The 2013 Miami Hurricanes: Defense Won’t Get Worse

By: Shasky Clarke

 

Can’t Get Worse Than 2012

The Miami Hurricanes offense wasn’t the real problem in 2012. The team had the worst defense in the ACC, giving up more than 30 points per game and big play after big play. The defense had no answers. Opposing teams carved it up on both the ground with five yards per rush, and through the air with the defense finishing 102nd out of 120 FBS teams in pass yards given up.

The defense lacks a candidate to be a first round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. But now, the defense is bigger in the front seven and more experienced across the unit. There are good players at every level and promising young talent, eager for opportunities.

Junior Denzel Perryman and new 6’3” 230-pound redshirt freshman starter Alex “Figatron” Figueroa will combine to provide very physical and athletic presences at outside linebacker. They are comfortable in coverage and have the ability to go sideline to sideline.

At safety, Miami is home to two athletic and exciting sophomore safeties in Rayshawn Jenkins and Deon Bush. Jenkins is versatile with pretty good range, hands and excellent change-of-direction skills to match up in the slot or against tight ends. Bush is an elite athlete with ideal size. A.J. Highsmith is a veteran senior who lacks upside.

But for the Canes defense to become a competitive unit in 2013, it needs better play from the defensive front and the cornerbacks.

Need More From Defensive Front

Miami’s defense was utterly ineffective upfront, producing a pathetic 13 sacks and failing to disrupt and clog running lanes. Senior returning starting end Shayon Greene had zero sacks. Anthony Chickillo led the team with a mere four sacks. Yardage-wise, the defense was 112th versus the run. Simply put, for the Hurricanes defense to be respectful, it starts with the defensive line being a handful for opponents.

While the line returns three of the four largely ineffective starters, there is reason to expect overall improvement.

Versatile tackle Olsen Pierre continues to bulk up, and at 305 pounds, is no longer an undersized interior player. He is athletic and has flashed. In an effort to better defend the run in base packages, as well as take advantage of defensive tackle depth, Pierre could see a lot of reps at end. Now an upperclassman, Pierre has to become a more consistently disruptive player and will have the opportunity to do this all over the line.

Inside, senior Curtis Porter will be asked to stay healthy and use his 320 pound bulk to eat up blocks against the run. Fellow senior Luther Robinson has also bulked up to over 300 pounds and, in limited action, has flashed the ability to penetrate into the backfield. Behind them, 6’5” 285-pound Jelani Hamilton and 6’2” 290-pound Jalen Grimble, however, are the hybrid athletes who have the skills to be the kind of disruptive interior rushers the defense needs.

On the edge, the ball is in Anthony Chickillo’s court. He is now up to 275 pounds and after a five-star high school career, Chickillo’s legacy at Miami will come down to his ability to be a highly productive pass rusher. Nine sacks in two years is decent but not memorable.

Shayon Greene is simply not an elite pass rusher. He is active, fast, and makes stops, but the Canes can’t expect much of an impact from Greene’s play. Ideally, star freshman end Al-Quadin Muhammad might be the elite edge rusher the defense could use, but it is unclear how soon he could be able to contribute.

The line is deeper. It has the talent and potential to take the Miami defense to a high level one day. The group just needs to make more of an impact in 2013.

New Cornerbacks

The cornerback group must come up with more plays and tighter coverage in 2013. Only one guy had more than one interception. That guy had two. And he had now graduated. Gone are two cornerbacks who played a significant amount, Brandon McGee and Thomas Finnie. The beneficiaries will be the talented, if inexperienced Ladarius Gunter, Tracy Howard and Antonio Crawford.

The two high upside guys with the ability to form one of the top cornerback tandems in the ACC are Gunter and Howard. The speedy Gunter is also a jarring hitter and talented press guy. Howard is a more instinctive player, showcasing great breaks on the ball. He will need to prove that he can consistently stick with FBS guys one-on-one. Crawford is a system fit with the fluidity and hands to excel in zone coverage.

How soon can freshman Artie Burns get into the rotation? The future star combines raw physicality, explosiveness and ball skills on a great frame.

They can’t do it without a little help from the front seven. But if the group can live up to its abilities as athletic, smooth playmakers, the Hurricanes would be able to drastically improve their ability to get off the field. That is still a fairly big “if.”

Heroes

DE Anthony Chickillo 604 275, Jr. :

Athletic, high motor edge rusher with very good length, bulk and strength for his position. Could benefit from the use of a more varied repertoire of moves. Has had decent production but needs to break out statistically in the second half of his career.

OLB Denzel Perryman 600 240, Sr. :

Short-framed, big time hitter with plus range and quickness. Can be taken out of plays by size and power.

CB Ladarius Gunter 601 196, Jr. :

Long, fast and physical athlete who needs to prove playmaking ability in coverage.

S Deon Bush 601 200, So. :

Top notch athlete with great speed, hips and explosiveness. Good open field tackler with the versatility to play cornerback and be a very good return man.