The final position that State of the U will look at before training camp commences at the University of Miami for the upcoming football season, we finally shine the light on the battle on the boundaries. The Hurricanes cornerback group is a unique blend of talent, experience and youthful optimism. Highlighted by All-ACC CB Michael Jackson, the senior has a viable claim to being perhaps the best cornerback both in the state of Florida as well as the Atlantic Coast Conference. Sophomore Trajan Bandy acclimated well to the college game as a freshman a year ago, and will be counted on whether as a slot corner or at the traditional corner spot.
After those two, the waters get a bit dicey trying to project the remainder of the depth chart, hence why the battle at the position will continue to the bitter end of August. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz did not mince words when he declared that the young DBs have no choice but to be ready to play in the 2018 season based on how the position group has shaped out. In 2017, Bandy was the only freshman at the position to earn significant reps with the first-team defense. This season will surely see all four of Miami’s ‘18 recruiting class receive some form of playing time at corner throughout the year. Will the newbies Usain Bolt by the upperclassmen to rise up the depth chart in camp?
Al Blades Jr.
Nigel Bethel Jr.
The freshmen may have all the hype coming into camp, but there’s been a strong push from the coaching staff to have Jhavonte Dean win one of the starting jobs. Blessed with afterburners on the backs of his legs, Dean is one of the faster options on the team — yet his inconsistency when on the field may have overshadowed his athleticism. Could it boil down to concentration issues? If Dean is able to put both talent and knowledge together he should be in line to be a significant contributor to the defense in 2018. As a senior, there’s no figuring it out later. After both quarterback and offensive line, cornerback will feel the most pressure to hold up their end in the back half of what should be an elite defense.
Gilbert Frierson was an early enrollee who fortunately got the jump on the orientation to Canes football. This sets him apart from some of his peers. The 6’1, 192 pound corner put together some good moments to go along with the growing pains that are part of getting accustomed to the faster speed of college football. Besides coming from a solid bloodline (cousin of Frank Gore), Frierson possesses one of the more redeeming traits that should ingratiate himself to both Manny Diaz and CB Mike Rumph: a willingness to tackle. Interceptions are great, but in order to see the field at corner, it has become important for CB to wrap up and secure tackles — or, at worst, hold the ball carrier up until support arrives. With Miami forced to deal with the run defense hazard that is Georgia Tech each season, you can understand why this quality is prioritized.
Al Blades Jr. is the next in line of Canes’ legacy commits. The son of the great DB Al Blades, junior, will look to forge his own narrative as his UM career unfolds. Another 6 footer DB, Blades has the height and tenacity to see the field immediately... which he will. The question will be how impressive he can be having missed spring practice. Blades may not have the benefit of participating in spring, but if he’s able to pick up the defense, and play within himself, it would not be surprising to see Blades become an integral part of the cornerback position, sooner than later.
The other freshman DB who was enrolled and will be on campus for spring practice is DJ Ivey. Another tall, lean corner, the former South Dade High School alum battled in spring to put a down payment of goodwill onto training camp. Whether that will payoff in a feature gig on the defense remains to be seen, but if Ivey is able to illustrate improvement from spring to training camp, correcting his mistakes and capitalizing on his strengths, perhaps a good fortune will be heading his way to start the month of the September.
Colvin Alford is a dark horse in the race for playing time at cornerback this season. A redshirt freshman, Alford didn’t cross the threshold of more than two games and retains his redshirt eligibility. The Coral Reef Senior High School product has a path to earning significant playing time based on opportunity and the knowledge he gained from not only playing and watching the game, but also learning game strategy.
There are many supporters, scribes and fans, who, with good reason, are fixated on the competition at quarterback and along the offensive line. Yet Miami’s defense, which should be the strength of the team once again, is one unit away from knocking down the door of elite defensive units in the nation. The season will come down to how this group of freshmen and roster holdovers conform to the sudden and dynamic changes in a college football schedule. The flight path can be more turbulent as a college athlete in comparison to navigating the sport in high school. These freshman will need to be able to handle the rough patches as well as get accustomed to the more successful portions of the flight through college if Miami is to reach their preferred final destination.
IT’S ALWAYS ABOUT THE U!