Manny Diaz states Zach McCloud looks like natural defensive end

Zach McCloud who is returning for his sixth season with the Miami Hurricanes looks like a natural after a position switch from linebacker to defensive end this spring. McCloud initially changed positions for the Cheez-it Bowl after former Miami DEs Jaelan Phillips and Quincy Roche opted out for the game against Oklahoma State.

The move from LB to DE was a big one for Zach McCloud who started in the middle of the Miami defense at the outset of his career as a freshman in 2016 through the 2018 season. When Miami began using the striker the majority of the time on defense in 2019, McCloud chose to take a redshirt season.

After sitting out all but the first four games of 2019, McCloud returned in 2020 and played nine games with eight starts. McCloud was outstanding as a pass rusher against Oklahoma State with two tackles and five quarterback pressures on 22 pass-rush snaps. The move by McCloud provides Miami with much-needed DE experience.

During a Zoom meeting with reporters on Tuesday, Miami head coach Manny Diaz spoke about the transition and development that McCloud has had throughout the spring. Defensive ends have thrived in the Diaz defense. Phillips, Roche and Greg Rousseau are expected to be selected in the first three rounds of the 2021 NFL Draft.

“It is a transition and Zach has exceeded my expectations. Not that I didn’t think he would do well there. I didn’t think he would look so natural so soon. Some guys when you say just go at defensive end, there’s a lot more go, go, go, where at linebacker you have to process where you go.

He’s so experienced and intelligent and wants to learn. He’s soaking up all of (defensive line coach) Jess Simpson’s coaching like a sponge. Defensive end is a glamour position in this defense.

The losses of Phillips, Roche at the end of the 2020 season and Rousseau before it began, left Miami sparse experience at DE for 2021. The move of McCloud at DE and the addition of edge rusher DeAndre Johnson from Tennessee upgraded the experience Miami has entering the 2021 season.

Johnson was with the Miami football team for the first time on Monday because of health protocol. In four seasons at Tennessee Johnson had 58 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, 10 sacks and five forced fumbles. Johnson and McCloud are projected to start for the Hurricanes in 2021. Diaz discussed Johnson.

“Today was his first day in a team setting for health protocol reasons – excited to get him more and more reps as we close out the spring.”

The maturation of McCloud at DE should help that Diaz has returned to being the Miami defensive coordinator. McCloud became a starter as a true freshman in the first season the Hurricanes defense was led by Diaz as DC in 2016 under Mark Richt. The 2021 season is one of transition for the Miami defense.