University of Miami

New UM defensive scheme to reveal who ‘is good enough to be here’

UM defensive coordinator Manny Diaz looks on during spring practice Thursday, March 17, 2016 at Greentree Field in Coral Gables.
UM defensive coordinator Manny Diaz looks on during spring practice Thursday, March 17, 2016 at Greentree Field in Coral Gables. wmichot@miamiherald.com

Some University of Miami players and fans have received their wish: UM ditched ousted defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio’s hybrid scheme and read-and-react philosophy — which former players said could be confusing — and replaced it with new coordinator Manny Diaz’s attacking 4-3 defense.

But the onus is now on the players to prove they’re good enough to play the new style effectively. That will begin to become evident when UM practices in pads for the first time Saturday, after Tuesday and Thursday sessions in shorts.

“All we’ve heard about is scheme, scheme, scheme,” Diaz said Thursday. “The scheme is not going to save us. The first thing we’ve got to find out is whether our players are good enough or not good enough.

“They’ve kind of walked around as if they really weren’t the problem. Some of them may be. Some of them may not be. That’s what really this spring is about — exposing who really is good enough to be here to get Miami to where we all think it should be.”

And if the personnel isn’t good enough, will Diaz need to alter his approach?

“If you can’t cover you can’t cover,” he said. “If you can’t play the line of scrimmage, you can’t. … You can do what you can try to do to hide that. You’ve got to improve what you have.”

Coach Mark Richt made clear Thursday that Diaz “is being hired to run the show” and “I’m not going to be over there trying to tell the defense what to do. I’m not going to spend a lot of time [on defense] … not going to claim to be an expert compared to what Manny knows. I’m going to be coaching offense. I’m going to be very involved in special teams.”

He said he will meet with the defensive staff twice a week during the season, once early in the week and again after games.

Richt said he wasn’t adamant about hiring a coach who will play an attacking 4-3 style, but he prefers that.

“I really feel like Manny was the best man for the job and I do love the fact it’s in a 4-3 form, because it does let guys turn it loose,” Richt said. “And kids really enjoy doing that. If you’re a read-and-react team, it’s just not quite as fun.”

If you can’t cover you can’t cover. If you can’t play the line of scrimmage, you can’t. … You can do what you can try to do to hide that. You’ve got to improve what you have.

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Richt added that defensive players like it “if everybody on the team has a chance to make a play within their gap responsibilities. It’s not like guys are just doing what they want to do. They’re turning it loose because there aren’t so many assignments that their minds are binded up. A confused player can’t play fast. Coach [Diaz] makes it simple for the defense but creates problems for the offense.”

Highly-regarded new defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski, who coached four first-round NFL draft picks at Missouri (Shane Ray, Aldon Smith, Ziggy Hood and Sheldon Richardson), says Diaz “is like a borderline Einstein genius” and he has the same defensive philosophy.

“If there’s a lot of thinking required, I did something wrong,” Kuligowski said. “You cannot ask somebody to run through a wall and then before you run through the wall, please analyze the wall and check for the weak spot. That is what your scouting report before the game is supposed to tell you. … We attack and then we react.”

Diaz and Kuligowski don’t have a strong feel yet for exactly what they have with personnel.

“There’s nobody out here on our defense where you say, ‘This guy, wow, is he a star!’ ” Kuligowski said. “There’s nobody. Hopefully, by the end of two-a-days, we’re saying we have like five to 10 stars.”

Cornerback is one of several concerns; Corn Elder is the only corner with substantial experience. “We’ll be green on the back end, but some of the younger guys have made some steps,” Diaz said.

Barry Jackson: 305-376-3491, @flasportsbuzz

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