There’s competition throughout Miami’s defense leading up to the start of the 2023 season, and defensive coordinator Lance Guidry talked about the latest at some of these positions with the media on Saturday.
UM’s defensive line was a silver lining on last year’s struggling team. The unit effectively created pressure on opposing quarterbacks and helped stabilize a run defense that was ranked in the upper half nationally in rushing yards allowed per game.
Fourth-year junior Akheem Mesidor, who had a team-high seven sacks last year, headlines the long list of defensive-line returnees. The group also received a jolt in talent through both the transfer portal and the high school recruiting ranks. First-year defender Rueben Bain Jr. has been especially impactful, as he recorded three sacks during Miami’s spring game and received praise from Guidry, who also spoke highly of freshman Jayden Wayne and sophomore Nyjalik Kelly.
“Bain is consistent against the run and pass. Of course, he’s still got a lot to learn, but I expect him to play a lot,” Guidry said. “Jayden Wayne, it’s up and down, plays like a freshman, of course, but he’s done some good things as well. Nyjalik’s still young as well, so [those are] the three young guys that really stand out that’ll be deep in the rotation, if not the starters.”
Guidry has been pleased with “a bunch of guys” across Miami’s defensive line throughout the first week of fall camp but admitted that the unit struggled to defend the run during Saturday’s practice.
“[Saturday] wasn’t one of our better days of stopping the run, which is non-negotiable. You have to stop the run better than we did today,” Guidry said. “But yeah, they’re getting after it. I think we’re rushing the passer really well, for the most part, playing the run well. Today just wasn’t a good day for us.”
The linebacker position, like the defensive line, also saw an influx of both young and experienced talent join the room. One of the ongoing position battles is at weak-side linebacker, where sophomore Wesley Bissainthe, veteran Louisville transfer K.J. Cloyd and others are competing for playing time.
Guidry noted that the winners of these positional competitions will likely become clearer as fall practices progress but that Cloyd’s multi-year experience playing college football bodes well for him.
“It’s a competition all in that [linebacker] row, and we’ve been plugging and playing a bunch of different guys, so as we get into full pads and get a little bit further along and start installing more, they’ll probably start to separate themselves, because in the course of a game, things change, so you got to identify plays, and you got to rely on past experiences, and that’s where probably K.J.’s probably going to catch up or beat some of the guys because he just plays a lot of reps.”
The defensive play-caller is also staying patient with the development of Miami’s freshman linebackers, given the complex mental aspect that comes with playing the position at the collegiate level.
“It’s a lot for them. It’s a lot. Each play and each day is a different thing for them because they’re trying to learn what we’re doing,” Guidry said. “It’s just hard half for young freshmen at linebacker and safety to play because that’s the brain trust of the defense, and you’ve gotta make all the checks, and you’ve got to be right, so it takes a little time. We won’t know about them, which one we’ll be able to help us yet.”
Veteran cornerback Te’Cory Couch played mostly outside cornerback during the first week of fall camp. This comes after he’s been predominantly positioned at the nickel over the past couple of seasons.
When asked about Couch, Guidry explained that he was planning on positioning him at nickel in later fall practices, suggesting a potentially versatile role for the fifth-year senior this year.
Guidry was very complimentary when talking about some of UM’s newcomers at cornerback.
“[Jadais] Richard, [left] him at the corner for a couple of days. He’s doing really well, along with the Brown brothers, both of them, so we’ve got a lot of choices to choose from. And also, [Jaden] Davis is playing the star position probably the best right now so it’s been good, have a lot of different guys we can plug and play, which is awesome.”
Another position battle is at backup safety, where several players are vying for playing time behind Miami’s starting duo of Kamren Kinchens and James Williams. Guidry spoke highly of second-year safeties Jaden Harris and Markeith Williams, who are a couple of the notable players in this competition.
“Harris has had a really good camp so far. He’s got a couple of interceptions. He probably plays the ball the best,” Guidry said. “I think Markeith Williams probably knows the defense a little bit better than he does right now, but Harris has made a bunch of plays already, which is good to see.”
As for the defense as a whole, Guidry is taking a trial-and-error approach to finding the system that best fits the Hurricanes’ personnel. He’s noticed, at least so far, the players are responding well to a pressure-heavy style of defense.
“We’re going to keep adding and just throw it all on the wall and see what sticks and then see what they do best. Is it blitzing? Is it sitting there playing man free? Is it sitting here playing zone? Right now, it looks like they like to pressure,” Guidry said. “They like to disrupt, which is so different than last year, so I think they’re more comfortable when they’re attacking and not sitting there waiting, but we’ll see. And sometimes it depends on who you play and what you want to do … Blitzing them and getting them started is what they like to do.”
Miami will resume practice and kick off its second week of fall camp on Tuesday.
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