Barry Jackson

Here’s what UM has in mind for the CB position and what freshmen are closest to playing

University of Miami senior cornerback Jhavonte Dean is working with the starters on the boundary when UM goes to a nickel package.
University of Miami senior cornerback Jhavonte Dean is working with the starters on the boundary when UM goes to a nickel package. SUSAN MILLER DEGNAN

A six-pack of Hurricanes notes on a Wednesday:

UM is beginning to gain some measure of clarity in its cornerback competition.

Jhavonte Dean has taken a lead in the battle to be UM’s No. 3 corner. He is playing the boundary when UM uses three cornerbacks in a nickel package, with Michael Jackson playing the other boundary position and Trajan Bandy moving from the boundary to the slot in that lineup.

“I thought Jhavonte has stepped up,” cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph said. “He’s running with the ones. At the scrimmage, he had one of his best days as a Hurricane. If anyone is on his heels, it’s D.J. Ivey.”

Dean was a mild disappointment last season after coming to UM as the highest-rated junior college cornerback. But UM is pleased with his work in camp.

Ivey, the freshman from South Dade High, has impressed coaches. Last season at South Dade, he had interceptions in four consecutive games.

“DJ Ivey has been doing a good job of being great with his technique,” Rumph said. “The scrimmage wasn’t too big for him. The number one thing is he can get his hands on a ball or two where it’s a fumble or interception. He’s been doing an awesome job.”

Freshman cornerback Al Blades also is pushing for playing time. Blades is running with the second team at nickel, behind Bandy.

St. Thomas Aquinas' Alphonso Blades Jr, who's late father was Hurricanes great Al Blades, committed to the University of Miami, with his uncle Brian Blades who also played for the Canes.

“Al Blades is doing a great job considering the fact he’s playing nickel and corner,” Rumph said. “It’s not too big for him, being in this stadium. Those two, to me, are stepping forward as freshmen.

“When go to three corners, it would be Michael and Jhavonte and Trajan in the nickel. If Michael is not practicing, it’s D.J. Ivey and Jhavonte with Trajan in the nickel.”

Bandy is the front-runner to play on the boundary opposite Jackson when UM is in base defense, with only two corners on the field. Bandy said he’s comfortable at both boundary and in the slot and it’s not an issue moving between the two during games. Rumph said Bandy is unquestionably UM’s best nickel corner.

Which freshman on defense is furthest along?

Defensive end Gregory Rousseau “would jump out of those midyear guys,” Diaz said. “Of the ones that just showed up, they flash on different days. Al Blades from a consistency level. We have been very impressed with things we’ve seen from Nigel Bethel. Pat Joyner the same. But I would say of the ones who were just dropped off school, Al would be a nose ahead of the other ones.”

Mike Rumph is pleased about the progress of his formerly inexperienced cornerbacks.

Rumph said Monday that “Romeo Finley is our starting striker right now.” But Zach McCloud presumably will be on the field a lot when Miami plays three natural linebackers.

“In essense, they are all playing the same position,” Diaz said of McCloud, Finley and Derrick Smith Jr. “The difference is the call sheet based on what guys are in the game. How versatile a guy is might expand what we can run when that guy is in the game.”

Diaz explained that the striker position was created not only to respond to how college football is played today, but also because of UM’s depth at safety. Finley, for example, is a former safety.

“It’s about using our personnel,” Diaz said. “With big athletes like Derrick Smith and Romeo Finley, how can we got those guys on the field when you are already blessed with two safeties like Redwine and Johnson, with backups we really like [in Amari] Carter and [Gurvan] Hall… and Robert Knowles.

“You’ve got a lot of talent at one position, so how do we get all those guys on the field? Bringing those guys closer to the box, their ability to play man, be physical and play the run and come off the edge and do a lot of different things [is helpful]. It’s not necessarily any type of schematic invention. we’ve been playing nickel forever.”

Jon Garvin and Joe Jackson are already very good college defensive ends. Now UM is pushing each to be elite.

With Jackson — whose sacks dropped from 8.5 as a freshman to 6.5 last year — Diaz said the goal is to use his “get-off, using more of his speed. He had developed some really good power rushes. Strong guy, got stronger since last year. Being more explosive at his get off and putting tackles in tougher positions.”

As for Garvin, who had two strip sacks as a freshman, “it’s just the idea of down and down consistency,” Diaz said. “He made some big time flash plays last year. His skill set, his balance, is kind of elite. Now it’s understanding how to complement that with different moves.”

Venzell Boulware, the Tennessee transfer, spent his first week of practice backing up right guard Hayden Mahoney but has moved in the last week to the left side to back up Jahair Jones.

That’s significant, because if there’s any competition with any remaining offensive line position, it’s at left guard, where Boulware will have every opportunity to wrest the job from Jones.

Mahoney, once viewed as a fringe starter, graded out the best of UM’s offensive linemen early in camp and has solidified his starting position.

Tight ends coach Todd Hartley said Will Mallory is more of a downfield threat than Brevin Jordan but both bring interesting skill sets. Jordan is playing in the position Chris Herndon played last year and Mallory in the spot David Njoku played two years ago.

Mark Richt said Jordan has spent a lot of time with the first group. Brian Polendey initially received most of the first team snaps after Michael Irvin’s knee injury last week that will sideline him four months.

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