Barry Jackson

UM concerned about safety, preparing for change in defensive backfield

Chatter on UM’s revamped defensive backfield in the wake of National Signing Day and roster shuffling:

• Asked if he’s concerned about safety after losing reliable seniors Rayshawn Jenkins and Jamal Carter, defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said: “Oh, there’s no doubt. As much as everybody talks about the young linebackers, it is much harder to play safety when you’re young than linebacker. The linebackers made hundreds of mistakes over the course of the year and then all of a sudden, Jamal Carter and Rayshawn Jenkins would fix it. It might be a first down but it’s not a touchdown.

“If the safeties makes mistakes, it’s a touchdown. We didn’t have very many of those last year. It’s a great challenge. It’s great to at least have a guy like Jaquan Johnson, who has the respect of the locker-room and has put it on tape that he’s a very good player in our conference, but that will be a battle.”

Beyond Johnson, there’s nobody with much experience at safety among Romeo Finley (the most impressive of last year’s freshmen safeties), Robert Knowles, Jeff James and incoming Amari Carter and Derrick Smith.

Not only is UM searching for a grad transfer at safety, but Diaz said every cornerback on the roster – except Malek Young – may get a full week at safety during spring ball.

“All of a sudden, you might stumble on something and say this guy looks like a natural there,” Diaz said.

Safety coach Ephraim Banda said Johnson “is dying to lead. Even toward the end of Jamal Carter and Rayshawn Jenkins’ senior year, you saw the maturity. You saw him wanting to grab the reins. The boys actually kind of let him a little bit, too, and he took off. He’s doing it in the weight room and the class room. Every report from [strength] coach Gus [Felder] is ‘the kid’s a savage, the kid’s a dog, the kid just works, he’s leading.’ … I’m on a mission to find the next Jaquan Johnson.”

But Banda but isn’t sure who will emerge next to Johnson: “Amari’s maturity level for his age is remarkable. Romeo was a solid special teams player. He proved to us he’ll do anything it takes. He has no issues off the field. He’s all-in. I’m expecting big things from Romeo.

“Robert Knowles, same thing. Started on a bunch of specials. It’s going to be a battle. I told all those kids when we walked out of the bowl game. When we get back in this room and start mat drills, it is an absolute 100 percent brawl. The two or three kids that come out of it, we’re going to play. We don’t care if it’s a freshman or not.”

As for cornerback, I put make Young, Jhavonte Dean and Sheldrick Redwine the front-runners for the top three, but cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph cautions not to overlook returnees Michael Jackson, Ryan Mayes and Terrence Henley.

• One reason UM isn’t concerned about cornerback, despite the loss of Corn Elder and Adrian Colbert, is the belief that newcomers Dean and Trajan Bandy can help immediately.

“We had to have guys that could come in and play; we were not in a situation where we could take a developmental guy in the

secondary,” Diaz said.

“We wanted a guy like Colbert last year who had a little more of that, I only know I have a year or two left. I have that sense of urgency. I can’t just sit around and sleep in the back of meetings. That’s Dean [a junior college transfer].

“Bandy plays like a college player in the high school level. His sense of urgency, his toughness, his tackling is off the charts. He’s a guy you don’t see there being a big transition getting into the college game because he plays full speed.”

Please see my archives for in-depth stories on UM’s situation at running back, receiver and defensive line, all posted within the last 48 hours.