The safety room, over the last year, has gone from solid to turbocharged in the last year. It then went from turbocharged, to really, really good a couple of weeks ago. Finally, it is, again, back to full strength.
After his dismissal, detailed by our Cameron J. Underwood, and his reinstatement, detailed by Susan Miller Degnan, Avantae Williams’ return has refortified the Hurricanes safety room as the best in the business.
A room that has possibly the most storied history in college football history, headlined by Ed Reed and Sean Taylor, is, talent wise, starting to make good on that legacy.
A year ago, it was simply a very good group, headlined by former USC Trojan, Bubba Bolden, the uber athletic Gurvan Hall and the enigmatic Amari Carter. A year of recovery, however, for Avantae Williams gave the room a major bullet to add to the rotation. The amazing recruitment year of 2021, with the commitments of James Williams and Kam Kinchens, put this room over the top. Not since 2003 has this room been this talented. The 2003 safety room featured Sean Taylor, Brandon Merriweather, freshman DB (at the time) Jon Beason, and swing DB Antrell Rolle.
Eighteen years later, and the Hurricanes safety room, from top to bottom, has the best chance to honor that and prior safety classes.
Talent is only that, without proper direction, motivation and leadership. The 2003 class mentioned above looked to Mark Stoops and Randy Shannon for their grooming. This group has a similarly talented duo in Travaris Robinson and Demarcus Van Dyke. The duo has made waves since being announced as the primary DB coaches in January, changing the way the group competes, trains, and expects greatness. While both have NFL experience, Van Dyke is the one who can showcase and return the most value to players with his experience as a four-year starter at Miami and a 7-year career in the NFL. It is Robinson, however, who spent the most time as a coach, making a strong name for himself since his Grad Assistant days in 2006. The elite mentor and recruiter is the type of coach a school like Miami can trust to create a winning mentality and a list of first rounders, as we would expect. Shout out to these coaches for being tasked with molding the immense talent in this room.
The term “Safety” is a funny word to describe this position at the University of Miami. The origin of the position was to provide “safety” or a second line of defense for plays that got past the front 7. At Miami, for opposing offenses, crossing paths with this group is ANYTHING but safe. That designation is reinforced by its elder group in the form of Bubba Bolden, Gurvan Hall and Amari Carter, who is now moonlighting at striker.
The Star from Vegas
Bubba Bolden’s game is one that mimics the offerings of his home town Las, Vegas. The 6-3, 204 lb. safety is big, exciting and flashy, in the best way. The Third-year starter has a strong knack for making plays, from timely interceptions to heavy hits from centerfield. The length of the safety allows him to cover ground fast as well as compete well for balls against shorter receivers and tight ends. While the physical traits and athleticism stand out, it is his leadership that stands out even more so.
Over the past two years, the defense has been seeking renewed leadership on a defense in need of more of it. Bolden on multiple occasions, has shown strong passion to capture that role. In possibly his final bow at Miami, it is the consistency he seeks that will seal his role as a complete leader. While the passion, big hits and flash have put him in the conversation of leader and early draft pick, consistency in communication and reacting to what he sees on the field will be what the Hurricanes need to jump higher on defense and Bolden higher in the draft. The addition of Robinson as DB coach is one that has paid dividends here, as reports of improved DB communication have traveled throughout the offseason. Expect a BIG season from Bubba Bolden.
From Talent to Production
It has been quoted on several occasions that a favorite of coach Robinson is Gurvan Hall. As our fans and previous coaches have found already, it was always very easy to fall in love with Gurvan Hall the athlete. Good size, excellent athleticism and TONS of pop behind every hit. He was fearless in wanting to don the 2-6 at Miami, to honor the late Sean Taylor. Superlative after superlative followed him prior to stepping foot on campus. 3 years later, we are waiting to see all the parts come together to become a complete player. While Hall has by no means been unplayable at the University of Miami, the expectations for him have yet to be met. Whether that has to do with coaching should be fixed this year. IF that doesn’t do it, it may be a sign to start grooming the young guns more and more in game to begin transitioning to the future. Hall works best at the line, so much so that it's been mentioned this offseason he would be a much better linebacker. It’s what happens moving backwards and in collaboration with his teammates where we need to see growth. If that doesn’t come soon then it may be time to try a new path forward at the spot.
