Manny Diaz returned to being a coordinator and position coach this season after three years running Miami’s program.
Although Diaz’s dismissal from “The U” was disappointing and the way it happened was controversial, Diaz didn’t have to wait long for a new job.
Penn State hired the ex-Hurricanes boss days after Miami fired him.
It wasn’t a head coaching gig, but coaching linebackers at a place known as “Linebacker University” is sweet.
In his first season at Penn State, Diaz once again has the chance to connect with a specific group, whereas the head coach must focus on the entire team.
Now, Diaz can focus on defense, and Penn State’s linebackers, in particular, are his guys.
The linebacker position was considered a question mark coming into the season and remains a question mark through five games.
Diaz knows the corps has a long way to go but feels it’s improved than it was when the season started.
“As a room, I think we’re getting better,” Diaz told reporters via zoom Thursday… the encouraging thing through the first five games is all the guys have shown that they can do it, and I think they have a lot of confidence from that.”
This week, Penn State’s team as a whole and its linebackers have their biggest tests of 2022 thus far when they take on Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Michigan has won 18 of 20 games since the start of the 2021 season, highlighted by a Big Ten championship and college football playoff berth last year. Coach Jim Harbaugh’s team comes into Saturday’s showdown 6-0 overall, 3-0 in the Big Ten and ranked in the top five in both the AP (No. 5) and Coaches Polls (No. 4.)
Michigan also has one of America’s best running backs in Blake Corum, who will challenge Penn State’s unproven position group.
But the team’s inside linebackers have struggled. Although Pro Football Focus grades are subjective and often misleading, the fact that Penn State’s two main MIKE linebackers, Tyler Elsdon and Kobe King, have the grades they do doesn’t bode well.
Elsdon’s overall grade through five weeks is 50.5. King’s is 47.3.
But Diaz probably doesn’t read too much into Pro Football Focus.
He’s more focused on helping his guys get better.
“People were questioning them in the offseason as to whether they could or could not,” he said. “I think with all of them, the real key now is, we always say, ‘greatness is being consistently good. Can you do it down after down, and can you do it every game? Certainly, when you play a team like Michigan, they’re going to ask you that question down after down.”
Michigan is a big challenge, indeed. For Diaz, every game is a challenge, and the opposing offense can always burn a defense if the defense isn’t doing its job.
“There’s always going to be a test,” Diaz said. “There’s been a test every week because, quite simply, if the linebackers aren’t where they’re supposed to be, it doesn’t really matter who you’re playing; you’re going to have a problem.”