Miami Hurricanes Football Spring Preview 2015: Defense



Defensive Woes?

Miami is looking to improve their 14th total defense ranking this spring.

Although last year consisted of screenshots and criticism, the Miami Hurricanes finished 14th in the nation in total defense last year. However, at many points during the season, the ranking seemed like fools gold. The defense did not play well against Georgia Tech (371 yards allowed), Nebraska (456 yards allowed), Pittsburgh (360 yards allowed), South Carolina (354 yards allowed), and Louisville (336 yards allowed). On the flip side, in games such against North Carolina, Cincinnati, Arkansas State, Duke, Virginia Tech, and even Florida State, the defense played aggressively and showed components of the top 25 defensive ranking.

By the Numbers

  • Miami allowed 329.0 yards per game compared to 426.4 yards last year
  • Ranked 36th in Scoring Defense
  • Finished 102nd in TFL’s (64 total)
  • 60th in Red Zone Defense
  • 30th in Rushing Defense
  • 17th in Passing Yards allowed
  • 68th in Total Sacks (27 total on the season)


Miami is losing former starters Denzel Perryman, Ladarius Gunter, Anthony Chickillo, Olsen Pierre, Thruston Armbrister, and role player Nantumbu Akil Fentress. The most notable loss for the defense is Perryman who contributed 102 tackles, 3 forced fumbles, 2 sacks, and 1 interception for Hurricane defense. Let’s not forget that others players mentioned also had significant t roles.

Chickillo received some unacquainted criticism from fans because he had only 2 sacks on the year. However, Miami demands the 2 gap from their defensive ends which limits the players production level. Pierre was a consistent player at Defensive End for Al Golden. Gunter proved to be a consistent, reliable player throughout his time at  the University of Miami.  Armbrister was a pleasant surprise this season by showing a pass rush ability, and filled in for former player Alex Figueroa at SAM Linebacker. Fentress’ heart on the field was never questioned, and he was able to make some plays. Miami should be able to cope with some of these losses.

The good news is that Miami is returning 7 starters on the defensive side of the ball, Al Quadin Muhammad, and early enrollee, Jaquan Johnson, should contribute immediately with a solid Spring.

Defensive Line

As mentioned, Miami is losing Anthony Chickillo at strong side DE. However, Chad Thomas should be able to fill in this spring, and become a starter. Former defensive line coach Jethro Franklin has accepted a job with the Oakland Raiders. Al Golden recently hired Randy Melvin, who coached under Bill Belichick with the New England Patriots in the early 2000s. Melvin is inheriting a talented defensive line, but can he get the production at a higher level?

Miami runs a 3-4 2 gap system, which limits the production of the defensive line. They are told to hold their gaps in order to spill the holes for the linebackers to fill the gaps. This defensive scheme is made to stop the run. You can see that the NT has to control both A gaps, while the two defensive ends control the B gap and C gap. This particular scheme involves disciplined, patient players to run successfully. The Nose Tackle has to demand a double team in order to free up one of the ILB’s. The ILB’s sit, read, and react to which gaps open.  The defensive linemen aren’t asked to go up field and make a play, but essentially do a job and let the linebacker make the play. The only problem is finding the right type of players to run this scheme. Most NFL Team’s run a version of 3-4 defense, because most of the players are fully developed in size and strength rather than in college.

Luckily, Miami has recruited better in past two season for players to fit this particular scheme. Miami brought in Calvin Heurtelou, Courtel Jenkins, and Michael Wyche to play the NT position. Heurtelou and Jenkins saw a considerable amount of time last season, and proved to be decent players for the position. Michael Wyche generated a lot of hype, but he did not enroll at Miami till late summer which set him back. Wyche came into Fall Camp 2014 overweight and in poor shape. This spring will be crucial for all three Nose Tackles to get better in technique, and in shape. Earl Moore received a redshirt last year, and will look to impress for playing time this spring

At Defensive End, Miami has a lot of bodies. On the current roster, they have Jelani Hamilton, Anthony Moten, Ufomba Kamalu, and Chad Thomas. Although they’re losing Olsen Pierre at Defensive Tackle, Miami is returning talented players with a lot of experience. Hamilton received a redshirt last season, and this spring will tell if that was beneficial. Coach Melvin has to like what Kamalu and Moten bring to the table with their sheer size and strength which fits the position. Expect Chad Thomas, the former 5 star recruit, to take over Anthony Chickillo’s role at Strong Side Defensive End. Thomas needs to take this spring to improve his pass rush; he had zero sacks last season.

OLB/Pass Rushers/ Defensive Ends

In Mark D’Onofrio’s defense, he says he likes to run multiple looks, which consists of a 4-3 scheme and 3-4 scheme. Miami has “hybrid” players such as Tyriq McCord, Al-Quadin Muhammad, Darrion Owens, Trent Harris, and Demetrius Jackson, and new early-enrollee Scott Patchan.  Now, these players have a new coach specifically for their position, Kareem Brown, who was a Graduate Assistant for the Defensive Line, now coaches the Outside Linebackers/Pass Rushers. The position requires two things essentially: get after the quarterback and set the edge.

Last season, Tyriq McCord became an every down player. He was asked to set the edge in 3-4 scheme, which he was new in. In the past, he was only used a pass rusher on 3rd downs. He had a solid season, but he definitely can make a lot of strides — McCord will be battling Al-Quadin Muhammad this spring for the starting position at Defensive End/OLB. Before the season of last year, Muhammad was ahead of McCord on the depth chart. This will be a battle to monitor during 2015 Spring Camp.

