Canes defense animated for season opener

The Miami Hurricanes will be without sophomore linebacker Michael Pinckney for the first half of the 2017 season opener against Bethune-Cookman Sept. 2. Pinckney will be serving a suspension for a targeting penalty received in the second half of last season’s Russell Athletic Bowl win against West Virginia.

“We’re going to start the game with Zach McCloud, Shaq Quarterman and Mike Smith [at linebacker],” defensive coordinator Manny Diaz told reporters after practice Friday. “After we get [Pinckney] in the second half, we’ll roll out a lot of guys.”

As one of three starting freshmen linebackers in 2016, Pinckney totaled an impressive 61 tackles, 2.5 sacks and an interception. Smith, who will temporarily be taking Pinckney’s starting spot, is a redshirt junior who has seen limited playing time in the past but played snaps in all 13 games last season.

While the Canes’ return their entire front seven, there is not nearly as much experience in the secondary. Not one of the defensive backs has been a consistent starter in the past, but Diaz is confident.

“I think Rob Knowles has really come on,” Diaz said. “I think with him and [Sheldrick] Redwine and Jaquan [Johnson], they’ve jumped their noses out in front.”

Diaz also commended sophomore Romeo Finley and freshman Amari Carter. Neither is currently in the starting lineup, but both should see action in the season opener.

Miami might also open up an extra starting spot for a nickel coverage position – a third cornerback consistently on the field.

“We’re in the midst of that discussion right now of how much nickel we want to play,” Diaz said. “It depends on the personnel of the teams we play.”

Regardless of schemes and strategy, Diaz and his defense are already looking toward their first opponent of 2017.

“Honestly, we have run our course through training camp,” Diaz said. “We need to play a game. You need that game accountability to make that next jump. We’re ready to go play somebody.”

“On Saturday we’ll see something different,” said junior defensive back Jhavonte Dean, a transfer from Blinn College. “Everybody seems to be excited. Coach Diaz, coach Rumph – they do a good job at installing the defense that you all see on game day, so we should be ready as a unit.”

The Canes’ defense has a chance to be dominant in 2017 following a successful 2016 campaign in which it finished ranked first in the ACC Coastal Division and 23rd in the nation.