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Miami Hurricanes Burning Questions: Who Will Step Up at Cornerback?

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The start of the season is right around the corner. In this new series, we examine the biggest question marks Mark Richt and staff will have to answer before the opener.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

With new Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz promising a much more aggressive scheme in 2016, the Hurricanes' front 7 should have plenty of opportunities for big plays.

However with an attacking scheme, comes the very realistic possibility of chunk plays for the opposing offense.

To be a blitzing, shoot the gaps type D and have success, the back end of your unit must be very sound.

One looming question that Richt, Diaz, and new CB's Coach Mike Rumph absolutely must sort out this fall is who can play corner opposite emerging star Corn Elder?

Not to mention who can cover the slot, which players can be counted on for depth, and who is going to need help over the top?

Gone are Pittsburgh Steelers 1st round draft pick Artie Burns who was terrific last season, and Tracy Howard, who while disappointing, at least had experience.

So there are definitely voids to fill.

The 5'10 175 pound senior to be Elder, really stepped up last season with 2 picks, 2 sacks, 4 TFL, and 11 pass break ups.

He plays much bigger than his size, is an excellent man-to-man cover corner, tackles well, and has an opportunity to be an All-ACC type player this season and a future NFL Draft Pick.

There's no doubt he is the #1 corner heading into fall camp.

But beyond Elder, the CB position might be the most green one on the entire roster.

Today, we try to answer some of the questions outlined above, as well as preview the position as a whole behind Elder.

Most likely to step up in the #2 role:

Sheldrick Redwine - 6'2 195 So.  -  Redwine chpped in 22 tackles last season, mostly on Special Teams, but saw his defensive snaps increase as the season progressed.

He also looked pretty decent in the Spring and in this year's Spring Game (7 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 PB).

He has the size and athleticism to match up with taller wide outs, and also plays with the ideal swag you want in a cover corner.  His tackling too should be a strength.

The sophomore from Miami Killian H.S. has all the tools to break out this season.

The only question with Redwine is, will his talent get him by until he gets used to matching up with top, talented WR's at this level?

I think his ball skills and physicality will lead to early success.

But he will need to be tactically sound, and use his hands well at the line of scrimmage, to be effective against the better opposing targets he faces.

Redwine should be a guy who gets better as the season progresses, even if there are some bumps in the road in UM's first few contests.

Next in line?

Here's where things get much more murky.

Ryan Mayes - 6'1 200 RS So. -  Mayes is another rangy corner with good size.  But his speed and athleticism are much bigger question marks than Redwine's.  And he has even less game experience.  Mayes would appear to be a player who needs absolutely superb technique and dominating physicality within the first 5 yards to succeed at this level.  Unless he shows the aforementioned during fall camp on a consistent basis, would appear to be a depth player/ST candidate.

Michael Jackson - 6'1 195 So -  For whatever reason, Jackson was used in all 13 games (mostly ST) last season and burned his redshirt.  Despite the game action, he is no less a question mark heading into the season than Mayes.  The good news is however, he does have talent.  The former 3/4 star prospect drew interest from schools like LSU coming out of H.S. and looks pretty agile for a player his size. His skill set reminds me more of a zone cover 3 type though, more than a press corner.  It will be interesting to see if he fits the mold of a Diaz type DB.

Terrance Henley - 5'11 175 So - Henley too, inexplicably burned his R.S. last season.  And he too still has next to no major college game experience at DB.  But I like his upside.  Henley wasn't a big time recruit coming out of Pompano Beach, but he's got track speed and showed great ball and recovery skills on his H.S. film. I think Henley has a shot to compete as a nickel/slot guy.  While not as off the charts athletically a Elder, he has a similar (still developing) base skill set.

The Wildcards:

Malek Young - 5'9 182 Fr. -  Young is a former Georgia recruit, who followed Richt to Miami when the Bulldogs let the new Head Coach of the 'Canes go.  Ideally I'd like to see Young RS this season, and pick up valuable experience on the scout squad.  But his talent and the lack of depth here, may warrant immediate PT.  He's a superb athlete, who starred both ways in H.S. at Coconut Creek H.S.

Adrian Colbert - 6'1 206 - Graduate Sr. - Colbert comes to the Hurricanes as a transfer from Texas, eligible immediately.  He's familiar with both Diaz and UM safeties coach Ephraim Banda,  But most of his playing experience is at S.  And he fell out of favor with the coaching staff of the Longhorns last season.  He can definitely contribute on ST, but if needed can he play some corner?   The former 4 star recruit has plenty of talent, and you just may see him get some action at CB.

Jacquan Johnson - 5'11 190 - So. -  Personally I would much rather see Johnson stick to his natural position and become a star S (think Honey Badger in Orange and Green).  But if CB looks like a serious sore spot, Miami coaches may need to shift the superstar in making, at least temporarily.   This kid is a pure football player, who is probably good enough to make the transition and look good in doing so.

Summary:

The 2016 Miami Hurricanes are a team with a lot of front loaded talent.

But depth is a major concern.

Outside of improving at O line, the CB position (particularly experience) is the most obvious glaring weakness on the roster.

Don't think opposing coaches haven't noticed.

Elder does has a shot to sensational.

And I feel very good about Redwine.

But among the sophomore Mayes, Jackson, and Henley, someone needs to step up.

But there is talent here.

I think Henley shows something, and the freshman Young also surprises.

If the pass rushers end up being the forces we expect (we're looking at you Al-Quadin Muhammad and Chad Thomas)  it can mask some of the inexperience of this group.

But in the meantime Rumph will really need to push this group hard.

When fall camp opens, CB will be a major story line.

Stay tuned 'Canes fans.