2010 Miami Preview - Defense
Miami CB Brandon Harris
CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Miami Hurricane Defense
Preview 2010 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: With an all-star at each level and eight returning starters, Miami gets to build on the defensive success it had a year ago. The ‘Canes don't lose a ton from a group that ranked 29th and 37th nationally in total and scoring defense, respectively. From front to back, DE Allen Bailey, LB Colin McCarthy, and CB Brandon Harris will form the backbone, with a smattering of veterans and underclassmen building on that support. Barring injuries, this is a solid crew. However, elevating to higher ground will require someone, like Adewale Ojomo or Marcus Robinson, to support Bailey in the pass rush, and the defensive backs to parlay more tipped balls into takeways. The Hurricanes were No. 10 in the ACC in sacks and No. 9 in picks, results the team plans to address this fall.
Star of the defense: Senior DE Allen Bailey
Tackles: Colin McCarthy, 95
Sacks: Allen Bailey, 7
Interceptions: Brandon Harris, Micanor Regis, 2
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior DE Adewale Ojomo
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore S Vaughn Telemaque
Best pro prospect: Bailey
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Bailey, 2) Junior CB Brandon Harris, 3) Senior LB Colin McCarthy
Strength of the defense: Depth and talent up front, pass defense, stopping the run, third down defense, forcing field goals
Weakness of the defense: Back seven depth, sacks, picking off passes
Projected Starters: With just about everyone back from a year ago, Miami is envisioning its best defensive line in years. It all begins on the outside with 6-4, 288-pound DE Allen Bailey, the freakishly explosive athlete, with a clear path to the Sundays. With a rare blend of burst and acceleration in the frame of a tackle, he has the strength to with most blockers, en route to making plays behind the line. In his first full season in the lineup, he made 34 tackles and a team-high 11 tackles for loss and seven sacks. After making All-ACC first team, national honors could be next.
The frontrunner on the other side is 6-4, 253-pound junior Adewale Ojomo, who is making his way back after sitting out all of 2009 recovering from jaw surgery. Prior to being injured, the staff had been pointing to No. 97 as a possible breakout player because of his quick first step and explosion around the edge. More of a strict pass rusher and weakside end compared to Bailey, he had 17 tackles, four tackles for loss, and three sacks in 2008.
The potential rising star on the inside is 6-3, 300-pound junior Micanor Regis, another ‘Cane lineman with the potential to continue his career on Sundays. Despite not starting a game in 2009, he still managed to turn heads with 19 tackles, three tackles for loss, and a pair of interceptions. A classic run-stuffer, he's also active sliding down the line and quick enough to disengage and make plays behind the line.
Loyal to his veterans, Randy Shannon is giving first dibs at the other tackle spot to 6-0, 279-pound senior Josh Holmes. Although he doesn't have prototypical size or the biggest upside, he's a steady rock in the middle, with three letters and a full season as the starter. He showed a penchant for shooting the gap in 2009, making 22 stops, six tackles for loss, and a sack.
Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Marcus Fortson was unable to get off the tarmac a year ago, getting shut down after just three games because of an injury. The 6-2, 310-pound former blue-chipper returns intent on recapturing his Freshman All-American form, when he befuddled opposing blockers with his sudden quickness and made 25 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and three sacks, despite starting just one game.
On the outside, 6-1, 237-pound junior Marcus Robinson is working hard to become more than just a situational pass rusher. A classic edge rusher, with limitations in run defense, he's been an integral part of the rotation the last two seasons, using his closing speed and natural lean to wreak havoc in opposing backfields. As a six-game starter in 2009, he had 17 tackles, six tackles for loss, four sacks, and a 53-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown versus Clemson.
When the ‘Canes want more size and a veteran presence off the bench at end, they'll turn to 6-3, 250-pound senior Steven Wesley, the recipient of three letters and 17 starts over the last two seasons. A heady defender coming off his best year with the program, he pitched in 17 tackles, a half-dozen tackles for loss, and three sacks in 2009.
Watch Out For … Fortson. As a rookie, he was drawing comparisons to a young Warren Sapp, but the chatter died down when injuries limited him to just three games in 2009. The program is hopeful he can stay healthy and maintain the drive to become a superstar on the interior.
Strength: Depth of talent. There aren't too many schools in America that go two-deep with talent the way Miami can this year. The rotation has no holes and so many experienced linemen that the competition is destined to bring out the best in everyone.
