The best are getting better.
The rest are staying about the same.
That pretty much sums up how Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz viewed his defense Thursday after Day No. 14 of Hurricanes preseason camp.
When asked Thursday afternoon his take on the defense during Wednesday night’s second scrimmage of camp, Diaz called it “a mixed bag.’’
“The encouraging and discouraging thing is that our ones are playing more like ones and our twos are playing more like twos,’’ he said of his first- and second-teamers. “What we’d like to have is our twos play more like ones, but the disparity between the groups is growing larger and larger.’’
Diaz acknowledged that “obviously,’’ the second-team defense was playing against the first-teamers “and an excellent quarterback’’ in the scrimmage, and the first-team defense was going against the backup quarterbacks and second-team offense.
“It’s going to be hard for us to be above average if we can only rely on our first-level starters, so that was a little bit of the message [Thursday], trying to get those guys to step up and understand games are coming.
“Game week is two weeks away,’’ he said of the Sept. 3 opener against FAMU. “It’s crucial for us to find some guys that we can into games to spell our starters.’’
Among the defensive players who stood out in the scrimmage, according to Diaz, were freshman linebacker Shaq Quarterman and safeties Jaquan Johnson, Jamal Carter and Rayshawn Jenkins.
Diaz also praised cornerback Corn Elder for returning an interception for a touchdown. Up front, he said, first-team tackle Kendrick Norton “is solid’’ and backup tackle Gerald Willis had five solo tackles. First-team tackle R.J. McIntosh had “four or five solo tackles’’ according to the coaches’ grading.
“We’re getting the production we want out of the players we want, but again, it’s not enough. The physicality and the tackling, of the five scrimmages we’ve had since this staff has been here was probably at the lowest since we’ve been here. That’s not an indictment on all the guys, that’s an indictment on some that we really need to step up – that swung and missed [Wednesday].”
Some other Diaz impressions:
▪ On Willis: “That evaluation is ongoing. He knows the things he has to continue to work on. Part of it is the ability to make a play, and there’s also the issue of not being where you’re supposed to be and giving up plays. Sometimes your playing time in a way is not dependent on how much good you can do, it’s dependent on how little bad you can do. He’s one of those guys that is certainly trying to focus in on, first, not burning the house down before we worry about how we attack the other people.’’
▪ On scrimmage sacks: “I think it was five.”
▪ On what it was like for his first-team D-line to go after backup quarterbacks who had shed their no-contact jerseys and were allowed to be hit: “I think they thought there would be [more sacks], but fear is a great motivating factor, so that ball came out sometimes differently than it did before.’’
▪ On Jamie Gordinier, who is playing first-team weak-side linebacker in place of the injured (hamstring) Michael Pinckney: “The biggest thing with Jamie…is his confidence in himself. When you’re a young guy and you’re trying to learn everything and be perfect, that’s really hard. So, what we’re trying to talk to him about is, ‘Trust yourself. Let the game come to you. And just let it go.’ I think he’s got a really bright future. I think he’s physically gifted but it’s just at-bats, that’s all it is, and persistence will turn him into a good player.’’
▪ On freshman cornerback Malek Young: “He’s fast, and fast players know they’re fast, so that affects their confidence in terms of how they cover; and…he’s tough. He’s a willing tackler, so the arrow is pointing up on Malek Young.’’
Head coach Mark Richt said he’ll name the top two contenders for the backup quarterback job on Friday…The Canes practiced for about an hour Thursday on the heels of the scrimmage…UM President Julio Frenk addressed the team and athletics personnel in the morning…Richt praised Elder and safety Rayshawn Jenkins for their leadership roles on defense…Weak-side linebacker Darrion Owens has not played in either of the scrimmages. “I don’t know what [Darrion] used to look like,’’ Richt said, “but he doesn’t look like he’s flying around, 100-percent full speed every snap.’’…Richt said he is hoping Pinckney will be well enough to play in the opener.