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Miami Hurricanes 2021 Spring Position Preview: Cornerbacks

Let’s take a look at one of the thinner position groups on the Canes, the cornerbacks. With new coaching and talent, the 2021 season may come down to the team’s improvement on the back end.

Bethune-Cookman v Miami Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

In 2020, the Miami Hurricanes cornerback play was full of turbulence. Ranked 65th in pass defense (allowing 233.9 yards per game) and 59th in opponent passer (average of 133.64), the postmortem of the 2020 season’s ups and downs, found that the play on the back end was definitely a huge factor. But it’s a new year. New defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson and cornerbacks coach DeMarcus Van Dyke will be inserting a wealth of knowledge and technique into the group. The coaches also get the addition of key talents like Tyrique Stevenson and returning player like Te’Cory Couch to help bolster a unit that needed improvements in ability and depth.

Top of the Depth Chart

Virginia v Miami Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

We have yet to receive word on Al Blades Jr.’s status for 2021 due to his myocarditis diagnosis last season. Blades Jr. finished with 29 total tackles, 2 interceptions, and a team-leading 7 PBUs. He’ll be a welcomed re-addition whenever he returns. When he returns, Blades Jr. will join the three other corners with the most experience-Stevenson (Georgia Bulldogs transfer), Couch, and DJ Ivey. Canes coach, Tavaris Robinson, believes this group is competent and skilled enough to get the job done:

“The talent is there. “We can’t give up the explosive plays. That’s one of the things we’re working on right now, [cutting up] tape for those guys that we can sit down and watch and go through the entire season [to discuss] when they had opportunities to make plays...“When you look at Ivey, Couch, Al — the talent is there. Those guys are very talented players. Coach [Mike] Rumph did a really good job with those guys. That gives you four quality guys that have played. [But] we’ve got to get better.”

Te’Cory Couch played in every game in the 2020 season, including starting in the final four games. He finished 2020 with 37 total tackles, 1 interception, 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble, and 6 PBUs. The physical, instinual, and tenacious corner showed plenty of promise last year. Junior cornerback DJ Ivey started all eleven games for the Hurricanes in 2020. He finished the season with 36 tackles, 1 interception, and 4 pass break ups. Ivey’s struggles with consistency and confidence were on full display in the North Carolina Tar Heels matchup. Quarterback Sam Howell and wide receiver Dyami Brown put on a show that night. The speedster Brown finished with 3 receptions for 152 yards, including an 87-yard back-breaking bomb.

NCAA Football: Miami at North Carolina Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

The Canes biggest addition and immediate starter of the group is Tyrique Stevenson. One of the top 20 transfers in the 2021 cycle, Stevenson played predominantly nickel at Georgia. Through 10 games, Stevenson had 31 tackles, 1 sack, and had 5 pass deflections. As a freshman in 2019, he was named the Bulldogs Co-Defensive Newcomer of the Year. In that season, he posted 13 tackles, 5 pass deflections, and a sack. Stevenson’s new home on the outside should give him plenty of opportunity, including one to get his hands on his first collegiate INT.

Tennessee vs Georgia Photo by /Collegiate Images/Getty Images

In a previous interview, Robinson said Stevenson is “a talented young man. He played some nickel, some outside at corner. We’ll play him at corner here. He has ball skills and competes. Knowing him three years ago in high school, you can see how his focus has changed. He knows his business. He needs to play well to accomplish the things he wants to do. He has a chance to be a really good football player.”

Outside of Stevenson, there’s a lot of questions in the form of depth chart and availability.

In the Mix

Marcus Clarke and Isaiah Dunson return in 2021 after a year of limited experience. Clarke has great speed and Isaiah Dunson’s ball-hawking ability is something that bodes well for him. Clarke finished with 5 tackles and he had his first career interception in the 48-0 shutout against the Duke Blue Devils last season. Dunson finished with 6 total tackles. The Canes also retained one incoming freshman at cornerback-Fort Myers Bishop Verot’s Malik Curtis. Curtis was not an early enrollee available for the spring. Even if he was, there’s real speculation on whether Curtis will be on the offensive or defensive side of the ball this year. My money is on offense with his pure playmaking ability.

Manny Diaz mentioned Curtis’ fit a CB weeks ago:

“Speed...A very special athlete that did everything for his high school football team. We project [him] to be a great defensive back here and bring an influx of speed into our corner room. He’s a guy that can immediately make an impact in our return game, returning kicks; he’s got a great knack for that. He can do it on offense [too], he’s done it on defense, but really, really the type of speed that you just can’t coach.”

Regardless of where Curtis lines up, his dynamic return ability is just what the Canes need.

Whether or not any of these cornerbacks will end up being all-ACC caliber in 2021 is essential to the secondary’s success. It’s clear the coaches have high expectations for the unit. Canes fans can only hope that with the addition of Travaris Robinson and new cornerbacks coach DeMarcus Van Dyke, new talent, and gained experience, it will lead to on-field success for the thin position group.

What are your depth chart predictions at cornerback for the 2021 season? How confident are you in this shaky yet emerging group?