Weakness: Sacks. Considering all of the talent up front, Miami has to do better than a year ago, when it ranked No. 10 in the ACC at getting to the quarterback. Bailey, Robinson, Wesley accounted for most of the sacks, meaning others need to get involved and ignite the pass rush.
Outlook: It's been a few years since the Hurricanes have been this stocked on the first line of defense. While Bailey will be the headline act, getting some All-American attention, he's going to get plenty of help from a front wall just brimming with size, speed, and the potential to control the line of scrimmage. Miami could have the best D-line rotation in the entire ACC.
Unit Rating: 9
Projected Starters: Unlike the defensive line, depth will be an issue at linebacker, especially with the graduation of leading tackler Darryl Sharpton. After flirting with moving him into the middle, the staff seems content to keep 6-3, 242-pound senior Colin McCarthy at strongside. He bounced back nicely from a season-ending shoulder injury suffered in 2008, earning All-ACC second team and finishing second on the ‘Canes with 95 tackles, 10.5 of which were behind the line. Considering his size and strength, he has surprising athleticism and the range to make stops all over the field.
At weakside, the coaching staff is excited to have 6-0, 212-pound junior Sean Spence healthy again and poised to contribute for an entire season. He missed time a year ago and was never really 100%, finishing with just 36 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, and three sacks. A guided missile, with incredible speed, pop, and explosion in short spaces, he's a lot closer to the 2008 performer, who was honored as the ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year.
The newcomer in the lineup and biggest question mark is 6-1, 235-pound senior Kylan Robinson , the post-spring favorite to start in the middle. A journeyman and career special-teamer up to this point, he has parlayed his know-how, work ethic, and a terrific offseason into an opportunity for the first significant playing time of his career.
Projected Top Reserves: Trying to keep Robinson out of the starting lineup will be 6-1, 215-pound junior Ramon Buchanan, who filled in nicely when his number was called last fall. Appearing in every game and starting a pair, he finished with 28 tackles, 3.5 stops for loss, and a couple of pass breakups. He moves like a defensive back on the field and possesses the sheer speed to be effective on blitzes and in pass coverage.
Backing up Spence will be 6-2, 235-pound junior Jordan Futch, who is returning from a knee injury that cut short his season last October. At the time, he was a valuable reserve, who was just beginning to adapt to the speed of the game. He has some of the best size among the linebackers and the added muscle to blossom into a terrific run defender once he gets back to full strength.
Watch Out For … Spence to build a bridge to his rookie season. He simply has way too much talent to be kept under wraps for a second consecutive year. Assuming he can stay injury-free, he'll again unleash his frenetic style on the ACC, performing on an all-conference level.
Strength: First-line experience. In McCarthy, Spence, and Robinson, Miami could have a starting trio that's comprised of all upperclassmen and has combined for eight letters. Between the three of them, there's a tremendous amount of knowledge and defensive acumen that'll rub off on the younger players.
Weakness: Proven depth. This actually has the staff very concerned heading into the season. While the starters are fine and capable of sending two players to the postseason all-star squad, the backups are questionable, coming off injuries, and prone to needing help from incoming freshmen.
Outlook: McCarthy and Spence give the ‘Canes an outstanding opening act at linebacker. After that pair, however, the situation becomes a bit shaky. Robinson has to maintain his spring level of play or else McCarthy might have to shift to the middle, and it's up to the backups to stay healthy and bolster the team's depth.
Unit Rating: 7.5
Projected Starters: With most of last year's letterwinners back, Miami is hoping to take a leap forward in pass defense. Leading the charge is 5-11, 195-pound junior Brandon Harris, who used last season to become one of the nation's premier young cover corners. Displaying next-level hips and an instant break on the ball, he earned his spot on the All-ACC first team with 58 tackles, six tackles for loss, three forced fumbles, and a team-best 15 pass breakups. If he continues to improve and play with a physical demeanor, the ‘Canes could be replacing him at this time next year.
Joining Harris at cornerback will be 6-1, 185-pound senior DeMarcus Van Dyke , who has played a ton at Miami, yet hasn't fulfilled all of his potential. While he started eight games last fall and chipped in 30 tackles, he still lacks the consistency in pass defense that the coaches are after. He's got the size, speed, and agility to handle the job on a full-time basis, but needs to improves his technique and keep the ball in front of him.
