Spring Game Recap: Defense

<b>FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.</b> - The Miami Hurricanes defensive line anchored a strong defensive effort in UM's spring game at Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale this afternoon. The defensive line was responsible for nine sacks while the linebackers recorded two interceptions in 48 minutes of play.

While the offensive scoring system remained the same, the offense also received one point for every first down. The defense received one point for a three and out, six points for a turnover, and 10 points for a defensive touchdown. Despite losing to the offense 31-21, Miami's defense was electric and full of energy, swarming to the ball on every possession and making the offense very uncomfortable.

This afternoon's game was the last preview the fans would get before the ‘Canes open their season against Florida State. While some players performed up to their expectations, there were also some pleasant surprises at Lockhart. Canes Time breaks down the defense by their respective units.

DEFENSIVE LINE

The defensive line stole the show earlier today with constant, hard pressure on both quarterbacks Kyle Wright and Kirby Freeman. Both quarterbacks provide their offense with nice mobility and it was a good thing because most of Miami's offense in the first half came off broken-play scrambles. Senior Thomas Carroll and juniors Bryan Pata, Baraka Atkins, and Kareem Brown started for the Hurricanes from left to right on the line. Sophomore Vegas Franklin and Freshmen Joe Joseph, Eric Moncur, and Calais Campbell rotated in with Campbell having an outstanding performance today.

After the first quarter, Campbell played most of the game at left end bearing down on both quarterbacks and recording one tackle for loss in the first quarter. The combination of Campbell on the left and Carroll on the right forced Miami's offense into two holding penalties in the first quarter. Campbell looked very explosive off the ball and, combined with Carroll's consistent pressure on the blind side, resulted in a quick sack on Kyle Wright during the offense's first possession.

The second quarter yielded more playing time for Franklin and Joseph in at defensive tackle with Moncur and Campbell playing the ends. Atkins, Carroll, and Pata saw limited action after the first quarter with Atkins playing in at defensive tackle, something he said he was used to after last season. Pata sacked Kirby Freeman for a five-yard loss in the second quarter and Carroll had a beautiful, weak-side pass deflection despite their lack of playing time. Coaches were surely keeping their upperclassmen healthy and not risking injury while at the same time giving guys like Campbell and Franklin more reps in game like situations.

After his performance, Campbell is likely to receive more attention from his coaches, but his teammates were not surprised at all. After the game, Carroll said, "Calais runs hard, that's something everyone notices about him. He's a lot like I was freshman year and if you're running hard and playing hard every down you're going to get a lot of attention and game time." The second half consisted of mostly of the underclassmen, who played a majority of the second quarter, getting as many reps as possible.

Baraka Atkins recorded a sack on Kirby Freeman and freshman Rhyan Anderson got some action, providing some quick burst off the end with nice weak-side pressure on the quarterbacks. The young line in the second quarter provided quarterback Kyle Wright with some extra time in the pocket, something many speculated as coach Coker playing favorites with Wright, however the younger line was toted as having more pass rush ability than the starters. Overall, Vegas Franklin had two sacks, Bryan Pata had two and half sacks, Eric Moncur had one sack, Kareem Brown had two and half sacks, and Thomas Carroll had one sack.

Calais Campbell had one tackle for loss on Kirby Freeman for a one-yard loss, which was not labeled a sack because Freeman was beginning to scramble. This defensive line is definitely the catalyst of the Miami defense. Look for the defense's performance, as a whole, to be based on the line's ability to create pressure. If they can do to FSU what they did to their own offense, look for the Seminole's quarterback to make some poor decisions and errant throws in the home opener. Miami's ability to create turnovers and plays will rest on the line's shoulders.

LINEBACKERS

Freshman linebacker Willie Williams lived up to his hype in his spring debut, dishing out some punishment, particularly on RB Charlie Jones. Williams was not part of the starting linebacker corps, but did show why he was a top recruit last year. From left to right, the starters consisted of senior Leon Williams, junior Tavares Gooden, and sophomore Jon Beason. The second string consisted of sophomore Willie Cooper, sophomore Romeo Davis, and Williams. Despite minor rotations within both units (some switching between inside and outside positioning), the "Canes have excellent depth at the position, which should keep them out of the predicament they were in last year.

