Stepping Up in the Secondary

By David Villavicencio

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – The University of Miami secondary lost a lot of veteran leadership since the conclusion of the 2016 season.
Cornerbacks Corn Elder and Adrian Colbert and safeties Rayshawn Jenkins and Jamal Carter have graduated and moved on to the NFL, leaving the Hurricanes with several questions to answer behind an imposing front seven on defense. Namely, who was going to fill the voids in the defensive backfield?
Jaquan Johnson, who made five starts a year ago and provided position flexibility for the Canes at safety, cornerback and linebacker, seems destined for one of the starting safety positions. Malek Young, who made four starts at cornerback for the Hurricanes as a freshman in 2016, is likely to play a bigger role in his second collegiate season.
Sheldrick Redwine, who has made all five of his career starts at cornerback, moved to safety in the spring and appears to be on track to play a large role next to Johnson. Michael Jackson also made strides at cornerback in the spring and caught the attention of Hurricanes coaches. But a secondary needs much more than a handful of players to succeed, especially over the course of a college football season.
“We are doing well,” Johnson said. “We are communicating. We just have to work on little details here and there, but for the most part we are gelling, making calls, communicating and everyone is on the same page – way better than day one.”
Enter newcomers Dee Delaney, Jhavonte Dean and Trajan Bandy at cornerback and freshmen Amari Carter and Derrick Smith at safety. That group, along with returners like Robert Knowles and Romeo Finley, are looking to earn their place on the field and continue the legacy of standout defensive backs at Miami.
“We have different groups of cornerbacks,” Young said. “[Dee] Delaney, he’s pretty physical with his hands. [Jhavonte] Dean, he’s long, he knows how to use his feet. He could use his hands, he could cover ground because he’s long. And Trajan [Bandy], he could move his feet side to side. He’s a good smaller guy, and he’s aggressive for the size he is.”
Delaney and Dean are expected to make an immediate impact at cornerback for the Hurricanes. Delaney, who was a graduate transfer from The Citadel, is someone defensive coordinator Manny Diaz feels can be a difference maker and leader on the field.
“We brought him in with the mentality that he would compete for a starting job,” Diaz said. “Again, losing [Adrian] Colbert and Corn [Elder] off of last year’s team, we feel like, with the way that our roster is – not just with him, but with Jhavonte Dean – we had to bring in some quick-fix guys. We also knew we had an eye on the recruiting class. We love the 2018 recruiting class. We felt like, being able to have a guy that can come in and compete at a high level early on, help himself, I think it’s going to help him immensely with his future playing career…for us, it was a no-brainer.”
A two-time FCS All-American, Delaney could have opted to turn pro following the 2016 season at The Citadel. Instead, the South Carolina native chose to join the Hurricanes and prove his abilities on the highest level of college football.
“At first, you don’t want to get out of your comfort zone, but I wanted to challenge myself,” Delaney said. “In college, I played receiver, but I wanted to be challenged so I switched to cornerback. I felt like coming to Miami would really put me to par to see if I can play with the big guys, so that’s how I made my decision. I just want to prove to myself that I can play with these guys.”
Miami cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph, who was an NFL first round draft pick after helping the Hurricanes win the national championship in 2001, believes Delaney is up to the task of major college football.
“He steps up for the big games, and I saw that going against one of the top receivers in the ACC against South Carolina and then going against, like I said, one of the best in the game last year-Dalvin Cook,” Rumph said. “So, just excited to see how he reacts when he gets in our stadium with the crowd in there and how he plays with that situation.”
Beyond the excitement for what Delaney brings to the cornerback rotation, Rumph is eager to see how all of his defensive backs respond throughout camp as he tries to prepare them for the upcoming season.
“The depth is, well, I’m excited,” Rumph said. “I’ve got seven corners I work with, so it’s an easy room for me and the depth changes have been countermoveing. I’ve been changing them to see how they react to certain situations. Some days they’re on the one, some days they’re on the two, and some of the threes are rotating in there with twos, so it’s like a musical chairs right now. But I definitely like what I’m seeing.”
Miami opens the season at home on Sept. 2 against Bethune-Cookman. Kickoff is set for 12:30 p.m., ET. Click here for ticket information.