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Five Hurricanes That Are Ready for the Spotlight in 2018

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While Ahmmon Richards, Jaquan Johnson and Shaq Quarterman receive national attention, SOTU examines a group of players that should make a favourable impression this season

Miami v Florida State Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images

When you say that you weren’t expecting a performance like that from a player, it usually means that you had low or no expectations for them to begin with. That’s fair—there are only so many days in a year, a ton of guys on the roster and many headlines you can follow when the season kicks off. So when Darrell Langham brings in a Malik Rosier pass against some FSU defender in the final moments of a rivalry game in Tallahassee, you’re overcome with joy. You don’t really stop to wonder how this combination became the key ingredient in a significant win for Miami.

It happens every season, but as fans we tend to overlook the possibility that some players just improve tremendously from one year to the next. Having a roster full of five-star starters across the board is a welcome luxury, yet, like the end of Infinity Wars, the conclusion will be much different from where the film began.

Entering the 2018 season, there are a sizeable number of ’Canes who progressed their game to that next level that the program needs. From a solid coaching staff to game experience to putting in work on the practice field and the weightroom, the chance to make plenty of noise in the fall looks promising.

Derrick Smith

Derrick Smith
Ready to step out of the shadows, Derrick Smith could see his snaps increase at Miami’s new Striker position in 2018.
247 Sports

In 2018, defensive coordinator Manny Diaz is adding a new wrinkle to Miami’s defensive scheme and sub-packages. The “striker” position is the fresh feature that the ’Canes are imposing as a preemptive move by adding speed to the second level of the defense. Derrick Smith, who was listed as a safety a season ago, listed at 6’2” and 200 pounds, fits the criteria to start at what is Miami’s hybrid linebacker position. Adding more speed in place of the strong-side linebacker, Smith should be called upon frequently.With a schedule the pits Miami against the high-tempo offenses, and spread attacks like Toledo, North Carolina, and FSU’s new offense under head coach Willie Taggart, the ’Canes will be able to match most of their opponents formations.

How often the striker position gets deployed will depend upon many factors. This past spring, the Hurricanes were down most of their Sam (strong-side) linebackers, with Zach McCloud suffering a wrist injury and Charles Perry undergoing surgery to repair an injury to his left leg. It should be intriguing to see how the ’Canes employ their new not-so-secret weapon in 2018.

Amari Carter

From the first game of his collegiate career, laying the wood emphatically on a Bethune-Cookman ball-carrier, safety Amari Carter reminds you of one of the hard-hitting safeties of football past, where you didn’t have to hold your breath after big collisions fearing that a defender would be subject to the targeting rule. Funny enough, the Palm Beach Garden, Florida, native also appeared to be an ideal candidate to slide down into the front-seven, becoming a striker. Yet, it appears that safeties coach Ephraim Banda drew the line of attrition for his group at the 6’2” 200 pound sophomore.

With both Jaquan Johnson and Sheldrick Redwine returning to their starting duties this season, Carter continues to be counted on a rotational piece. In 2017, Carter’s 26 total tackles was the 14th most on UM’s roster. Adding two sacks and a forced fumble, Carter certainly has the knack to make impact plays close to the line of scrimmage. And now, with a season of experience under his belt—to borrow a Miami coaching terminology—he knows what he didn’t know as a freshman.

That knowledge of his own defensive system, as well as being aware of some of the methods that offenses will choose to attack the defense with, Carter should continue to improve in his second season. If he can prove to provide more than his highlight reel chin-strap removing hits and add some more versatility in pass coverage to go along with his outstanding run defense, Carter will become a household name after the ‘18 season.

Demetrius Jackson

Unlike the first two players who were spotlighted, Demetrius Jackson is actually a veteran. Entering his senior season, Jackson forms a strong leadership group along the defensive line with Joe Jackson and Gerald Willis III. Before going down with a knee injury in a game against Virginia Tech last season, DJax put up some big numbers in Miami’s defensive rotation. Posting a stat line where he had 18 tackles, 7.5 tackles-for-loss, 3.5 sacks, two pass breakups and one interception in seven games, imagine what he’ll be able to accomplish as a bonafide starter?

For their part, the team has slowly re-integrated DJax back into competition this spring. The good news is that he should have the green light to be a full participant in training camp towards the end of the summer. Projected to be one half of a formidable starting defensive combo with Joe Jackson, even with the losses of Trent Harris and Chad Thomas, Miami continues to roll out an impressive starting defensive line along with quality depth to provide a relentless wave of pressure on opposing offenses.

Perhaps the more intriguing question in 2018 for DJax is where he falls in the hierarchy of players with the surname Jackson on the roster?

Jahir Jones

What do we know about Brooklyn, New York, native Jahir Jones? What we do know is that Jones was a JUCO commit from ASA College in New York, where the school’s nickname is the Avengers. Funny how timely life can be. The upcoming season represents Jones’ last shot to make an impression as a collegiate prospect, the 6’4” and 316 pound lineman worked at guard during practices in the spring. Jones was also named most improved offensive line after spring session for his efforts. There is nothing guaranteed about Jones securing a spot at left guard beside left tackle Tyree St. Louis. Even if he is named a starter, you can’t be convinced that a bad series or game could result in offensive line coach Stacy Searels continuing to shuffle personnel in and out.

Yet, someone has to step up for the Hurricanes. No one on the line can block a defense on their own. St. Louis, Tyler Gautier and Navaughn Donaldson are all going to need the man next to him to know what he’s doing and pull his weight, maybe more since we’re talking about some beefy guys in the trenches. Jones, like most seniors, should feel the pressure to leave some sort of legacy before his time is up at Miami.

Perhaps he can be the Avenger that Miami needs… he certainly can’t be as bad as Starlord.

Jhavonte Dean

In a similar situation to Jones, cornerback Jhavonte Dean enters his final season as a Hurricane after transferring from the prestigious Blinn College in Brenham, Texas, last season. The Homestead, Florida, native appeared to fly under the radar after the Hurricanes brought in fellow transfer Dee Delaney at the same position. Yet, with Dean’s tall 6’2” frame, you couldn’t help but wonder how he would translate on the field.

Jhavonte Dean
With the ideal size and his more than excellent speed, it’s fair to wonder if CB Jhavonte Dean will be able to put it all together this season.
247 Sports

There were not many snaps to be had in the defensive secondary for Dean. His playing time was erratic, as was much of his play in 2017. Locating the ball appeared to be a struggle at times for him—yet it is something that he is continuing to work on, as evidence from spring practices. Dean certainly has the measurables, both physically and talent-wise, to be a productive corner for UM, but he has only completed one side of the rubik’s cube when it comes to being a healthy contributor.

In his final season in college, Dean has both freshmen CBs Gilbert Frierson and DJ Ivey climbing over him on the depth chart. For their parts, both defensive coordinator Manny Diaz and CB coach Mike Rumph want to see Dean take that next step to be in the starting line up. With CB Michael Jackson locking up one side and the staff liking CB Trajan Bandy in the slot—but willing to move him to outside corner—here’s room for someone else to step up and take that other outside corner spot. While the position is not Dean’s to lose, he certainly has been given ample opportunity to earn significant playing time in his swan song for the ’Canes.

Who knows, perhaps this is all God’s Plan—one in which Dean balls out in his collegiate curtain call.

Who do you think will take the next step to become a household name next season, or are you more excited to see Deadpool 2? As always, let us know.