CORAL GABLES -- No recruit in Al Golden's first signing class came to the University of Miami with more hype than Under Armour All-American defensive end Anthony Chickillo.
After four practices, it's clear Chickillo, a third generation Hurricane, is living up to it. He's already earning first team reps in 3-4 packages and impressing the heck out of defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio.
"I think Chickillo so far has done a really good job," D'Onofrio said Wednesday morning, before the Canes practiced in full pads for the first time this fall. "He is a freshman and we are throwing a lot at him, but if he makes a mistake, he makes it 100 miles per hour and he has not made a ton of 'em. He has played really hard and been rugged and been what we hoped thus far."
D'Onofrio said Chickillo, listed at 6-4, 248, came into camp weighing between 252 and 254 pounds and has done a good job creating a higher level of competition for the other veteran defensive ends around him.
"He is rugged, tough and plays with a great motor," D'Onofrio said. "It means a lot to him. He loves football and he is passionate and he studies. I have been real happy with him. When you inject a guy like that into your team and into your lineup, then all of a sudden that is a guy that isn't going to go away and that is a message to everybody else on the defensive line."
Right now, D'Onofrio said, Chickillo is at first team defensive end alongside Andrew Smith in 3-4 packages. He added that Marcus Forston and Micanor Regis are "interchangeable" at defensive tackle. D'Onofrio also mentioned Jimmy Gaines, Sean Spence and Ramon Buchanan are the starting linebackers in his front seven, but did not mention a fourth linebacker in his 3-4 package. It's likely senior Jordan Futch or Marcus Robinson would be the fourth linebacker in that package.
As for the installation of the new 3-4 package and the way players are adjusting to it, D'Onofrio said he thinks it's going well. "I think they're getting real comfortable," D'Onofrio said.
"I feel good about the returning players who practiced it in the spring. I feel like those guys have really taken some steps. When I look out there and watch most of the first unit go, I'm pleased with the communication. I think they're playing faster, more physical. I'm happy with the tackling. I'm more happy with the fundamentals. I think we're straining on blocks longer and guys are not jumping off blocks and I think guys are being more physical at the line of scrimmage. I think we're tackling particularly well in the secondary."
MORE NEWS AND NOTES
> D'Onofrio said the reason sophomore Jimmy Gaines is running with the first team at middle linebacker -- ahead of Futch -- is because of his "consistency and work ethic."
"I think he's outworked the guys behind him. At the end of the day, he's learned the defense, he's been consistent. He's gotten consistently better," D'Onofrio said.
"When you know what you're doing, you could play a lot faster. And that's the difference, not so much whether one guy runs faster or one guy is a little stronger or those sorts of things. I mean those things all come into play. But at the end of the day, diagnose it, react and play fast. Sometimes there's maybe there's guys with more hype. Maybe they run a better 40. But at the end of the day it's about production and making plays, not making mental errors, being able to be confident out there and run the show. I think he's continued to improve. He had a good spring and a good summer. He came back here and has continued to improve."
> Just because most teams rely on the middle linebacker to call plays doesn't mean that's the way D'Onofrio plans to run things. In fact, it's more likely senior Sean Spence will.
"Most people assume middle linebacker, that's the guy who has to call the defense, makes the adjustments," D'Onofrio said. "He doesn't really need to do that. I've done it both with the will [weakside] and mike [middle] linebacker. The experienced guy will be the guy who calls the plays."
> Asked which freshman he thinks could end up playing this season, D'Onofrio mentioned Chickillo and linebacker Denzel Perryman (Coral Gables), who is working behind Buchanan at weakside linebacker.
"I think Denzel Perryman is a guy who has flashed quite a bit," D'Onofrio said. "We recruited him and he was a highly rated player, but I've been really happy with his progress so far. Those are the two that's standout. There's other guys that have flashed. But those are the two that standout."
> Al Golden and his staff have created several new motivational tools to build unity (players driving each other to practice, team hotel during camp) and fire players up (soft tape highlights). The latest we learned about Wednesday are "Concentration Cards."' Gaines said players get a new index card with their goals to focus on each day from their position coaches.
"My card said 'Stance/Start, Be A Leader, and Play Like Nobody Can Stop You," Gaines said.
> Golden said he has the team's first scrimmage scheduled for Sunday with the second scheduled for Monday, Aug. 22. Golden said scrimmages will be treated like "game day situations."
"We'd like to get that one in and get a firm grip on our personnel and make changes and then settle in there for the next 12-13 days."
> Golden said the return of sixth-year senior Joel Figueroa has made it tougher in selecting a starting offensive line.
"Fig is really healthy and he's a guy we really didn't see in the spring. He's really bright, mature. He's been an incredible surprise for us and he'll have something to say who the five are," Golden said.
> Offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson, who had back surgery, was released from the hospital Tuesday according to Golden.
> Golden said there is still no word on the hardship waiver Ryan Williams is seeking from the NCAA to be eligible this season, but he "will continue to get reps."
> Golden said the reason he sprints between drills with players at practice is because he wants to set "a good tempo."
"You do lead by example," Golden said. "It's heartfelt, honestly. We want a team that plays with energy and plays with passion and we have to display that ourselves."