2013 Miami Preview - Defense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Miami Hurricane Defense
Preview 2013 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: If Miami is going to take a step forward in 2013, it'll have to be initiated by Mark D'Onofrio's defense. The unit was historically atrocious a year ago, yet another disturbing reminder of how far the Hurricanes have fallen from their glory days. The D was brutal in every imaginable facet, bending and breaking at the same time. Fixing the problems that plagued the 2012 team won't happen overnight. Miami just doesn't have that kind of talent on hand. LB Denzel Perryman is a nice player, and DE Anthony Chickillo and S Deon Bush are two of a handful of kids capable of blooming, but the front seven figures to again struggle at the point of attack. And if the Canes get bullied near the line of scrimmage, it'll mean the run defense remains on its heels, and a young secondary in transition will get no help from the pass rush. D'Onofrio has a tough challenge ahead, and a shortage of slam-dunk talent with which to clear it.
Star of the defense: Junior LB Denzel Perryman
Tackles: Shayon Green, 67
Sacks: Anthony Chickillo, 4
Interceptions: Jimmy Gaines, 2
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior DT Curtis Porter
Unsung star on the rise: Freshman LB Alex Figueroa
Best pro prospect: Junior DE Anthony Chickillo
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Perryman, 2) Chickillo, 3) Sophomore S Deon Bush
Strength of the defense: Veteran linemen, competition, safeties
Weakness of the defense: Winning at the point of attack, proven stars, tackling, coverage softness, run defense, third-down stops
The Canes need more production from their D-line … a lot more. The team ranked 113th nationally in sacks a year ago, getting just 10 all season from linemen. Hoping to lead a revival will be junior DE Anthony Chickillo, who's poised for a breakout campaign. While his output slipped slightly to 45 tackles, 6.5 stops for loss and four sacks, it wasn't from a lack of trying. The 6-4, 269-pound former five-star recruit is one of the hardest working players on the squad, operating with a hot motor to the whistle. With two full years of experience now in the vault, a bigger and stronger Chickillo harbors the tools to double his 2012 sack total and compete for All-ACC consideration.
The other end spot will be manned by senior Shayon Green, who's coming off an underrated season. The 6-3, 264-pound inspiration, with a history of knee problems, performed like a linebacker season, collecting a team-high 67 tackles, but only two stops for loss and zero sacks. Miami has enough linebackers, and needs Green to act more like a rush end in 2013.
Junior Olsen Pierre is hoping to become one of the team's fixtures at defensive tackle. He started all but the Notre Dame game in 2012, finishing the year with 27 tackles, five stops for loss, 1.5 sacks, three pass breakups and two forced fumbles. He arrived as an undersized player, but now goes 6-4 and 305 pounds, lending hope he'll be better prepared to hold up at the point of attack.
Next to Pierre, there's a battle raging between a pair of seniors. Everyone associated with the program knows about the potential of 6-1, 316-pound Curtis Porter. They also know about an injury history that's limited him to just 16 games since 2009. Appendicitis kept him out of the first eight games of 2012, yet he returned to start three of the final four games, and make nine tackles and 2.5 stops for loss. He's extremely strong and tough against. But he has to finally prove he can suit up for all 12 games.
Deadlocked with Porter is 6-3, 303-pound Luther Robinson, a two-time letterwinner. He returned from an injury that cost him all of 2011 to make 13 tackles as a backup in the rotation. He's coming off a solid spring, but will still have a hard time holding off a healthy Porter.
Providing speed and size off the bench at defensive end will be 6-3, 242-pound senior Kelvin Cain and 6-5, 283-pound sophomore Jelani Hamilton, respectively. Cain is a fleet-footed situational pass rusher who chipped in 13 tackles and a sack in 2012. Hamilton is a former four-star recruit, with the frame to move inside if the need arose.
Watch Out For … the potential impact of first-year DE Alquadin Muhammad. The four-star gem from New Jersey received offers form as far away as USC and LSU, testament to his potential. He's quick and explosive, exactly the type of player that Miami needs to light a fire under its necrotic pass rush.
Strength: Leaders. One thing that's for certain about the D-line is that its' chock full of experience and leadership. Coming out of spring, the two-deep was comprised of four seniors, two juniors and a lot of kids with starting experience. This group operates with the right work ethic, which will rub off on the young Canes, like Muhammad.
