Canes Earn Key Roles Ahead of Opener
By David Villavicencio
CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Playing time is earned, not given.
Standouts like Mark Walton, Shaquille Quarterman and Chad Thomas have established themselves as quality players and they will be leaders for the University of Miami football team this season.
The Hurricanes open the 2017 campaign on Saturday against Bethune-Cookman and several players have earned key roles after impressing in fall camp.
According to the depth chart released on Monday, six Hurricanes are in line to make their first career start. Four of the six are new arrivals to the team, including defensive back Dee Delaney, wide receiver Mike Harley, offensive lineman Navaughn Donaldson and punter Zach Feagles.
Delaney’s rise to the top of the depth chart was somewhat expected, as the talented cornerback came to Miami as a graduate transfer after starring at The Citadel. A two-time FCS All-American, Delaney elected to forego the NFL and attend Miami for his final year of collegiate eligibility.
Since arriving at Miami in May, the 6-foot-1Delaney has learned the Hurricanes’ defense and earned the respect of his teammates and coaches. Now defensive coordinator Manny Diaz would like to see him emerge as a player and a leader on and off the field for Miami.
“I think that’s an ongoing process,” Diaz said of Delaney’s leadership. “In his room, I think early on he was able to really capture the room with the way he went about it and prepared. The locker room will first and foremost be impressed by your work ethic and your toughness, so he came in and established both of those things. Now the next step for him is to take a leadership role in our entire defense because we don’t have a lot of guys in our secondary that have played a lot of snaps. We really want him to expand his sphere of influence outside of the corner room and into the entire secondary and then the defense.”
The Hurricanes will have another corner debut in the starting lineup opposite Delaney, as Michael Jackson is slated to make his first career start when the Canes face off against Bethune-Cookman.
“I’m always excited to see player development,” Diaz said. “We want to pretend in recruiting that they’re all finished products and what they are the first day is what they’re going to become and that’s just not the case. These young men, they all develop on different timetables and in different ways. The first thing with MikeJack was his tackling. When we got here we said, ‘we’ve got to tackle in the secondary.’ Mike was not a very good tackler a year ago. He was not a guy that we felt like we could put him in a one-on-one situation with the end zone behind him. Last spring we started seeing a different guy. We started seeing the guy that when we went into the scrimmages became a very good tackler. His sense of urgency and his confidence started to grow off of that. Because if you’re on the field and you’re afraid, it’s going to affect everything in your game. The second you start to get some confidence that ‘I know I can get a guy on the ground,’ now you can start to attack your coverage skills. Once that demon was removed, everything else followed.”
Delaney and Jackson are the starters in Miami’s base defense, but Diaz expects sophomore Malek Young and freshman Trajan Bandy to be key players in the nickel package. Overall, Diaz believes the depth at cornerback will be important for the Hurricanes this Saturday.
“We have a way to utilize a lot of guys,” Diaz said. “I think that the biggest point that we are trying to make to our defense right now is that with us kicking off at 12:30 and we did not playing a day game at home for the first two months of last season, we need our depth.”
The final new starter on defense is linebacker Mike Smith. A redshirt junior, Smith came to Miami as a defensive end and saw his career slowed by injury. But the Miami native battled back and earned one of the three starting spots at linebacker for the 2017 season opener.
“Mike Smith I feel is the same way [as Michael Jackson],” Diaz said. “So often I feel the guys know what to do, but they have a hard time trusting themselves. Mike was a guy that had to learn that he knew the answer to the test and just trust it and give the proper answer. We know that Mike is a physical guy. His toughness was not in question. It’s just his ability to let it go, trust your instincts and go out there and make the play. He’s another guy that as a staff we are proud of to see go out there and represent us on Saturday.”
On offense, Donaldson has been a mainstay with the Hurricanes’ starting offensive line since he enrolled in January. The 6-foot-6 freshman has earned his spot and news of his role is no surprise to anyone that has followed his career thus far.
Harley’s start is a bit more unexpected, as the freshman arrived at Miami in May and joined a receiving corps that had veterans Braxton Berrios and Dayall Harris, as well as freshman All-American Ahmmon Richards, back from a year ago.
Add in that Lawrence Cager was back from injury and Dionte Mullins and Darrell Langham both had more experience in the offense and you saw a deep position group. But Harley impressed Miami’s coaches and earned a spot in the starting lineup.
“He’s been great,” Miami offensive coordinator Thomas Brown said. “I think the biggest thing for him and a lot of young guys is work ethic. That dude comes up every single day, he doesn’t get tired, he goes all out, he takes coaching and he tries to do everything perfect every single rep. He’s worked himself into a spot to hopefully have a good season.”
Feagles, the son of former Miami standout and Super Bowl Champion punter Jeff Feagles, earned the start after competing with redshirt sophomore Jack Spicer throughout fall camp. An Under Armour All-American as a senior in high school, Feagles is known for a big leg and he will have a chance to display it on Saturday.
Miami opens the season at home on Saturday against Bethune-Cookman. Kickoff is set for 12:30 p.m., ET. Click here for ticket information.