Barry Jackson

Diaz excited about UM’s defensive back additions

University of Miami Hurricanes defensive back Jaquan Johnson intercepts the ball against Florida State Seminoles wide receiver Travis Rudolph in the second quarter of an NCAA college football game at Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday October 8, 2016, in Miami Gardens.
University of Miami Hurricanes defensive back Jaquan Johnson intercepts the ball against Florida State Seminoles wide receiver Travis Rudolph in the second quarter of an NCAA college football game at Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday October 8, 2016, in Miami Gardens.

Part three of a three-part series on UM’s defense from the perspective of coordinator Manny Diaz

UM’s defense loses three key pieces from its secondary - Corn Elder, Rayshawn Jenkins and Jamal Carter.

But here’s the good news: Miami added two high-end experienced cornerbacks (Citadel transfer Dee Delaney and JC transfer Jhavonte Dean), plus four-star recruit Trajan Bandy and a freshman safety drawing raves (Amari Carter).

Coordinator Manny Diaz loves the potential of this group.

On Dean, Diaz said: “Where we’re at in the back end, we had to have guys who were ready to go. “We wanted age. We wanted a guy like Adrian Colbert last year who had… that sense of urgency [of] ‘I can’t just sit around and sleep in the back of meetings.’ That’s Dean. He’s been a Hurricane fan his whole life. He’s coming home.”

And Delaney?

“What we like about Dee is his experience. We scouted all of his games. We like the way he played when they faced higher competition, Florida State, South Carolina, North Carolina, he played well in those games. We are looking for what we looked for from Colbert a year ago – a guy with that senior year urgency. A guy that will attack every meeting, every practice, every game. Understand it’s his last rodeo. And really want to perform at a high level. Physically, he has length. He has played the position, which is an advantage over Colbert a year ago. Mike Rumph did a fantastic job of turning him into a corner in a short time. Dee has more comfort level and more familiarity playing that position. We expect him to compete for time right away.”

Young was very impressive in the spring. Can he be a special cornerback?

”The one thing he definitely can do is he can make a play,” Diaz said. “There is no doubt about that. He has the ball skills and that is something we didn’t do a great job of. That is one thing we have to improve on – create more turnovers. We have to intercept more passes than a year ago. What Malek needs is competition. When guys have success year one, they think they’ve got it figured it out. You need tough competition on the practice field to reach the next level.”

Who is ahead among returning corners beyond Malek?

“Coming out of spring, Michael Jackson did a nice job,” Diaz said. “He’s a guy that really transformed his body in the last year and a half, really gotten stronger and has become a much better tackler this spring. He did a very nice job with that. That will help his ability to play multiple roles. In terms of Ryan Mayes, it’s just staying consistent day in and day out because that position is too important not to be. You’ve got to be the same guy every day.”

Among Delaney, Young and Dean, who’s best equipped to play in the slot?

“We don’t know yet,” Diaz said. “We have to find out. Don’t forget about Trajan Bandy. He plays like a college player in the high school level. His sense of urgency, his toughness, his tackling is off the charts. We want a secondary that prides itself on toughness and Trajan is as tough as they come....

“We will first come in and go the first week of August camp and let everybody go and everybody compete and try to find our four best defensive backs. And then try to find our fifth and our sixth best guy. If our sixth guy is a safety, maybe he might play nickel for us. If our fifth guy is a corner, we’ll look at which corner works out best inside. There are a lot of things that go into that.

“Instincts, nose for the ball. You have to diagnose there quicker. There’s a little more physicality in there. Those three [Delaney, Dean, Bandy] are all first year on our team. Can they handle learning what we do on the outside at corner and also learn all the assignments our nickel/sam plays? We hope we have more than one option [at nickel]. There were some games last year we felt we could not play nickel because of our depth in the back end.”

I asked Diaz if he would be comfortable with a Jaquan Johnson/Sheldrick Redwine starting safety tandem if it works out that way.

“From what we saw in the spring, we felt like they did a really nice job,” he said. “They understand what we want and look for in the position. The unanswerable question is how do they step up. How does Jaquan enjoy going from, and I’ll use a baseball analogy, hitting sixth in the batting order to now you’re hitting fourth. Redwine the same thing, now you are the guy.

“There was always another guy before. For Redwine, it was Corn Elder. It was Rayshawn and [Jamal] for Jaquan. All of a sudden, you have guys looking at you in terms of setting the mood every day. Can you handle being the man when it’s your turn to be the man?”

Diaz said Redwine, who converted from cornerback, “did a nice job with the tackling [at safety]. Playing the field safety position which is where he will be a lot of times – back in the day, that strong safety was more of a fourth linebacker at times – now everyone predominantly runs three wide receivers at minimum and that safety is more of a third corner than a linebacker. The game has changed at that position. That’s part of what we liked with his potential moving there is we knew he had some one-on-one cover skills with what he’s done at corner. And with his size, we felt he could easily transition to being the safety over there.”

Is Carter ready for significant playing time?

“From what he was showing in the spring, we don’t have a choice,” Diaz said. “[Safeties coach] Ephraim Banda’s favorite word is urgency. He plays with a lot of urgency. He’s very intelligent. He picks things up very quickly. He’s very tough and physical. It’s foolish to think we can go into the season playing only two or three safeties.”

Don’t discount Robert Knowles, who also had some moments in the spring.

For part one of our series, with Diaz’s overall thoughts on his defense and his linebacker breakdown, please click here.

For part two of our series, with Diaz’s assessment of his defensive ends and tackles, please click here.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

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