Reloading Miami Hurricanes secondary has a primary concern: more turnovers in 2017

Miami safety Sheldrick Redwine (right) tries to strip the ball from teammate Jaquan Johnson during an Aug. 2017 practice. (Miami Herald)

Miami safety Sheldrick Redwine (right) tries to strip the ball from teammate Jaquan Johnson during an Aug. 2017 practice. (Miami Herald)

CORAL GABLES — They were sometimes at the mercy of momentum. An oblong, pointed ball can bounce in unpredictable ways. But the Hurricanes’ coaches feel that as good as their defense was last year, they could have done much more in the turnovers department.

Miami finished 14th in turnover margin in 2016, averaging a plus-0.69 per game. Nice number, but it was slanted to one side.

With three-year starting quarterback Brad Kaaya firing with confidence, Miami lost the ball 10 times. One team in the country, Western Michigan, gave it up fewer (eight times; incidentally, Western Michigan finished 13-1). Kaaya threw seven picks, a couple of them clanking off hands, helmets and shoulder pads.

On defense, Miami didn’t do enough to secure those freebies. Especially since UM will replace Kaaya with a first-time starter — or, potentially, a true freshman — UM is hell-bent on making up that difference.

The Hurricanes recorded eight picks (93rd nationally) and recovered 11 fumbles, ranking a middling 67th in takeaways. Miami had a veteran secondary last year and proved to be a strong group of tacklers, but for example, the loss at Notre Dame could have been a win if Jamal Carter fell on a fumble. Dropped interceptions were a season-long malady.

“You can tell they’re responding to the greater emphasis we have put on it,” defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said.  “We’re getting our hands on more balls. We have added some guys. Dee Delaney‘s got ball skills. … We all became better coaches by putting guys on the line that can catch the ball.”

Every practice, Diaz said, the Hurricanes are looking to score touchdowns on defense. It won’t be a surprise if Delaney, a graduate transfer likely to start at cornerback, hits the end zone this year. A two-time FCS All-American at The Citadel, Delaney twice led the Southern Conference in picks, totaling 13 over three years. He scored three times.

Junior safety Jaquan Johnson said Delaney “picked up the defense quick.” Delaney, who said he’s grateful for the chance to play at UM, is confident he can hang.

“I just want to prove to myself I can play with these guys,” he said.

Cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph called it a “pleasant surprise” the way Delaney has “almost taken control of [the cornerbacks] room already.” Rumph said Delaney, a native of Seabrook, S.C., has a meeting-room habit of quizzing coaches not for his own benefit, but to show younger players what they should be asking.

“He looked the part. I didn’t know he’s as intuitive as he is,” Rumph said, adding that Delaney’s tackling ability, size (6-foot-1, 193 pounds) and performances in  The  Citadel’s games against Florida State (2014) and South Carolina (2015) sold him on his talent.

How diligent is Delaney? Rumph said he details how many opportunities he’ll have to snatch an interception in practice — a mindset from military school that “echoes across my room.”

“He figures if we’ve got two more periods left, eight plays per period, [that’s] 16 plays, and if they throw the ball half that time, it’ll be three opportunities at the ball,” Rumph said. “Some Citadel-type of math, I guess.”

Rumph laughed.

“I just love they’re talking about it,” he said. “That’s something we didn’t do last year. It was more like, ‘The game, I need to make a pick in the game.’ Now we’re talking about, ‘We’ve got to get two or three interceptions in practice.'”

Though Delaney is considered an NFL prospect, his first scrimmage in a Miami uniform is Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium. Projecting Delaney and junior college transfer Jhavonte Dean as starters on the outside is just that: a projection. Four-star signee Trajan Bandy and sophomore Malek Young look primed for inside roles, with junior Michael Jackson “pushing hard” for time, Rumph said. At safety, Johnson, a rising defensive leader, projects as a starter next to former Miami-Killian High teammate Sheldrick Redwine, and Palm Beach Gardens grad Amari Carter has looked good early.

