Barry Jackson

UM names starters at two competitive positions. And defensive lineup comes into focus

A six-pack of Hurricanes notes on a Wednesday, the final day of media availability before Miami plays LSU on Sunday in Arlington, Texas (7:30 p.m., ABC):

The starting lineup on defense is mostly set, with defensive coordinator Manny Diaz disclosing Wednesday that Pat Bethel has won the starting defensive tackle job opposite Gerald Willis.

Bethel held off Illinois transfer Tito Odenigbo, sophomore Jon Ford (who received lots of first team work early in spring ball) and to a lesser extent, freshmen Nesta Silvera and Jordan Miller.

“Pat will be the first guy out there on Sunday,” Diaz said. “Tough, dependable, steady, hardworking. We took the team bowling and Pat was like one of the best bowlers on the team. It just made sense. You didn’t know why, but Pat is just a guy that should be good at bowling. He’s got the blue collar shirt on, clocks out after 5’ o’ clock, and goes to the bowling alley and rolls a good score. That’s kind of who Pat is.”

Willis and Bethel will have big shoes to fill, with the Giants’ Richard McIntosh and Carolina Panthers’ Kendrick Norton having turned pro early.

What’s still unresolved — and will depend entirely on the offensive package UM is facing — is the selection of one starter likely among strong side linebacker Zach McCloud, striker Romeo Finley and third corner Jhavonte Dean.

Cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph has said starting cornerback Trajan Bandy will move inside to nickel corner when Dean is in the game.

The other defensive starters, besides Willis and Bethel and McCloud/Finley/Bandy: Jon Garvin and Joe Jackson at defensive end, middle linebacker Shaquille Quarterman and weakside linebacker Mike Pinckney, cornerbacks Michael Jackson and Bandy and safeties Jaquan Johnson and Sheldrick Redwine.

Diaz said he expects McCloud and Finley will both play a lot Sunday.

“Yeah, I would imagine,”Diaz said. “It really will depend on what we’re seeing. That’s why I say, we have to match up to how they’re choosing to attack us and Game 1 you don’t know. So we’re ready for everything.”

▪ Will UM go five deep at defensive tackle on Sunday, thus allowing Silvera to get snaps?

“Yeah,” Diaz said. “We want to go as many as we can because of different scenarios where different guys with their different skill sets may factor in. But ultimately what we’ll look into and talk about is, where is the line on Sunday and what does the bench look like? Because obviously we expect that to change as the year goes on.”

Speaking in general about how deep UM will go on its defensive depth chart, Diaz said: “That’s the question, how many guys can go in the game and not have a dropoff? With that being said, what we know in the way that we operate if you’ve watched us the past two years, if drives get extended, you just can’t leave the same guys on the field.

“They lose their effectiveness. So I would still be shocked if we didn’t play 22 guys on defense in the first half of the game. That’s just kind of how we roll. But honestly that depends on snap counts and how long we’re on the field and all that type of stuff.”

Who are UM’s most improved defensive players from the end of December until now?

“Jhavonte Dean has made a big jump since we started camp,” Diaz said. “Guys like [safety] Rob Knowles and [linebacker] Mike Smith have really improved. [Linebacker] Waynmon Steed who hadn’t had the wrapper off on Dec. 30 has really done nice things along with [linebacker] B.J. Jennings. We talk about Pat Bethel and his improvement. Jon Ford has really made strides. We don’t feel anyone has not improved, but those names are the first that come to the top of my head.”

▪ Offensive stuff: Mark Richt announced freshman Brevin Jordan will start when UM opens in a one-tight end set and Jordan and fellow freshman Will Mallory will start in two-tight end sets.... Asked if he’s still considering alternating backup quarterbacks and letting N’Kosi Perry and Cade Weldon compete each week, Richt said: “Possibly, possibly.”

▪ No group of UM players seem more motivated by the proverbial chip on the shoulder than the starting linebackers.

“I see people already dissing us,” Shaquille Quarterman said a couple of weeks ago. “We have to prove people wrong on the field. We live for that [anti-Canes sentiment].”

Said Mike Pinckney: “Everyone has disrespected us in a way.”

Pinckney said despite losing Chad Thomas, McIntosh and Norton, “we got more experience. We lost those guys but Gerald Willis is a vet, Pat Bethel is vet, has a lot of game reps. Secondary, linebacker wise, we have some of the best secondary and linebackers in the country, in the conference.”

This is the sixth in a 10-part daily series of UM columns heading into the UM-LSU game. Please check out my archives for the first five information-packed parts.

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