Both Leon and Willie Williams were the big hitters for Miami while Gooden provided excellent quickness on a few blitzes to the outside. Miami typically played a 4-3 defense with a cover two, no blitz scheme, somewhat of a staple at the U. Miami has some great athletes in the linebacker corps, but seemed a little slow picking up the play action, resulting in some early gains courtesy of FB James Bryant and freshman TE Phil Gyulai. Miami also showed tendencies of last year, giving up some yardage to the quarterback scramble in the middle of the field.

Linebacker highlights were provided by Jon Beason and Willie Cooper, both of which recorded interceptions. Beason's came in the second quarter after a five-yard Kirby Freeman pass that was forced into double coverage. Beason returned the interception for 16 yards. Sophomore Willie Cooper added another interception in the third quarter after a Freeman pass bounced off FB James Bryant's chest pads.

Look for the starting linebackers to be the same who stated today with Willie Williams and Willie Cooper rotating in. Williams said he believes he will play on the weak side to start the season so that the coaches can emphasize his speed. Cooper displayed fluidity in pass coverage while MLB Romeo Davis struggled in pass coverage along with picking up play action. The big thing for Miami is the depth at the position, which wasn't available last year. Rocky MacIntosh did not play today, but should be back by the start of the season. Most of the guys who make up the linebacker corps provide a lot of versatility that will help the coaches confuse opposing offenses. Randy Shannon might look into mixing up his linebacker coverage to rectify the amount of yardage left in the middle of the field during pass plays. Fortunately, Miami's athleticism makes up for simple strategy.

SECONDARY

Seniors Marcus Maxey and Kelly Jennings started at cornerback along with senior Greg Threat and sophomore Anthony Reddick at the safety positions. Junior Devin Hester rotated in at the nickel spot and switched with Maxey periodically on the outside. Kelly Jennings was the most consistent of the bunch displaying flawless coverage skills staying with top receiver Ryan Moore.

Brandon Meriweather provided nice pop off the bench, figuratively and literally. Meriweather was definitely the big hitter in the secondary, laying wood on various receivers while Threat let the running backs feel his presence. Threat basically solidified his spot at strong safety, but it will be interesting to see who plays the free spot between Reddick and Meriweather. Coach Larry Coker has shown a tendency to go with upperclassmen when it comes to position battles so we'll see how this one develops.

Another interesting battle is between Maxey and Hester. Both were beat today for the offense's only touchdowns. Maxey was beat by Moore in the second quarter on a beautiful 23-yard post pattern in which Kyle Wright threaded the needle. Junior receiver Darnell Jenkins beat Hester for a 38-yard touchdown pass, again from Wright, except this one was more to blame on coverage. Hester gave Jenkins about three to four yards of separation and tried, but was unable to catch up with Jenkins as Wright lobbed a nice ball into Jenkins's hands. Hester has shown a tendency to do this before, which might hurt his chances of starting against Florida State.

At this point, Jennings and Maxey appear to be the front-runners due to consistency and game experience. Overall, the secondary should be better than last year with the biggest question mark coming at the free safety spot. Both Meriweather and Reddick show great potential and would compliment the hard-hitting Threat in the defensive backfield.

NOTES

Upcoming graduate and star defensive back Antrel Rolle was honored at halftime for being named defensive MVP for the Atlanta touchdown club. Rolle will be in the 2005 NFL Draft April 23-24 in New York City.

DID NOT PARTICIPATE DUE TO INJURY

DE Rhyan Anderson, DE Javon Nanton, DT Teraz McCray, DT Dwayne Hendricks, LB Glenn Cook, LB Roger McIntosh, CB Glenn Sharpe, CB Carlos Armour

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