Remember that “hit list’’ the University of Miami football team had last year?
Florida State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame — teams that had beaten the Hurricanes in consecutive games in 2016 — were on it.
The Canes vowed to mow each down in 2017, and they did, winning the first 10 games before faltering in the last three against Pittsburgh, Clemson in the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship and Wisconsin in the Orange Bowl.
Hurricanes defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, never shy about complimenting or criticizing his players, indicated Thursday that after an impressive spring, he believes his defense will likely be ready when some of those same teams in 2018 put the Canes on their list.
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“This has been a better spring than we had a year ago for whatever reason,’’ Diaz said. “I don’t think we had a bad spring a year ago. It has just been better this time around.
“It’s been more physical. It’s been more competitive.’’
After last Saturday’s spring game in which the defense dominated in every way, collecting nine sacks and intimidating the offense, Diaz indicated he wouldn’t have been surprised had his defense come out the next practice on Tuesday and been lackadaisical.
But Tuesday's practice, he said, was the defense's best this spring. The final practice, which also will serve as the last scrimmage —closed to everyone except UM football alumni — is Saturday morning.
“Guys played really well,’’ he said of the spring game….It was as good of a tackling scrimmage as I’ve ever been around. …They came out here on Tuesday with every reason to not bring it — Day 13, anticlimactic. It was our best practice in terms of the way our guys competed and our toughness and the guys playing physical.
“This team, it just might have something about it. You don’t know, but it might have something about it that week in and week out, any time we come out and play, we’re ready to play at a high level, which is what you have to have if you want to win championships. Everybody is gunning for us now.’’
The defense “made a big point this spring,’’ Diaz said, “of playing your best when your best is required. We used the NBA playoffs kind of as an example. When is your best required? Third down, in the red zone, one-minute drill situations, in Charlotte [at the ACC title game].
“When your best is required, be the guy that’s at your best. Be the guy that in the fourth quarter of the basketball game we’re going to draw the pick-and-roll up for you to take the game-winning shot. So we challenged them that if you’re going to be that guy in the fall you’ve got to be that guy in practice. You’ve got to make that play.”
So, who are the players that are making those plays?
Diaz mentioned five players when asked to name the ones who have jumped out at him in a positive way this spring.
“I would say starting from front to back, certainly I would say [6-4, 285-pound senior defensive tackle] Gerald Willis, because just getting him back, but seeing the way he’s brought it and worked every day.
“The continued development of [6-5, 260-pound junior defensive end] Joe Jackson.
“I would say [6-4, 235-pound sophomore defensive end] Jonathan Garvin – we’ve had a lot of guys that have made plays Year One and now have to deal with the expectations going into Year Two. The way he has come out here and worked every day has really been a sight to see.
“I’m sure everyone knows, [6-6, 225-pound early enrollee freshman] Greg Rousseau and what Greg has done in all the scrimmages, I don’t know if anyone could have predicted that.’’
Then, Diaz noted redshirt freshman weak-side linebacker “Waynmon Steed, who really, we just took out of the wrapper because he had been injured in the fall, and seeing some of the things he can do on the field has been a neat surprise.”
Diaz also praised junior linebacker , saying he has been “excellent’’ at the point of attack and in improving in pass coverage.
▪ Redshirt freshman quarterback Cade Weldon, who missed more than two weeks of spring with what coach Mark Richt said was conjunctivitis, returned to practice Thursday.