Barry Jackson

What to look for and where UM stands at each position on defense heading into spring ball

University of Miami Defensive Coordinator Blake Baker

The Miami Hurricanes football defensive coordinator Blake Baker says "it's about creating chaos, negative plays". while speaking to the media at the University of Miami on Wednesday, February 6, 2019.
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The Miami Hurricanes football defensive coordinator Blake Baker says "it's about creating chaos, negative plays". while speaking to the media at the University of Miami on Wednesday, February 6, 2019.

With UM spring practice beginning next Tuesday, sizing up where the Hurricanes stand, by position, on defense:

Defensive end: Joe Jackson left for the NFL and his likely replacement, Virginia Tech transfer Trevon Hill, won’t arrive at UM until the summer.

The upshot, though, is that will mean plenty of spring work for Greg Rousseau, who is fully recovered from last September’s ankle surgery that limited him to 17 snaps as a freshman.

Former defensive line coach Jess Simpson said he expects big things from Rousseau, as we detailed here, and he’s well positioned to be one of UM’s top three or four defensive ends this season and a likely starter by 2020.

Though Hill is the favorite to start opposite Jon Garvin, Rousseau cannot be ruled out.

Garvin (six sacks, 17 tackles for loss last season) will get plenty of work this spring, but this will also be a chance for UM to give plenty of reps to four-star early enrollee Jahfari Harvey; multiple Canes coaches believe he was the steal of the recruiting class and is destined for great things at UM.

Senior Scott Patchan and redshirt freshman Patrick Joyner Jr. (who transitioned from linebacker to end as a freshman last season) also should get plenty of work.

Like Hill, three-star freshman Cameron Williams arrives this summer, via Hollywood Chaminade Madonna.

Defensive tackle: Gerald Willis will be missed, but UM did good work addressing the position with freshmen Jalar Holley, Jason Blissett and Jared Harrison-Hunte, as well as UCLA transfer Chigozie Nnoruka.

None of those four are yet enrolled.

So that means lots of spring snaps for Pat Bethel (trying to hold onto his starting job), Jon Ford, Nesta Silvera, Jordan Miller (who remains something of a project) and Tyreic Martin (a non-factor in three seasons here).

Bethel played 396 snaps last season, Ford 153 and Silvera 101.

Though Ford didn’t play much in the Pinstripe Bowl, Simpson praised him and made clear he still has high hopes for a player who began last spring as a first-team tackle before permanently losing that job to Bethel.

Now Ford, who hasn’t lived up to lofty expectations just yet, and the others will need to impress new defensive line coach Todd Stroud.

Three questions that must be figured out: Is Miller actually ready to contribute? Is Silvera ready to become a heavy-snaps contributor (UM is hopeful)? And will UM ever get anything out of Martin?

Linebackers: The decisions of Shaq Quarterman, Mike Pinckney and Zach McCloud to bypass the NFL and return for their senior seasons provided some of the best news of the offseason.

But it will be important this spring for the returning backup linebackers — Bradley Jennings Jr. and Waymon Steed — to get plenty of work so that UM can better determine exactly what they have there.

Jennings (who backs up Quarterman at middle linebacker) played 48 snaps last season. Steed (who backs up Pinckney at weakside linebacker) logged just 30 snaps last season.

De’Andre Wilder redshirted last season because of a neck injury and won’t participate in spring practice. UM hasn’t indicated if he will ever play again.

Manny Diaz has spoken highly of Jennings and Steed, but UM is pursuing a bunch of linebackers in the 2020 class after adding only two — Avery Huff and Samuel Brooks — in the recent recruiting cycle. Brooks and Huff are expected to enroll this summer.

Quarterman was named All-ACC after an 82-tackle season. Pinckney had 74 tackles and had some of Pro Football Focus’ highest grades for a college linebacker. McCloud saw his snap count drop because the players in the new striker role — primarily Romeo Finley — took some of his playing time.

UM’s official depth chart now lists McCloud as a striker.

Striker: Romeo Finley and Derrick Smith, who both return, handled that new position last season, and Finley was perhaps UM’s most improved player.

Cornerback Gilbert Frierson has been moved to the striker position as well, and UM says Smith is now a defensive back (presumably a safety), not a striker. McCloud, as noted, also is listed as a striker.

Finley was targeted 15 times and allowed only five completions for 61 yards, with two interceptions and no touchdowns yielded, according to Miami Herald correspondent Daniel Gould. What’s more, Pro Football Focus said Finley never missed a tackle all season.

Smith allowed five completions in six attempts for 62 yards, and Frierson allowed two of three passes to be caught for 49 yards and a touchdown.

Huff also has the ability to play striker.

Cornerback: There are six on scholarship but only four will be on campus this spring — junior Trajan Bandy and three cornerbacks from the 2018 class: Al Blades Jr., D.J. Ivey and Nigel Bethel.

Two Class of 2019 additions — three-star Te’Cory Couch and four-star Christian Williams — arrive this summer.

Bandy — who was named third-team All ACC last season — assuredly will be one starter.

The other job appears wide open, with Blades and Ivey the top candidates unless Williams comes in and wrests the job in August.

There’s good talent at the position but not a lot of depth.

Here’s how cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph assesses his young players.

Bandy allowed 10 completions on 29 targets for 127 yards, with two touchdowns relinquished but three interceptions, according to Gould. Blades allowed two completions in six targets for 26 yards.

Safety: Bubba Bolden, the Southern Cal transfer and a possible starter, doesn’t arrive until the summer. And Jaquan Johnson and Sheldrick Redwine, two outstanding college players, have graduated.

So that means plenty of spring opportunity for junior Amari Carter, senior Robert Knowles and sophomore Gurvan Hall, as well as Derrick Smith. Four-star Hollywood Chaminade Madonna freshman Keontra Smith enrolls this summer.

Carter, Bolden, Smith and Hall could end up competing for two starting jobs.

Carter allowed only three completions in nine targets, for 10 yards, last season and UM coaches like his physicality and his study habits. But he missed six tackles and that’s a shortcoming that he must correct, because Diaz places a premium on tackling above all else.

Knowles, who allowed an 18-yard completion in his only regular season target, has had an uneven career here, and been criticized by fans for inconsistent play. But coaches have consistently praised his effort.

Hall played 93 snaps as a freshman and allowed only one completion in four targets for one yard. Coaches love the upside.

Safeties coach Ephraim Banda spoke more about his safeties in this post on Tuesday.

The transition from Diaz to new coordinator Blake Baker should be seamless, because they run the same style defense. But Quarterman said he expects a few tweaks.

We will preview the offense in a post on Thursday.

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