▪ One hallmark of the great Hurricanes teams was dominant play at defensive tackle. And that’s why - aside from quarterback Jake Garcia — five-star prospect Leonard Taylor might be the most important member of the Canes’ 2021 recruiting class.
Taylor — rated by Rivals as the No. 3 defensive tackle and 40th best player overall in this recruiting class — is among at least 11 players who arrived on campus this past weekend and are planning to enroll early this week.
And his high school coach believes he will make an immediate impact.
“The day he steps foot at practice, he’s going to play,” Palmetto coach Mike Manasco said in a phone conversation last week.
“I’ve never had a kid like him. He’s going to compete to play [immediately], from the moment he takes his first snap. The talent, size, explosion and IQ and all the things you want at that position. He’s got it.
“The only thing that would hurt him is learning the scheme [in a short period of time in August]. The scheme is going to be different. Once he picks up scheme and terminology, I’ve never had a kid that can get off the ball like that. It’s almost like he knows the snap count. He picked off a quarterback pitch in the playoffs against Vero Beach, something I’ve never seen a 290- pounder do.”
Manasco was just getting started.
“The interior pass rush he will give them ... I’ve been coaching 19 years, never had a three technique lead the team in tackles like he did last year. He is going to be a household name, a kid we are going to hear his name called in three years [in the NFL Draft]. He’s that kind of player. Opponents will tell you the same thing.”
Manasco said the “biggest key is getting accustomed to his terminology. The scheme is going to be different” from Palmetto’s.
Manasco said he spoke with UM defensive line coach Jess Simpson recently “and he’s pumped about having Leonard. He knows the player he’s getting; he recruited LT when he was a freshman” before Simpson spent the past two years with the Atlanta Falcons.
Taylor produced 51 tackles (23 for loss) to go with five sacks, six batted passes, three forced fumbles, an interception and a blocked field goal in seven games in 2020.
Though two Canes websites said he has bulked up from 275 to 308, Manasco said Taylor played at 290 last season and that Taylor told him that he’s now actually 295. He works out every day after school.
“He’s not going to be out of shape,” Manasco said. “He wishes he was there [earlier]. Unfortunately he didn’t get some of the course work this past summer to get him in early. He’s chomping at the bit to get there.”
The others expected to enroll in classes in the next day or two: five-star safety James Williams, tight end Kahlil Brantley, running back Thaddius Franklin, defensive end Jabari Ishmael, defensive tackle Allan Haye, center Ryan Rodriguez, guard Laurence Seymore, receiver Romello Brinson, receiver Brashard Smith, receiver Jacolby George and cornerback Malik Curtis.
Linebacker Tyler Johnson told Canesport that he will enroll either this week or in the second summer session in June.
Running back Cody Brown — a late addition to UM’s class after he was released from his Tennessee letter of intent — plans to be on UM’s campus by June and enroll in August.
Manasco said receiver Brashard Smith, another Palmetto alum, “will compete right away. He’s as fast or faster than anybody; a legitimate burner. I know [UM offensive coordinator] Rhett Lashlee will play Brashard as a freshman and try to find ways to get him the ball. Brashard is the perfect athlete for that offensive scheme.”
▪ Once the dead period lifts on May 31, UM will immediately start having high school players and coaches on campus - something that hasn’t been permitted for more than a year because of the pandemic.
Manasco said a Palmetto contingent is visiting UM’s campus on June 6.
The Canes have interest in several 2023 and 2024 Palmetto players and have offered one of Manasco’s Class of 2022 players: Michael Jackson, who’s a slot receiver and return specialist.
“He’s the most electric kid with the ball in his hands I’ve ever had,” Manasco said. “Speedy and dynamic. He’s doing his homework on schools.”
▪ UM freshman offensive tackle Michael McLaughlin put on 35 pounds and is now 300. If Zion Nelson and D.J. Scaife return to school in 2022, McLaughlin and Issiah Walker could be the competing for the No. 3 and 4 tackle jobs, if Jalen Rivers remains at guard.
Scaife, incidentally, has lost eight pounds, which could make him more mobile in his move from right guard to right tackle, where he’s a very, very slight favorite over Jarrid Williams for the starting job.
▪ Several of UM’s front seven defenders have bulked up. Zach McCloud, in his move from linebacker to defensive end, put on 19 pounds and is now listed at 254. DeAndre Johnson, the Tennessee transfer, added 14 pounds and is now at 260.
Keontra Smith dropped 10 pounds and he and Avery Huff would be UM’s lightest linebackers (205 pounds) if Smith stays at weakside linebacker, where he cross-trained this spring.
Smith also could stay at striker, competing with starter Gil Frierson and impressive newcomer Chase Smith, who put on 34 pounds and is at 210. Safety Amari Carter cross-trainer at striker during spring ball.
The young safeties all put on weight: Avantae Williams gained 18 pounds, Kameron Kinchens 17, Keshawn Washington 12 and Brian Balom 10.
▪ Most impressive walk-on of the spring? Receiver Dante Johnson, a lightly-recruited junior out of Covington, Ga.
“I call him `Dez Bryant,’” receiver Charleston Rambo said. “Big body. He can [go] get the ball. Not one but two guys are going to have to take him down. We also call him `Bean.’ We know Bean will get the ball, make a play with his size.”
But Johnson will have difficulty earning playing time on a team with 12 scholarship receivers.
▪ Bonus note: The Canes - expecting a full house at Hard Rock Stadium - have put individual football game tickets on sale earlier than ever before, starting as low as $15.
Bit if he doesn't then it's okLeonard Taylor already sounds like the best DT on the team. Hope he starts day one next to Nesta. And that is high praise for a walk on to be called Dez Bryant even if it is an exaggeration. Dante Johnson sounds like he has more potential than the average walk-on.
Johnson opened a lot of eyes in the spring game.Leonard Taylor already sounds like the best DT on the team. Hope he starts day one next to Nesta. And that is high praise for a walk on to be called Dez Bryant even if it is an exaggeration. Dante Johnson sounds like he has more potential than the average walk-on.
Stevenson will be first team. Heard it here first