The Miami Hurricanes defense in the 2016 season looked familiar to fans. There was a certain level of physicality that new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz brought in. Along with his arrival he brought his long time defensive assistant, Ephraim Banda, to coach safeties. Banda would be tooled with two seniors in Rayshawn Jenkins and Jamal Carter to patrol the secondary. The two would be the backbone of a Miami defense which ascended back to a level of dominance, Carter led the team with 85 total tackles and Jenkins led the team in interceptions while also earning All-ACC honors.
2016 Miami Hurricanes Position Review: Safeties
Jenkins enjoyed arguably his most productive season at Miami as a redshirt senior. He led the team in interceptions despite finishing with just two, a feat which isn’t the most impressive from him because he has multiple seasons of three interceptions already on his resume. The picks don’t show the entire story, though. Jenkins had his most effective season as he produced career highs in tackles for loss, solo tackles, total tackles, sacks, and pass breakups. His biggest contribution might have been a task that can not be tracked statistically. Diaz states most of the time that when their three freshmen linebackers made mistakes it was usually cleaned up by either Jenkins or Carter. Jenkins’ performance throughout the season earned him a trip to the Senior Bowl, where he got to show off his hands. He also received a NFL Combine invite where he impressed as well and is projected to be a mid round pick in the upcoming draft.
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Carter was the enforcer at safety. His tackling numbers symbolized that as he posted a career high 85 tackles which led the team. His tackling ability is his greatest asset and it really has been a factor for Miami in games. Two examples were in a game versus Florida Atlantic in his junior season where his hit literally changed the momentum of the game. That was the positive of his “hitstick” mentality. In a close game versus Florida State his hit led to a targeting call in which he was ejected and once again the momentum of the game changed. With Carter’s size and ability to tackle he should benefit from the NFL using more safeties as linebackers. Nonetheless, there is plenty of intrigue around Carter from NFL scouts and Banda has raved about Carter as a player.
Although Jaquan Johnson is categorized as a backup, it’s just a technicality. Johnson is a do it all guy that Miami keeps in its tool box. His versatility has allowed Miami to be extremely flexible. While Miami had two senior safeties, there was a role reserved for Johnson playing the nickel position. He was also able to play behind Jenkins as the field safety and when Carter was ejected it was Johnson that started the next game in his position. He is the unquestioned leader of the secondary for the upcoming season and his peers speak highly of him.
Knowles is a redshirt freshmen that was a key player on Miami’s special teams. Although he was not able to crack any time at the safety position, he did make six tackles on special teams. Coaches expect Knowles to compete in the spring as there is a void in one of the safety positions.
Finley saw the field in his freshman season exclusively on special teams and has hopes of competing for a starting position in the fall. Finley is known as a big hitter so a role similar to Jamal Carter might be best suited for Finley.
The Hurricanes had a talented safety group last season that won’t be easily replaced because of their experience. In a new defense with new coaches and three freshmen linebackers playing, the tandem was able to limit big plays quickly, a big reason for the improvement of their defense. However, there were also many potential turnovers that were dropped or just weren’t made, as the two combined for ten pass breakups. With Jaquan Johnson expected to fill one of the safety positions, coaches are looking to find who will fill the other void. What Miami loses in experience it can replace with talent. The Canes have signed two prospects at safety in Derrick Smith and Amari Carter has enrolled early and will compete in spring football.