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Miami’s Defensive Back Corps Has Slipped Recently, But is the Once Lauded Group Headed Back in the Right Direction?

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With Travaris Robinson, Bubba Bolden and Tyrique Stevenson, and Recruiting Success as the Catalysts, Miami’s DB Unit Aims to Re-Enter DBU Relevancy

Miami Athletics

When classifying the DBU moniker in NCAA football, recent favorites include LSU, Ohio State, and Alabama. At this point, Miami only remains in the top historical DBU conversation due to legacy and imprint left from over a decade ago.

In recent years, the dropoff has been marked. Of note, between 2006-2014, Miami produced the most Pro Bowl appearances for defensive backs (15), which easily exceeded the second best college in that same timeframe (Georgia at eight). After 2014? Miami has produced zero Pro Bowl defensive backs.

On the field on Saturdays, the product in the secondary has been middling. This past year, the Canes were ranked 65th (out of 127) in the NCAA for passing yards allowed as the team let up 6.75 yards per pass attempt (241 completions out of 381 passes for a total of 2,573 yards and 20 TDs in 11 games). The 63.3% completion percentage allowed by Miami came in spite of many hurried passes and QB pressures by a front line featuring 2021 draft picks, Jaelan Phillips and Quincy Roche.

In the preceding five years, the numbers were better, but still not fantastic. Miami allowed at least 200 receptions, 2500 receiving yards, and 16 receiving TDs on the 13-game slate every year besides 2018.

Miami remains in the conversation of top secondaries of all time but only because of an impressive list from the 2000s led by Sam Shields, Antrel Rolle, Ed Reed, Sean Taylor, and Brandon Merriweather.

Even more, none of the Miami defensive backs drafted since 2008 have made the Pro Bowl (this excludes Shields who went undrafted in 2010). That is, even though Miami has had some success at recruiting four-star and five-star products, none have really gone on to have a super productive NFL career to date, which is important for sustained success in maintaining a pipeline at the U.

So, the Canes have likely been able to point to recent NFL draftees Artie Burns, Deon Bush, Rayshawn Jenkins, Corn Elder, Adrian Colbert, Sheldrick Redwine, Michael Jackson, and Jaquan Johnson to prospects. However, that list is a hard sell when competing against true DBUs such as Bama, Ohio State, and LSU, or even programs that have been able to place CBs/Safeties with a higher success rate.

It does seem like the U is reaching a pivotal point for their secondary. And, at this key juncture, Miami appears to have the tools to make serious moves in the DBU conversation in the coming years. Now, by no means am I saying Miami is even remotely close to being in the same area code as top DBUs - or a top ten national unit for that matter. However, with the tools currently in place - i.e. coaching staff, recent recruiting success, and some bright spots on the roster - the Canes secondary could become a perennial top 25 national unit and continue to be a more attractive destination for recruits/transfers alike.

Defensive-Minded Coaching Staff and Addition of T-Rob:

As alluded to above, coaches mostly have to sell the legacy to recruits when bragging about the decorum of their DBs. However, the coaches can also point to their own individual resumes to credit what they have produced into the NFL.

There is no doubt Manny Diaz has been a defensive-minded coach. That being said, prior to his time at the helm, Diaz predominantly worked with LBs, but also had involvement as a Safeties coach. To that end, Diaz has coached former defensive backs that went on to NFL careers such as Rod Isaac at Middle Tennessee State, Andre Maddox at NC State, Kenny Vaccaro and Quandre Diggs at Texas, Xavier Woods at Louisiana Tech, Will Redmond at Mississippi State, and then the group of Canes from 2016 to present (albeit, his title after has been DC/LB Coach, or HC, since 2008 when he switched from the Safeties position). Not necessarily a thrilling group, but decent placement nonetheless.

Enter Travaris Robinson. T-Rob is not only a cornerstone piece on the recruiting trail as he has been one of the best DB recruiters in the southeast region over the past decade, but his resume has been ascending as of late with some of the NFL placement from his respective schools.

