Armstrong had an up-and-down career that was at its peak during his sophomore season in 2010. He was one of Miami's most productive defenders that season. After a shaky 2011, Armstrong seemed to finally be turning the corner. He was one of the top performers during the offseason conditioning program and he carried that momentum into a strong spring.
Now the Canes, less about six weeks from its season opener, must make the adjustments for not having one of its starting safeties.
Vaughn Telemaque has started each of the last three seasons for the Hurricanes and was primed for a strong senior season. Without Armstrong playing next to him, his senior season becomes that much more important for the Hurricanes. He's been solid for the last few seasons but the Canes now need him to step up and have an All-ACC type of season. He's certainly capable of it and now becomes the leader of the secondary. The only other expected senior starter, Brandon McGee, was disappointing during offseason workouts so Telemaque's the main guy here.
The race to replace Armstrong in the starting lineup seems wide open right now. There are no other proven players at the position. Three guys will likely compete for the job during fall camp -- senior Andreu Swasey, junior A.J. Highsmith, and junior Kacy Rodgers.
Swasey, a Junior College transfer and the son of UM's strength coach, played in 12 games last season and saw time at safety. His main role, however, was on special teams and that likely won't change in 2012.
Highsmith, the son of a former UM great, played quarterback his first two years on campus and that really limited his growth at the safety spot. He played in 11 games as a reserve last season and finished with 12 tackles. He's probably best suited to stay a backup.
Rodgers, who came to Miami as a cornerback and whose father coaches in the NFL, has played in 13 games in his first two seasons but he's been largely ineffective. He's still unproven at the safety spot, too, and asking him to become a full-time starter might be a bit much.
Two others -- junior Tyrone Cornileus and sophomore Thurston Armbrister -- were moved to linebacker during the spring and could end up seeing time at the safety spot. Cornileus struggled through his first two seasons at safety, though, and Armbrister had a solid spring as a reserve linebacker. Both are unlikely to see extensive playing time, even if switched back.
The Hurricanes have two incoming freshmen who could play the position -- Deon Bush and Rayshawn Jenkins. Bush was recruited to play cornerback but is one of those rare players whose potential is just as high at the safety spot. He could play either spot and while he would have a strong chance to compete for a lot of playing time at cornerback this fall, safety could end up being a more legitimate option for him. He's more talented than the other five potential safeties mentioned above but, obviously, has the least amount of experience. Jenkins was a small school prep quarterback who brings a lot of athleticism to the position but will likely need some time to really learn how to play the position at a high level.
No matter how you slice it, the loss of Armstrong will sting Miami's defense this fall. They lose one of its top performers from the spring and someone who is considerably more talented than the players now competing for the job.
Getting rid of Armstrong could, however, end up being a blessing in disguise for the Canes. He's one of the last remaining high profile recruits from the Randy Shannon era that were part of a disappointing regime. This is Golden's team now. It's his program. Kids who want to buy in and be a part of the team concept seem to be a lot more common around here these days. It seems like Armstrong wasn't ready to be a part of that in his final year in Coral Gables.
The competition to fill Armstrong's safety spot will begin August 3rd when fall camp starts.