CaneSport.com reported on Monday that D’Onofrio will assume the position he had when coaching with Al Golden at Temple, overseeing his defense from a different angle than he’s seen his Miami Hurricanes the past few seasons.
A whipping post for U fans the past two seasons, D’Onofrio hasn’t had easy – on or off the field. His year one defense started on the wrong foot, due to suspensions that caused personnel issues and a year later, the cupboard was bare. Any progress made late season in 2011 was erased when some key components of the defense were removed.
Seniors like linebacker Sean Spence and cornerback JoJo Nicolas pulled some valuable veteran leadership from that side of the ball, while the defensive line took a massive hit when Micanor Regis and Marcus Robinson graduated, not to mention early departures of Marcus Forston and Olivier Vernon.
Miami expected Adewale Ojomo to get another season due to medical hardship, but it was denied and the defensive line took one more step back, as did the secondary when the Canes parted ways with safety Ray-Ray Armstrong, who dealt with ill-timed suspensions before the plug was pulled on his career at The U.
Simple math will show that an already-hurting defense was knocked back even further, losing eight key components to an in-progress defense, yet the majority of fans chose to lump it all on D’Onofrio, refusing the factor in those losses and the fact this broken program wasn’t equipped to absorb that turnover.
The result was a squad that statistically was near dead-last in 2012, which seems unfathomable, but for whatever reason Miami fell apart on a few occasions – Kansas State and Notre Dame quickly come to mind – and the porous offensive showings (13 points against the Wildcats, 3 against the Irish) created situations where the defense completely unraveled.
Miami is far from back, especially defensively, but the fact that D’Onofrio is making the move north isn’t something to take lightly. The move to stay on the field was in effort to connect with players the past two years and to coach up the young guys. There was chaos and the learning curve was steep, but the fact that the veteran coach feels comfortable leaving his recent perch, says much regarding the trust he has in this year’s bunch.
Brandon McGee, Ramon Buchanan, Vaughan Telemaque and Darius Smith are the only notable departures – Buchanan missing most of last season due to injury, no less – so the drop off in talent isn’t going to sting as it did from 2011 to 2012. (Miami did also part ways with linebackers Eddie Johnson and Gionni Paul, as well as cornerback Thomas Finnie for disciplinary reasons, all who saw playing time last season.)
Last year’s true freshman also have a year of seasoning under their belt. Cornerbacks Tracy Howard, Rayshawn Jenkins and Antonio Crawford, safety Deon Bush, linebacker Raphael Kirby and defensive lineman Tyriq McCord are all primed for breakout sophomore campaigns, while this year’s newbies are ready to make their mark.
Freshman linebacker Alex Figueroa has been turning heads since he arrived on campus last winter. Miami also has local corner Artie Burns and safety Jamal Carter waiting in the wings.
Linebacker Jermaine Grace and defensive lineman Al-Quadin Muhammad didn’t arrive until summer, but both were highly-touted and coveted prospects that are expected to do their thing once finding a groove and making their transition.
The Canes also added Wisconsin transfer David Gilbert and Virginia transfer Justin Renfrow to the defensive line, where both have asserted themselves as second-stringers according to a recent depth chart.
The argument from those willing to give D’Onofrio a fighting chance has always been rooted in personnel woes and come this season there is enough of an upgrade that the coordinator himself is ready to move from the field to the box.
Certainly doesn’t mean UM’s defense is at that old school national champion-caliber level, but it’s getting better and year three should be the season where some big strides are made forward on that particular side of the ball.