UM football

Miami Hurricanes enjoy surplus of talented cornerbacks

 

UM defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio has an enviable problem: too many talented cornerbacks and not enough starting spots.

sdegnan@MiamiHerald.com

Hurricanes cornerback Cornelius “Corn’’ Elder no doubt got his share of high-fives and spirited affirmations during a team session Wednesday that linebacker Denzel Perryman likened to a review of Elder’s “highlight film in the defensive meeting room.’’

“He was breaking up passes and catching interceptions left and right,’’ said Perryman of the sophomore. “He did really well.’’

On Thursday, it was cornerback Antonio Crawford stealing the attention.

“Antonio got two interceptions and he [had] his best morning,’’ UM coach Al Golden said after practice.

And sophomore Artie Burns, a 6-0, 196-pound track star who has found his groove on the football field, shared the limelight with Elder during Monday’s scrimmage. Both are wearing the first-team black jerseys this week.

“Artie had a really strong performance,’’ said Miami defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio. “He competed like crazy and made a lot of plays.

“Corn — excellent, was a playmaker in the scrimmage. Made a lot of plays, technique was good, played really hard.’’

On a defense that has seen its share of criticism, and understandably so, in the past few years, D’Onofrio has a good problem as the Hurricanes approach their Sept. 1 opener at Louisville: too many talented cornerbacks and not enough starting spots.

D’Onofrio said the cornerback position is the toughest call now in whittling down the lineup to two starters and a rotation that works best. The five top corners include 5-11, 188-pound junior Tracy Howard, a studious, gifted player who mentors the youngsters; and 6-2, 192-pound senior Ladarius Gunter, a hard hitter who is opposite Howard as a starter on the first depth chart that was released a week ago Thursday.

“There wasn’t a lot of separation in camp in those five guys — Burns, Elder, Howard, Gunter, Antonio,’’ D’Onofrio said. “A couple guys maybe created a little separation based on this last scrimmage. But that’s been an ongoing battle. That’s probably the No. 1 position where we have the most competition.’’

Howard, who came to UM from Miramar High as the nation’s No. 1 high school cornerback, was asked if it was frustrating or uplifting that it’s so hard to choose starters.

“That’s a great thing,’’ Howard said. “That kind of makes me smile. It shows how we push each other day in and day out. Like I said before, we compete as brothers — we don’t compete as enemies. We’re happy for each other. When one of us makes a play, we feel like we’ve all made a play.

“That young guy, Corn, he’s a stud and a very good player to be around. Great person off the field, too. He listens. He accepts coaching from the older guys. That’s no surprise. We knew he could play. It was just a matter of time.’’

Elder, who had surgery after tearing the meniscus of his right knee on Nov. 22 against Virginia, raved about Howard’s football intelligence and about Burns’ tackling and coverage skills.

“Artie is a big corner, so it’s hard to get around him,’’ Elder said, “and Tracy has a really high football IQ. It’s a wide open competition. It’s a tight competition.’’

They’ll need all the help they can get against a wide receivers corps that includes senior DeVante Parker, who caught a season-high 55 passes for 885 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2013, including a 26-yard touchdown against the Canes in the Russell Athletic Bowl.

Elder, who chose UM over Ohio State, Georgia Tech, Auburn and UCLA, isn’t fazed.

“We rotate a lot and it doesn’t really matter who starts against Louisville, because we’re all going to make plays,’’ he said. “You can’t go wrong with any of our corners.’’

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