There was a point prior to last season when the Miami Hurricanes secondary was a question mark. Losing three seniors in Corn Elder, Jamal Carter and Rayshawn Jenkins left questions about whether their experience could be replaced. Those three would be the defensive catalysts for Manny Diaz’s secondary in the first season. With their experience it was easier for Miami to supplement three freshmen linebackers and a defensive line that was changing to a new scheme. That defense flourished allowing only two teams to score over 30 points and only three to score over 28 points. As good as that defense was it lacked one thing: turnovers.
The New Centerfielder
Many analysts were unsure about who would replace all of that experience in the Hurricanes secondary. There was a need at only one safety position with Miami feeling comfortable with Jaquan Johnson. Having played in the nickel and rotating at safety with Jenkins, Johnson returned the most experience of the group. Even having never been a full time starter, there was plenty of buzz from coaches and players about Johnson. Jamal Carter told media members that he believed Johnson would be “legendary before he leaves Miami”.
The New Enforcer
Manny Diaz and safety coach Ephraim Banda decided to convert then-cornerback Sheldrick Redwine to safety. At 6’1″, 200 pounds, he already fit the build of the position. The biggest adjustment would be learning the defense from that position rather than just corner. His roommate, Johnson, would provide feedback as to what it was the coaches were looking for. Redwine’s development was obvious and he solidified the starting position before the end of spring practice.
Prototype Upgrade at Cornerback
For most of his time at Miami Michael Jackson was seen as a special teams ace. He would be in charge of replacing Elder, who was an all around difference maker despite his small stature. That spring coaches would give him an opportunity to solidify a starting role for the upcoming season. He, like Redwin, would earn the starter’s role before the end of the spring session. Cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph showed confidence in the Alabama native primarily due to his development as a tackler on the perimeter. His size helped as well. At 6’1″ on the corner positions, he could use his length to disrupt receivers in the passing game.
The Cultural Phenomenon of The Turnover Chain
Once the season got underway, the Miami defense began creating a buzz due to their knack for turnovers. Of course a huge incentive to gaining these turnovers was players being able to brandish the gold cuban link chain. As Miami continued winning during the season, the amount of turnovers were a direct correlation of the now-famous Turnover Chain. At one point, during a critical five game stretch, the Miami defense caused 19 turnovers. Those turnovers helped knock off rivals Virginia Tech and Notre Dame in back-to-back weeks in convincing fashion.
Suddenly, the Achilles heel of the 2016 defense became a strength despite three new starters in the secondary. Jaquan Johnson, who Diaz referred to as the heart and soul of the defense, finished the season causing nine turnovers. He would lead the team with almost 100 tackles and tie for the team lead in interceptions with four. Michael Jackson, in his first season as a starter, also had four interceptions and earned second team All-ACC honors. Sheldrick Redwine became a top contributor ranking near the top of every defensive category. He also became a fan favorite with his signs after securing a turnover.
Sheldrick Redwine might be my favorite person in college football. pic.twitter.com/XGAelp4SXU
— Astasia Williams (@AstasiaWill) November 5, 2017
Development over Rankings
The seasons of Redwine, Johnson and Jackson were all huge wins for the Miami coaching staff. When the staff took over, these were three players on the roster that weren’t major contributors. The trio weren’t highly ranked prospects; the lone high school All-American was Johnson. Johnson even lost a star-rating after the Army All American Bowl Game, being down-graded to a three-star going into National Signing Day.
The 2019 NFL Draft might be further validation of the development of this position group. After a successful 2017 campaign, NFL scouts will be monitoring Miami’s secondary closely. Johnson quickly dispelled rumors of an early entry to the NFL, saying that he wants to compete for a national championship in his senior season. Michael Jackson also elected to return after being constantly persuaded by Redwine. According to NFLdraftscout.com, Johnson and Jackson are ranked the top players at their position. Redwine is currently listed as the number seven player at his position. The once underrated prospects out of high school are now the big names heading into next season. More importantly, the three prospects have developed as leaders on one of the best defenses in college football.
They’ve turned questions into answers.
Embed from Getty Images