UM welcomed 12 new football players to campus this week. A look at the defensive players who arrived, plus Miami’s new kicker:
CORNERBACK AL BLADES JR.
The basics: Consensus four-star prospect by ESPN, 247Sports.com and Rivals.com … Rated as the No. 41 overall recruit in the country by ESPN … Produced over 140 career tackles, including 98 solo stops, at University School and St. Thomas Aquinas … son of the late Miami Hurricanes defensive back Al Blades … Received over 30 scholarship offers … Chose Miami over offers from Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Florida State.
The outside view: ESPN.com’s scouting report: “Strengths: Tall, explosive playmaker. Smart with very good instincts. Knows where to be and what to do. Smooth kid who can bend and explode in transition. Has the burst to close on underneath routes in zone. Possesses the speed and savvy to take it to the house from anywhere on the field. ... Areas of improvement: Thin and will need to put on some good weight. Not exactly a ball hawk and will need to improve ball skills on defense. ... Bottom line: Blades Jr. comes from excellent bloodlines and should follow in his father and uncle's footsteps to become a very good college football player.”
The inside view: Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz: “You can’t talk about Al without talking about his mentality and his demeanor. He plays like a Hurricane. Highly competitive in everything he does. Wants to win in everything he does. He gets more than anybody what it takes to be a Hurricane.”...
Cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph said what he most likes about Blades is “Leadership ability, tackling ability and his upside as far as playing corner.”
Potential 2018 role: Blades will enter the summer battling with early arrivals Gilbert Frierson and D.J. Ivey and fellow summer arrival Nigel Bethel for a role in UM’s cornerback rotation, which will include at least four and probably five. Michael Jackson and Trajan Bandy assuredly will play, and Jhavonte Dean has the inside track to another of those five slots. Frierson had some very good moments in spring ball.
But Blades, like Bethel, will have a legitimate opportunity to crack the top five. At 6-2 and 183 pounds, Blades has the size to be a boundary corner.
CORNERBACK NIGEL BETHEL
The basics: The three-star prospect from Miami Northwestern verbally committed to Florida at one point, but broke that pledge after Dan Mullen became the Gators’ new coach. ... UF wanted him as a receiver, not a corner … UCF, Georgia and Louisville were among his other offers. ... Helped Northwestern win a Florida Class 6A state championship in 2017 … Played both wide receiver and defensive back in high school … Was Bulls’ second-leading receiver as a senior, catching 18 passes for 357 yards and two touchdowns and recorded an interception.
The outside view: Northwestern coach Max Edwards, to Canesport: “Nigel can play both sides of the ball, has track speed and good size. He’s got good instincts at DB, and at wide receiver he can catch the ball. You add up those characteristics and that’s what makes him a top prospect.”
The inside view: Rumph: “Bethel can fly. He’s probably one of the fastest guys on the team coming in. He’s a Dade kid that has that chip [on his shoulder]. What I like about Nigel is he knew the situation recruiting all the corners we were [recruiting]. And he didn’t flinch. He said he wants to come in and compete. And that’s the old school mentality we’re looking for.”
Potential 2018 role: Like fellow summer arrival Blades, he will have a chance to crack the top five if he’s great in August. But he weighs just 165 pounds and seems best suited for slot cornerback, at least initially. “ Rumph “is telling me to come in, that to play this season I have to gain some good weight in the summer,” Bethel told Canesport.com.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE NESTA SILVERA
The basics: Rated by ESPN as the 50th best player in the 2018 class and third best defensive tackle. Stuck with commitment to UM despite a late push from UF. ... As a senior, Silvera produced 107 tackles, 31 for loss, 12 sacks and recovered a fumble for a touchdown in American Heritage’s win in the state title game … USA Today named him Florida’s Defensive Player of the Year this past season.
The outside view: Rivals.com’s Mike Farrell told me: “Nesta Silvera is a plugger. He’s a better fit for a 3-4 defense more than [UM’s] 4-3. Will be better against the run than the pass. Physically, he’s ready to play” as a backup.
The inside view: Alabama and former UM defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski, who made these comments before leaving for the Crimson Tide in March: “He is the first guy we offered on the inside. We looked at all the film right after last season and we thought he was the best guy and that we needed to offer him. After spring ball, we came back and we got even more excited about him and then everybody else in the country was there recruiting him. He plays great during his senior year and he is one of the best defensive tackles in the country.
“He is our number one defensive tackle in the country. I had to remind him of that, that I knew a long time ago he was a big time guy. He is the perfect three-technique for our defense. RJ McIntosh was a productive player for us, a very good player for us, but he is tall. Typically your three-techniques are not super tall. With his height being what it is, it is great for us. In a 3-4 defense it wouldn’t be as great.”…
Mark Richt: “I think he is the best three-technique [defensive tackle]in the state.”
