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How can the Hurricanes defense mask inexperienced Defensive Backs?

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Miami will have two new starting safeties and a new corner in 2017

Russell Athletic Bowl - Miami v West Virginia Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

There have been a slew of complaints, and rightfully so, that the Miami 2017 recruiting class is light on DB’s. The ‘Canes signed cornerbacks Jhavonte Dean out of JUCO and freshman Trajan Bandy, but missed on a couple of key pieces that could have bolstered a thin group of DB’s. Miami lost Corn Elder, one of the most dynamic ‘Canes corners since Mike Rumph and Phillip Buchannon, and lost a backup in Adrian Colbert too. Miami also lost Jamal Carter and Rayshawn Jenkins who were both starting safeties. While the 2017 class did bring in safety Amari Carter there’s now talk of guys switching positions and trying safety for a week during spring ball.

Miami does have some experience with Malek Young and Jaquan Johnson getting starts in 2016. Young picked up four starts at CB, while Johnson grabbed five at safety. If the underrated Carter can start right away and the transfer Dean is worth his salt, Miami is in much better shape. However, if either Carter or Dean need a year to adjust to the ACC, it could be a long year.

In a Barry Jackson article in the Herald, he quoted Manny Diaz’s fears on playing young safeties and the mistakes they may make, and how costly they can be. I have seen first hand as a coach the difference between having an experienced free safety that can make calls and adjustments while being a strong player as well. The free can really be used as a Quarterback on the defensive side of the ball moving guys around and making coverage checks.


How can Coach Manny Diaz and the Hurricanes overcome this DB overhaul?

Field vs Boundary

Something Bud Foster has done in his 4-4 and 4-2-5 for years is employ a Field Corner and Boundary Corner. The Field Corner is a guy that runs well and can be more of a risk taker, he has more help defensively and doesn’t have to be quite the run support guy. The Boundary Corner will often be a bigger player, who is more secure in his fundamentals if not as athletic. The Boundary has less space to run but gets left in many 1on1 situations. In split-field coverage, he has help over the top from the boundary safety, especially in 14 14 12 which we will discuss later.

Some coaches also use a Field Safety and a Boundary Safety. The Field Safety is going to make the checks, run the fastest, be the more ball-hawk of the two. Think Ed Reed. The Boundary Safety or Rover will be more of a run stopper, he’s a guy you can walk down in the box. Think Aaron Rouse at VT from a few years ago. Amari Carter has boundary skills, while Johnson has field skills. Malek Young looks like a FC, while Dean at 6’2 seems like a BC.


Blitz More

The more pressure you can put on a QB the less time he has to pick your safeties apart. Letting a QB sit back and see the field will allow receivers to run open and exploit DB’s. Some coaches think when you have weak safeties the best medicine is to blitz more and force bad throws, and mess up the timing of route combinations. I think that becomes a pick your poison method and can put a lot of pressure on your safety when the MLB isn’t in the deep hole to help cushion.

Blitz Less

Another school of thought is to blitz less and with Miami’s defensive line in 2017, that could be an option. The more linebackers dropping into coverage the less ground a DB has to cover. The safeties can worry about playing deep and that’s all. This Miami D-Line should be able to apply plenty of pressure in 2017 to not need linebackers blitzing as often as Coach Diaz normally likes. The issue here is you’re giving the QB more time to throw, unless the D-Line lives up to the hype we’ve all been creating around it.


Coverage Calls

When you have elite corners you can play man, blitz, and tell the DB’s to run. When you have great safeties you can play cover 2 and let your CB’s stay short for slants and in the run game, while blitzing as well. But when the safeties are inexperienced you have to protect them. How can you protect them in coverage?

Cover 6

Miami’s defense looks to be a split-field coverage scheme that wants to run a 4-3/4-2-5 hybrid. I can see Miami letting Young and Johnson play 14 + 14 to the field, and having Dean and Carter/Finley play 12 to the boundary. This allows Dean to jam and play the short passes and run game, while not having to play deep coverage and lets the safety play deep over the top for posts and verts. This also allows the boundary side to not really have to read a route and pattern-match as much as the field side.

Quarters

A simple coverage you’re seeing all across the country today is Quarters. Cover 4 implies a straight drop into space, but in quarters, many coaches use this phrase interchangeably with pattern-matching.

In Quarters vs 2x2 10 personnel, you can walk the SAM (McCloud) out and have him play #2 (Y) and the flat. The CB will play off and inside over #1 (Z). The FS is playing the APEX, he basically sits in that spot (6 yards deep and splitting the Y and OT aka #2 and the EMOL). He will pick up posts, verts from #2, dig routes. The MIKE will play low hole and could drift deeper if he seems 4-verts or “6” for you Leach fans.

On the boundary side, the BS will play over #2 around 8 yards off and pick up his 1/4. The BC will play 5 off and outside leverage. He will pick up #1. The WILL plays hook/curl/flat with eyes on #3 (TB).

Remember, they’re pattern matching which means if the X runs a slant the BC will get in his hip, but if the A runs an arrow, and the X runs a slant- the BC calls a switch and takes the arrow, the WLB picks up the slant under with the BS ($) over.

There’s even more complicated phrasing like banjo but keep that to the mountains of West Virginia for now.