Weakness: Winning at the point of attack. Putting it bluntly, Miami got dominated in the trenches last year. The numbers don't lie; the team registered just 13 sacks, while yielding five yards per carry. Somehow, someway, this unit needs to do a markedly better job of fighting through blocks, and preventing opposing backs from reaching the second level.
Outlook: Unless the U. can start U-turning more running backs and generating some heat, the defense will suffer through many of the same problems it endured in 2012. The Canes are uncharacteristically marginal up front, a patchwork group banking on career years from the likes of Porter, Green and Robinson. Chickillo should be better than a year ago, but even he isn't safe as the searches everywhere for a spark. If Muhammad can learn on the fly in August, he's tailor-made to morph into an instant impact pass rusher.
Unit Rating: 6
Despite missing three games to injury, junior Denzel Perryman still finished second on the team with 64 tackles, including six behind the line. With a full season of action, the likely choice at weakside should approach 100 stops, while serving as one of Miami's defensive sparkplugs. Now at 6-0 and 236 pounds, he's gradually packed on muscle, which ought to help the undersized Cane withstand the rigors of being a power puncher against the run. Perryman has the range and lateral quickness to make stops in all directions, a job requirement for every member of a defense that badly needs to rebound in 2013.
Forming a bookend with Perryman on the outside will be an unlikely defender, precocious rookie Alex Figueroa. The 6-3, 233-pounder from Virginia blew past the veterans in the spring, leaving no doubts that he's earned a starting role in his first year. He's proving to be mature, both physically and emotionally, coachable and evolving by the week. Figueroa will man strongside, this fall and possibly for the next three years.
The area of greatest competition is taking place in the middle, with 6-3, 235-pound senior Jimmy Gaines and 6-0, 232-pound Raphael Kirby battling for playing time. Gaines is naturally the veteran, starting six games in 2012, and making 57 stops, three tackles for loss and two picks. Kirby, on the other hand, was a seven-game reserve who had 16 tackles. Gaines is going to bring the steady, while Kirby is the more spectacular of the pair, punishing opponents when he lowers his shoulder.
The backups on the outside will be 6-3, 230-pound sophomore Tyriq McCord at strongside and 6-2, 215-pound senior Tyrone Cornileus at weakside. McCord played defensive end as a rookie, coming off the bench to make 15 tackles and 3.5 sacks. Cornileus started three games, and chipped in with 31 tackles and three pass breakups.
Watch Out For … Figueroa to contend for Freshman All-American honors. Oddly enough, he was just a three-star recruit, yet he's played much higher than that ranking since arriving on campus. Figueroa is uniquely put together to explode out of the gate as a rookie, and has already shown the staff that he's a very quick learner.
Strength: Range and lateral speed. With Perryman setting the tone for this unit of athletes, the linebackers are thick and quick, and capable of covering a lot of ground in a hurry. The speed and acceleration of the linebackers will allow the coaches to employ them in all different kinds of ways, like as blitzers and pass defenders.
Weakness: Run defense. Last season's abysmal numbers weren't entirely the fault of the defensive line. The linebackers, too, struggled to hold up at the point of attack, and attack the line of scrimmage. Eddie Johnson and Gionni Paul were supposed to be young cornerstones of the future, but the former is taking classes at Hinds (Miss.) Community College, and the latter is no longer a Hurricane.
Outlook: Consistent with the rest of the defense, the linebackers are a marginal unit, lacking depth and true star power. Perryman is solid, potentially the program's most consistent defender, and Figueroa has a high ceiling. But the Hurricanes lost a lot of talent and depth from a crew that was already mediocre a season ago. With a full season of work, Perryman should be good for 100 tackles in the fall.
Unit Rating: 6.5
The state of the Miami secondary is up in the air. In other words, the team could be looking at a repeat of last year, when only graduating CB Brandon McGee started more than seven games. The only Hurricane DB who has firmly earned a starting this offseason is 6-1, 203-pound S Deon Bush. The half-year starter in 2012 debuted by making 34 tackles and forcing three fumbles. While only beginning Year 2, he has the tools to quickly become Miami's next young star at the safety position.
Backing up Bush at one safety spot will be 6-2, 212-pound junior Kacy Rodgers II. He earned plenty of on-the-job training in 2012, starting seven games, and making 54 stops. He can pack a wallop, but doesn't have Bush's athleticism or fluid coverage skills.
