UM cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph won’t have ball-hawking corner Malek Young, whose career ended because of a neck injury, and won’t have the two five-star cornerbacks he badly wanted from the school he once coached: Plantation American Heritage’s Pat Surtain Jr. and Tyson Campbell, who bypassed UM to sign with Alabama and Georgia, respectively.
But there is no woe-is-me in Rumph’s tone.
Despite alarming limited veteran depth — just three corners return from last season’s roster — Rumph is bullish on his group, including freshmen Al Blades Jr., Gilbert Frierson, D.J. Ivey and Nigel Bethel.
Rumph addressed a bunch of issues in a conversation with The Miami Herald last week:
▪ Rumph said “it’s a challenge” having only three corners with experience: Trajan Bandy, Michael Jackson and Jhavonte Dean. He’s pleased Jackson didn’t turn pro and see’s another level for him.
“Michael can be one of the top corners in the ACC,” Rumph said. “Really fast. The beauty of Michael Jackson is he’s played safety in some roles, he’s played nickel, he’s played dime, he’s played corner. He’s a kid who has all that mental capacity where he knows what everyone is doing on the field, so he can play cornerback that much better.”
▪ Dean wasn’t a big factor last season after entering as the nation’s top junior college cornerback. But Rumph said Dean has the skill set to be a high-level ACC starting corner.
“Jhavonte had a role to play last year,” Rumph said. “And sometimes he stepped up to that level to play that role and sometimes he did not. We want the best 11 kids out there to do things the right way.
“He has put on a little bit more weight. He’s gotten a little bit more healthy from some injuries he had when he got here.
Now I’m looking for him to take off. He’s comfortable within the defense. I think he’s going to take off now. He can run. He’s long.
“He thrives in man to man coverage. He’s very coachable. He’s that locker room guy that all the kids really like. Whenever somebody has success, he’s happiest for that success. You can’t ask for a better kid. The rest is up to me to push him and get where he needs to be.”
▪ He said Bandy “loves to play inside. I have to remind him he’s an outside corner who happens to be able to play inside. His learning ability is off the charts. You tell him once and he has it, similar to how Corn Elder was. And that’s why I think he can play both positions [slot and boundary]. He’s athletic and a fearless competitor. That’s what makes him have a lot of the dominance he has when he steps on the field.”
▪ I asked him what he most likes about each of his four freshmen corners.
Blades: “Leadership ability, tackling ability and his upside as far as playing corner.”
Frierson: Versatility. “He’s done a tremendous amount of safety, a good amount of corner and he’s a vocal leader. He’s a consistent communicator, which is a big part of our offense. And his length.”
Ivey: “He has a tremendous chip on his shoulder, kind of reminds me of old No. 8 [Rumph] that used to play here back in 2001. Has a great amount of interceptions. Returns the ball. All my boys are punt returners, so once they intercept it, they have the ability to return it.”
Bethel: “Bethel can fly. He’s probably one of the fastest guys on the team coming in. He’s a Dade kid that has that chip. What I like about Nigel is he knew the situation recruiting all the corners we were [recruiting]. And he didn’t flinch. He said he wants to come in and compete. And that’s the old school mentality we’re looking for.”
▪ He said Gurvan Hall will begin his UM career at safety, though some believe he has corner skills.
“He’s studying, walking around with his I-pad and trying to fulfill his role,” Rumph said.
▪ Any thought to move DeeJay Dallas from running back to cornerback or safety Sheldrick Redwine back to cornerback?
“No,” Rumph said. “What we have right now we’re excited about. I love DeeJay. He asks me all the time, ‘Could I come
back over?’ Sheldrick has done it. But I love the role he plays at safety because he can cover and communicate and tackle like he does at safety.”
▪ He said the only player on the team “that might have a chance” to play both offense and defense is Bethel.
“He’s a tremendous athlete who I think could be an asset on both sides of the ball. He has done it at the highest level of high schools. He’s a deadly returner and came over and guarded the best guys man to man when he needed to. He’s a triple threat type of kid.”
▪ He said Young will remain involved with the program, attending practice as much as he wants.
“Malek will be around,” Rumph said. “I was there when the doctor told him he couldn’t play anymore. He didn’t shed a tear. His dad didn’t shed a tear. He said he’s going to be all right. Once he sees guys hit that field, it might hit a nerve. He took it like a man. He took it way better than I probably would have taken it.
“I will be with him every step of the way in life and as a man. That’s how we are here. He’s always going to be a Cane forever. I really think his life is going to go even further as a man than it would as a football player. He’s more than a football player. He’s going to get his degree. And hope to get his Masters and become the next clothing designer of America. He has his own clothing design, Humble Child. He will be around as much as he wants to.”
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