Safety appears to be a position of strength on a defense that remains the weakness of the Miami Hurricanes football team.
Last season saw the breakouts of sophomore Deon Bush and senior AJ Highsmith. Bush (6-foot-1, 205 pounds) was named the team’s newcomer of the year at the end of the season banquet and looks to be a real superstar moving forward. Bush bulked up in the offseason. That fact combined with his aggressive style of play should receivers think twice about running up the seam. Bush had trouble staying healthy last season, but looked to be full strength during the spring. I expect Bush to be a first team All-ACC selection.
Highsmith (6-feet, 215 pounds) finally came into his own last year. He is solid though not spectacular. He is not nearly as fast as Bush, but can use his football smarts to get into good position. As one of just a few senior starters on a young defense, his teammates will be looking to him for leadership. While he won’t be a human highlight reel, Highsmith will be an important part of an improved pass defense.
Highsmith could see competition for playing time from the very capable senior Kacy Rodgers II. Rodgers (6-foot-2, 215 pounds) was primarily used last season in the nickel package, and recorded 40 solo tackles. He will pushed at the nickel position by freshman cornerback Artie Burns, but Rodgers will see plenty of playing time regardless.
Backing up Highsmith will be sophomore Rayshawn Jenkins . Like many freshmen last season, Jenkins (6-foot-1, 215 pounds) was given a baptism by fire with little chance to learn and develop. He started seven games last season and played pretty well considering the circumstances. He is bigger than Highsmith, but not as fast. Coaches hope he can develop properly this season in a backup role so that he can replace Highsmith next season.
Waiting in the wings will be junior walk-on Nantambu Akil-Fentress (5-foot-10, 200 pounds). The young man was a special teams stud last year, and while he won’t see much time at safety will still contribute plenty in that phase of the game.
Joining Akil-Fentress on special teams will be junior Jordan Tolson. Tolson (6-foot-1, 200 pounds) might be, pound-for-pound, the biggest hitter on the team. However, barring a rash of injuries, his presence will be felt on the coverage teams.
Overall, the safeties could be a difference-making position next season. Bush is a blossoming star, and Highsmith provides leadership and stability. With dubious cornerbacks on either side of them, Bush and Highsmith need to step up big time. I think they are up to the challenge.