University of Miami

New Miami Hurricanes defense to shed focus on size, opt for speed

When Al Golden and Mark D’Onofrio ran the Miami Hurricanes’ defense, developing bulk and size was an offseason priority, especially in the front seven of a 3-4 scheme.

A great example was Anthony Chickillo, who arrived at UM a four-star defensive end and MVP of the 2011 Under Armour All-American Game, then packed on more than 40 pounds in college, played slow and totaled 15 1/2 sacks in 50 games.

Chickillo, now a linebacker with the Pittsburgh Steelers, later complained that “the only thing [coaches at UM] cared about was me gaining weight.”

Those days are clearly over under new head coach Mark Richt. Speed is equally important — if not more — than size.

“I don’t know what the previous staff did, but I do know we want our guys to be at a certain body fat,” Richt said Thursday after practice. “We want them to be quick, be strong. You can’t be too light obviously. You have to be strong enough to take on the run game and all that. But we do want guys in shape, be quick, and like I said we want them strong, too.”

Case in point, sophomore defensive lineman R.J. McIntosh said he has dropped 10 pounds, added muscle and speed and moved from the outside to the interior.

“Tackles a lot of times get the best matchup on the field when it comes to rushing the passer,” Richt responded when asked when McIntosh made the move.

Listed at 6-4, 291 pounds, McIntosh said he has gotten to the quarterback quite a bit through the first five practices. It’s part of the reason he’s running with the first team at tackle alongside sophomore Kendrick Norton, ahead of Anthony Moten and Courtel Jenkins.

McIntosh said the switch to the 4-3 scheme has made UM’s defense “a lot better than last year.”

“It gives us a little more freedom,” McIntosh said. “We’re attacking the quarterback faster and better instead of just trying to react to what’s coming at us.”

Under former head coach Golden and defensive coordinator D’Onofrio, the Canes never had a season with more than 29 sacks (UM had 13 sacks and ranked 115th in 2012) and never finished better than 96th in tackles for loss (66 total in 2015 were the most) from 2012-15.

New coordinator Manny Diaz’s defense ranked 34th in tackles for loss (85) and 42nd in sacks (30) last season at Mississippi State. His 2014 defense at Louisiana Tech ranked second in tackles for loss (114) and 16th in sacks (38).

New defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski developed several players into NFL-caliber talents at Missouri, including four first-round picks since 2009. The Tigers finished second nationally in tackles for loss and 50th in sacks last season under Kuligowski.

McIntosh said Kuligowski, whose Twitter handle is @letsmeetattheqb, has the players focusing on developing better technique with their hands early in spring ball. Kuligowski said last week he wants his ends to have 15 percent or less body fat and his tackles to have 18 percent or less.

“I really don’t care what that weight is,” he said. “I’d rather have them be able to run all day than have an extra 10 pounds and not be able to run to the football like we want them to. They may be lighter than they were last year, but that’s because they’re working their [butt] off and getting in probably their best shape.”

▪ Quarterback Brad Kaaya said Richt’s system has “a few different route concepts, different checks, different footwork” from the approach of the former staff. Is it a more complicated system? “I wouldn’t say more complicated. Just different.”

▪ Senior Corn Elder, the only cornerback on the roster with significant experience, said he has been getting some work on returns and said he has “enough energy” to be a returner and an every-play cornerback. “I wouldn’t mind it,” he said.

Manny Navarro: 305-376-3612, @Manny_Navarro