Miami Hurricanes head coach Manny Diaz’s reshuffling of his defensive staff this offseason means that the Miami cornerback room will have an entirely new look from a coaching perspective for the 2021 season.
Diaz hired former South Carolina defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson to oversee all of the defensive backs and promoted former Hurricanes assistant director of recruiting DeMarcus Van Dyke to specifically coach the cornerbacks.
Both Robinson and Van Dyke are outstanding recruiters who will help the cornerback recruiting immensely (more on that later) and Robinson has a track record of getting cornerbacks drafted high in the NFL Draft.
To get a complete understanding of what to expect from Miami’s cornerbacks in 2021, let’s take a brief look at the past, present, and future of the position room.
Nobody reading this article needs a reminder of Miami’s rich history at the cornerback position.
With players like Antrel Rolle, Ryan McNeil, Phillip Buchanon, and a myriad of others as their NFL alumni, it’s obvious that the Hurricanes hold a proud history at the position.
However, the 2020 season unfortunately did not meet the lofty standards most have for cornerbacks at the University of Miami.
Miami did not have great depth at the position after Christian Williams transferred unexpectedly early in the season. The unavailability of Al Blades Jr. also put the Hurricanes in a tough spot down the stretch.
Miami had to rely too much on Te’Cory Couch and DJ Ivey because freshmen Marcus Clarke and Isaiah Dunson were not yet ready for major snaps.
This resulted in Miami’s defense being ranked No. 65 in the NCAA in passing yards allowed and several moments late in the season where Couch and Ivey struggled against quality wide receivers from North Carolina and Oklahoma State respectively.
After only signing converted wide receiver Malik Curtis in the high school recruiting class of 2021, Miami needed help entering the 2021 season at the position. That help came in the form of former Georgia cornerback Tyrique Stevenson.
With Stevenson, the No.3 ranked cornerback recruit in the class of 2019 according to 247Sports.com, leading the cornerback room into the 2021 season, Miami’s outlook seems much more positive.
Stevenson played a major role for Georgia’s defense in 2020 as he finished with 34 tackles and five passes broken up. He figures to be Miami’s top corner this season and draw the toughest opposing wide receiver in coverage.
Adding a No.1 corner like Stevenson to your room makes everything look better and will require every player in the room to work a little bit harder. Where exactly this leaves Blades Jr., Ivey, and Couch remains to be seen but all figure to see major snaps during the 2021 season.
Because of Couch’s smaller size (he is listed at 5-foot-10, 170 pounds on the official roster) he can struggle to cover bigger and more physical receivers on the outside. Stevenson’s presence and Blades Jr. coming back healthy will mean that Couch can work in the nickel corner position where he has been most successful during his Miami career.
That leaves Ivey and Blades Jr. competing for snaps at the other outside cornerback position. Both have had ups and downs as starters at Miami.
Blades Jr. was Miami’s top boundary cornerback in 2019 but is coming off a 2020 season where he missed the final four games because of complications from COVID-19. He was also limited this spring because of those complications but is expected to be healthy for fall camp.
Ivey had 36 tackles and a game-sealing interception against North Carolina State in his 2020 campaign. But too often during his Hurricane career he has been caught off guard or flat footed in situations and has allowed big plays.
While all three of Miami’s cornerbacks with freshman eligibility are expected to be active for the 2021 season, it is unlikely they see significant snaps because of the roles of the aforementioned four cornerbacks.
Both Dunson and Clarke joined the Hurricanes as members of the recruiting class of 2020. Each played sparingly during the 2020 season and will likely serve as the No.5 and No.6 cornerbacks this season in some order.
That’s because Curtis does not have the necessary experience to play significant snaps on defense this season. The Southwest Florida native spent most of high school career playing wide receiver and will need some time to learn from Robinson, Van Dyke, and his teammates before seeing meaningful game action at the cornerback position.
Additionally, 247Sports.com and other media outlets reported that freshman Jalen Harrell would be making the switch from safety to cornerback for spring practice. However, as of late July, Harrell was still listed as a safety on Miami’s official 2021 roster. We will likely learn early in fall camp what position group Harrell will be working with this season.
Robinson and Van Dyke’s recruiting prowess that we mentioned earlier? It is already starting to pay off in the class of 2022.
Miami holds a verbal commitment from Khamauri Rogers, a four-star cornerback from Mississippi. Rogers is the No. 64 ranked player in the country according to the 247sports.com composite rankings and is the highest ranked cornerback verbal commitment since Tracy Howard in 2012.
The Hurricanes also secured a verbal commitment from four-star athlete Chris Graves, who will play cornerback at Miami. Graves, a Southwest Florida native, verbally committed to Miami over Florida, LSU, and South Carolina on July 9. Graves is the No. 286 ranked player in the 247sports.com composite rankings.
#BREAKING: @BishopVerotFB 4⭐️ ATH Chris Graves (@D1Chris239) has committed to @CanesFootball.— Alex Martin (@NP_AlexMartin) July 9, 2021
Graves gives the Canes much needed momentum in the 2022 class, which was ranked 78th in the nation entering today. pic.twitter.com/S4l9EYdcSD
Miami’s third cornerback verbal commitment in the class of 2021 is Alabaster (Al.) - Thompson cornerback Trequon Fegans. Fegans committed to Miami on July 30 via Instagram. He also held offers from Alabama and South Carolina, among other schools.
The additions of Robinson and Stevenson and the move of Van Dyke to an on-field coaching position should help Miami’s cornerback room improve significantly in 2021 and beyond.
Cornerback recruiting has improved tenfold under Robinson and Van Dyke and Miami has four cornerbacks who can be relied on to help improve Miami’s defensive performance this season.
What the on-field cornerback play will look like during the 2022 season will largely be impacted by the potential returns of Stevenson, Couch, Ivey, and Blades Jr. All have eligibility for at least two more years at Miami but all are also eligible to declare for the NFL Draft after this season as well.