Whether the issue is coaching, a lack of talent or a combination of both, the Miami Hurricanes appear in for at least one more troublesome year on the defensive side of the ball.
While it's unknown what head coach Al Golden plans to do regarding coaching staff changes this offseason, "The U" remains in search of next-level players, hitting the recruiting trail with a vengeance.
ESPN.com ranks Miami's 2014 class third in the nation, and the Hurricanes could climb even higher courtesy of some last-minute additions. Of the current 29 verbal commitments, 15 are slated to play defense—eight of which are defensive linemen, adding instant depth to the Hurricanes' weakest link.
Miami's defense is set to potentially lose as many as 11 starters or veteran players after the December bowl showdown against Louisville. The result is another "rebuilding" year—hard to accept entering year four of the Golden era, on the heels of 10 years of subpar football in Coral Gables.
Defensive linemen Justin Renfrow and David Gilbert are both out of eligibility, having exhausted their careers at Virginia and Wisconsin before graduating and playing one season at Miami. The Hurricanes will also lose senior tackles Curtis Porter and Luther Robinson and end Shayon Green, while junior Anthony Chickillo could be weighing his options regarding turning pro.
Miami returns five underclassmen in Al-Quadin Muhammad, Jelani Hamilton, Dwayne Hoilett, Corey King and Earl Moore, but a lack of experience leaves the door wide open at every position on the line.
Five-star defensive end Chad Thomas is a crown jewel of the 2014 class and should have an immediate impact, as could 4-star teammate Demetrius Jackson, another verbal commit from state champion Booker T. Washington in Miami. The Canes are also going the JUCO route, earning a commitment from 4-star tackle Michael Wyche and on the brink of another via 3-star Calvin Heurtelou according to Jason Jewell of Scout.com on Twitter.
Scottsdale Az. CC head coach Doug Madoski says star DT Calvin Heurtelou will sign with Miami today— Jason Jewell (@jason247scout) December 18, 2013
Linebacker will also take a depth hit this offseason as Jimmy Gaines and Tyrone Cornelius are set to graduate. There's also talk of junior Denzel Perryman forgoing his senior year, having recently become a first-time father.
Addition by subtraction could be the case regarding Gaines and Cornelius as it would open the door for hard-hitting, instinct players like Alex Figueroa and Raphael Kirby—both played little due to their overall inexperience and rawness.
Miami also has 4-star freshman Jermaine Grace on the shelf and ready to go, as well as hybrid lineman/linebacker Tyriq McCord, who was a sack machine and third-down specialist this season.
Three-star Juwon Young is set to be an early enrollee according to the Albany Herald's Tim Morse, while 3-star Terry McCray should sign in February and help provide instant depth. The Hurricanes are still thin at linebacker as Miami parted ways with Eddie Johnson, Gionni Paul and Gabe Terry over discipline-related matters earlier in the year.
Secondary remains a bright spot, courtesy of strong recruiting in 2012 and 2013, while Miami only loses senior safeties Kacy Rodgers II and AJ Highsmith.
Cornerbacks Tracy Howard, Antonio Crawford, Ladarius Gunter and Artie Burns return, while Deon Bush and Rayshawn Jenkins are two top-flight safeties ready for bigger roles.
Depth should come in the form of 4-star cornerback Nigel Bethel II, as well as a pair of recent safety commits—4-star Kiy Hester and 3-star Marques Gayot. Miami is also looking to flip current Florida commit, 4-star cornerback J.C. Jackson (subscription required).
With so many departures and wide-open positions in 2014, a youth movement will be underway regarding Miami's front seven. How well the Hurricanes play depends on how quickly some underclassmen can figure it out and turn the corner.
|Miami Defense: Out With The Old, In With The New|
|Player Leaving||Games Played (Started)||Likely Replacement||Games Played (Started)|
|Tyrone Cornelius||33 (8)||Alex Figueroa||9 (2)|
|Jimmy Gaines||40 (26)||Raphael Kirby||19 (0)|
|David Gilbert||11 (0)||Jelani Hamilton||8 (0)|
|Shayon Green||30 (24)||Al-Quadin Muhammad||12 (0)|
|AJ Highsmith||37 (11)||Rayshawn Jenkins||22 (13)|
|Curtis Porter||27 (11)||Michael Wyche||0 (0)|
|Justin Renfrow||12 (5)||Corey King||12 (1)|
|Luther Robinson||32 (2)||Olsen Pierre||30 (22)|
|Kacy Rodgers||36 (14)||Deon Bush||20 (8)|
In 2011, Miami's defense showed late-season improvement under Golden and coordinator Mark D'Onofrio. The first-year staff hit some early speed bumps, due to NCAA investigation-related suspensions, losing some key players between one and six games.
The Hurricanes finished the season 1-2, let down by an inconsistent offense, but jelled defensively. Miami held Florida State to 23 points and 259 total yards, while only giving up 249 yards and three points in a defensive battle over South Florida. Boston College dinged Miami for a respectable 349 yards and 17 offensive points in the season finale.
A year later Miami backslid defensively, finishing 116th of 120 Division-I programs, due to key departures and a lack of depth regarding capable replacements.
Five defensive linemen were gone after the 2011 season. Adewale Ojomo, Micanor Regis and Marcus Robinson had no remaining eligibility, while Olivier Vernon and Marcus Forston chose to leave early. Miami also lost valuable leadership when linebacker Sean Spence and safety JoJo Nicolas graduated and took another hit when troubled safety Ray-Ray Armstrong was kicked off the team soon thereafter.
The coaching and scheming knocks may or may not be justified—but the lack of defensive talent and depth is painfully obvious and has been for years.
Entering 2014, Miami has a solid secondary and can hang tough at linebacker, but it has countless question marks—again—at defensive line next season.
The desire to be "back" is justifiable and understandable, but until proper depth and talent are in place, remain used to the phrases "rebuild mode" and "work in progress." For another year, at least.
**All recruiting rankings courtesy of Rivals.com
Follow Chris Bello on Twitter @allCanesBlog.