The U has always had a wealth of talent at the skill positions. The teams of the 80s, 90s and 00s were bigger, faster and stronger than most of their opponents. The combination truly manifested itself during the early 2000s, when the Canes had a run of All-American talent at cornerback. Using those players, we’re able to build the perfect Cane cornerback:
Philip Buchanon’s Speed
The 2001 All-American was a blur on the backfield, causing nightmares for opposing quarterbacks as a part of the best college football team ever. A track athlete in high school and college, #31 was clocked at 4.3 in the 40 yard dash. Buchanon was able to close ground on receivers while the ball was in the air, leading to a team-leading 5 interceptions in 2001. He was deadly with the ball in his hands, averaging 31.4 yards per interception and returning one for a score that season, and was the Canes best punt returner until another corner on this list showed up. The Ft. Myers native was the 2001 Big East Special Teams Player of the Year after returning 2 punts for touchdowns and averaging 15 yards per return. Buchanon left after his junior year and was drafted with the 17th pick in the first round, going on to have a solid 9-year career for the Raiders, Texans, Buccaneers, Lions and Redskins, finishing with 348 tackles, 20 interceptions, 5 touchdowns, and 73 pass deflections.
Antrel Rolle (2004) - Physicality
Before becoming one of the top safeties in the NFL during the late 00s, Antrel Rolle was shutting out receivers on the outside as one of the Canes best corners. His transition to safety in the pros was a smooth one due to his physical style of play and decent size (6’1” 205 lbs). In his two seasons as a starter on the Canes defense, Rolle finished with 66 and 55 tackles, including 9.5 tackles for loss. Due to his smothering cover skills, college quarterbacks often didn’t throw to his side of the field, allowing Rolle to play a huge role in pressuring the QB and stopping the run. Rolle went up against some of the top receivers of the era during his last season at Miami, shutting down Calvin Johnson (2 catches 10 yards) and Larry Fitzgerald (3 catches 26 yards).
The 2004 All-American was drafted eighth overall in the NFL Draft and had a successful pro career with the Cardinals, Giants and Bears which included a Super Bowl win, 2 All-Pro nods, 834 tackles, 26 interceptions, 5 touchdowns, 69 pass deflections and 8 forced fumbles.
Devin Hester (2004) - Return Skills
The best returner in college and NFL history was a solid corner for the Canes in a defensive backfield that included two other corners on this list. Devin Hester was truly lightning in the bottle for the Canes, lining up at tailback, wide receiver, punt returner, kick returner, cornerback and nickelback. Corners are often asked to return punts and kicks, so being a good returner is a crucial talent, and it also translates to defense when the ball ends up in your hands, as it did during Hester’s team-leading 4 interceptions in 2004. Hester finished with 3 punt return touchdowns, 2 kick return touchdowns, and a rushing touchdown in his two seasons in Coral Gables.
After his 2004 All-American season, Hester was selected with the 57th pick (2nd round) of the NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears, and would have a solid career as a wide receiver, while setting the NFL record for punt return touchdowns and total return touchdowns with 20.
Kelly Jennings (2005) - cover skills
Rounding out our Perfect Cane DB will be the cover skills of Kelly Jennings. Jennings redshirted during the 2001 national championship season, but earned a starting role during what should’ve been the 2002 national championship season. The Live Oak, FL native was the most consistent Cane in coverage over the next four seasons, teaming up with Antrel Rolle and Brandon Meriweather to form one of the most talented defensive backfields in the nations. Jennings was always in the best position to make a play, resulting in 15 pass breakups in 2005, and finishing as one of the Canes leading tackling DBs with 126 career tackles. The 2005 All-American would be the sixth Cane drafted in the first round of the 2006 NFL Draft, when he was taken 31st overall by the Seahawks. He would go on to play 6 seasons for the Seahawks and Bengals, finishing with 241 tackles, 53 pass deflections and 2 interceptions.
Is there anyone you feel should have made the list? Let us know in the comments.