made a year ago and we go from being pretty good to pretty awful in a hurry,’’’ Diaz said. “Just two plays. So that standard of tackling in the secondary and at all positions will be the first thing we’ll find out on Saturday.’’
Jackson acknowledged that the mobility of UM’s quarterbacks – “especially Kosi [Perry] and Malik [Rosier]’’ – makes it especially prudent to “be more conscious about what you’re doing. Just about every quarterback we have is fast enough. You gotta pay attention to them real well.’’
And those freshman signal callers – N’Kosi Perry and Cade Weldon – who will be scrimmaging for the first time in their quest to win the starting job?
“For us it doesn’t change anything,’’ the coach said. “We’re going to play ball.’’
▪ The Hurricanes had off Thursday, and will return to the practice field Friday morning.