Fall Camp Intel: Defense

Fall Camp Intel: Defense

Stefan Adams
Yesterday, we unleashed and cleaned out everything we’ve been hearing on fall practice about the offense, which can be found *here*, and today (surprise!), is all about how defense is looking heading into LSU.

Defensive End

What want to hear: Joe Jackson is completely fine off his injury scare and ready to dominate this season.

What we’re hearing: This is arguably UM’s most loaded position group with three potential future first round picks in Joe Jackson, Jon Garvin, and Gregory Rousseau. Jackson was slowed the last week of camp by a minor elbow injury and worked third team for a few days, but was back with the first team after reporting no negative effects in the final fall scrimmage. He’s ready to go against LSU.

Of the entire group, it has been Jon Garvin that has had the biggest camp. He has handily held off Demetrius Jackson after Jackson’s return from injury and has really made strides holding up against the run, making the leap from situational pass rusher to every down player. The sky is the limit for Garvin’s potential.

The emergence of Garvin has turned Demetrius Jackson into a super utility player and UM has been experimenting with moving him inside in a lot of formations, similar to last season. Scott Patchan has shown up as a natural pass rusher and has really impressed the coaches in bringing top-notch effort and toughness every day. He worked with the first team while Joe Jackson was nursing his injury and looks poised to be a contributor if he can stay healthy.

The massive spring hype surrounding Rousseau has continued even though he is still behind the veterans, and sources say Rousseau is ahead of where Garvin and Joe Jackson were as true freshmen. UM will use Rousseau as a situational pass rusher this season just like Joe Jackson and Garvin were used as freshmen, and bring him along slowly in preparation for a more full-time role as a sophomore.

Terry McCray actually saw some second team reps last week with both Jacksons out. That was neat, but he won’t be in the gameday rotation without injuries. Patrick Joyner has spent most of his time pitching in at defensive end instead of linebacker, but is running behind McCray even to see reps.

What it means: UM is comfortable going 5 deep here, and if Patchan can stay healthy, all 5 are NFL material. That’s downright scary, and UM is going to be terrorizing QB’s off the edge this season.

Defensive Tackle

What we want to hear: Jon Ford is ready to start.

What we’re hearing: Gerald Willis has been far and away the best player on the interior. A source says he is confident that Willis will come in and there will be no drop off from RJ McIntosh this season. A very high motor helps Willis to make up for any of his deficiencies.

The main camp battle has been to see who would start alongside Willis. Patrick Bethel has been the most consistent lineman day-to-day in practices and currently holds the #2 role. Although UM was hoping that Jon Ford could run away with the job, it has actually been grad transfer Tito Odenigbo that has come in this summer and really pushed Bethel the most. Odenigbo has surpassed even UM’s expectations and has a surprising first step off the snap.

Ford is in great shape and a source says he shows elite athleticism for an interior defender, but is still too up and down to be trusted in a starting role right now. The battle for consistency with him continues, but Miami is still confident in his future with the team.

The freshmen DT’s are a step below everyone else, but show flashes of their talent at times. Of the two, a source says Nesta Silvera has been the most consistent playmaker, but Jordan Miller has shown a lot of potential as a massive space-eater that is still flexible and quick in his movements. Miami is very high on both and sees them having bright futures as impact players as they continue to work through mental mistakes.

Tyreic Martin has clearly been passed up by the freshmen and is a transfer candidate at this point.

What it means: Willis is going to start and be a star if he can continue to keep it together off the field. The emergence of Odenigbo is one of the biggest stories of camp and it looks as if he will be able to give UM quality backup reps behind Willis and Bethel while the freshmen continue to figure things out at the college level. It’s disappointing Ford isn’t further along at this point, but he absolutely works as a fourth DT with potential that will show some big flashes this season.


What we want to hear: Romeo Finley and Derrick Smith are pushing Zach McCloud at striker.

