Spring Preview: Defensive Backs

Since 2000, Miami's pass defense has been amongst the best in the nation consistently. Last season, due to injuries and some unforeseen scheme changes, the ‘Canes had some trouble defending against the big play.

Despite that, they still allowed less than 200 yards per game. This spring, they'll have to deal with the loss of senior leader Brandon Meriweather, a versatile player who lined up at both safety and corner for the ‘Canes in 2006.

Former DB coach Tim Walton was promoted to defensive coordinator during the offseason, and Wesley McGriff was hired as the new coach for the secondary. The cupboard is anything but bare for McGriff, who will immediately see that Miami has plenty of talent returning for 2007.

Junior Safety Kenny Phillips

Kenny Phillips will be considered by most media publications as a first team All-American in 2007, and will be on the Thorpe Watch list. Some scouts are even projecting him as the top safety in next year's NFL draft. He possesses a rare combination of size, speed, and awareness, and it shows on the football field. Last season, Phillips had some injury problems (he had a thumb surgically repaired), but came back in time for bowl practices and was near full health. Phillips will be at full strength during the spring and will stay atop the depth chart at safety. He'll definitely be a force.

Senior Cornerback Glenn Sharpe

Sharpe started at cornerback last season for the ‘Canes and was granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA due to medical hardship. Sharpe, who had considerable playing time as a freshman in 2002, tore two ACLs in two years before coming back in 2006 and earning a starting spot. His play during the season led to his being selected as the winner of the 2006 Brian Piccolo Award, an award given to the most courageous player in college football. The coaches have always viewed Sharpe as an excellent cover guy with great top end speed and fluid hips. He played excellently in the first game of the year against Florida State, but as the season wore on, displayed some rust. He was called for pass interference on a handful of occasions, and was beat more than once. Despite that, he learned to stop thinking about his knees and just go out and play, and this year should be fully recovered. When healthy, he is Miami's best cornerback, and should be locking his side of the field down this fall.

Junior Cornerback Randy Phillips

Phillips followed up a successful freshman campaign with an even better sophomore one, earning a start job and holding it for most of the season. The coaches love his instincts and nose for the ball. Despite his success, he was abused on some plays last year and lacks top end speed. Many times, teams targeted him deep. He'll have to work on it to keep his job, especially since he'll be pushed by others in practice. A converted safety, do not eliminate the possibility of him being moved back there should someone beat him out at corner.

Sophomore Cornerback Chavez Grant

Grant flew under the radar a bit in the fall, but due to injuries and suspensions got a chance early in the year and showed that he belonged on the field. The Booker T. Washington High School product impressed coaches so much in the fall that the immediately moved him to the two deep last season, and he played in 11 games, primarily as a nickel back. After the suspensions of several players due to the FIU brawl, he was moved to a starting spot and Brandon Meriweather was used primarily as the nickel corner. Grant will definitely be in the mix this spring, and will see the field a lot in 2007. Whether or not it will be as a starter depends entirely on his performance and whether or not he can impress coaches more than the incumbents.

Junior Cornerback Bruce Johnson

Johnson appeared in 10 games last season but saw limited playing time at cornerback. Last spring, he was beat out on the depth chart, but this year he should be in contention again. Even if he doesn't play, he should see time on nickel and dime packages. So far, he just hasn't been impressive enough to beat anyone out, but don't be surprised if he does. He's the fastest of Miami's defensive backs, but also sometimes plays like he's the stiffest. He was used as a punt returner last season, but was unspectacular.

Junior Cornerback Carlos Armour

Armour was lost in the shuffle in 2006. As a freshman in 2004, he saw some playing time and impressed the coaches in practice. Unfortunately, he blew out his knee and has been a non-factor since. He competed for a starting spot last spring, but went virtually unnoticed the entire season despite being healthy (allegedly). This spring, he'll get another chance.

Junior Safety Anthony Reddick

Reddick was an impact player as a freshman in 2004, but tore his ACL in the first game of 2005 and missed the rest of the year. In 2006, he was in the mix at safety, but got lost in the shuffle due to issues with his injury and a suspension as a result of the FIU brawl. Reddick would be the first to tell you that 2006 was a trying season for him, but he's still very talented and assuming he is healthy, he should challenge for the safety spot opposite of Kenny Phillips. When fully healthy, some might consider him the best man for the position, but we'll have to see if he is truly over his injury.

Junior Safety Lovon Ponder

Ponder, who was recruited in the same class as Reddick, passed Reddick on the depth chart this past season. Traditionally, both have played the same position, and each has experience starting. Ponder is Reddick's main competition, and actually passed Reddick on the depth chart last year. In 2005, he tied for the team lead with three interceptions. He was impressive at times in 2006, but other times he missed tackles and was beat in coverage. Still, the coaches thought he was good enough to get considerable playing time, so much so that they experimented with moving Brandon Meriweather to corner on some passing downs. The battle between Ponder and Reddick will be one of the more closely monitored position competitions of the spring. Based on playing time last year, Ponder would have to be the favorite at this particular point in time, but it's anyone's guess.

Senior Safety Willie Cooper

Since arriving on campus in 2003, Cooper hasn't really made a significant impact. In 2006, he played primarily on special teams, but also saw some time playing safety after Kenny Phillips was injured. Cooper's most notable contribution came against Duke, where he made a game saving tackle and then followed that up with a clinching interception. What Cooper lacks in coverage skills, he makes up for in tackling ability. Throughout his career, he has fluttered between safety and linebacker. He will most likely remain the primary backup for Kenny Phillips.

Sophomore Safety Tervaris Johnson

Johnson is a physically impressive young defensive back who played almost exclusively on special teams in 2006. He is a particularly interesting player because no one knows exactly what position he's going to end up playing. He was recruited as a safety, but practiced at cornerback, and there's been talk of the possibility of moving him to linebacker. Johnson enters his first spring practice with many questions. He'll try to latch on somewhere on the two-deep. Johnson needs to be coached up. He is said to be very raw, so he'll be a good challenge for Coach McGriff.

Freshman Doug Wiggins

The second of Miami's two early enrollees, Wiggins was a versatile player in high school who can play either safety or cornerback. His early enrollment will give him an advantage over the other incoming defensive backs, whom will arrive in the fall. He will most likely line up at cornerback for the ‘Canes in the spring.

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