Compared to Diaz, Robinson has had ample success during his career in recruiting and breeding DBs. Most recently at South Carolina, T-Rob developed physical CB, Jaycee Horn, into the first defensive player picked in this year’s NFL Draft. He also developed DB, Israel Mukuamu, who was three-star safety out of high school, into a sixth round pick. Mukuamu led South Carolina in INTs final two seasons and the hybrid S/CB with a has a pterodactyl like frame at 6-4 and 80 34 wing span, and led South Carolina in INTs in his final two seasons playing a hybrid S/CB role. He slipped in the NFL Draft due to very raw traits, but their should be excitement as T-Rob will have the opportunity to work with another DB with a lengthy frame, James Williams.

Beyond this past year, T-Rob has previously coached at Auburn and Florida and worked with the following laundry list of players who are currently on NFL rosters: Duke Dawson, JC Jackson, Carlton Davis, Vernon Hargreaves, Jaylen Watkins, Quincy Wilson, Brian Poole, Jonathan Jones, Rudy Ford, Rashad Fenton, Chris Lammons, and Keisean Nixon. He also worked with Matt Elam, a former first round pick, during his time at Florida.

Coincidence or not, Robinson has already made an immediate impact as Miami added Georgia DB, Tyrique Stevenson, through the NCAA Transfer Portal shortly after he joined the coaching staff.

T-Rob will also work closely with Demarcus Van Dyke who is entering his first season as cornerbacks coach for Miami, which should be exciting to watch him develop. Add in Miami legend and former Safety, Ed Reed, as Chief of Staff to oversee the entire operation, and the coaching personnel looks prime for a turnaround.

Potential of Current Roster

Even though the recent statistics (i.e. passing yards allowed) do not necessarily exude confidence in the secondary, there are some bright spots on the current roster. Not only that, but the opportunity is there for others within the unit to take a leap.

The two veterans most likely to lead the DB room made their way to Coral Gables via the NCAA Transfer Portal: Tyrique Stevenson and Bubba Bolden. While Bolden is receiving significant attention as a top Safety in the nation and for the 2022 NFL Draft, there is a chance Stevenson is the first Cane drafted next April. The Georgia transfer ended the season on a high note where he was able to prove his prowess playing on the outside in the 2020 Bowl Game vs. Cincinnati. Stevenson also teetered with five-star recruit status due to his unmatched athleticism, exhibits versatility in coverage, and plays big and physical similar to Jaycee Horn (or Antrel Rolle, according to one scout). For Bolden, a consistent season will pay dividends for his draft stock.

Beyond Bolden and Stevenson, there are a number of newcomers and veterans alike who have the opportunity to rise to the occasion and fill out the remainder of the secondary. This includes Amari Carter, Gurvan Hall, and Avantae Williams at Safety and Al Blades Jr., DJ Ivey, and Te’Cory Couch.

The darkhorses who could develop include Brian Balom, Marcus Clarke, and Isaiah Dunson. There is obvious depth, but the consistency by way of tackling and coverage need to be shown through a full season. If so, and T-Rob should be plenty capable of developing his players properly, that will be a clear indication the state of the DBs is headed in the right direction.

Recruiting Trail Success

Even though they originated from the portal, placing Bolden and Stevenson early in next year’s draft will work wonders for T-Rob and Miami’s DB pipeline.

To that end, there has already been recent success at landing top tier safeties, as Miami successfully recruited five-star recruit and Gatorade Player of the Year, James Williams. In addition, in 2020, Miami procured the second ranked 247Sports Composite Safety in Avantae Williams. Neither has played a snap, but there is immense promise in each. Coincidence or not, Avantae signed with Miami (and flipped from Florida) the week after Reed was hired as Chief of Staff and then they nabbed James, the best Safety in the 2021 recruiting class, one year after Reed’s hiring.

Miami’s CB recruitment has not been as enticing in recent years but that should soon change. For example, Miami has landed some quality four-star recruits such as Blades Jr., Dunson, Couch, and even Christian Williams (since transferred), but none have panned out yet. As mentioned above, they could flourish this year in a wide open and deep CB room, but the 2022 recruiting class results will be key.

Miami has already made offers to 28 cornerbacks. The status is currently warm for Miami on a number of four-star recruits such as Khamauri Rogers, Trequon Fegans, Trevell Mullen, and Jacolby Spells. Mullen, Spells, and Rogers currently have Crystal Ball projections to Miami. Landing one or two four-stars, including a top 100 overall national product, and/or keeping a local product such as Earl Little Jr. in Miami, would be huge for Miami’s CB room.