Barry Jackson

What Manny Diaz says UM fans can expect after lots of defensive departures

Miami Hurricanes defensive coordinator Manny Diaz speaks to journalists on National Signing Day at the University of Miami's Schwartz Center in Coral Gables on Wed., Feb. 7, 2018.
Miami Hurricanes defensive coordinator Manny Diaz speaks to journalists on National Signing Day at the University of Miami's Schwartz Center in Coral Gables on Wed., Feb. 7, 2018. mocner@miamiherald.com

Since signing six defensive players during the new early signing period on Dec. 20, UM permanently lost four significant defensive players to graduation, two quality ones to transfers, two to injuries and two early to the NFL. That’s 10 important scholarship players lost.

And while UM added two freshman defensive tackles (Nesta Silvera and Jordan Miller) and a cornerback (Nigel Bethel) this week, Miami also was bypassed by five key defensive targets during the second installment of National Signing Day on Wednesday.

Nevertheless, defensive coordinator Manny Diaz indicated Wednesday that the sky is not falling, and he’s content with what UM has on the defensive line and cornerback — areas where experienced depth is somewhat limited.

“I think you would have said the exact same thing if we had this conversation two years ago when we first got here,” he said of the 2016 season. “To make it more challenging, we kicked off our best pass rusher [Al-Quadin Muhammad] and best outside linebacker [Jermaine Grace]. We played pretty good defense that year.”

Where UM stands in those spots after an eventful six weeks:

▪ Defensive end: Even with Chad Thomas and Trent Harris graduating, DJ Johnson transferring and Andrew Chatfield (UF) and Jamarcus Chatman (FSU) eschewing offers from UM, Diaz believes UM has enough with a top five of Joe Jackson, Demetrius Jackson, Jon Garvin, Scott Patchan (who moved back from tight end) and December signee Greg Rousseau.

“A lot of people would trade for our position of what we return talent-wise at defensive end,” Diaz said. “When you talk about what we have, when you talk about guys like Demetrius Jackson and Joe Jackson and Jon Garvin, and Greg Rousseau, who has the ability to come in and play right away, and Scott Patchan, who was in the mix [before moving to tight end with the hope of playing more]. We went from having an overload at that position, a surplus, to now you almost have, in terms of quality guys that have done it in games, you almost have the number that you would expect.”

Is Rousseau ready to play immediately?

“Yeah,” Diaz said. “If you look at the last couple of years, when Joe Jackson came in as a midyear, with Jonathan Garvin coming in as a midyear a year ago, that’s why Greg is here. That’s why these kids go through the effort. It’s not easy at times to do what it takes to graduate a semester early. The great thing about Greg is in addition to his talent and his body type, he’s very intelligent. So we expect him to pick things up very quickly. There’s no doubt he will be a factor next year.”

There’s literally not another scholarship player at defensive end beyond those five. Any concern about that?

“Obviously, but when you’re talking about the quality of your sixth defensive end, then you’re coming off a real strength, especially given the quality of guys one through five,” Diaz said.

Coach Mark Richt said he will add another defensive end only if a “great” grad transfer emerges.

▪ Defensive tackle: Even with Kendrick Norton and Richard McIntosh Jr. turning pro and Anthony Moten graduating, Diaz believes UM has enough with Pat Bethel, Gerald Willis, Jon Ford, new additions Silvera and Miller, plus a transfer he isn’t permitted to identify yet (Illinois’ Tito Odenigbo) and Tyriec Martin.

UM hoped to lure four-star Keondre Coburn, but he picked Texas on Wednesday. 

“I still think our top-end talent is very good,” Diaz said. “I think Gerald is almost like a new signing. We want to add age. That’s the advantage of having a grad transfer at that position.

“And that’s why Nesta was so key to this class, because he is a special guy. By all accounts, what he did in the All-Star games and everything like that, he is the disruptive tackle in the 4-3 defense, which is what the entire defense is predicated on. Nesta is a pure Cane. We felt that all the way. The way he plays the game, his disruptive manner, the violence he plays with, he plays like how a Miami Hurricane defender should play like.

“And Jordan Miller, it’s just hard not to watch his film and not see Kendrick Norton. We were all watching him in the staff room together because he was kind of under the radar as sort of the hidden guy. None of us wanted to say it. And finally someone said, ‘He looks like [Norton].’ If he had number seven on, it would be just like Kendrick. Now, he’s still in 12th grade, but the way that materialized, we’re really, really excited about getting him.”

Miller, a three-star player from Jacksonville, was a Georgia Southern commit without any major college offers before major programs started seeing his tape in the past month. UM, Tennessee and South Carolina were among his offers.

On the front seven, Diaz said: “We had some issues where we had some guys leave the program unexpectedly in our front position. That’s going to happen, but the number which it happened you probably don’t account for at all times. Conversely, next year in the state is as loaded in front seven positions as I can remember. That’s kind of the normal ebb and flow, but we’re still going to be dedicated to recruiting the best players in our footprint.”

▪ Cornerback: With Dee Delaney graduating and Malek Young’s career ending due to a neck injury, is Diaz at ease with having only three returnees (Michael Jackson, Trajan Bandy and Jhavonte Dean) and four freshmen (Bethel, Al Blades, Gilbert Frierson and DJ Ivey)?

“It is [enough] and haven’t we had this exact same conversation every year since we’ve been here, especially at the corner spot,” Diaz said. “But that’s why these kids were brought in, and the reason why we took grad transfers the past two years, the reason why we signed Jhavonte Dean so he would be a senior.

“We have two seniors [Jackson and Dean]. We have Trajan. They are here to play. The two years we have been here, we started a true freshman at corner, we started a true freshman at safety, obviously the linebackers, Joe Jackson started. We are never concerned about playing young guys. Our track record speaks to that.”

Though UM lost out on five-star corners Pat Surtain (Alabama) and Tyson Campbell (Georgia), Diaz is pleased with the group.

He said this “2018 DB class we’ve been going after almost since we got the job here in Miami in 2016. When we rank our guys, we say is this guy a one. A one is either a top top guy, high, high-profile guys. The first time we saw Gilbert Frierson, he was a 1. DJ Ivey was a 1. Al Blades was 1. Gurvan Hall was 1.

“Nigel Bethel comes to 7-on-7 camp a year ago and just dominates, not just athletically, but his mentality, his personality, the way he challenged, the way he competed that day on that field. We couldn’t get that out of our mind. A year ago, we weren’t getting as many ones as we got this year. So we really are excited about the way we’re continuing to build and stack a good recruiting class and whatever it was a year ago, we want to be better this year.”

Diaz indicated there’s no thought to moving safety Sheldrick Redwine back to cornerback or freshman safety Gurvan Hall to cornerback. And DeeJay Dallas, who can play corner, remains a running back.

“The thing I’m excited more this spring is let’s let these corners battle it out,” Diaz said, with Ivey and Frierson already enrolled. “That’s why they were recruited here. And see what they could do.”

There should be enough at linebacker (with Shaquille Quarterman, Zach McCloud, Mike Pinckney and good depth even after Darrion Owens transferred and Jamie Gordinier retired). UM is in good shape at safety, with Jaquan Johnson, Redwine, Amari Carter, Derrick Smith, Hall and Robert Knowles.

Please click here for my post with nuggets from Richt’s news conference on Wednesday.

Please click here for my plan on how the Dolphins can add a quarterback in the first round of the draft, if they choose, and not feel guilty about it.

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