University of Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz gave us a glimpse of some of his starters for the Sept. 2 opener against Bethune-Cookman — with special teams coordinator Todd Hartley adding plenty of insight on Friday.
▪ At safety, Diaz said “there’s a continuation from the spring. I think there’s a gap. I think Rob Knowles has really come on and with him and [Sheldrick] Redwine and Jaquan [Johnson]. They’ve jumped their noses out in front. Romeo Finley continues to impress, and Amari Carter. So, I think those two are a little behind the first three but I would suspect that all five will play a big role next Saturday.’’
▪ At cornerback, Dee Delaney “is doing very well. Dee had really solidified his spot as one of our corners. The next spot is Michael Jackson. He has had the best camp of anybody besides Delaney, so he’ll be out there for the first play of the Bethune-Cookman game. We track everything they do in terms of assignments and plays surrendered and plays given up and Mike’s a guy that’s really improved over the past 12 months. And a guy like Malek [Young], with Trajan [Bandy] and [Jhavonte] Dean. It’s a lot like safety. Whoever is in the first play doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re not all coming. This is simply having a competition and rewarding consistency.’’
▪ At defensive end, Diaz was asked about his prospective rotation: “Right now we intend to play all of them. The amount of snaps, things like that, might depend on situations throughout the course of the game. But right now it’s let the doors out and let them go.’’
▪ At linebacker, Diaz said he is starting the opener with Shaq Quarterman, Zach McCloud and Mike Smith. Smith would play weak-side, as usual weak-side starter Michael Pinckney, who missed much of fall camp with hamstring issues, is suspended for the first half of the opener because he was called for targeting in the Russell Athletic Bowl. “Mike, like a guy like Rob Knowles, has done an outstanding job and basically won the battle of competition to fill the spot that Pinckney left open by his [targeting] suspension. If Pinckney was available, I’m really not sure what the first three would be.’’ Diaz said Darrion Owens, Bradley Jennings, C.J. Perry and DeAndre Wilder will all play — Owens a lot.
▪ Defensive tackle Jon Ford, a true freshman who arrived late to camp after resolving academic issues, is doing “very well,’’ Diaz said. “I think everybody is just getting neck pain from turning to look at him the first day when he walked on.’’ Diaz also said he has a great attitude.
▪ Travis Homer, Malek Young, Mike Harley, Jeff Thomas , Braxton Berrios, and DeeJay Dallas are in the kickoff return rotation, but not in that order necessarily — “Actually we have a two-returner system back there so it’s not just one kick returner,’’ Hartley said. “There are actually six guys who could still rotate in and out.”
▪ Berrios is expected to be the main punt returner, though Dallas will likely be back there, too. When asked about receiver Lawrence Cager returning punts, Hartley said to laughter: “Cager is a great punt catcher,OK? See where I’m going. He’s a great punt catcher. If you had to have the punt fielded, he does a great job catching the punt.’’
▪ The starting punting job has not been decided, according to Hartley. It’s neck-and-neck between Zach Feagles and Jack Spicer. That will be decided soon.
▪ Michael Irvin, who came into camp out of shape, according to players and coaches, has leaped forward recently and is now one of the No. 2 tight end behind senior starter Chris Herndon, Hartley said.