Manny Diaz didn’t like what he saw throughout practice Thursday. He said it was just a couple of drills where his players didn’t compete as hard as they could, but sometimes, that’s all it takes.
So the Hurricanes’ defensive coordinator herded his players to the chainlink fence at the end of Miami’s practice field, where they squatted side by side with their backs to the fence and looked their coach in the eye.
“I’ve got to get this work,” the defense chanted as it accepted its punishment.
After a minute or so, the players got up, rested for a minute, and did it again. And again. And again.
“Just didn’t have a good day,” sophomore defensive back Trajan Bandy said.
Linebacker Michael Pinckney took a glass-half-full approach: “It’s a team bonding thing. Just resetting the standard.”
Pinckney knows a thing or two about this punishment. After all, he has gone through this before. Two years ago, when Diaz arrived in Coral Gables at the start of the Mark Richt era of Miami football, Hurricane defenders went through their share of wall sits. Diaz wanted to make sure they knew success wasn’t going to come easy. If they wanted to make an impact on his defense, they needed to put in the work.
Most of that initial class is gone now, though, and Diaz wants to make sure that this year’s team understands what the standard looks like at the University of Miami.
“There’s not a bunch that went through that initiation process of when we became what we became,” Diaz said. “There’s some guys who have hopped in on the ride and sort of enjoyed the fruits of the labor of some of those who aren’t here anymore. It’s just to get them to understand that we didn’t get good on accident. There were certain things that we had to do and had to establish to play defense the way we had the last two years.”
Indeed, expectations are high for Diaz’s defense after the last two years. Miami’s defense ranked in the top-15 nationally in yards per play allowed each of the last two seasons (4.77 in 2017, tied for 12th; 4.69 in 2016, ninth). The Hurricanes also ranked in the top-eight nationally in tackles for loss both years — Michigan and Clemson were the only other schools to do the same. And then there were the 50 forced turnovers, including 31 in 2017, following the introduction of the Turnover Chain.
Now, Diaz is tasked with replacing a bulk of the talent that helped get his defense to where it is today.
Four of their top six defensive linemen — ends Chad Thomas and Trent Harris, along with tackles Kendrick Norton and RJ McIntosh — are prepping for the NFL draft. That quartet accounted for 42 of Miami’s 111 tackles for loss (37.8 percent) and 18.5 of their 44 sacks (42 percent).
Defensive back Dee Delaney (six starts in 2017) played his first and only season for Miami last year. Malek Young suffered a career-ending neck injury in the Orange Bowl.
Diaz returns all three of his starting linebackers in Pinckney, Shaquille Quarterman and Zach McCloud, but the focus there shifts to developing the second and third teams.
It’s up to younger faces to fill the void, Diaz said.
He’s hoping Thursday was a needed wake-up call.
“Everybody when they’re recruited wants to play, and all of a sudden an opportunity stares you eye to eye and some guys blink,” Diaz said. “So you’ve got to be careful what you ask for. We’ve been telling guys that there’s opportunities to play early here, and we weren’t lying. They’re finding that out now, and sometimes it’s the hard way.”