Darrion Owens  is most likely going to be a starter this season. He played a lot of snaps this past season interchanging with Armbrister at SAM LB. D’Onofrio likes to use a LB in the Nickel position during passing situations.  Owens needs to work on his flexibility and speed to work on his coverage skills. Teams like to pick on the linebacker in passing situations.

What about everyone else? Well, this is a good thing to discuss. Miami has depth at this position. In recent recruiting cycles, they have made it a major focus to get pass rushers for their system. Demetrius Jackson is a player to watch for this season. Reports have said Jackson has benefited greatly from redshirting. He can play either behind Chad Thomas at Defensive End, or Tyriq McCord at OLB.

Trent Harris was able to get on the field early last season because he is very disciplined in this 3-4 scheme. Harris would sub in for McCord this past season, and showed promise. Harris could be a very good role player for the defense next year, but he needs to hit the weight room this spring and summer.

Patchan is recovering from a ACL injury last season. I expect him to see limited time this spring and will mostly like red shirt this year.

Inside Linebackers

Perhaps the position with the most questions this upcoming spring surrounds the loss of Denzel Perryman. He is likely goingto be a first round pick in April’s draft, so how in the world is Miami going to replace him? Well, that is part of the game. Raphael Kirby will likely slide to middle linebacker to fill the void. Kirby improved last season, having 50 total tackles, 2 interceptions, and 2 forced fumbles. He will be asked to take control over the defense, which is a load to handle. The spring will be vital for him to improve in his final season.

Jermaine Grace played exceptional last season. Grace will be the likely starter at W linebacker this upcoming season. Grace lacks in the height and weight department, but he has 4.5 speed and tenacity for finding the ball.  He finished second on the team in total tackles with 57 last year and had 3 sacks. Will he take the next step in his development this spring?

Depth and experience is a issue at the inside linebacker position. Behind Grace and Kirby, there is anyone who has had much experience. Although, Juwon Young will be expected to play many snaps this upcoming season. Last season, he was able to play in garbage time. Young will have to take this spring in stride and take the time to study the playbook.

Terry McCray and Mike Smith, also listed as a possible DE, red shirted last season. This spring, coaches will found out what they can bring to the table. The Canes also gained Charles Perry, a new comer this spring. Perry is an athletic linebacker, and don’t be surprised if he will be asked to play this season as well. Also, Marques Gayot has made the move to WLB from Safety. Last season, he played on special teams.

Linebackers coach Hurlie Brown has his work cut out for him this spring. It will be vital to find who exactly who the two deep on the depth chart will be at the two ILB’s spots.


Perhaps one of the most talented, experienced parts of the 2015 Miami defense will be the secondary. Miami is returning 5 players from last season while only losing Ladarius Gunter to the NFL Draft. Artie Burns, Corn Elder, Tracy Howard, Antonio Crawford, and Ryan Mayes will be battling for the starting spots all spring.

Artie Burns showed the most consistency out of the corners last season resulting him starting in all the games. However, he still needs a lot of improvement. Elder played very well last season. He made open field tackles most of the time in, and proved to be a reliable corner for Mark D’Nofrio. Antonio Crawford had a great season last year. He could be one of the most talented players on the team. Crawford will likely continue to be the Nickel Corner in passing situation. Like Elder, Crawford proved that he could make open field tackles all season.  Ryan Mayes received a red shirted last season, and people will get an idea what he can bring to the table this spring.

Everyone knows that Tracy Howard was a 5 star player in the 2012 class. However, he has not lived up to that rating as of yet, but he has one more season to prove everyone wrong. He did not see the field much last season which probably diminished his confidence level. Howard can regain that confidence, swagger this spring that he played with his sophomore year.


Miami had depth issues last season at safety due to injuries of Rayshawn Jenkins and Deon Bush.  The Canes defense had to rely on Dallas Crawford, Jamal Carter, and Nantumbu Akil Fentress to play majority of the snaps.  Deon Bush was playing at an All-American level season until he got hurt during the Florida State game. It will be vital for Bush to stay healthy all season for Miami. He will need to become a leader this season.

Rayshawn Jenkins got hurt during summer camp, which hurt Miami  greatly during the 2014 season. Mark D’Onofrio will welcome him back with open arms. Jenkins had a good season as a sophomore, and he received a medical red shirt. The return of Jenkins’ play making ability will be noticeable in 2015. He needs to get fully integrated back this spring and claim back  the starting role.

Dallas Crawford was of a good service last season, but he seem to struggle. Crawford was a bit slow in reacting and late in covering wide receivers last season. However, his high school film proved that he can play the position effectively. He will battle this spring for a starting spot.  Jamal Carter, like Crawford, seemed to be thinking too much on the field. Hesitation is not part of the definition of being a good safety. Carter has all the physical ability to be a great one, but can increase his Football IQ this spring?

Jaquan Johnson of the 2015 class has enrolled at Miami for this spring. Johnson, next to Mark Walton, is perhaps the most treasured recruit. He has great Football IQ, and play making ability. The only thing holding Johnson back is the playbook and the weight room. He will have to really study, and live in the weight room to get a chance to play in the 2015 season.

Depth Chart 2 Deep Predictions

DE: Chad Thomas,  Jelani Hamilton

DT: Ufomba Kamalu, Anthony Moten

NT: Calvin Huertelou, Courtel Jenkins

OLB: Darrion Owens, Demetrius Jackson

OLB/DE: Tyriq McCord, Al -Quadin Muhammad

WLB: Jermaine Grace, Marques Gayot

MLB: Raphael Kirby, Juwon Young

CB: Artie Burns, Corn Elder

CB: Antonio Crawford, Tracy Howard

FS: Deon Bush, Dallas Crawford

SS: Rayshawn Jenkins, Jamal Carter