University of Miami

Think fast, play calm: Miami’s offense embraced by ‘the dudes’ on D, has ‘brains racing’

After one week of run-run-run-run-run (insert breath here), then run-run-run-run-run (one more), the University of Miami’s offense has made its collective feelings abundantly clear regarding coordinator Rhett Lashlee’s fast-paced, no-huddle offense: double thumbs-up.

Turns out the defense is pretty pumped, too.

“I love it, personally, because I know it’s going to make game day 10 times easier,’’ said junior Al Blades Jr., who led all cornerbacks last season with 36 tackles and six pass breakups. “It has your brain racing...

“The more we’re running out here and the more it’s fast-paced thinking, when we get in the game and it calms down, we’re going to be ready [and] it’s going to be easier to think.

“Then we’ll be able to show off even more of our skills.”

The Hurricanes began more than a week’s worth of spring break after their last practice Friday. But during the first week, players on defense — the dominant, even elite side of the ball the past few years — learned quickly that going against this offense can be daunting.

“The learning is where it begins,’’ said coach Manny Diaz, UM’s former defensive coordinator. “If you think you know what you’re doing, you don’t know what you’re doing. Because it comes at you so fast. You can see [that for] our younger players, our more inexperienced players, it is a real challenge for them. What it’s going to do is force them to get more into their playbooks, force them to watch film on their own, force them to ask better questions in the meeting room.

“Young guys are going to always get exposed, but in this deal it looks really, really bad. So it’s been really good for them. And what we’re trying to do is create a chaos that we’re so used to playing it, that when we get in the games it’s easy.”

Defensive coordinator Blake Baker cited North Carolina and Florida State, “off the top of my head,’’ as two programs that run a similar offense.

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“One, it forces you to know your job,’’ Baker said. “There’s not enough time to look at the linebacker next to you or the safety next to you or anybody next to you and say, ‘What’s my job?’ You think you might know it in the film room or the walk-throughs, but it’s a lot different [on the field].”

Because of the new pace, the defense has been using hand signals to communicate.

“There’s been some good and some bad,’’ Baker said. “We’ve got a long way to go. There’s a different energy on both sides of the ball. It’s exciting right now and then you realize you’ve got to change a bunch of diapers.’’

Some other defensive players’ thoughts on the spread:

Senior linebacker Zach McCloud: “It’s fast and competitive. We love that. It’s going to definitely get us in shape. You see guys right now getting in extra work. On the field there’s not a second to waste in between plays and I prefer that so much more mentally.”

Senior safety Amari Carter: “The biggest challenge is just getting aligned. we already know the plays from a defensive standpoint. We’ve just got to communicate quick enough while we’re already aligned.”

Junior cornerback DJ Ivey: “A lot of conditioning, a lot of running... It’s just a mindset thing.’’

Redshirt sophomore defensive end Greg Rousseau: “It’s different, it’s intense, it’s just a new energy out there...It’s really great to go against for our defense. We have to get lined up quick and get the call. It’s really been great so far. All the dudes are just embracing everything.”

Blades said that last year’s offense, run by former coordinator Dan Enos, encompassed “a lot of motioning, a lot of moving and thinking. This year it’s an offense that’s taking away the process of thinking. Now you have to think fast and still play calm.”

Diaz, as well as starting offensive lineman DJ Scaife, praised redshirt freshman defensive tackles Jalar Holley (6-2, 285 pounds) and Jared Harrison-Hunte (6-4, 282), who were tough to block last week, with Holley getting first-team reps.

“Jalar, No. 1, he’s got a great passion for the game,’’ Diaz says. “He plays that way. He’s a very active player. He probably has the most active hands, as violent hands as anyone in our defensive tackle room. He, like all young players, are still learning pad level, but you can see when he gets it...he’s got the athleticism to make a play. To me, the thing at that position, is not just to be big but to have the agility to make things happen, and Jalar has that.

“And Jared Harrison-Hunte has also had a really, really good first week. Very athletic player, like we’ve talked about, but what’s shown up this week is just his power. He’s had some plays where he’s taken some guards and knocked some guards back. We’ve always felt very highly of those young D-tackles we signed a year ago, and they’ve both shown well the first week.”

Defensive tackle Jason Blissett, a 6-4, 257-pound redshirt freshman, has been practicing at defensive end. Note that both Blissett, Holley and Harrison-Hunte are all from New York.

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