College Sports

UM coach challenges his top player, explains one of summer’s mysterious lineup decisions

A six-pack of Canes notes on a Wednesday:

▪ So how did DJ Ivey go from being UM’s clearly second best cornerback in spring practice (behind Trajan Bandy) and yet return this summer No. 3 on the depth chart, behind Bandy and Al Blades Jr?

I asked cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph, and he offered this explanation:

“As far as every element of going to class, being on time, getting your treatment, Al is a little more advanced with that and he had a good amount of leadership in the weight room,” Rumph said. “I put him out there just to push DJ a little more but they’ve both been pretty consistent battling back and forth and sometimes I’ll change it up but as of now, Al’s been the guy.”

▪ UM likes what it has seen from freshmen cornerbacks Te’Cory Couch and Christian Williams and believes they will help this season.

“No doubt,” Rumph said. “We need all the help we can get in the back end and special teams. Both of those guys have been pretty consistent. Te’Cory has more of a workload; he’s been working nickel and corner. But he has been really natural with his hips and change of direction and tenacity running to the ball, even shows some signs of tackling.

“Christian has done the same, being a bigger corner, more physical, flat-line speed. I’m getting him to play a little bit lower, not be so high and continue to show his physicality. Both corners need to be able to translate what they learn in the meeting room to the field.”

▪ Who would be UM’s fourth corner at the moment behind Bandy, Blades and Ivey?

Redshirt freshman Nigel Bethel, according to Rumph.

“Nigel has been pretty consistent,” Rumph said. “He’s a guy that redshirted, has been in the program for a year, been a special teams guy. With his speed, and he’s a tough kid, he’ll be able to get in there and complete a fourth corner type assignment to help us be successful on third downs.”

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▪ When UM goes to a nickel package, Bandy is moving from the boundary to the slot, with Blades and Ivey on the boundary. Rumph is challenging Bandy, who has declined to say if he will turn pro after this season, and is citing some UM NFL disappointments to get him to be better on special teams.

“He’s doing both roles whether it’s nickel or outside corner,” Rumph said. “I want to see Trajan dominate. I thought he was consistent last year. I think more of his confidence, getting stronger and stronger. I think he’s going to contribute on special teams even more. He can make himself a complete corner. He needs to be a nickel corner, he needs to be consistent every down corner and be able to return kicks and block kicks, just adding a special teams element to him. I don’t want him to be similar to former players who went into the league and struggled in the draft because they didn’t do much on special teams.”

Couch is backing up Bandy in the slot, with Gilbert Frierson seeing time both at that position and striker.

One concern: The Gators have a group of big receivers, with 6-2 Van Jefferson, 6-2 Tyrie Cleveland, 6-1 Josh Hammond, 6-4 Trevon Grimes, and 6-0 Freddie Swain.

Conversely, Bandy is 5-9, Blades 6-1 and Ivey 6-1.

Does the height disparity concern Rumph?

“Florida has great size on their end [but] we’re technicians [and] we’re going to do what we do,” Rumph said. “That’s what makes us one of the top passing defenses in the country, the fact we can keep it simple and be technicians of what we do and be up to the challenge.”

▪ Former Southern California and new UM safety Bubba Bolden, who flew into Miami on Tuesday after completing a class at a junior college, gave everyone a lift at Hurricanes practice on Wednesday.

“His presence today, the boys kind of felt it in a competitive situation,” Rumph said. “Here’s another guy I’ve got to beat out, a little more depth for us. But we’re happy to see him ready to get going. He’s going to make us way better in the back end.”

Bolden initially will begin as a backup safety behind Amari Carter and Gurvan Hall.

▪ Receiver Brian Hightower, who missed time with an ankle injury last November and a knee injury (and surgery) this spring, said he’s fully healthy and now immersed in a competitive battle for three rotation spots behind K.J. Osborn and Jeff Thomas.

“It’s been pretty tough [going through injuries] but every day I fought and worked hard, just to come back and be here for the team,” he said. “I love the game of football. Every day I thank God for being out here. I love the game of football. When you’re not playing, it hurts.”

Hightower impressed everyone in spring ball and practice in 2018, using his 6-3 height and good speed to make dynamic catches. He needs to get back to that and he has shown signs this camp.

“I feel more explosive, even more fast,” he said.

▪ UM will play at North Carolina a month from today (Sept. 7) and unless things change, most of South Florida won’t be able to watch the game on television.

ESPN, which runs ACC Network, still doesn’t have ACC Net carriage agreements with Comcast, AT&T Uverse and Xfinity - South Florida’s three largest cable operators.

ACC Network will carry the UM-UNC game at 8 p.m. and Miami’s home opener Sept. 14 against Bethune Cookman. DirecTV and Dish Network are among operators which have signed on to carry ACC Network.

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