Miami will open the season in the not so distant future, and to help you prepare for what is sure to be a great year, we are back to preview each position on the team. We will let you know who is back, who is new, and how each player projects for the 2014 season.
With change usually comes fear of the unknown. This year though, I think the players in the mix to see playing time at the safety position bring a sense of optimism that has been missing for a while. Last year, injury kept Deon Bush (who most consider UM's best safety) out multiple games. That led to... let's say... some less than desirable rotations. Overall the safety position held their own. Rashawn Jenkins stepped in and did well - ending the season second on the team in interceptions (with three). That also happens to be the number of interceptions the rest of the safeties totaled for the season. While not solely responsible for the pass defense ranking, UM finished the year ranked 87th; giving up just about 250 yards a game. Not a terrible year, and by no means the sole reason for Miami's defensive woes; but they weren't exactly the strength of the team either. They showed improvement in creating turnovers, but struggled in run support - often having a hard time getting off WR blocks.
This year, the fan base will get what they wanted - with the seniors at the position last year moving on. With Deon Bush back (looking to play the season without injury) and the addition of former running back Dallas Crawford, safety is suddenly one of the more exciting positions on the team. Over the spring the coaching staff raved about the increase in competition. Spring also showed a physicality that was lacking most of last season. Bush, who has already established himself as the big hitter, has some company now with sophomore Jamal Carter and Dallas Crawford. Both players made several big hits over the course of spring. Miami also landed some quality recruits for the position this year which will be good for depth and the overall competition moving forward.
Players most likely to start and/or see a large number of snaps:
Deon Bush: 6-1, 203lbs Junior
2013 stats: 31 total tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble
Crazy to think Deon is already a junior, but the former freshman standout is now in the role as experenced veteran. His career has been frustrating so far because he's got the talent to be a difference maker, but has been less than 100% the majority of the past two seasons due to injury and recovery from a surgery. He missed the first two games to start off the season and came along slowly before working his way back into the starting slot for the last three games. If healthy, Bush should distance himself as a starter. As one of the biggest hitters in the secondary, his presence will be needed if this defense is going to finally turn things around. RIght now on the UM depth chart, Bush's name is listed under Jamal Carter's but has the listing as "or."
Rashawn Jenkins: 6-1, 208lbs Junior
2013 stats: 46 total tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 5 pass break ups, 3 interceptions
Rashawn taking advantage of his playing time messed around and ended up fourth on the team in tackles and tied for second in interceptions. He started 12 games last season AND PICKED OFF THE MYTHICAL JAMEIS WINSTON. He had the best year of any of the safeties last season, and will look to continue his progression this season. He sat out the spring due to injury, which allowed some of the younger and newly converted players to get time in. I feel (if healthy) he'll start because of experience but will have to fight off a rising star in Jamal Carter; again - fall camp should be fun to watch. At the moment Jenkins is listed behind Dallas Crawford on the team's depth chart; but that's not surprising when you take into account he was held out of spring camp.
Jamal Carter: 6-1, 207lbs Sophomore
2013 stats: 5 total tackles (primary special teams player)
Carter may have the most upside of any player at the position. He's listed as the same size as Jenkins and Bush, but watching him at practice - his build is a bit more intimidating. He earned the starting "black" jersey this spring, and kept it for the majority - only being held back due to a finger injury. Fast, physical, and praised by the coaching staff for having great work ethic, Carter seems poised to contribute this season. While I have Jenkins as a week one starter, it wouldn't surprise me at all if Carter takes over. Either way, both will see plenty of playing time and yes, that's a good thing. Carter's name is listed above Bush on the UM depth chart at the moment but the always fun and helpful "or" is also listed.
Dallas Crawford: 5-10, 195 Junior
2013 stats: (spent last season as one of the primary running backs)
Remember the runningback that dominated the second half against UNC last season, winning the game in the final seconds? His name is Dallas Crawford and will be bringing that ability to the defensive side of the ball this season, after switching just prior to spring camp. The coaches pegged Dallas as one of "the best 22" and placed him at the postion that he played in high school. Hard hitting and quick learning, he can only help the position. Everyone should be familiar with his abilty after watching him at RB last season. He doesn't have freakish size or elite speed, but I imagine if you asked any of the players he nearly decapitated this spring, they would tell you he's gonna be just fine. I don't see him at this point jumping above his talented position mates, but he didn't make the jump to be a back up. Again, fall camp is gonna be fun and even if not listed as a starter he will see playing time. The fact that he's the fourth player I have listed goes to show you just how far the safety position has come in a season. As of right now on the UM depth chart, Dallas is listed as a starter ahead of Jenkins who missed spring due to injury. Not bad for a running back.
Mix and match as you see fit, fall camp will dictate who starts, but I feel comfortable with any of these four players.
The best of the rest:
Nantambu-Akil Fentress 5-9, 193 Senior
Do you like small but scrappy hardworking players with tons of heart? Of course you do. Fentress who has, and will, make most of his impact on special teams has received the "most valuable walk-on award" the last two seasons. He's seen limited time at DB over the past few seasons, and is currently listed behind Carter and Bush on the depth chart. I don't see him getting many snaps at safety with the overall improvement at the position, but will see the field on special teams. As a senior with great work ethic, his biggest impact may be setting the bar in practice for the rest of his position group.
Kiy Hester: 6-0, 205 True Freshman
Kiy comes to Miami via the new, busy Jersey pipeline that the staff has created. The four star recruit got onto campus in May, and may fit into the long forgotten role of talented player who redshirts. I know, right? It's a real thing that used to happen all the time. Kiy had, in my opinion, the most exciting highschool highlights of anyone in this years class. We have all seen tape of players breaking away from less talented players for 60yard TDs before. But when I see a safety take a ball carrier from the sideline to behind the bench during a tackle I take notice. Hard hitting with good hands, he may have seen some playing time in other years, but with the way the position is shaped at the moment he would need a special performance during the fall to climb the depth chart. Could he come in and make an impact on special teams? Absolutely - but hopefully he can RS this season while he develops. He may be the future moving forward at safety but he's Kiy Hester, not "the next______."
Marques Gayot: 6-1, 203 True Freshman
Marques comes in as a Palm Beach Post All area Large School Defensive Player of the year. Much like Hester - if this was a year or two ago, there would be a real shot that the true freshman would come in and make a major contribution right away. While he still might, it's just not necessary. He already has the size, but unless he just has freakish ability that blows the coaching staff away, he would be best served redshirting. Again, like Hester, he could contribute if called upon; he tallied 90 tackles in highschool and had nine interceptions in his freshman year alone. If given the year to develop the combo of Hester and Gayot could take over as Bush and the others move on.
It's really exciting to see how much the position has improved in one season. I'm looking forward to watching them this season - something that I cold not say last year. There is always injury and players not living up to expectations, but it seems like going into the season, safety will be one of the strong spots on the defense. Miami has a high standard for what we expect from the position, and while the plays still need to be made, I think the players are finally in place to make them. A good start will be getting off of down field blocks.