CORAL GABLES, Fla. – One trip into Miami's locker room was enough for senior safety Lovon Ponder to realize there was something different about the Hurricanes' new defense.
Offensive players were quick to hit up Ponder with questions: What did you guys run? How did that blitzing defender come free?
The reason for the questions was Bill Young, the Hurricanes' new defensive coordinator. After an un-Miami-like season in 2007, the Hurricanes hope ACC teams have the same sense of bewilderment this season. In turning to Young, Miami hopes the defense will look like the Miami of old.
Despite returning only four starters and losing two projected first-rounders to the NFL, Young's first defense won Miami's spring game 32-29 Saturday. He hopes that's not the last time the defense wins a game for the Hurricanes.
"He's an excellent coach. He's fitting in great," Ponder said. "He allows us to utilize our speed and utilize our skills that we've got on our defense."
Miami could use the help. Last season, the Hurricanes ranked in the bottom half of the ACC in yards per game, points per game, rush defense and pass efficiency defense. And three teams – Oklahoma, Virginia and Virginia Tech – scored more than 40 points against Miami.
Young's defense at Kansas, meanwhile, led the Big 12 in scoring and total defense on the way to an Orange Bowl victory over Virginia Tech.
Young arrived from Kansas preaching a tried and true defensive axiom: The best defenses don't think, they react. It didn't take long for him to find believers.
"Last year, guys didn't really understand the defense," Ponder said midway through spring drills. "This stuff here – it's not complicated, but it gives some offenses some difficult things to read. It's easy for the defense to do, but it gives the offense some difficulty."
Young has become something of a master of the zone blitz, which caused headaches in UM's spring games for the new quarterbacks, who were 20 of 44 for 223 yards with three interceptions and six sacks.
Young's aggressive defense belies his on-field demeanor.
"He's a pretty laid-back dude," defensive end Eric Moncur said. "He's real big on the little things. All great coaches are. And that's what makes great players, being good at handling the small things."
At Kansas, Young, 61, put together one of the most overachieving defenses in the nation. From 2002-07, the Jayhawks never ranked higher than 38th nationally in recruiting. But Young's defense was eighth in the nation against the run in 2005 and led the Big 12 in takeaways in 2004. Kansas topped both of those marks by going 12-1, winning the Orange Bowl and leading the Big 12 in four major defensive categories last season.
Young will have a new set of tools at his disposal at Miami, starting with an ample talent pool. The Hurricanes' 2008 signing class ranked fifth in the nation, with two five-star defenders and a four-star prospect enrolling early.
"At Kansas, our whole goal was to unearth every rock and find a diamond in the rough," Young said. "Here, you're not looking for the finished product but something pretty close."
A STORM BREWING?
Kansas' 2007 defense under Bill Young compared to Miami's from 2007
He found out just how close to game-ready his freshmen are during the spring, when projected starting linebackers Colin McCarthy and Romeo Davis were held out because of injury. Like Young, linebacker Arthur Brown left Kansas for Miami. Brown, the No. 23 player in the class of 2008 out of Wichita, Kan., enrolled early and made an instant impact with eight tackles and an interception in the spring game.
Rivals250 linebacker Sean Spence had two interceptions in the final scrimmage. Marcus Forston, the No. 1 defensive tackle in the country, also made an immediate impact in the spring. Both are from Miami's Northwestern High, which won the mythical national high school championship last fall.
"Our guys that have been here in spring will really notice a difference in the fall having been able to digest this stuff and move on," Young said.
Young is plenty familiar with coaching at a major program. He has been a defensive coordinator at Ohio State, Oklahoma and USC – but under less-than-revered coaches at those schools. He spent 15 seasons as John Cooper's defensive coordinator at Tulsa, Arizona State and with the Buckeyes, then served on John Blake's staff with the Sooners and Paul Hackett's staff at USC.
Throughout his career, Young has kept an eye on Miami. Former Miami coach Larry Coker was Tulsa's offensive coordinator while Young was the Golden Hurricane's defensive coordinator from 1980-82. Coker also was secondary coach in 1993 at Ohio State while Young was defensive coordinator.
Young became familiar with Miami coach Randy Shannon from watching him on film as a player, then visiting Miami practices while Shannon was an assistant.
Shannon served as UM's defensive coordinator from 2001-06, and Young said he will rely on Shannon as a "resource." There seems to be little objection from the coach about that arrangement.
"Bill's a great defensive coach," Shannon said. "He's been doing a good job everywhere he's been. It's not like he's adding things. He's doing all the things he's always done. He's instructing and planning as he's always done."
TOMORROW: The Spring Break Tour hits Tallahassee as we bring you the latest from Florida State.