Yes, the Hurricanes' quarterback battle is in the spotlight. But take your pick on the Miami defense. Every position is in the spotlight.
2013 summary: Muhammad was one of the best recruits Miami signed in 2013, and he played right away as a backup to Shayon Green at defensive end. In all, the former U.S. Army All-American ended up with eight tackles and two sacks as a role player. The Miami defensive front showed early signs of improvement but was not nearly as consistent as it needed to be as the season wore on. The Hurricanes did bump up their sack numbers over the previous season, but they could not muster a significant pass rush in most conference games. They also ranked No. 12 in the ACC in rushing defense.
McCord, meanwhile, was used primarily in second- and third-down packages and was used as a hybrid linebacker/rush end. He ended up leading the team with four sacks and was the only Miami player in 2013 with an interception, forced fumble and fumble recovery.
The skinny: Miami has high hopes for both players in 2014. Though they play different positions, they are both extremely versatile and will be counted on to get after the quarterback. Defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio praised each at the start of spring practice, saying both are long (Muhammad is 6-4 and McCord is 6-3) and strong and have an ability to set the edge or they can jam and reroute players at the line.
It is no secret Miami has to get better on the defensive line and at linebacker. Muhammad is expected to start at one defensive end spot. So far in the early going this spring he has donned the coveted black jersey, worn by defensive starters. He came into Miami with tons of hype, and now it is his turn to take advantage of the opportunity in front of him.
McCord is also trying to win a much larger role on the Miami defense. With Denzel Perryman shifting to middle linebacker, McCord has an opening to see more time on first- and second-down packages and transform himself from role player to major contributor. Miami ranked 10th or worse in the ACC in the four biggest defensive categories last season (total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense, passing defense). The sack numbers, while better, still ranked Miami No. 9 in the league (29 total). For the Hurricanes to improve, they will need to rely much more on Muhammad and McCord to make plays.