Barry Jackson

Here’s UM’s plan to boost defense this week and address a big potential concern in 2019

Miami Hurricanes defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, pictured here on the sidelines of the ACC championship game against Clemson, has a plan to address defensive line issues this week and potential linebacker issues in 2019.
Miami Hurricanes defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, pictured here on the sidelines of the ACC championship game against Clemson, has a plan to address defensive line issues this week and potential linebacker issues in 2019. adiaz@miamiherald.com

Lots of UM chatter on a Monday, with two shopping days left before National Signing Day:

▪  For years, the UM defense — even while performing far better under Manny Diaz than predecessor Mark D’Onofrio — has been playing catch-up, because of lost scholarships from NCAA probation, transfers, early departures to the NFL, recruiting washouts during the Al Golden era, attrition, health issues (Malek Young’s career-ending neck injury), weird stuff (Gerald Willis’ 2017 leave of absence) and players being bounced off the team (Jermaine Grace, Al-Quadin Muhammad).

And that process of achieving optimal depth isn’t going to be solved on National Signing Day on Wednesday, either. Yes, it will help considerably if UM can snag at least two players among defensive ends Jamarcus Chatman and Andrew Chatfield, defensive tackle Keondre Coburn and five-star cornerbacks Patrick Surtain and Tyson Campbell, with Chatman considered the most likely of the five.

Regardless, defensive line depth isn’t where it needs to be, and there’s the potential for concern at linebacker next season if any of the three juniors-to-be turn pro.

Diaz put it in stark terms in October:

“I’ve said this before, in the secondary we don’t have what a major college football team should have – not competing for the things that we’re expected to compete for,’’ Diaz said. “We’re five to six defensive backs short. At every position you mark how many scholarships you have [and] we’re five short.

“…In the back end we’ve got to make due with what we have. That’s why this recruiting class is so important for us. That’s why the DBs that we’re on, we expect them all to have significant roles a year from now because there are so many jobs that guys are having to sort of plug multiple leaks.”

Though Surtain and, to a lesser extent, Campbell, are viewed as long shots for UM — and though Young’s loss was a huge blow — UM appears in pretty good shape for the next few years in the secondary if Derrick Smith Jr. and Amari Carter and Gurvan Hall become quality ACC starting-caliber safeties (after exceptional Jaquan Johnson graduates in a year) and if at least three corners among incoming Al Blades Jr., Gilbert Frierson, D.J. Ivey and Nigel Bethel become high-end ACC players.

With the front seven, though, the numbers aren’t where they need to be. Some things to consider as Signing Day looms and UM ratchets up its focus on 2019:

▪ Linebacker: If one or two among Shaquille Quarterman, Mike Pinckney and Zach McCloud turn pro next January, UM will be looking for immediate starters.

The Canes hope last year’s trio of linebacker recruits — Waymon Steed (who redshirted), Bradley Jennings and De’Andre Wilder — all develop into ACC-caliber starters. It’s too soon to tell, of course.

But with just one linebacker committed in this 2018 class (Patrick Joyner Jr.), the Canes will need to hit big on their 2019 linebacker recruits, and Diaz says that will be an emphasis.

Is Diaz worried about not having enough quality linebackers in 2019 if any of the three starters turn pro after their junior seasons?

“No, I don’t think so,” he said. “We knew this year would be a great year for defensive backs. We know next year, the 2019 class, is an outstanding class for linebackers, so we never want to reach to fill a number which might hurt recruiting down the road.

“We have been targeting the 2018 DB class since the day we set foot on campus. We feel we have some great targets in 2019 at linebacker but we like the guys we have. We like the freshmen we signed. We were able to redshirt Waymon Steed, so he is basically a signee for a year from now. So our position at linebacker is good.”

For 2019, UM already has oral commitments from Miami Southridge three-star linebacker Diamante Howard (Rivals’ No. 18 linebacker whose other offers include Georgia, UCF and Tennessee) and three-star Jesiah Pierre (Rivals’ No. 24 linebacker, from Mount Dora, Florida).

UM covets four-star Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas linebacker Anthony Solomon (Rivals’ No. 3 linebacker for 2019), but this will be a tough battle with Michigan. Solomon reportedly likes both schools.

UM has been pushing for the nation’s No. 1 outside linebacker, Georgia-based Owen Pappoe, but he listed a top three of Auburn, Georgia and Clemson.

▪ Defensive end: With only three returning, experienced ends (Joe Jackson, Demetrius Jackson, Jon Garvin), UM badly needs to land Chatman or Chatfield to compete with early enrollee Gregory Rousseau and possibly Scott Patchan (if he moves back from tight end to defensive end) for the No. 4 defensive end job.

After visiting UM this past weekend, the Georgia-based Chatman told Canesport’s Matt Shodell there’s a “big chance” he will pick Miami. “I loved it, really loved it,” he said. “I can see myself being there.”

He’s also considering North Carolina, Virginia Tech and FSU.

UM wants to play him primarily at defensive end but moving to tackle in passing situations.

Chatfield, the Plantation American Heritage defensive end, reportedly favors UF but UM remains in the mix.

▪ Defensive tackle: Plantation American Heritage’s four-star Nesta Silvera, expected to sign Wednesday, will join Gerald Willis, Jon Ford and Pat Bethel to give UM four highly skilled tackles as Miami looks to recover from the early departures of Richard McIntosh Jr. and Kendrick Norton.

Jacksonville’s Jordan Miller is a nice developmental project, and perhaps Tyriec Martin or Illinois transfer Tito Ogenigbo will be serviceable backups.

But what would really help is if UM can snag Coburn, the four-star defensive tackle that Miami has been pursuing vigorously for weeks. Though he remains a Texas oral commitment, he took that note off his Twitter page.

The Heritage cornerbacks (Campbell and Surtain) are more ballyhooed prospects, but Coleman’s decision between UM and Texas could be the most important for Miami on Wednesday.

UM has one 2019 oral commitment at defensive tackle, from Miami Norland’s Denzel Daxon, who also had offers from Georgia and Georgia Tech, among others

▪ Surtain is expected to make a decision on Monday night or Tuesday from among LSU, Alabama, Clemson and UM. Campbell’s final three reportedly are Georgia, Alabama and UM.

▪ Quarterback Evan Shirreffs, who is transferring from UM, is upset that UM won’t allow him to transfer to another ACC school and is appealing that decision this week in front of a UM non-athletic department panel.

▪ UM men’s basketball is back in the AP top 25 this week, at No. 25.

Jim Larrañaga, on Anthony Lawrence’s great play recently (including 9-for-10 shooting in the win Saturday at Virginia Tech): “We have really counted on Anthony Lawrence more this year than his freshman and sophomore year. His role has expanded and continues to expand with the injury to Bruce Brown. He’s a very good three-point shooter. He passes the ball like a guard. What he’s been doing on the defensive backboard is nothing short of special.

“He’s been playing the four position for us as a stretch four the entire season. In the past, we bounced him around a good bit and that became a big challenge. That was confusing to him.”

UM plays host to Wake Forest at 7 p.m. on Wednesday on ESPN2, opposite a Rockets-at-Heat game, unfortunately.

Here’s my Monday post on the mockey and amusing wisecracks the Marlins have elicited from a strange post-Super Bowl tweet.

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