The pressure is on Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz to bring the Hurricanes’ defense to championship form. Ranked No. 11 in the conference a year ago, there’s plenty of room for improvement in Miami’s defense and it is Diaz’ challenge to make that happen.
A defensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee State, Mississippi State, Texas and Louisiana Tech, Diaz, 42, has been around the block and jumped at the chance of working with Canes new head coach Mark Richt.
But the honeymoon won’t last long if Diaz cannot resurrect a once proud Miami defense that terrorized opponents through the 1980s and 90s.
There remains talent on that side of the football and it all begins up front with the defensive line where Diaz says he sees improvement.
“Everyone is playing with a higher sense of urgency,” he said. “They’re in better condition and are certainly stronger than we were in the spring.”
Diaz has one of the best defensive line coaches in the country in Craig Kuligowski, who came to Miami after a lengthy stay in Missouri. But with the coaching change there, Kuligowski accepted an offer from Richt to join his staff in South Florida.
Like Diaz, Kuligowski is confident that this group can make a difference in the upcoming season.
“I believe in my guys,” Kuligowski said. “I see very large things happening. What we need to do is just stay together and have nobody be the weakest link on the chain.”
He may not be the most well-known assistant coach in college football, but to those who play the game, Kuligowski is known throughout the nation as one of the best in the business.
“I knew the types of high caliber players that he had worked with in the past, so I was excited to start working with him,” said Miami redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Demetrius Jackson.
Among the concerns heading into the 2016 season, and one which much be addressed is depth at safety.
“The ability to have three guys is really important,” Diaz said. “What we are trying to come to in the next week and half is to really identify, who our best guys are in the end, from there we can start building.
“The issue is if we have all of our guys on the field at once and they play 80 snaps, we aren’t going to be good for the fourth quarter. We have to have the ability to roll through and stay fresh.”
That means quality depth. Do the Canes have it? Redshirt seniors Rayshawn Jenkins and Jamal Carter are pretty solid returning starters, and Jaquan Johnson played well at times last year as a sophomore. But the Hurricanes will need more players to step up this season.
Miami was awful against the run last season, yielding 2,613 yards. Only North Carolina (3,463) gave up more among ACC teams. The Canes were eighth in the conference against the pass, allowing 2,650 yards through the air. Again, only North Carolina (6,103) gave up more total yards than Miami’s defense (5,263) last season.
It’s a long road to go, and Diaz certainly has his work cut out for him.