UM cornerback Al Blades Jr. describes what it’s like to be named a freshman captain
As the Miami Hurricanes have spent the spring trying to find answers to question after question on offense, the defense has been fortunate to know, for the most part, what it will look like this coming season. The starting linebackers are entrenched. There is enough depth on the defensive line ready to fill three starting vacancies by committee.
One of the few remaining questions as spring practice heads into its final days is at cornerback, where Al Blades Jr. and DJ Ivey have spent the past month vying for one of Miami’s two starting jobs.
“They had their ups and downs, which is typical of spring, but I saw some progress,” cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph said. “You always want to see when you coach them hard how they react and how they are the first week versus this last week right here.”
As spring practices come to an end Saturday with the spring game in Orlando, the competition between Blades and Ivey remains up for grabs as the Hurricanes try to figure out who will start opposite defensive back Trajan Bandy when they open the season in August.
Blades and Ivey have their apparent skills. Blades is already renowned for his leadership and his raw athleticism gives him massive upside, while Ivey knows how to use his length effectively and pulled in an interception in the open scrimmage Saturday in Miami. The winner of the job will likely be whomever can fill the gaps in their games before the 2019 season begins against the Florida Gators in Orlando.
Blades arrived in Coral Gables last year as the most highly touted defensive back in a top-10 recruiting class for the Hurricanes. A top-100 overall prospect in the 247Sports.com composite rankings for the Class of 2018, Blades got on the field immediately as a freshman out of Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas because of his special teams ability. He already has the physical attributes — and physicality — Rumph looks for from his cornerbacks. Right now, Blades just lacks consistency.
“For him to be consistent, I think he should relax and play,” Rumph said. “He thinks a lot more than he should, and I’ve seen him progress to where he’s not thinking as much. He’s very comfortable, so one of the things I preached to them is being comfortable in an uncomfortable situation, and once you get to that point you can really let yourself play and let your athleticism speak for itself. So I think that’s the thing that we all can do a little bit better to make us more consistent is just relaxing in playing the game of football like we did when we were little kids.”
Ivey was a late bloomer at the high school level, earning the bump to four-star status after wrapping up his senior season at Homestead South Dade. As an early enrollee, Ivey also found the field quickly as a contributor in the secondary and part of Miami’s two-deep depth chart.
His biggest flaw is a hesitance to be physical, Rumph said, and his frame could let him turn physicality into a strength.
“DJ kind of reminds me of myself, if I’m being honest with you,” said Rumph, who was a two-time all-Big East selection for the Hurricanes. “I think he’s a big corner. He uses his length very well. Like I say, the part that I really thrived on physicality, and I think that he’s starting to get that. He’s starting to love the weight room with [strength and conditioning director David] Feeley. He understands how big he is and what I expect out of him, so I think that he can be an elite corner in the ACC if he puts his mind to it and has a consistent sophomore year.”
The competition has only tightened throughout spring. When practices began, Blades was the fixture opposite Bandy on the first-team defense, but the sophomores both worked with the starters Saturday at Traz Powell Stadium for the second scrimmage of the spring.
Miami likes to talk about how competition fuels success in South Florida. The competition between Blades and Ivey is exactly what the Hurricanes are looking for.
“He’s pushing Al Blades,” defensive coordinator Blake Baker said April 4. “Competition is going to make everybody better. Got to keep bringing him along and get him more confident in what he has to do. But he has a great skill set. His athletic ability is second to none. Just got to get him more confident in making the calls and making the adjustments and then being physical at the point of the attack.”