University of Miami

Miami Hurricanes’ spring defensive goal: ‘Eradicating the virus’

New Miami Hurricanes defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said Tuesday he isn’t focused on getting his players to fit a 4-3 scheme or perfect the plays he will call come the fall.

No, Diaz said Tuesday after UM’s seventh practice of the spring that he and his staff are focused on “eradicating” the “virus” still within the program.

“You’re used to operating at a high standard, and we’re still a ways away from that,” Diaz said.

“I think today the heat got to us a little bit, and I think we felt sorry for ourselves a little bit. And that’s what we want as coaches, because that’s what exposes what we call the virus within the program still — that we can still choose when we want to be at our best and when not to be at our best. That’s not all of them. But certainly some of them have that, and that’s what we’re trying to eradicate as much as possible within these 15 days.”

The Hurricanes, who finished 69th in total defense (404.8 yards per game), 77th in scoring defense (28.2 points per game) and 103rd versus the run (201.0 yards per game), have been zeroing in on tackling better and running to the ball better, Diaz said. The coaching staff has “changed the system of tackling” and the team goes through daily tackling drills at full speed, Diaz said, even if bodies aren’t hitting the ground every day.

“We have to run to the ball better,” Diaz said. “We have to tackle better. If we can just tackle better, and run to the ball better, leverage the football better, we’ll be a better defense regardless of what’s called.”

Senior linebacker Jermaine Grace, who led the team with 79 tackles last season, is setting that tackling standard right now, Diaz said. Grace is running with the first team at strong-side linebacker.

“Certainly he’s ahead of the rest of them,” Diaz said. “That jumps out as obvious. I’ve been using him as an example in the [linebacker film] room to say we’ve got Grace and then we’ve got kind of a mush pile of other guys.

“But, certainly there’s still more [room] for Jermaine [to grow]. The one thing I’ll say about Jermaine to his credit is that he wants to be pushed. He wants to be held to a higher standard. What I’ve been most pleased with him is that he’s really put some physical plays on tape, knocking into fullbacks and some things like that. He’s a powerful kid and I think he likes the role that he’s at right now.”

▪ Redshirt junior Quan Muhammad, who led the Hurricanes in sacks last season with five and who praised for his play this spring Saturday by head coach Mark Richt, said Tuesday he wants to be the best pass rusher in the country.

“I’m trying to prove that I’m the best in the country, hands down,” he said. “I feel like I’m underrated, like `Uh, he’s alright.’ I’m trying to prove I’m the best, and that’s why I’m out here working hard every day. And it’s going to happen.”

Diaz said Muhammad is the hardest working player in UM’s defensive front.

“His effort stands out in practice,” Diaz said. “Where maybe other guys start to feel tired, Quan continues to push himself. It speaks to type of human he is and I think the type of player he’ll become.”

▪ Senior receiver Stacy Coley said he disagreed with what Richt said Saturday about UM’s receivers “not having enough speed to strike fear into anybody.”

So did safety Rayshawn Jenkins, who said Coley is clearly the fastest of the group.

“We definitely have speed at receiver in guys like Stacy Coley, Malcolm Lewis, Braxton Berrios,” Jenkins said. “Those are all 4.4 guys. But you know, they can definitely stretch the field more. To our credit, we’re a fast unit also. We’ve got some guys that are running 4.4, too. So we can run with our receivers. It’s kind of even. But I definitely I feel like when our receivers play other teams you’ll see that speed come out a little bit more.”

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