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Miami Hurricanes Position Previews: 2012 CB Breakdown

PITTSBURGH - SEPTEMBER 23:  Jon Baldwin #82 of the Pittsburgh Panthers is tackled by Brandon McGee #21 of the Miami Hurricanes on September 23 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH - SEPTEMBER 23: Jon Baldwin #82 of the Pittsburgh Panthers is tackled by Brandon McGee #21 of the Miami Hurricanes on September 23 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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As UM football continues to slog towards Chestnut Hill, we here at the 7th Floor will breakdown each position group on the team. Today, we will be looking at the cornerbacks. No one will confuse this secondary with the Miami teams of ten years ago, but it should still (hopefully) be far from the total horror show that was 2011.

Previous previews: quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive line, defensive ends, defensive tackles, linebackers, safeties

Miami's defense was terrible last year, and a large part of that stemmed from the secondary having close to no ability to stop offenses from moving the ball through the air. Last year's stats say that the Canes allowed only 198 yards per game through the air, just outside the top 30 in the country. But Miami's pace was glacial last year, and that stunted its numbers all over the board. Football Outsiders' advanced defensive numbers had UM rated as the No. 109 overall pass defense last year, which, well, seems about right. By those numbers, the only major conference teams worse at defending the pass were Northwestern, Indiana and Washington State.

This year's group of cornerbacks will be better than last year's, that is almost certain. Just how much better -- and just how much better UM can get against the pass -- will go a long way to determining how many wins this team racks up in 2012.

Let's take a look at the corners after the jump.

THOMAS FINNIE / Soph. / 5'10" 185 lbs / Miami, Fla.

2011 Stats: 14 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 PBU

Finnie came into Miami as one of the first recruits -- if not the first recruit of -- the Al Golden era, and his play in camp prior to last season was pretty hyped. But once the season rolled along, he assumed the role of most true freshmen, getting in games sparingly and being mostly invisible when doing so. That's going to (have to) change in 2012, where Finnie will be one of the first Miami corners on the field on passing downs. He's currently listed below Tracy Howard on the depth chart, but he'll get his chances in Miami's first few games to make a case for playing time this season. Finnie is a bit undersized and isn't a fantastic athlete, but he does not back down from a challenge. That's a good place to start.

LADARIUS GUNTER / Junior / 6'2" 196 lbs / Montgomery, Ala.

2011 Stats: n/a

Gunter is a junior college transfer who has assumed a starting role at Miami based on experience instead of talent. He is more or less playing the Mike Williams role in 2012, and though he is hopefully better than that, it wouldn't also be a bad sign to see Gunter get passed up by Howard or Finnie or one of the younger, more talented players. But for now he'll be locking down one side of the field, and will have to show that he's better than the prospect whose only offer coming out of junior college was from Indiana. At six-foot-two, Gunter is obviously tall, but it remains to be seen if he has the athleticism and technique to lock down opposing receivers.

BRANDON MCGEE / Senior / 6'0" 197 lbs / Plantation, Fla.

2011 Stats: 38 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 INT, 2 PBU

Is this what an undisputed, No. 1 corner looks like? On some of the best teams in America, probably not -- but it will have to do for Miami in 2012. To be fair to McGee, he was quietly steady for most of last season, and though no one will confuse him with Brandon Harris or Kelly Jennings, it could be worse. He was pushed a bit by Tracy Howard in camp but has had his starting job locked down for most of the last month. Miami will rely on him to check his man as it likely worries about sending extra help for its more inexperienced players. McGee can still get burned from time to time, but he is one of the few "set it and forget it" players on this defense, which is a rarity.

Incoming Freshmen

ANTONIO CRAWFORD / Frosh / 5'11" 188 lbs / Tampa, Fla.

Crawford is an exciting athlete. At football powerhouse Plant, Crawford played corner and RB/WR, and he isn't coming into UM as technically advanced as someone like Tracy Howard. But his tape shows someone who his confident and consistently makes plays on the ball, and who has a good, solid body for his size. It's concerning that he wasn't feverishly recruited by major conference programs while playing in such a visible market, but if he can get the technical aspects of the game down he could be a really solid corner for this program down the line. He's listed second behind Brandon McGee at one corner position, but realistically is no better than Miami's fifth corner at the moment. He's an athlete though, and if he doesn't over-think things he'll be fun to watch. Maybe even this season.

NATE DORTCH / Frosh / 5'11" 175 lbs / Ft. Myers, Fla.

2011 was the right time for Dortch to be coming out of high school. Miami was intent on taking a big class and was looking for players at its camps, and Dortch took advantage of both of those things and won himself a spot at UM. That said, Ft. Myers is a quiet beach town with not much football competition, and Dortch will take this year to adjust the college game, in terms of both the mental and physical aspects of the game. But he has okay size and isn't afraid to hit people, and may be a gamble that pays off a few years down the road. We're still a bit away from that, though.

LARRY HOPE / Frosh / 6'0" 182 lbs / Miami, Fla.

Like Dortch, Hope probably doesn't end up at UM if he was a senior this year or in 2010. But Al Golden and his staff wanted depth at cornerback, and Hope is another one of their projects. He, too, will almost assuredly redshirt this year as he gets coached up on the field and in the weight room. But you can see the same attributes in Hope that you see in a lot of the players from Golden's first full class: he makes plays on the ball, and is not afraid to hit people. It remains to be seen if the pieces will come together, but the parts are there, even if he's moved to safety down the line.

TRACY HOWARD / Frosh / 5'11" 185 lbs / Mirimar, Fla.

Does he even need an introduction? Howard is -- outside of Duke Johnson -- the most hyped recruit since Al Golden has been at UM, and he's full expected to play a pivotal role in Miami's secondary this year. The five-star recruit has seemingly beat Thomas Finnie out for the third cornerback job, and will see a lot of snaps at Boston College. Whether the production in 2012 lives up to the hype is another story -- it's incredibly hard to be a plug-and-play guy at corner as a true freshman. Even Brandon Harris, Miami's last really good corner, truly struggled as a freshman. But those are only expected to be growing pains -- Howard is the cornerstone of this defense moving forward.