Barry Jackson

Here’s what UM’s new defensive coordinator already knows about his players

A six-pack of Hurricanes notes on a Sunday:

New UM defensive coordinator Blake Baker has asked UM graduate assistants to put together a “point of attack tape on each player” so he can become intimately familiar with all his personnel before spring practice begins March 19.

But even while working at Louisiana Tech since 2015, Baker kept an eye on UM’s defense.

“Even for the last four years, I’ve gotten most of the games in our video system to really watch and talk to Manny [Diaz] about what he was thinking and picking his brain,” said Baker, who was a graduate assistant on Diaz’s defensive staff at Texas and then a position coach for him at Louisiana Tech.

Here’s what Baker told me he already knows:

“I know the linebackers are ultra talented. I know Jon Garvin is freaky. I’ve been impressed with Al Blades, Trajan Bandy – they’re guys that definitely pop out on film. [Redshirt freshman defensive end] Greg Rousseau is a big boy; he’s ultra talented. I’m walking into a great situation.”

Baker, on National Signing Day, said he and Diaz are “philosophically exactly the same. That’s what made this a smooth transition. Terminology we’re exactly the same. Maybe some things evolution-wise the past four years have changed on both sides. We’re going to talk through those things, see what he thinks.”

Baker said he and Diaz place high value on “tackles for losses, takeaways, creating chaos. Once they get there [to the offensive player with the ball], they better be violent. I will give up a little bit of size for a guy that’s a little bit twitchier.”

As far as calling the defense during games, Baker says he believes Diaz will leave that to him.

“I think he’ll stay hands off,” Baker said. “But at the same time that’s what he does and we’ll welcome it with open arms. One, he’s the head coach, and two, he’s a great defensive mind. He taught me everything I know. But from a head coach standpoint he’ll want to stay out of it, stay neutral. He’s a great asset.”

Baker was thrilled with the signing day addition of four-star cornerback Christian Williams.

“A guy with his size, speed and physicalness, he’ll definitely be a corner, but in a pinch he could play safety,” Baker said.

New UM defensive tackle Jared Hunte played basketball in New York, and former UM player personnel director Matt Doherty said something interesting he was told that he believes to be true: “Basketball players who are tough and rugged, it’s rare they miss in football.”

That’s one of many reasons UM believes Hunte will be really good as a defensive tackle.

“Jared plays football and basketball, and if you know anything about New York City basketball, that is a big, big-time program,” Diaz said. “You went and watched this guy play basketball, you talk about a defensive tackle, a guy that’s going to be a three-technique, and he is breaking the press all by himself, dribbling the ball behind his back, through his legs, switching hands as he lays the ball in. This is a very, very athletic football player, and if you think about the way we chose to operate as a defensive scheme, defensive structure, he fits right in.”

Baker said of Jared Hunte: “I had a chance to watch him play basketball; he is a freak. They’re one of the few LeBron James teams that he sponsors, it’s the Mecca of high school basketball. He was the best player on the court that night. He’s a special athlete, great kid too.”

UM will need someone new to stay on top of the grad transfer portal, in the wake of the recent dismissal of Doherty.

Doherty, who was made available to reporters two days before his dismissal nine days ago, said he was constantly checking the portal. And when he saw a name that’s interesting, he would spring into action.

“Very first thing I would do is I make sure we have something to look at, whether it be tape because we played this team as an opponent or it’s in our archives or any productivity notes and whatever his eligibility remaining would be,” he said two days before his dismissal. “That’s all the information that is critical.”

And then?

“I will text Manny or walk upstairs [to his office] . Usually I will tell the coordinator or position coach. I don’t want to be kicking the head coach’s door for every little thing. I will run it up the flagpole, say ‘this player is out there and we have tape in the system or here’s what he did in 2017 or 2018.’”

Doherty said checking the “portal is an every day thing and sometimes I will be scooped by my own coaches. I can’t constantly have my eyes glued to it. It’s rudimentary in terms of all you’re seeing is name, institution and dates they appeared in the portal. You’ve got to recognize every name or research every name that pops up.”

Now someone else will have that job at UM, with Diaz searching for a successor to Doherty.

▪ UM fans and journalists might enjoy Diaz’s creativity on Twitter, but - no surprise - we’re not the intended audience.

“Every time I tweet something it’s to a 17 year old, someone in high school,” Diaz said. ‘That’s the future of our program. I think we can do our job and have fun doing it.”

Quick stuff: Michael Irvin, the former Pro Bowl receiver and UM grad, visited with the Canes offensive staff on Friday, New tights coach Stephen Field said Irvin’s son, a UM tight end, is “working his butt off” in coming back from an MCL injury that sidelined him all of last season... While 7 of UM’s 16 non-transfer pickups in the 2019 class were four-star players, according to Rivals, seven of UM’s nine nonbinding commits for 2020 are rated four-star prospects.... 

Norland four-star offensive tackle Issiah Walker, a South Carolina commit, is now very open to considering Miami after a positive experience on his visit there this weekend, according to multiple recruiting sites....

UM hoops fell to 11-14 and 3-10 in the ACC after shooting a dismal 4 for 26 on three-pointers in a 64-57 loss at Boston College on Sunday night. Miami shot 22 to 60 overall. Ibuka Izundu led UM with 14 points. Miami is off until a 2 p.m. Saturday home game against Georgia Tech....

The Gino DiMare era of UM baseball got off to a rousing 3-0 start, as our Susan Miller Degnan details here.

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