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Do the Canes Have Enough to Contend: Defensive Back

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Miami has always been great in the secondary, but can a young group step up?

NCAA Football: Virginia at Miami Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Miami has 1 goal every year, and that is to win a National Championship in football. Yes, there are other small goals along the way, including beating FSU, winning the Coastal, getting to and winning the ACC title, but the ultimate goal is to put Championship trophy #6 in the trophy case. Unfortunately, outside of 2005 and 2017, the Canes haven’t been in the discussion past the month of September in most years. The question has always come up, whether it was coaching, QB play, or the overall talent on the field.

This is part 8 of 10, where I ask, Do the Canes have enough to contend for the College Football Playoffs?

Miami has a history of great DB play over their run of dominance in college football. Bennie Blades, Ed Reed, Sean Taylor, Antrel Rolle and others have scared the heck out of opposing QBs. Miami was able to play whatever type of coverage they wanted, because they always had the athletes to mask any deficiencies in front of them. Plenty of questions remain going into 2020 as Miami will have talent on the back end of the defense, but will they have the depth and experience to compete for the big prize. Trajan Bandy left for the NFL, and Romeo Finley exhausted his eligibility at striker, so some younger players will have to step up. Bubba Bolden will return from injury, which came last year, right when he was hitting his stride at safety.

Coach Rumph, and Coach Banda get some warranted or unwarranted heat for recruiting misses, but what they’ve been able to accomplish with developing players is nothing short of amazing. Players from Michael Jackson, Bandy, Al Blades Jr. and many others have improved in their time in Coral Gables. The coaches will have to get some young players up to speed in a hurry.

NCAA Football: Miami at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Cornerback

Losing Trajan Bandy is a big blow to the defense in 2020. Bandy was the team’s number one CB in 19, and even though he didn’t have his best year, his versatility will be missed. Al Blades Jr. will break camp as the team’s number one guy, and if 2019 is any indication, he is up to the task. Blades, who comes from Canes lineage, showed that he can be a great cover man in 2019 with 6 passes defended and 2 interceptions in his 1st year as a starter. DJ Ivey had a rough 2019 campaign, but got better as the season progressed. The season started for Ivey with suspension, and the low point was a terrible blown coverage on a fake punt vs Georgia Tech. He would rebound with 3 picks after that, and looked like a changed player. Ivey will have to be the team’s number 2 or he could be passed by some youngsters on the team. Te’Cory Couch and Christian Williams are 2 highly recruited sophomores from the 2019 class who will have plenty of opportunity to play in 2020. All reports from the abbreviated spring, had both players looking up to the task. Isaiah Dunson and Marcus Clarke arrive with plenty of chances to get on the field as true freshmen. Miami is talented but thin at CB, so injuries will play a huge role if this team is to play well in the secondary.

Safety

The Canes have an abundance of talent at safety, and may have the luxury of red-shirting some talented freshmen. Gurvan Hall Jr. looks the part of the next great Miami safety, but seemed a ½ step late in 2019. He was very close to garnering many more interceptions last year, and with a year of experience should make those plays this year. Bubba Bolden was well on his way to living up to all of the transfer portal buzz when he had a freak injury vs FSU. Bolden is a ball-hawk at 6’3”, he seems to have the range to make plays all over the field. If he is fully recovered, Miami will have a dynamic set of starters with him, and Hall. Amari Carter enters his senior year as the enforcer of the Miami secondary. His hit vs UVA is the stuff that’ll make your knees shake. Personally I think to get him on the field, they should give Carter some snaps at striker as well, but at worst he will be a great rotation piece on the back end. Avantae Williams is a highly ranked commit, who may red-shirt, but is the type of high level guy(who Miami stole from UF) who can continue the Canes legacy. Keyshawn Washington, Brian Balom, and Jalen Harrell are also freshmen who will fight to get on the field and are highly talented.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 14 Bethune-Cookman at Miami Photo by Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Striker

Romeo Finley was one of the most underrated play-makers on the canes defense the last 2 seasons, and will be missed in 2020. In his place Gilbert Frierson will get the first crack to take over at striker. He had the lone highlight play in the Independence Bowl vs La Tech with a pick that was almost taken to the house. Frierson is 6’1” and 200lbs and should be better in coverage than Finley. Keontra Smith is a 4 star signee from two years ago, who played in 7 games in 2019. He’s not quite as big as Frierson, but may be even better in coverage. Smith will get plenty of chances to get on the field in 2020. One of the young safeties may also end up at Striker, but as of now the job looks to be Frierson or Smith’s to lose.

Verdict

Miami has talent, but entering 2020 this is not a CFB playoff group. They definitely have ACC title game potential, but the lack of experienced depth at CB and Striker gives me cause for concern. Miami seems to be getting the talent back on campus, by winning recruiting wars for Avantae Williams and others, but must win more elite battles to be truly special again in the secondary. Rumph and Banda need to work magic and get this group cohesive in the first 4 games before conference play.

Next up, special teams.

Go Canes