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Manny Diaz could be shaping Canes defense into something special

AP Photo / Alan Diaz

Let’s not get too carried away — not just yet, anyway. The opposition hasn’t been exactly the strongest; Prairie View and Florida Atlantic constitute the sample size, it’s true. However, a swarming defense with an ability to stop the run must bring a smile to the face of the Miami Hurricanes’ new defensive coordinator, Manny Diaz.

Stats are stats; take them for what they’re worth.

Miami leads the nation in rushing defense, giving up an average of 34.5 rushing yards per game after two contests. The Canes rank fourth nationally in total defense, yielding an average of just 205.5 yards per game.

They’ve given up only 13 points this season, which ranks third in the nation. They’ve allowed only one touchdown and haven’t allowed a score of any kind in the first or fourth quarters. They held FAU to 0-for-11 in third-down conversions during the first half of Saturday’s game.

“I challenge our guys to walk in the stadium as if they were in total control of the outcome,” Diaz said.

That’s exactly what the Canes have done through two games.

Michael Pinckney, one of three freshmen starting linebackers, has played lights out so far. He’s one of the many players Diaz hopes to mold into standouts. Pinckney plays like a veteran already. He recorded a team season-high nine tackles on Saturday, including his first sack.

“It’s not easy, but we prepare,” Pinckney said of playing as a freshman. “If you know what you’re doing out there, then it’s not too complicated. We still have a lot of work to do.”

Pinckney joined fellow freshmen linebackers Zach McCloud and Shaq Quarterman in enrolling early at The U to learn Diaz’s defense.

“We learned the defense, and just try to learn from the older guys. They set a great example,” Pinckney said.

One of those veterans is senior defensive back Rayshawn Jenkins, who will be logging his 25th career start on Saturday when the Canes travel to Appalachian State. His 24 starts are the most of any Canes player on the defensive side of the football.

“It’s really good to see that we’ve made big improvements on defense,” Jenkins said. “I feel like our seniors are playing like seniors, and our captains are playing like captains. We’re getting those younger guys to step up, especially those young linebackers.”

An elder statesman of this defense, Jenkins has seen a lot over the years. He, probably better than stats, could accurately assess this defense compared to those in the recent past.

“We’re just playing to our standard,” Jenkins said of this year’s team. “Our standard is to run to the ball as hard as we can and to tackle. As an overall unit, we play very well, in my opinion.”

The competition gets greater this week when the Canes go on the road for the first time. They recorded 13 tackles for loss last week, including seven sacks, against FAU. Doing that at Appalachian State and in the ACC will convince others of what Miami players already know.

“I feel ready to go on the road,” Pinckney said. “I know my assignment. If you know what you’re doing out there, like I said, it’s going to happen.”

Manny Diaz could be shaping Canes defense into something special

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