Hurricanes’ Diaz addresses tough defensive calls, recruiting strategy. And personnel notes

·8 min read

A six-pack of Miami Hurricanes notes on a Wednesday:

Fans have seen UM’s justified transition from older players to younger players — primarily Kamren Kinchens and James Williams — at safety, a move that will be further accentuated by senior Bubba Bolden’s season-ending shoulder injury.

But the Canes are also in the process of making difficult weekly decisions elsewhere on defense, with some changes already in the works, and younger players usually getting more snaps than older ones.

At corner, two older players whose playing time plummeted last week: Te’Cory Couch, who logged just five snaps against NC State, and DJ Ivey, who played just seven. But there’s a big caveat with Couch, who was ill.

“Te’Cory was sick all week, had to get an IV during the game,” coach Manny Diaz said, noting he was UM’s best cornerback last season. “It’s an important week for him. DJ Ivey still factors in.”

In addition to Tyrique Stevenson’s addition — he played 59 snaps Saturday — second-year cornerbacks Marcus Clarke (33 snaps) and Isaiah Dunson (29) have picked up a lot of the snaps previously allocated to Couch, Ivey and injured Al Blades Jr. Couch figures to play a lot more on Saturday.

As for Clarke, UM has been impressed.

“Marcus played very well in his first start,” Diaz told WQAM’s Joe Zagacki and Don Bailey Jr. “We thought he would. NC State’s superpower is great contested catches down the field and [they] didn’t make any of those. Marcus did a great job fighting the fadeaway in the red zone. That will do wonders for his confidence. Marcus can run. He tackles well, other than one play.”

But Dunson struggled and is now moving to safety.

Another “older” player who has lost playing time: third-year defensive tackle Jordan Miller, who played just one defensive snap against NC State. True freshman Leonard Taylor (21 snaps) has replaced Miller in the rotation.

UM is splitting other defensive tackle snaps among Jared Harrison-Hunte (39), Nesta Silvera (30 snaps) and Jon Ford (24).

Besides difficult calls at defensive tackle, UM also has tough choices at defensive end in its attempt to give playing time to two younger players — Elijah Roberts and Chantz Williams — while also using seniors Deandre Johnson and Zach McCloud and third-year player Jahfari Harvey.

Against NC State, Johnson played 37 snaps, Harvey 36, McCloud 24 and Roberts and Williams 16 apiece.

Splitting times among five defensive ends and five defensive tackles is difficult, but UM wants to give each of those aforementioned players a chance. Miller’s opportunity to play was obviously by far the least of those 10 last Saturday.

Diaz said it’s realistic to play 10 defensive linemen.

“All five guys [at both positions] have a little bit different skill sets,” Diaz said. “Some guys make more sense some weeks; other guys make more sense other weeks. Elijah and LT getting better have made us better as a team.”

The move toward younger players at linebacker has been in the works for weeks, with Corey Flagg (38 snaps Saturday) logging significantly more time than Bradley Jennings (13), and Keontra Smith (39 snaps) playing more than Waymon Steed (24) at weak-side linebacker. Smith returned from an injury two weeks ago.

UM is well past the point of trying to keep players happy; winning takes priority, as it should. Receivers Mark Pope and Dee Wiggins previously left seeking more playing time. The upshot of playing talented young players is not only giving them experience, but making them more likely to stick around in 2022 under looser transfer rules.

“They want to play, and you can’t make them all happy,” Diaz told WQAM’s Joe Rose and Zach Krantz of his players. “Sometimes the thing is telling them the hard truth. We grade everything we do, show video, try to keep it non-subjective and non-opinion. Either the film or the numbers say what they say. It’s not personal. But there are some spots here if we’re not getting the productivity we need we move on.”

UM’s entire defense will be challenged by a 6-1 Pittsburgh team that averages 45.3 points and 525.0 yards and boasts a quarterback (Kenny Pickett) who has 2,236 yards passing, 23 TDs and one interception this season.