At safety, the coaching staff believes it harbors a pair of budding stars. The more experienced riser is 6-2, 197-pound sophomore Vaughn Telemaque, who shook an injury-filled debut to put down a solid foundation in 2009. He started 11 games, making 48 tackles and breaking up four passes. A blue-chipper from the state of California, he's long, runs well, and will explode upon impact and separate receivers from the ball. He's on the verge of becoming the next big thing at the position in Coral Gables.
Not far behind Telemaque is 6-4, 220-pound sophomore Ray-Ray Armstrong, the mega-recruit from the 2009 class. He played some in his rookie year, even starting once, and finished with 21 tackles and a valuable season of on-the-job training. Reminiscent of a younger version of former USC S Taylor Mays, he has the measurables and total physical package to emerge as a superstar before he's through at Miami.
Projected Top Reserves: The Hurricanes' scarce depth at cornerback is likely to begin with 6-0, 205-pound senior Ryan Hill, who redshirted last season. A wide receiver when he arrived and a terrific all-around athlete, he actually played some safety before getting hurt last summer. He needs to quickly ramp up his ability to cover and give breathers to Harris and Van Dyke.
Senior JoJo Nicholas is the safeties' version of Van Dyke, a gifted athlete, who has never quite put it all together with the program. He's played in 25 career games, even starting eight in 2008, but struggled to get on the field last fall. At 6-1 and 200 pounds, he moves well and will bring veteran leadership to the second group.
Watch Out For … the development of the young safeties. Telemaque and Armstrong will form one of the most exciting pairs of underclassmen at the position in the nation. Both are big, move well, and can intimidate unsuspecting receivers crossing the middle of the field. Watching the two sophomores grow up together will be a treat that goes into overdrive this fall.
Strength: Defending the perimeter. Thanks to their athleticism, bump-and-run physicality, and cover skills, the ‘Cane cornerbacks rarely get beat on the long ball. In fact, they really tightened the screws as 2009 progressed, yielding just three touchdown passes over the final five games of the season.
Weakness: Turnovers. For the second straight season, Miami inexplicably labored to create takeaways and had no more than a single pick in any one game. On the year, its nine interceptions placed it just one away from Duke and North Carolina State in the ACC basement.
Outlook: Although depth will be an on-going concern, the starting unit has as much potential as anyone in the ACC. Harris is pro-caliber, Van Dyke is experienced, and the sky is the limit for Telemaque and Armstrong at safety. Provided everyone stays healthy, this will be a very, very good group that should only get better.
Unit Rating: 8
Projected Starters: There might not be a more valuable or versatile special teams player in the nation than senior Matt Bosher, who's not your typical dual-threat for the ‘Canes. The team's placekicker and punter, he earned All-ACC first team honors for the former and All-ACC second team for the latter. As the kicker, he's made 32-of-36 field goals in two seasons and all 90 extra point attempts. That includes 3-of-4 from beyond 50 yards, a testament to his leg strength. As the punter, he raised his average to 42.5 yards, while showing excellent placement and a quicker release. Unlike his first two years, he did not have a punt blocked.
In the mix to handle punt returns and kickoff returns are juniors Thearon Collier and Travis Benjamin, and sophomore Mike James . Collier and Benjamin are a pair of game-breakers on punts, the latter leading the ACC in 2008 and the former taking two back for touchdowns last fall.
Watch Out For … Benjamin to get more looks in the return game. After fielding only nine punts for 57 yards in 2009, he's far too valuable and dangerous in space not to get more time on special teams this fall. A Devin Hester-like weapon in Miami, the staff would like to give him as many touches as possible.
Strength: Bosher. That rare and coveted all-star at multiple positions, Bosher has been Miami's most consistent offensive weapon while improving markedly as a punter. He'll rarely the attention that's warranted, but he's clearly one of the most valuable individuals on the entire program.
Weakness: The coverage teams. This group took an unexpected step backwards a year ago, allowing an uncharacteristic three punts and kickoffs to be taken back for touchdowns. While a complete overhaul is not necessary, the Hurricanes need to do some fine-tuning in order to avoid a repeat performance.
Outlook: Thanks in large part to the right leg of Bosher and the potential of the return game, the ‘Canes will once again vie for the ACC's best all-around special teams unit. If Benjamin can push Collier and start realizing all of his own potential, Miami will have a hidden edge in this area of the game.
Unit Rating: 9.5
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