Ten things we’re hearing on UM’s defense heading into Saturday’s opener against Bethune Cookman at Hard Rock Stadium (12:30 p.m., Fox Sports Florida):
• Beyond Michael Jackson’s good size (6-1) and more than adequate speed, other factors behind his surprising seizing of a starting job include the fact that he’s very coachable, wants to do everything right, is tight in coverage and is a good blitzer.
But Manny Diaz added a twist today: Jackson will start opposite Dee Delaney when UM is in base defense. But when UM plays nickel (with three corners), Delaney, Malek Young and freshman Trajan Bandy (on the slot receiver) will be the corners, with Jackson on the bench. UM prefers Jackson over Young on more traditional running downs.
“On our nickel Bandy starts at nickel and Malek starts back on the outside; we have a way to utilize a lot of guys,” Diaz said.
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Diaz said of Jackson: “Last spring we started seeing a different guy - a very good tackler.”
• We’re told Jhavonte Dean, who is an either/or No. 2 with Young behind Delaney, could use a big play to boost his confidence. That UM person believes Bandy is going to be a star in time; he has great size, speed and instincts.
• Freshmen defensive ends Jon Garvin and DJ Johnson are going to get playing time, despite UM being super deep at the position, and both have flashed the talent of potential high-round NFL draft picks, one UM official said.
Garvin has had difficulty stopping the run but will sack and strip the quarterback. His pass rush skills are exemplary.
Johnson, at 6-5 and 240 pounds, is an athletic freak, with speed unusual for a player of that size. The question is whether he will outgrow his position and eventually become a tackle; UM prefers to keep him at end. Already, he shows an ability to overpower linemen, be disruptive and deflect passes.
• Joe Jackson, Demetrius Jackson and Trent Harris have had solid camps. UM expects Demetrius Jackson and Harris to always do the right thing with their assignments.
But Joe Jackson won the starting end job opposite Chad Thomas not only because of his high-end pass rush skills (7.5 sacks as a freshman) but also because he has improved against the run.
Thomas has had a good camp, showing self-awareness (he knows his career hasn’t been as good as it should have been to this point) and displaying more consistency and more sustained effort.
• One UM official said Anthony Moten appears to be Miami’s third best d-tackle behind starters Kendrick Norton and Richard McIntosh Jr., but Pat Bethel has been solid and correctly carrying out his assignments.
• The UM official said watch out for freshman Jon Ford, who qualified late but is big and physical and likely to challenge for meaningful playoff time soon. Diaz was non-committal about whether he would play Saturday.
• At linebacker, Mike Smith has seized on Mike Pinckney’s hamstring issues in camp – and first-half ACC-mandated suspension for the opener – to win a starting job on Saturday, and UM people describe his play not only as improved, but more decisive, intense and forceful. He now grasps the playbooks and finally understands his role.
“We knew Mike was a physical guy - just trust your instincts and go out there and make a play,” Diaz said. “As a a staff we’re proud (of him).”
• That UM person said as good as Shaquille Quarterman is, Zach McCloud could end up being the best of UM’s three ballyhooed sophomore linebackers and seems to have the most upside because of his combination of range, size and speed.
• Freshmen linebackers De’Andre Wilder and Bradley Jennings Jr. have impressed, to the point that they’ve pulled even with veterans Charles Perry and Darrion Owens for backup jobs. Wilder’s speed has raised eyebrows.
• At safety, Sheldrick Redwine – who will start opposite Jaquan Johnson – has displayed he can tackle, which is very, very high on Manny Diaz’s list of priorities.
But Redwine has limitations, and Robert Knowles could push him at some point this season. Knowles plays with physicality and a reckless approach at times (in a good way).
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