Are they as solid as last year’s unit? The coaches would like to see them in a scrimmage first, to say nothing of Week 3 at Florida State. That’s why Diaz took exception with a reporter who described the defense as “dominant.”

“Our defense has not established any dominance over anything,” Diaz said. “I heard a great saying in church this weekend: ‘Strength assumed is a weakness doubled.’ There’s a lot of assumptions being made, [like] ‘Well, if this guy plays as well as Corn Elder, if this guy plays as well as Jamal [Carter].’ Those are still assumptions. We don’t know until we play. The fact we’re being told we’re dominant, that has not been proven yet. We still have to have a little bit of an edge.

“We told our guys, ‘All we have to do is miss two more tackles a game that Jamal Carter, Rayshawn Jenkins and Corn Elder made a year ago, and we go from being pretty good to pretty awful in a hurry.’ Just two plays.”

That’s a challenge Johnson and his teammates welcome.

“We can be one of the best in the nation. We can be the best in the nation,” he said. “We’ve got to be consistent. … Everybody’s coming out every day and we’re working.”

Dee Delaney said he's grateful to be at Miami and prove he can play at this level.

A post shared by Matt Porter (@mattyports) on

A moment with Mike Rumph.

A post shared by Matt Porter (@mattyports) on

CANES CAMP 2017

Day 8
Secondary has primary concern: turnovers
Video: Meet Dee Delaney
Practice notes: Cager returning punts?
Porter’s video recap, live chat

Day 7
Porter’s video recap
Linder transferring; Njoku, Pinckney, Irvin updates
Practice notes: Njoku (knee) out

Day 6 [no practice]
Walton weighs in on QBs, RBs, coaches

Day 5
Video, story: Richt updates QB race
Notes: Richards, Pinckney, Irvin, penalties, ‘U Network’
Porter’s video recap, live chat at Lake Osceola

Day 4
Video: Dugans excited by freshmen
Porter’s video recap, live chat
Richt unsure about QBs being hit
Richards, Pinckney, Irvin injury updates
Practice notes: AAs, QBs and TEs (and photos)

Day 3
QBs still need to face the heat
Young Homer, Thomas turning heads
Practice notes: Newcomers in the return game
Miami ranked 18th in the coaches’ poll

Day 2
Porter’s video recap, live chat
Diaz goes in-depth on 2017 defense
Video: Miami D has reason to be confident
Practice notes and thoughts

Day 1
Perry ‘a passer, not just a thrower’

Injury updates: Burns could miss opener
Video: Perry runs through first drills
Porter’s video recap, live chat
Day 1 practice notes: Perry batting third
Photos, videos: Practice footage, field under construction 
10 big storylines, how to follow camp

In-depth position previews
QB | RB | WR | TE | OL
DL | LB | DB | ST

Offseason features, news
A sit-down with Richt, Parts I-IV
Miami gearing up for QB battle
Perry learning, adjusting, impressing
UM’s offense will depend on Walton
Quarterman leading Miami’s defense
LBs motivated by UM’s ‘ghosts of greatness’
Richards hoping to be All-American
Berrios tired of hype
‘The Playmaker’ high on Richards
Winston: Perry’s going to be ‘really good’
Cager angling for a comeback
Richt on swag | Says ‘The U is back’
Richt has really strong sandwich takes

Depth analysis
Strongest areas | Weakest areas | Scholarship count

Recruiting
Meet the 2017 signing class
2018 UM commits at The Opening
Lorenzo Lingard interview
Recent ’18 commits: Blades | Campbell | Baxa
Links to latest Miami recruiting stories

Other fun stuff
CanesFest set for Aug. 12
Analyzing the 2017 schedule
The Guide to Watching Miami Football
A visual history of Miami football stadiums
Exclusive look at UM’s new alternate jerseys
UM jersey numbers have meaning
The Glossary of Canes player nicknames
Thomas produces music for DJ Khaled
Fun facts from the 2017 media guide
Projecting Miami’s 2018 draft class
Miami’s over-under: 9 wins
UM picked to win the Coastal
Porter’s preseason All-ACC ballot, predictions

 

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