What we’re hearing: Nothing new on Shaq Quarterman and Michael Pinckney at inside linebacker; both are still very good and trying to take that next step to “great”. Waynmon Steed is most mentioned as UM’s top backup inside linebacker and will see all the reps he can handle this fall. Working behind Pinckney at WILL, the staff feels there is little to no drop-off with Steed in the game.

Bradley Jennings has been giving Mike Smith all he can handle as the backup at MIKE and both have rotated with the second team throughout spring; Jennings has played his way into being deserving of reps this fall. Further down the depth chart at inside ‘backer, CJ Perry has been working his way back from knee surgery but is clearly behind the three aforementioned backups. It remains to be seen how much he can contribute in his senior season with so many mouths to feed at the spot.

Everyone’s attention has been on who will get the nod at striker and that has not been determined as of yet. Sources say that it will likely be McCloud, as he is the returning incumbent who has the best grip of the defense.

It is Romeo Finley that is really impressing at striker. While a source says he still struggles with man coverage at times, Finley is clearly much more comfortable in the hybrid striker role than at traditional safety and the game is slowing down for him a bit. Sophomore Derrick Smith is the best of the strikers at man coverage, but is still behind the two aforementioned juniors at the mental side of the position. All three will likely rotate heavily and play a ton.

De’Andre Wilder had also been working at striker, but suffered a neck injury of unknown severity at this point.

What it means: UM has one of the best LB units in the ACC, complete with returning experience as well as youthful and athletic depth. As the season goes on, McCloud’s reps will likely slowly be whittled away as Finley and Smith grow into the striker role, as the converted safeties most embody what UM is looking for in the spot.


What we want to hear: Jhavonte Dean found the ability to turn his head around and one of the freshmen are ready to see serious playing time.

What we’re hearing: The returning veterans have been the clear top three for UM. The story of camp has been Jhavonte Dean’s rise as a legitimate option for Mike Rumph and he has been hard to separate from in practice. One of Dean’s biggest weaknesses last season was getting his head around and finding the ball in the air. Well, he may never possess elite ball skills, but Dean at least showed he has improved there with two picks in the second scrimmage.

Trajan Bandy has taken the next step and team sources see him having a “Malek Young”-type of sophomore year, pestering receivers both on the outside and in the slot. Michael Jackson is building on his breakout junior season and the confidence he has as a #1 corner is night and day from last spring. He’s an NFL guy all the way.

A tier below those guys are three freshmen. DJ Ivey is the most game ready of the rookies and is the most polished at this stage, technique-wise. Ivey has been getting the most buzz as a potential starter down the line in 2018 if he continues to cut down his freshman mistakes, which he’s done a good job of doing since the spring. Al Blades has come in more advanced than expected and shown he is ready to play an immediate role. He has been just behind Ivey and put on some serious size since his St. Thomas days; he’s a legit 6’1” 185-190. Blades has gotten rave reviews for bringing his A-game and competitiveness to practice every day. He’s a tick ahead of Gilbert Frierson, who is physically the most impressive of the freshmen, but is still struggling with the defensive concepts of a Manny Diaz defense and thinking too much out there.

Nigel Bethel is running behind his classmates at this point; he needs to continue to put on size, but he is likely to play some special teams this year and get some use out of his blazing speed.

What it means: Even with an NFL player in Jackson holding down one spot, this is likely to be UM’s weak link on the defense if there is one in 2018. The Canes prefer using Bandy at nickel, so Dean is going to have to prove his worth in real time soon enough. I’m confident UM can find one of the freshmen to be solid in a bit role as the #4 guy, with Ivey the most likely candidate right now.


What we want to hear: Amari Carter and/or Gurvan Hall have overtaken Robert Knowles for the #3 job.

What we’re hearing:
It’s Jaquan Johnson and Sheldrick Redwine at safety, then everybody else. Redwine is getting NFL buzz and is playing faster than ever in his second season at the position. Anyone expecting Amari Carter to steal Redwine’s job this season would be off-base, as Redwine has really separated himself even more from both Carter and Robert Knowles.

