A baller on the field and a supreme Warzone sniper/rapper off it, junior cornerback Al Blades Jr. will be one of the key components to the Canes’ secondary success in 2021. With Miami adding Georgia Bulldogs transfer Tyrique Stevenson, bringing in Travaris Robinson and DeMarcus Van Dyke to coach up the defensive backs, landing a future standout like Khamauri Rogers, and plenty of fans on Chris Graves and Jacolby Spells watch, the inspired play of Blades Jr. in a Canes’ uniform may have been lost in the shuffle.
Sidelined in December 2020 by his battle with COVID-19 and myocarditis, the 6-1 and 188-pound fourth-year junior continues to rehab from a stress fracture he sustained this spring. Although the team is using caution, coach Manny Diaz has already stated that Blades Jr. will be back for fall camp.
His return will hopefully give Miami something the team desperately needs, four competent cornerbacks (Tyrique Stevenson, Al Blades Jr., Te’Cory Couch, DJ Ivey). Especially after a year in which the CBs had little depth, featured up-and-down performances, and didn’t make enough plays on the ball. However, coach Travaris Robinson believes this current group can compete with anyone.
“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.”
With Blades Jr. bringing his physical play and coverage ability on the outside, life will be made much easier for each player on every level of the defense.
Life As A Cane
The Fort Lauderdale and legacy CB was an ESPN and Rivals four-star prospect coming out of high school. He was also rated the No. 67 overall recruit and eight-best cornerback in the country by ESPN. He chose Miami over several schools like the Alabama Crimson Tide, Auburn Tigers, LSU Tigers, and to nobody’s surprise who saw him throw up “The U” on his official visit, the Florida State Seminoles.
He spent most of his freshman year mostly on special teams, in which he served as that unit’s captain twice. He finished his first season with 13 tackles. In 2019, he finally got his hands on the ball. By the time his sophomore season wrapped up, he totaled 2 interceptions, 36 tackles (22 solo tackles), 6 pass breakups, and a electric punt block against the Louisville Cardinals.
Lowest passer rating when targeted, FBS CBs (min. 225 cover snaps):— Cam Mellor (@CamMellor) December 9, 2019
1 Corey Straughter, ULM: 13.5
2 Lavert Hill, Michigan: 21.5
3 Al Blades Jr, Miami: 28.8
4 Caleb Farley, Va Tech: 29.2
5 Darmarri Mathis, Pitt: 30.4
6 Luq Barcoo, SDSU: 36.1
7 Derion Kendrick, Clemson: 36.5
Last season, Blades Jr. continued to build on his solid 2019 season. In the three games before the forgetful showdown with the Clemson Tigers, he was lighting up every metric for college football cornerbacks. At the time he was PFF’s 25th ranked CB and teams only completed 8 passes in 14 attempts for 79 yards and a single touchdown against him. He was also the first Hurricane to rock the Turnover Chain in 2020 after his pick against Louisville. The following week, he put on a repeat performance and got another interception in the 52-10 slaughter of FSU.
Lowest passer rating when targeted in Wk 3— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 21, 2020
1. Al Blades Jr, Miami - 1.0
2. Cameron Kinley, Navy - 8.3
3. Brandon Stephens, SMU - 8.9
4. Steven Gilmore, Marshall - 19.5 pic.twitter.com/M4FGc1c8Eh
Throughout the rest of the season, consistent play from the corners was a problem across the board. Although he didn’t play in the last three games of the season, Blades Jr. finished with 27 tackles and ended up leading Miami in both the interceptions (2) and pass breakups categories (7).
According to Pro Football Focus, Blades Jr. graded out to71 overall, ended up with a 75.1 grade in pass coverage, he was targeted 40 times and allowed 22 receptions for 294 yards and two touchdowns last season.
Blades Jr.’s metrics are impressive. He’s also tenacious at the line of scrimmage. He is at his best when he’s up in wide receivers faces and can get engaged early. It’s never been a question of talent, aggressive play, or awareness with him. The only thing separating him from becoming an all-Atlantic Coast Conference-caliber cornerback is playing to his highest standard and using sound technique each and every snap. With the addition of Stevenson, a real capable partner opposite him, his ability to play more consistent football should be on the horizon.
His elevated play will be critical not only for the cornerback unit and the overall team but, for his future goals as well. He, like a few others on the team, are draft-eligible after this season.
The improved play of the cornerbacks, including Blades Jr. will go a long way in determining how close the Canes get to their ACC championship goals.