Barry Jackson

This University of Miami coach dishes on Hurricanes' cornerback battle and who's ahead

Miami Hurricanes Michael Jackson (28) catches a first quarter interception as they play Syracuse University at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, October 21, 2017.
Miami Hurricanes Michael Jackson (28) catches a first quarter interception as they play Syracuse University at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, October 21, 2017.

Part four of a five-part series on UM’s defense with the start of fall camp a month away:

Cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph has an interesting room, with only three returning players and four highly-regarded freshmen, in the wake of Dee Delaney’s graduation and Malek Young’s unfortunate career-ending neck injury.

Rumph shared insight on his seven scholarship players in a conversation this week:

Trajan Bandy enters August ahead of Jhavonte Dean in the battle for the starting cornerback job opposite Michael Jackson.

“Trajan has been the guy; finishing up the spring, it was Trajan,” Rumph said this week. “I definitely am going to push Dean to take it from him. When we go to nickel on third down, Trajan would move to nickel with Jhavonte and the freshmen competing for the other spot.”

Bandy had some very good moments playing inside last season as a freshman and has grown more comfortable playing on the boundary in recent months.

“Trajan last year felt he was only a nickel,” Rumph said. “I kept telling him he's a corner that can play nickel. He showed what he can do at corner. He does a great job playing any type of receiver. He did a pretty good job against Jeff Thomas and Mike Harley. His start and stop speed is ridiculous.”

As for Dean — who was considered the top junior college corner in the nation’s 2017 recruiting class — Rumph said in the spring that he was looking for one specific on-field skill to emerge. Something apparently has.

“One of his skills is man to man,” Rumph said, “where it’s, ‘I have this guy and I am going to take care of him.’ It's up to me to get him acclimated to playing some zone as well. His teammates like Jhavonte because of his personality. If he’s not on the field, he’s that kid who is celebrating big plays [by others]. It’s up to me to get him to where he has success on the field.

"This should be his breakout year. Maybe he can make a jump like Michael Jackson did [last year]. I told him, 'You don’t have much time left [as he enters his senior year].' I will push him as hard as I can. He does well in practice and preparing. He has to be comfortable playing the game.”

UM was worried Jackson might turn pro last December. The Hurricanes are relieved he didn’t.

“We feared it because he wanted to know his draft status,” Rumph said. “He made a great decision to come back. Mike is a physical specimen, tremendous tackler, has a great knack against the deep ball. I’m challenging him to take it to the next level and to understand what’s going to happen before it happens. He’s been watching film three times a week and asking a lot of questions.”

NFL teams have asked Rumph if Jackson could play corner or safety in the NFL. Rumph believes he could do both.

“I went to the league and ended as a safety and nickel," Rumph said. "Some schemes he’s a safety and some schemes he’s a corner.”

Rumph said the two early-enrollee freshmen cornerbacks — Gilbert Frierson and D.J. Ivey — exited the spring about even.

With Frierson, he showed “it's not too big for him. His approach and preparation are like he's been there before. He's that fearless South Florida, Coconut Grove kid who's ready to play.”

He “made plays” in the spring, but Rumph said one goal is “cleaning up his technique” because sometimes when he made a big play, even though it had a good outcome, “I let him know he did that incredibly wrong. We don’t want to coach just success.”

As for Ivey, “things I have been asking them to do, DJ does naturally," Rumph said. "He said he coached himself a lot of times at South Dade [because of a limited number of assistants there]. He has good technique and you want to see him use it to make those plays. With a play or two under his belt, he will get as comfortable as Gil.”

He said summer session one enrollees Al Blades Jr. and Nigel Bethel have a legitimate chance to crack the cornerback rotation, reminding that Bandy enrolled after spring practice last year and forged a significant role.

Bethel has been slowed this summer by a high-school hamstring injury “so his first month and two on campus have been taking care of his body. He will be ready [for August camp]. Nigel is long — long limbs and long arms. He’s a jam guy. Tremendous speed. He and Jhavonte are our two fastest corners.

“What I like about Nigel is he played offense last year [at Miami Northwestern] but if the other team had a great receiver, he shadowed that guy at corner. He can play man to man. In seven on sevens, he covered some of the best receivers we saw and it shocked us how well he did.”

Blades, meanwhile, “is a physical corner. Very smart, played multiple positions in high school. He’s learning really fast.”

Please check back Monday for part five of our series, with Ephraim Banda offering good insight on the situation at safety. And please click here to find the first three parts of this series.