UM continues to have challenges finding playing time for its freshmen receivers behind older players Charleston Rambo and Mike Harley and second-year players Key’Shawn Smith and Xavier Restrepo.

Against NC State, freshman Romello Brinson played 16 snaps, Jacolby George played two on offense (and handled returns) while Breshard Smith (who’s being used as a Percy Harvin running back/receiver weapon) didn’t play at all.

Rambo played 71 of Miami’s 72 snaps, Smith 54, Harley 46 and Restrepo 20.

Brinson was wearing a red noncontact jersey Tuesday. Michael Redding was not in uniform the past two games for undisclosed reasons.

Though offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee has been open to two tight end sets, Elijah Arroyo’s playing time remains limited. He logged 10 offensive snaps against NC State, compared with 69 for Will Mallory. Larry Hodges played three snaps.

Quick stuff Part 1: Pro Football Focus said freshman safety Kinchens has been the best tackler on the team and hasn’t missed a tackle since the Alabama opener…. Williams has emerged as a skilled pass rusher. “We like blitzing James; he has a knack for it,” Diaz said…

Defensive quality control analyst Bob Shoop said of Miami’s freshman striker: “It’s going to be Chase Smith’s time pretty soon. We’ve been talking about playing [freshman cornerback] Malik Curtis some, too. We have a chance to have a really good secondary this year and moving into the future as well.”

Quick stuff Part 2: Good to see Mallory snap out of his slump on Saturday. “Will has been through some ups and downs; it’s not easy,” Diaz said. Lashlee said Mallory “has done everything right over the last month.”…. Lashlee said “DJ Scaife is playing a lot better at guard than last year. Jakai Clark is really starting to play well at center, was physical the other night.”…

Chris Cotter and Mark Herzlich call Saturday’s noon UM-Pitt game on ACC Network, which still doesn’t have a deal with Comcast. (Negotiations are ongoing; one issue has been Comcast’s apparent desire to place ACC Net on a tier.) Among local cable and satellite providers, only Atlantic Broadband has struck a deal with ACC Net since the beginning of 2021.

The hope is Jaylan Knighton’s body holds up after 46 touches (including 38 rushing attempts) the past two weeks. At least he’s fresh, after missing the first four games of this, his second season, while on suspension.

Knighton, averaging 4.6 yards per carry during the past two games, logged 62 snaps against the Wolfpack, while Cody Brown played 11 snaps and fellow freshman running back Thad Franklin played no snaps on offense.

“The explosive nature of his game as a runner and receiver; he has the ability to break an explosive run, get out on a pass play,” Diaz said. “Really proud of Jaylan and also getting yards [up the middle], not just on the perimeter.”

UM doesn’t expect to approach 25 players in the 2022 recruiting class. The Canes have eight oral commitments (three four-stars, five three-stars), and Rivals ranks the class 58th in the country.

UM wants to leave spots open to add transfers, an area where the program has had success.

“This summer we said we’d be really selective about taking commitments and we were,” Diaz said. “People say they don’t have many commitments. We never felt uncomfortable not having that. I don’t know how many would be able to sign in December, certainly nowhere near 25. Not having guys who can take us to the top just to climb up the rankings, I’m not sure that’s where we want to be. We’re about to enter an offseason with seven more initial scholarships. We’re in an era now where you can really dramatically improve your team [annually].

“Last year we didn’t have James Williams, Leonard Taylor, Jake Garcia this time last year. Those were game-changing guys we were able to get at the end that transformed our class. Of course our record was better a year ago. When we don’t play well it’s challenging, and that comes from the teams recruiting against us. When we turn against ourselves ... all we do is make it more difficult to recruit, instead of circling the wagons. I get it, it’s a results business. But the results come as the recruits come. You’ve seen that this year, the impact freshmen.

“Where we stand in October will look very different in December. We’re in a new era right now, I’m curious to see how that goes.”

Georgia-based quarterback commitment Jacurri Brown has thrown for 1,466 yards, with 19 touchdowns and three interceptions, and rushed 117 times for 591 yards and seven touchdowns.

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