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2019 Hurricanes Football Position Preview: Safety

Youth will look to produce on the field following the departure of experience in Miami’s secondary.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 17 Miami at Virginia Tech
A wave of new talent will have to replace the loss of experience in the back end of the defense for Miami.
Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Miami has a long history of talented safeties that have made an impact in the NCAA and gone on to long and successful NFL careers. For the 2019 Miami Hurricanes, Defensive Coordinator Blake Baker and Co-DC/Safeties Coach Ephraim Banda will be looking to again find greatness at one of Miami’s most storied positions.

Key Departures

Miami loses both starting safeties from the 2018 team heading into the 2019 season, as both Sheldrick Redwine and Jaquan Johnson have left Miami to start NFL careers. Neither will be easy to replace, and the front seven will need to help cover for some inexperience in the back of Miami’s defense in 2019.

Sheldrick Redwine was the fourth-round draft pick of the Cleveland Browns and he’s hoping to turn heads in training camp and earn playing time in his rookie season. He’s started off his first NFL camp well, intercepting a Drew Stanton pass in practice a few days ago. His instincts and football IQ will be hard to replace for the Hurricanes.

Meanwhile, Jaquan Johnson has started his NFL career with the Buffalo Bills after being selected by the team in the sixth-round of the NFL Draft. Johnson was the leader of Miami’s secondary and one of the leaders of the entire defense, and his voice and depth of experience will be hard to replicate this year for the Hurricanes. A new group of leaders will have to fill the whole left behind by Johnson in his departure from Miami.

The Newcomers

Bubba Bolden is an impact transfer that should see plenty of playing time for the Hurricanes this season. Unfortunately, Bolden probably won’t be ready to see significant playing time at the start of the season as he continues to try to finish a class in junior college so that he can enroll at Miami. It’s been recently reported that he should enroll next week, and once he gets to campus he’ll have to try to catch up with the rest of the safeties as quickly as possible as camp continues. Bolden was one of the top recruits at safety in the 2017 recruiting cycle, and make no mistake, once he is caught up with the defense he’ll be a difference maker on the field for Miami.

The other newcomer at safety for Miami is Keontra Smith. Smith has impressed the coaching staff early on in practice and could see playing time throughout the season. He is not likely to start, but he could see snaps on special teams and late in decided games if he continues to impress during fall camp.

2019 Outlook

The Starters

  • Gurvan Hall
  • Amari Carter
  • Romeo Finley (Striker)

At the start of fall camp Amari Carter and Gurvan Hall seemed set to be the starting pair of safeties for the Hurricanes on August 24th. However, as camp has continued Derrick Smith has put together a week of great practices to put himself into a competition with Carter to start against the Gators.

Gurvan Hall has had a great spring and an even better summer to set himself up for success in the fall. It seems like summer conditioning and workouts have helped Hall substantially and the hard-hitting safety will look to make an impact on the field for the ‘Canes this fall.

Amari Carter has displayed an ability to make crushing hits in his first two years in orange and green and he seems poised to finally take his place in the starting lineup if he comes out on top of the surprise competition between him and Derrick Smith. Carter has seen the most action of any safety on the roster besides Robert Knowles, and his experience could prove invaluable in a very young Miami secondary.

At striker, the Hurricanes will start Romeo Finley, who had a breakout season in 2018. Finley is arguably one of the most underrated players on the Miami defense, and is poised for a critical role in 2019. Finley has single-handedly established the striker position as a crucial part of the Hurricanes’ defensive scheme, and he’ll hope for even bigger things this season. He’ll split snaps with more traditional linebacker Zach McCloud depending on the situation, just as the two players did last season.

The Backups

  • Derrick Smith
  • Bubba Bolden
  • Robert Knowles
  • Keontra Smith
  • Gilbert Frierson (Striker)

Derrick Smith seems to have turned a corner during this offseason. He has vaulted himself into a competition to start for the ‘Canes this season and has been a nightmare for the quarterbacks all fall camp thus far. Smith has shown himself to not only be fantastic in coverage, but also as a hard-hitter, much like Gurvan Hall and Amari Carter, the latter of which he’ll continue to compete with as we head to August 24th.

Bubba Bolden should see the field often this season for Miami, but as mentioned earlier he still hasn’t arrived on campus. If he does arrive next week as scheduled he’ll be two weeks behind the rest of the defense, so it seems likely that his playing time will gradually increase as the season goes on. However, Coach Diaz has said he expects Bolden to be dressed and ready to play against Florida on the 24th, it just remains to be seen how much action he will see in the early part of the season.

Robert Knowles has had an up and down career at Miami as he enters his redshirt senior season for the ‘Canes. According to Blake Baker, Knowles, along with Derrick Smith, set himself apart with his work ethic during offseason workouts. Knowles has been much-maligned over his career at Miami, but he has reportedly improved and could help out the secondary in his final season in green and orange.

Freshman Keontra Smith could see a lot of playing time late in games, especially early on in the season. However, he will ultimately see his time on the field limited due to the more experienced talent ahead of him on the depth chart. The goal for 2019 for the freshman should be to build experience in preparation for his role to grow in the future.

The backup at striker will be Gilbert Frierson, who is continuing his transition to the position after being recruited to Miami as a cornerback. Frierson will probably see limited time on the field this season as he continues to learn the position. Expect to see Frierson a lot at the end of decided games, much like Smith, as the coaching staff prepares him to become the starting striker in 2020.

In 2019 the Hurricanes have a lot of experience to replace at the back end of the secondary, but a plethora of talent to replace it with. The story of the season for this position room will be finding a group of players to continue the legacy of excellence from safeties at the University of Miami.