Two former Miami Hurricanes defenders say problem is players, not Mark D’Onofrio

With the Miami Hurricanes surrendering 41, 42 and 48 points in three consecutive losses -- the most points allowed in a three-game span in school history -- criticism of defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio has mounted.

Several former UM players such as Duane Starks, a postgame analyst on flagship radio station WQAM, believe D’Onofrio is being outcoached. Cardinals offensive tackle Eric Winston told Miami’s defense is “too bland, too vanilla.”

But where do players who actually played for D’Onofrio -- and other coordinators before him at UM -- place blame? Not at the man calling the plays.

“He’s one of the best defensive coordinators I’ve been around as far as planning and getting ready for a game,” said former UM linebacker Sean Spence, who played under Bill Young as a freshman and then John Lovett as a sophomore and junior.

Spence was Miami’s leading tackler in 2011 when D’Onofrio’s defense featured five current NFL players (Spence, DeMarcus Van Dyke, Olivier Vernon, Ray-Ray Armstrong and Brandon McGee) and finished 17th nationally in points allowed (20.1) and 45th in total defense (359.9). Spence said Miami’s woes are not related to scheme.

“A lot of times it does look like a lot of busted coverages and that has nothing to do with coaching at all,” Spence said. “D’Onofrio is a very patient coach who is going to take time with you to make sure everybody knows what they’re doing.

“It’s a great system to be in. He runs a lot of zone, switches it up and also runs a lot of man, and has a lot of nice blitz packages. It’s similar to a lot of the stuff run up here with the Steelers. It’s hard to say it’s his fault. The coaches [have] to coach and the players [have] to play.”

Spence, who spent his first two seasons in the NFL trying to recover from a dislocated kneecap sustained in a preseason game during his rookie year, was stunned that the Hurricanes lost to Duke and allowed 358 yards rushing.

“Not in a million years would have I imagined that,” he said. “I don’t know if its misfits or guys missing tackles. I know the tackling system they go through every day in practice and that system shouldn’t create problems like that.”

Former linebacker Jordan Futch, who played with Spence at UM, said the Hurricanes’ defensive struggles relate to a lack of toughness and talent at certain positions.

“You can have all the playbook in the world, but you can’t coach toughness,” said Futch, who plans to enter the Broward County Police Academy in January. “You’re looking at a few guys that are energy vampires when they come in the game. They’re not very tough and you are seeing it on film.”

Futch points to safety AJ Highsmith and linebackers Tyrone Cornelius and Thurston Armbrister as players he thinks have been forced into more duty because of a lack of depth.

“When it comes to [the] Virginia Tech and Duke [losses], I think it’s a matter of heart,” Futch said. “I was really happy to see Deon Bush come back in the game. That’s a kid that likes to put his face in the fan and isn’t afraid to tackle … just a few players can make a difference. Really, that’s what you’re getting in my opinion.”

Golden said Tuesday younger players such as sophomore linebacker Tyriq McCord, freshman safety Jamal Carter and freshman cornerback Corn Elder likely will see more playing time Saturday against Virginia (2-8) because they’ve earned it, and added that he would not turn his back "on the seniors who stood with us through all this [NCAA] tumult.”

D’Onofrio and Golden have avoided singling out players for their mistakes, but have repeatedly said the defensive breakdowns against the run have been the result of one or two players not sticking to their gap responsibilities.

Futch said Miami’s defensive backs and linebackers aren’t playing more aggressively in coverage due to lack of speed. In August, reported that UM’s fastest defensive backs were Elder (4.49) and sophomore Antonio Crawford (4.52). Every other played timed at 4.58 seconds or slower.

“I’d say that backing off in coverage is your defensive coordinator knowing his guys,” Futch said. “When you practice against [wide receivers] Phillip Dorsett, Stacy Coley, Herb Waters and Allen Hurns and you watch week after week those guys stretch the field, sending guys deep, letting it fly, you know if your DBs can cover like that.”

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