Barry Jackson

UM planning for big 2018 role for highly-recruited defensive player; Canes personnel nuggets

University of Miami Hurricanes linebacker Gerald Willis ,91, and teammate defensive linemen Joe Jackson , 99, sacks Florida State Seminoles quarterbacks Sean Maguire in the secopnd quarter of an NCAA college football game at Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday October 8, 2016, in Miami Gardens.
University of Miami Hurricanes linebacker Gerald Willis ,91, and teammate defensive linemen Joe Jackson , 99, sacks Florida State Seminoles quarterbacks Sean Maguire in the secopnd quarter of an NCAA college football game at Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday October 8, 2016, in Miami Gardens. dsantiago@elnuevoherald.com

A 10-pack of Wednesday UM notes:

• UM coach Mark Richt said Wednesday that not only will defensive tackle Gerald Willis be back playing next season, but he’s going to “play a bunch.”

Willis is taking a leave of absence this season but he’s practicing on the scout team. He’s simply not playing in games.

Willis was a four-star recruit out of New Orleans, rated the nation’s 83rd best player in the 2014 class by Rivals, when he signed with Florida. But he transferred to UM after one year.

I tried to clarify this on Wednesday: Is Willis not playing because he did something wrong?

“What I want to clarify is just what we know,” Richt answered. “We know he’s not playing this year. He’s working with the team, he’s healthy and he’s going to have a great senior year.”

UM says Willis has one season of eligibility left (2018).

• Who is UM’s most improved player on offense?

Malik Rosier said “definitely” running back Travis Homer.

“If you watch that guy run, he runs hard,” Rosier said. “There was one play where I threw the touchdown to Jeff [Thomas], but without Travis - he picked up the first guy, picked up the second blitzing backer. He gave me enough time to throw the ball to get a touchdown.”

• Rosier, on if he has played with anyone here with the speed of Thomas:

“The only player I can compare him to maybe is Phillip Dorsett. Phillip is the same way, one of those guys you feel like you overthrow him and he actually outruns the ball....

“[Thomas] is on a different speed than most receivers we have. The first couple games, he was down, didn’t get much playing time. I told him after the FSU game, ‘Yo, listen I need you to step up and need you to play for your role. We’re going to get the ball in your hands.’ Talked to coach Richt and coach Richt has done a better job of getting him in the game, so he’s going to make a lot of plays for us.”

• Richt said Rosier has exceeded his expectations: “What he’s doing now is pretty darn good.”

• Among players whose snaps have increased on defense, according to defensive coordinator Manny Diaz: safeties Derrick Smith and Amari Carter, cornerback Trajan Bandy and cornerback Jhavonte Dean.

“Derrick played more and did a nice job,” Diaz said. “Amari looked good when he was in the game last week and wasn’t out of place out there and played physical. Jhavonte Dean is starting to get it, like we said he would. Told you the last six games of the year he would be a different guy. Made some nice plays in practice.”

• Most expected Dean to come in and play because he was rated the nation’s top junior college cornerback. But that didn’t happen immediately, and cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph said Wednesday: “The No. 1 thing is he didn’t get to go through spring with us and he went straight to fall camp and it took him a little time to transition to the defense. A guy like Adrian Colbert that came here from safety and never played corner is easier for me to teach him because he hasn’t learned anything.

“Dean had been taught something different, so I had to get him to forget that and work into what we’re doing here. That was the transition process for him. But he’s a diamond. He’s 6-2, tremendously long arms like myself. Probably the second or third fastest on the team behind Ahmmon Richards. I can’t wait for him to be who he can be, and he’s been that guy last week where he got 20 something snaps.”

• UM coaches can’t stop raving about Jaquan Johnson.

“He has been unbelievable the last three games - a guy who absolutely doesn’t get the credit he deserves,” Diaz said. “The No. 1 thing a safety has to be is the eraser. Anytime we create a problem, he’s got to bring his big jar of whiteout and erase it. That’s what he has done up to this point. His tackling the last three weeks has been phenomenal.”

• One concern: UM is allowing 180.6 rushing yards per game, which ranks 86th of 130 schools. Last year, UM permitted 134 per game, which was 31st.

According to Diaz, there have been several factors - not being in the correct gap, defensive linemen losing individual battles or linebackers being out of position. Sometimes, UM might focus more on not being beaten by the pass. And Georgia Tech’s run-heavy numbers could skew any team’s stats.

“What I have to do is manuever the stress of the defense,” Diaz said. “If I want to put help on this side of the defense, somebody is going to be stress on the other side. We still don’t like seeing the runs spit out there like we did.”

• Richt said he believes the fact that UM is playing a lot of freshmen will have a positive impact on recruits. “Not every guy leaves early when he’s draft eligible but a lot of guys do,” he said, suggesting it’s important for some recruits to play right away as they move toward potential NFL careers.

• Did Braxton Berrios talk to the coaches about expanding his offensive role this past offseason?

“As a staff, when we were installing in the summer and the spring, it was not even mentioned but assumed,” he said. “They knew I was ready for it. They knew I was waiting for this.”

• If you missed it, here’s my look at 10 smart personnel decisions that UM coaches have made this season.

Our Susan Miller Degnan will have a story later on the team’s young corners.

Here’s my six-pack of Dolphins notes on Wednesday, including some injury news.

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