Like his aggressive defensive line, University of Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz is unmistakably direct.
He just wishes the back end could tackle a lot better.
Diaz, who has been frank all spring about the progress of his defense, after practice Tuesday gave his assessment of his players in the Saturday scrimmage at Oxbridge Academy in West Palm Beach.
Basically, he really liked how the defensive line played and was very frustrated with the defensive backs, who gave up lots of big plays.
Quarterback Brad Kaaya threw for 232 yards and three touchdowns, with 16 of 21 passes completed. Kaaya was sacked several times of the eight sacks registered by the defense.
“We played faster than we played in the first scrimmage,’’ Diaz said. “We were a little less tentative, a little less timid, which makes sense. So I thought [there was] a little bit more disruption. But the biggest disappointment, really the thing we made the biggest deal about the entire spring, is leveraging the football and tackling.
“I thought in the back end we were very poor tackling. We’ve got some guys that are hard to tackle, but the way that we’re trying to teach it, it’s obvious we’re not ready for prime time yet. We have to continue to improve on that. And some of the guys we have just may not be able to.
“I mean, we’ve told them, ‘Those who will tackle will play.’ ’’
Said Diaz: “The encouraging thing was that I thought the plays we made behind the line of scrimmage. ... You know, this defense is predicated on two things: making negative yardage plays and not allowing big plays.
“I thought we succeeded in one and I thought we failed spectacularly in the other.’’
Wide receiver Stacy Coley, who pulled his right hamstring during the scrimmage and stretched Tuesday early in practice but apparently did not participate much further, had catches of 40 and 47 yards Saturday. Tailback Trayone Gray had a 36-yard touchdown run, and tight end David Njoku had a 46-yard touchdown.
Diaz wouldn’t even clarify who he thought was the best cornerback, “let alone second and third.”
“That position has got to continue to really improve, and all those guys know it,’’ he said.
Despite the flaws in the back end, Diaz said he was “very encouraged with the guys up front.’’
Defensive ends Al-Quadin Muhammad, Chad Thomas and Demetrius Jackson each had two sacks in the scrimmage. Tackle R.J. McIntosh also had a sack, as well as corner Sheldrick Redwine.
“We’ve got some guys that are hard to block, that can make plays on their own, that can make plays even when you don’t have to manufacture plays for them,’’ Diaz said. “So, that’s encouraging. Obviously it’s really hard to be good defensively if you’re not good on the defensive front. [Defensive line] coach [Craig Kuligowski] has done a great job with those guys in getting them to play hard and get their feet across the line of scrimmage and not think.
“They enjoy being disruptive and making plays behind the line of scrimmage.
▪ When asked about the hamstring injury status of Coley on Tuesday, Mark Richt said, “I don’t know. He was trying to see how he felt. I don’t think it was a real severe pull. It was actually to the point where he did some things [Monday] in the weight room that would make you think he’s got a chance to get back by the [spring] game, but we’re not going to push it unless he feels great.’’
▪ Richt said he wasn’t too concerned about the eight sacks in the scrimmage Saturday. “Some of those sacks belong to the quarterback,’’ he said, “getting rid of the ball when he’s supposed to. Sometimes a back doesn’t block like he should, or sometimes a guy runs a wrong route and the quarterback, instead of throwing it up for grabs,’’ takes the sack.
“On the other hand, you’ve got some pretty good pass rushers, which is good. You’ve got to give them credit. I don’t have a big concern with that right now.’’
▪ The Canes have one more practice on Greentree Field on Thursday morning before the spring game at 2 p.m. Saturday at Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale. Admission is free.