Speaking of #20, Knowles has also stepped up his game this off-season and is locked into the third safety role to start the season. The coaches are comfortable that he knows where he is supposed to be on any given play, even though he has less physical talent than the rest of the group.

Carter has brought his game to another level physically, but still has a ways to go mentally in the traditional safety role. Carter is still bringing his trademark bonecrushing hits and his reps are safe, as Diaz loves to use him in many different special packages all over the field. Gurvan Hall is another that is physically impressive, but will likely start the season playing on special teams as he continues to get comfortable with the concepts Banda and Diaz need him to get down. A source sees Hall playing plenty in nickel and dime packages as the year goes on, similar to Derrick Smith’s progression last season.

What it means: UM had good safety play last season, but it is about to go to “great” in Johnson and Redwine’s second year playing off of each other. Having that type of reliability in the middle of your defense and on the last line of defense allows for a defensive coordinator to get creative, and Carter will benefit the most by being moved all around the field to cause havoc. Knowles will also get his reps and I’m confident that Hall will be making a situational impact by the end of the season.

Special Teams

What we want to hear: Bubba Baxa doesn’t look like a deer in the headlights and Zach Feagles has gained some consistency in the off-season.

What we’re hearing:
Baxa has been crushing the ball and is consistently getting touchbacks on kickoffs. His leg is the real deal and he’s the clear #1 at kicker right now. That’s even with some relatively decent competition from UM’s walk-ons, as Turner Davidson hit a 47 yarder in the final scrimmage and Camden Price has also impressed Coach Richt as well.

The inconsistency that Feagles showed last season continues to rear it’s ugly head in practices. He routinely trades great punts for terrible punts on Greentree.

DeeJay Dallas on punts and Jeff Thomas on kickoffs will be the two returners this season.

What it means: Hearing positive reports on Baxa is encouraging, but you never know what you’re going to get with a college kicker (a true freshman no less) until he actually shows he can handle the pressure of in-game situations. How Baxa’s accuracy translates to an environment like AT&T Stadium will be a key factor to watch. It’s a bit head-scratching that Feagles is still struggling, because the leg strength and relative athleticism is there with him. Even a small improvement would likely end up making a world of difference with him after a sub-40 yards per punt average last year. Dallas will be a treat to watch returning punts and I hope Thomas has learned to run away, and not directly into, the opponent’s coverage team.

Comments (93)

Awesome write up, lots of gems in there.
Love the camp reports, Stefan.

The caveat in all of this though is that you'll tend to hear overwhelming positive news about the team/each unit. As it relates to Baxa, we're going to find out what kind of kicker we have come week 1 when the lights are on in Dallas.

In terms of Knowles, I hope he surprises us. But I strongly doubt he sees many snaps over Hall and Carter at this juncture. Only reason he'd see snaps over Hall is because of his understanding of the defense.
Feagles better get his act together. Field position will be very important against LSU.
A bit worried about the Willis-Bethel combo vs heavy run teams just due to them both being penetrating types so it could be boom or bust. Really need Ford to put his big boy pants out immediately but besides that, I think we are sitting pretty.
Everything had me humming till the special teams section

Woof! Richts gotta be gentle with that unit and maybe go for it more on reasonable 3rd and shorts
After Rousseau al blades got to be the surprise of the freshman right? This kid will develop with rumph teaching him
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Maybe. I'd counter with Ivey whom is the #1 frosh CB. He was a 3* till the very end of his recruitment and was probably the least mentioned of CB's.
A bit worried about the Willis-Bethel combo vs heavy run teams just due to them both being penetrating types so it could be boom or bust. Really need Ford to put his big boy pants out immediately but besides that, I think we are sitting pretty.

I am a very worried. Was praying that Ford would at least be ready by now. Guess not. Thank god Tito is here. He could be the saving grace for us. If LSU figures out that passing the ball on us aint gonna work due to our pass rush and our elite secondary guys and that middle of the D is a little soft, it could be trouble.