Partnering with Bush at safety will either be 6-0, 210-pound senior A.J. Highsmith or 6-1, 215-pound sophomore Rayshawn Jenkins. Highsmith is a former quarterback who has spent the past few years on defense. The seven-game starter was quiet last fall, making just 32 tackles and a pick. Jenkins has the significantly higher ceiling, something he'll aim to prove in the summer. He's the better all-around athlete, but just needs to improve his positioning on the field.
The competitions at cornerback will be intense and protracted. On one side, 6-2, 196-pound junior Ladarius Gunter, the second-year transfer from Fort Scott (Kans.) Community College is taking on 5-11, 184-pound sophomore Tracy Howard. Gunter has excellent size and more reps, notching 27 tackles, six pass breakups and two fumble recoveries as a five-game starter. Howard only started one game, making 17 tackles and four pass breakups, but the staff likes his potential in coverage.
Squaring off at the other corner spot are 5-11, 187-pound sophomore Antonio Crawford and 5-11, 175-pound redshirt freshman Nate Dortch. Crawford lettered in 2012, largely earning playing time on special teams. The former three-star Dortch will need to elevate his play from the spring in order to actually lock down a starting job for the opener.
Watch Out For … Bush to separate himself from the pack once the season begins. The Miami secondary looks like a dorm room these days because it is a bit of a muddled mess. Bush, though, is the exception. After getting his feet wet in 2012, and flattening out the learning curve, he's poised to become one of the program's best defensive players.
Strength: Competition. Complacency is death as far as the Miami defensive backs are concerned. With three jobs up for grabs, a climate of intensity and want-to is going to permeate throughout the practice facility this summer. With so many players being so close to winning jobs, the competitive environment is assured of making everyone impacted by it better.
Weakness: Coverage skills. This has been an area that's troubled the Hurricanes for the past couple of seasons. There's no lockdown personality in coverage, three jobs have yet to be claimed and the team is coming off another difficult year. Last season, Miami was No. 10 in the ACC in completion percentage, and the team has produced just 17 picks over the past two seasons.
Outlook: Too much uncertainty, even in the offseason, is a troubling sign for a secondary. Bush is on the right path to success in 2013, but everyone else in the defensive backfield is accompanied by a question mark. This group will need help, both internally and from a D-line that was AWOL in 2012. The safeties should actually be fine, but those cornerbacks will need to evolve in September, when scary passing teams don't appear on the schedule.
Unit Rating: 6
The graduations of Dalton Botts and Jake Wieclaw mean that Miami is breaking in two newcomers on special teams. A late addition has been signed to help the punting game. Former Cincinnati P Pat O'Donnell signed a financial aid agreement to enroll in either the summer or fall semesters. As a Bearcat, the two-time All-Big East performer averaged 41.8 yards on 59 attempts in 2012, dropping 23 kicks inside the 20-yard line.
Sophomore Matt Goudis is being counted on to take over the placekicker job. The nation's sixth-rated kicker of 2011 has all of the physical tools for success, but will still have to prove he can thrive in pressure situations.
The team's primary return man, on kickoffs and punts, is expected to be junior Phillip Dorsett, one of the fastest players on the roster. He was modestly successful in 2012, and will look to pick up some of the kick return slack left by the promotion of Duke Johnson to feature back.
Watch Out For … Goudis' nerves. Practice sessions have proved that the sophomore can kick. But can he kick when the game hangs in the balance and the road crowd is getting increasingly louder? Confidence is essential for the kicking job, so a fast start will be critical for the young kicker.
Strength: O'Donnell. Boom, just like that, Miami went out and signed its most important special teamer a few months before the opener. O'Donnell is seasoned and skilled as a punter, supporting the defense with his distance and his placement.
Weakness: Covering punts. This has had been an area of concern for the Hurricanes, two years running. In 2011, the program was 96th in punt return yardage defense. A year ago, it fell to 97th, failing to properly capitalize on its team speed or its veteran punter, Botts.
Outlook: The special teams unit lost a lot from a year ago, from the legs of Wieclaw and Botts to the explosiveness on returns of Johnson. The addition of O'Donnell could not have been timelier for the Hurricanes. He immediately becomes the crown jewel of an otherwise average unit that's going to need Goudis to kick as if he's been here before.
Unit Rating: 7
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