UM coach Manny Diaz comments on spring game
The Miami Hurricanes, for the past few years, have gone as far as their defense would take them, letting it erase the mistakes of a usually underwhelming offense. The offense, like usual, has plenty of question marks heading into 2019, but now the defense does, too, with three starting defensive linemen and three starting defensive backs all departing.
Although the defense actually lost to the offense 35-32 in Miami’s spring game Saturday in Orlando, the Hurricanes feel they have the pieces to replace what they lost from last season.
“Our [No.] 1 defense,” coach Manny Diaz said, “played like our 1 defense should.”
The biggest gap to fill is in the secondary, where Miami will be missing three starting defensive backs from 2018 with Jaquan Johnson, Sheldrick Redwine and Michael Jackson all headed to the NFL. Trajan Bandy is entrenched as one starting cornerback and fellow defensive back Amari Carter should start at one safety spot — he started two games in 2018 when Johnson was injured — but the other two have been up for grabs throughout the spring.
The spot opposite Bandy is most uncertain. Sophomores Al Blades Jr. and DJ Ivey are trying to prove they’re ready to start in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and the only reinforcements on the way are Under Armour All-American cornerbacks Christian Williams and Te’Cory Couch. Right now, Blake Baker doesn’t think a transfer is necessary.
“I think we’re pretty good where we’re at,” the defensive coordinator said. “Obviously, if the right guy were to pop up, who knows, but the way DJ Ivey’s played — the last half of spring ball, he’s done some really good things. Al Blades had a really good day today — very physical at the point of contact.”
The final starter in the secondary at Camping World Stadium was Gurvan Hall, who came to Miami as part of the vaunted 2018 recruiting class with Blades and Ivey. Hall, Carter and defensive back Robert Knowles all rotated in at safety, and Hall’s athletic ability gives him the potential to play either safety spot.
“He’s got an unbelievable skill set — athletic ability is as good as anyone at that position and really mentally into it,” Baker said. “Got to clean up some technique things — he’s able to get by with his athleticism, and when you’re a young player and you can run the way you can run that happens, but once he cleans up his technique, he could be one of the best safeties I’ve ever been around.”
There’s an X-factor still not yet in Coral Gables, though: Bubba Bolden, formerly of the Southern California Trojans, will enroll in the coming months and compete for a starting job. Keontra Smith, a four-star safety in the 247Sports.com composite rankings, could also contribute at strong safety.
The Hurricanes are also replacing three starters on the defensive line — including both defensive tackles — but there are more established depth pieces up front than in the secondary.
On Saturday, Miami started Nesta Jade Silvera and Pat Bethel inside with fellow defensive lineman Jonathan Ford, another contender to start, out with a wrist injury. Silvera and Bethel both recorded tackles for loss, and redshirt freshman Jordan Miller even logged two sacks. Baker also noted the group will get a boost in the fall once Chigozie Nnoruka enrolls as a graduate transfer from the UCLA Bruins and Jason Blissett headlines a group of three incoming freshman defensive tackles.
“If anybody had any question marks about the D-linemen,” linebacker Michael Pinckney said, “I feel like they answered that.”
The Hurricanes are trying to replace another NFL talent in Joe Jackson at one defensive end spot. Fortunately for Miami, Jonathan Garvin is another future professional locking down one side of the line and there’s plenty of experience on the two-deep depth chart. Scott Patchan played quite a bit in 2018 and started Saturday, and Gregory Rousseau started 2018 on the two-deep before an ankle injury cut short his freshman season.
As steady as Patchan is, Rousseau and fellow freshman Jahfari Harvey were the two biggest revelations of the spring. Both defensive linemen racked up a pair of sacks in the spring game.
“Considering he should be going to prom,” Baker said of Harvey, “he’s had an outstanding spring. He really has played well. He’s matured beyond his years. He understands the defense. He did a great job on defense today that he’s probably run four times in his career, ends up with a sack just doing the right things, so he’s obviously engaged in meetings and paying attention even when he’s not getting the reps.”
This is another group likely to get a boost by the fall when Trevon Hill enrolls as a graduate transfer from the Virginia Tech Hokies.