Clearly, the Miami Hurricanes pass defense was atrocious last season. They ranked 99th in the nation averaging 268 passing yards allowed. Three times they allowed an opposing quarterback to throw for over 400 yards. Even more disconcerting was any lack of ball hawking by the corners. They only had six interceptions all of last season.
This year’s group is young–very young. Brandon McGee was drafted and Thomas Finnie was arrested on two felony charges and kicked off the team. The eldest cornerback is just a junior–Ladarius Gunter.
Gunter (6’2”, 200 pounds) is a strong, physical corner and a sure tackler. Gunter is in a pitched battle with sophomore Tracy Howard. Howard (5’11”, 185 pounds) was a coveted recruit out of high school, but failed to adjust to the speed of the college game and clashed with the defensive coaches. This spring he appeared stronger and faster, and he emerged as a vocal leader of the defense.
He could be the breakout star Miami fans expected him to be last season. He is a prototype lockdown, bump and run corner. If he can figure out defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio’s zone coverages he will be a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks. Howard and Gunter are currently fighting for one of the two cornerback positions, but I expect Howard to start at one and Gunter at the other.
Currently atop the depth chart at the opposite corner position is sophomore Antonio Crawford. Crawford (5’11”, 185 pounds) stepped up this spring and earned playing time. Once the season starts, he will probably end up being the starting nickleback on passing downs. However, the coaches like him a lot, so he could end up challenging Gunter for a starting spot.
After Crawford, you are looking at a lot of unproven players. Redshirt freshman Nate Dortch (5’11”, 175 pounds) worked hard in the spring, but didn’t do anything to really stick out. He should see a lot of time on special teams.
The other corners are all freshmen. Artie Burns (6’0”, 185 pounds) has tremendous speed and could see the field in dime packages. We might also see him return some kicks. The other freshman is Larry Hope (6’0”, 180 pounds) who was invisible in the spring and will probably struggle to see the field.
The fan favorite will be walk-on Wyatt Chickillo, younger cousin of defensive end Anthony Chickillo. The younger Chickillo (6’0”, 200 pounds) played quarterback in high school, but worked out as a corner in the spring. He will be the “Rudy” of this season’s Canes team, but he won’t see the field except perhaps at the end of blowouts.
The corner position is very young and not very deep. Howard will be the star of the group, and Gunter will be solid. After that, there are no impact players. If Howard and Gunter don’t show improvement from last season or suffer from injuries, Miami might be even worse against the pass than last year.
Canes fans are keeping their fingers crossed.