Another leader in the secondary, the fifth-year player, Amari Carter, is almost a teacher of Diaz’ defense due to his longevity and versatility on the field. That versatility is on display this year with Carter seeing heavier time with Coach Ish Aristide and the strikers. Carter is showing that the dual usage is benefiting his hard hitting, sometimes to a fault, play style. Its apparent that the heavy hitting style is one Carter favors works best closer to the line of scrimmage. From the deeper safety position, that can get you in trouble early and often. Similar to Hall, the physical play should show up in the push forward into the front seven.
The Young Guns
In athletics, it seems we are always on the hunt for who’s next. Whether it's the fanatic desire for the new and the shiny, or the practical seeking to minimize the bridge from talent to talent, the “NEXT” is always in sight.
When opposing offenses get a glimpse of what’s next, they’ll quickly begin wishing for a new and different group of safeties.
James Williams, Kam Kinchens and the recently reinstated Avantae Williams may not have a match for talent or versatility among any first-year group in the country (Avantae essentially missing year one with injury lumps him here). The group features incredible physical and mental attributes not frequently seen in combination or at this level of depth on one roster.
The Big One
James Williams is the biggest physically and carries the most hype of the three. The 6’5 225 lb. weapon is one that Miami hasn’t seen in a very long time. In terms of sheer size, playmaking ability, physicality and football acumen, Williams is a thoroughbred, worthy of the hype and expectations.
The scariest thing is no one truly knows his ceiling let alone his final position. He could be like Jon Beason who came down the block to find a home at LB. He could be like Rousseau who came all the way down to become a DE/DT swing with massive potential. He could ultimately be Miami’s answer to the University of Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons. Regardless, two things hold true, be thankful he is a Hurricane, and even more thankful his Coach is Travaris Robinson.
The Wild One
Avantae Williams carries some of the flexibility of James due to his ability to play close to the line and in a phone booth, kind of like a riskier JaQuan Johnson. The ability to play at multiple levels and act as a catalyst are tantalizing. Timeliness in the plays made and trustworthiness because of his high floor are traits you’d love to have at any position.
As mentioned though, and seen by the more cavalier style in the spring game, Avantae may fall pray sometimes to seeking the big play before seeking the right play. That decision making will come with time. The mental growth that we hope comes for Avantae is not only player changing but life changing in many ways for the team and the player. If he can get reach that potential, there is no telling how high his talent can take him.
The Best One?
The best safety in the country for 2020. James Williams? Nope, Kam Kinchens, according to the legendary Larry Bluestein. The storied scout said this about Kam Kinchens to our Mike McCoy, despite the presence of James Williams’ unicorn qualities in the same recruiting class. Kinchens clocks in at 5’11 and 200 lbs, a good 6 inches and 25 pounds smaller than James Williams.
Despite the disparity, Kinchens has been putting on full display, why he is deserving of that title this offseason. Kinchens leads the TEAM in interceptions for the Fall Camp and is close to the top for tackles. With the accolades and camp hype, the best return has been the coaches excitement for his mental aptitude. While we have used JaQuan Johnson’s name here already, Kam Kinchens may as well be his clone.
During the absence of Avantae Williams over the last year, and also the last couple of weeks, it has been Brian Balom who, as a freshman received solid snaps in game and rose to the occasion in practice. The large-framed sophomore has shown a great understanding for the game of football and the defensive scheme, making him easy to deploy and easier to teach, creating a player who provides great depth even behind those mentioned above. Currently nursing an undisclosed injury, Balom should be a player to watch going forward as a primary back up to the young guns in the future, and a valuable piece in the defensive back room.
When a 6’3, 215-pound safety that has been called a more athletic Robert Knowles is your final depth player on the roster at safety, you have come a LONG, LONG way as a room. The lanky safety prospect has overcome pre-college injuries to add nearly 40 lbs. of muscle and looks to have his step back prior to shoulder injuries in high school. The sophomore safety should surprise some with his length and ability to cover the field quickly, but will be hard pressed to break through the group ahead of him.
The safety room may be the safest bet for the most talented section on the defense. Though the veterans may soon be on the way out, the room will remain in excellent hands. For now, we look to these gentlemen to make play after play during the 2021 campaign, and become the backbone of Manny Diaz’ Comfortable Chaos.