In Coral Gables, a new face will be leading the safeties. First year coach, Ephrain Banda, followed defensive coordinator, Manny Diaz, from Mississippi State. At Miss. State, Banda served as a defensive assistant. Looking at the safeties this year, what kind of group does Banda have to work with?
Let's start with some of the younger faces, like Jaquan Johnson. As a true freshman last season, Johnson was mostly utilized as a special teams player, but saw time at safety. As the season wore on, he was utilized more frequently at safety and it paid off. He finished the season with one forced fumble and one interception.
Johnson brings great awareness. I think he's poised for a big year, especially under Banda, who along with Diaz, has implemented a program where defensive players get a "crash course" on offense.
Shifting from youth to more veteran leadership, we bring up Jamal Carter. Where do we begin with Carter? It's gotta be his ability to lay the lumber to ball carriers. He makes his presence felt with the devastating blows he delivers. Remember when he laid out Dalvin Cook?
Outside of his tackling ability, Carter is a ballhawk, in the sense that he always seems to be in the vicinity of the play. Expect Carter to try to mimic last year's success, which resulted in a forced fumble, fumble recovery, interception and a career high 48 tackles.
A name to keep in mind is Robert Knowles, a redshirt freshman. He didn't see the field last season, but the 6-foot-1, 195 pound Miami native should begin to develop his game under Banda.
Going back to veteran leadership, there's Rayshawn Jenkins, a redshirt senior, who sat out in 2014 with an injury, but bounced back strong in 2015 (52 tackles, 3 INT, 1 FR). Like Carter, Jenkins is a great tackler, who brings the boom. He also is a ballhawk.
True freshman, Romeo Finley from Fort Walton Beach, Fla. will look to see some time on the field. He teetered between a three and four-star prospect on numerous sites. He's a solid tackler with lots of room to grow. Another true freshman, Jeff James, nephew of Canes great Edgerrin James, is a three-star looking to make a name for himself.
As a whole, there's solid leadership with upperclassmen in this group, and lots of promise from the youth at this position.