The most dominant UM defenses were run-stuffing, ball-hawking machines, with a knack for forcing turnovers. Coach Al Golden and coordinator Mark D’Onofrio want to construct that type of unit, but it’s going to take time, considering UM lost Sean Spence and four key linemen and now must break in a talented freshman class.
Here’s the good news: Only 17 of 120 teams allowed fewer points per game than UM’s 20.1 last season. UM was a respectable 45th in average yards allowed (359).
But here’s the problem: Not enough game-changing plays. UM’s six interceptions were the nation’s 10th-fewest and tied with Duke for worst in the conference, well behind North Carolina State’s 27. This has been a problem much of the past five years here, and it must change.
Also, 70 teams recovered more fumbles than UM’s nine. And UM recovered 40.9 percent of the opponent’s 22 fumbles -- 91st in the country.
“This spring, we were stripping balls better, making interceptions better, than any point since I’ve been here,” D’Onofrio said. Before 2011, “the defenses I’ve coached had takeaways in high numbers.” a.ssessing UM’s defense, with practice starting Friday:
### Defensive line: Darius Smith is the front-runner to start alongside Curtis Porter at tackle (“those two distanced themselves,” D’Onofrio said), and Shayon Green and former linebacker Kelvin Cain will compete for the end spot opposite Anthony Chickillo.
“Shayon had the best spring of any defensive end,” D’Onofrio said. “He hasn’t played as much as we want because of injury, but we can count on him. I want Chickillo to be more physical at the point of attack, be as strong at the end of the season as the beginning, and not get worn down. He’s 20 pounds heavier.”
UM finished 68th with 24 sacks but lost Olivier Vernon and Marcus Robinson. So the Canes need immediate pass rush help from at least two of four freshmen ends, with Tyriq McCord and Jelani Hamilton the most likely. Among four freshmen and redshirt freshman Ricardo Williams, “we’ll have to get two of those five to play now,” D’Onofrio said.
Jalen Grimble, Olsen Pierre, Luther Robinson, Corey King and well-regarded newcomers Earl Moore, Jacoby Briscoe and Dequan Ivery give UM the defensive tackle depth it lacked in 2011. “That’s nine guys, so it’s some pretty stiff competition,” D’Onofrio said.
### Linebacker: UM feels good about how Denzel Perryman has seized the middle linebacker spot. “He’s got great instincts, tremendous burst,” D’Onofrio said. But “Sean Spence knew where it was going before it went. That’s the challenge for Denzel. He’s got all the tools to be a great one. But talent isn’t enough.”
Ramon Buchanan (who missed the last eight games after a season-ending knee injury last year) also will start, likely opposite Jimmy Gaines, who blamed a lull in his play for losing his starting job last November.
D’Onofrio envisions potential third-down roles for Eddie Johnson (very good speed) and Tyrone Cornelius (“fast guy who can blitz or cover”). UM expects Raphael Kirby and Gionni Paul will be factors, and freshman Gabe Terry “was a great pass rusher in high school and another option on third down,” D’Onofrio said. Thurston Armbrister will get a look; Josh Witt has quit football because of concussions.
### Safety: UM isn’t fretting about losing Ray-Ray Armstrong because of a growing confidence in Kacy Rodgers and AJ Highsmith, who have more speed than Armstrong. Even before Armstrong was booted, “AJ and Kacy closed the gap,” D’Onofrio said.
Starter Vaughn Telemaque’s inconsistent spring concerned coaches, but they say he finished strong. Though UM said it originally planned to use highly-regarded freshman Deon Bush at cornerback, his father said he has been moved to safety.
### Cornerback: D’Onofrio said he expects Brandon McGee, Thomas Finnie and Ladarius Gunter “to be three of the six who will play, with the young guys f!ghting it out for the other three.” Elite recruit Tracy Howard a.ssuredly will be one: “A great player who understands the game as well as any kid I’ve been around,” D’Onofrio said.
Senior McGee, a likely starter, “is definitely ahead of Finnie and Gunter but not where he needs to be,” defensive backs coach Paul Williams said. “I tell him he needs to be productive.” Larry Hope, Vernon Davis and Nate Dortch figure to compete for the fifth and sixth jobs
2 days :dancingcool:
Last edited by Deeangoe; 08-01-2012 at 10:13 PM..