Potential 2018 role: It would be very surprising if he doesn’t earn playing time immediately at tackle, in a rotation with Gerald Willis, Jon Ford, Patrick Bethel and perhaps Illinois transfer Tito Odenbigo.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE JORDAN MILLER
The basics: The three-star prospect from Jacksonville attracted considerable attention late in the recruiting process — after he sent schools a recruiting highlight tape in November — and drew offers from Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia Tech. He originally committed to Georgia Southern because of lack of interest from major programs …Why was Miller lightly recruited before November 2017? Partly because he began his career playing at small Palatka High. He transferred to Sandalwood High after his junior year, but sat out spring practice because of gall bladder surgery and didn’t participate in summer camps in 2016, which limited his exposure to major schools.
The outside view: Sandalwood assistant coach Brad Jennings told Canesport: “This kid, he’s legit, the real deal. I think he’s going to be a great one. I played with some really good D linemen playing at Florida State, but this kid is amazing, man. It’s hard to find kids that size. It’s very rare you find them that size that can come off the ball like him and stay low, penetrate through the holes and seek the ball out the way he does. He hustles, flies to the ball.
“He’s going to be really a dominant player for Miami. I think Miami got a steal. This is bigger than a sleeper. He’s unbelievable. He wrecks everything you put it in front of him. He blows up double teams and still makes the plays. I don’t think anyone can block the kid one on one.”
The inside view: From Kuligowski, before leaving for Alabama: “We pop in Jordan’s film and we watch it against — I don’t want to go through everybody, but some kids that we ended up not signing — this kid’s senior film is better than all of these other kids,’’ Kuligowski said. “He’s 340-something pounds. If I had showed you a picture of him at the beach you’d be amazed at how skinny he is for that size. He’s very strong. He’s very explosive.
“We found out about the film on Friday. We offered him on Friday afternoon. We went in and home visited him on Monday and he committed Monday night. It was just a match made in heaven hopefully.
“He was already going to visit Tennessee the last weekend. Alabama called and offered him later on that day on Friday. So it wasn’t just us that found out about him.”
Potential 2018 role: An underdog to crack the top-four tackle rotation and a candidate to redshirt unless UM has injuries or he impresses in August drills. At 6-4 and 330 pounds, Miller has been working to lose weight since rising to 340 earlier this year.
LINEBACKER PATRICK JOYNER JR.
The basics: Rated by ESPN as a four-star prospect and the 23rd best linebacker in this class…Helped guide South Dade to the Class 8A Regional Playoffs and a 9-2 record as a senior … Finished with 87 tackles and had 16 sacks and two forced fumbles as a senior ... Had 63 tackles and registered 15 sacks during his junior season … Chose Miami over offers from Florida State, Alabama, Florida and Auburn.
The outside view: ESPN.com’s scouting report: “Strengths: Fluid, athletic, long and explosive. Physical tackler with excellent range and ability to close quickly. ... Areas of Improvement: Only plays on the line, which has his coverage exposure limited. … Bottom Line: Impressive athletic edge defender with the skills to play many spots. Fast, long and physical player with instincts to the ball.”
The inside view: Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz: “Long, can run, high motor guy. Has a unique skill set with his ability to rush the passer. One of the top guys in Dade County, maybe the top guy in sacks on the season. A guy that on first and second down can chase a running back and on third down maybe a guy we can use where we showed this year playing with four defensive ends.”
Potential 2018 role: Should play immediately on special teams and have a chance to compete for a backup linebacker job. Joyner, who’s 6-3 and 225 pounds, told Canesport.com that he will play weakside linebacker (where Mike Pinckney is the starter) and will also compete with Derrick Smith and Romeo Finley at the new viper position (which is a linebacker/safety hybrid role). He also said he will get some practice work at defensive end. The 31 sacks the past two years are hard to ignore; the young man can rush the quarterback.
KICKER BUBBA BAXA
The basics: As a senior, went 4-of-10 on field goals, with conversions from 50 and 54 yards. Told Rivals.com that eight of his 10 field goal attempts were from 40-plus yards and he “had plenty of distance on all of them, and my misses were just barely missing. … I’ll be fine.” ... An impressive 88 percent of his kickoffs were touchbacks ...
As a junior in 2016, went 5-of-9 on field goals with a long of 49 yards and hit all 26 extra points. … Rated the fourth-best kicker in the nation by ESPN.com and 247Sports.com… Chose Miami over offers from Baylor and Army.
The outside view: Renowned kicking coach Jamie Kohl, to Canesport: "He might have the strongest leg in the country. Very, very good athlete.”
The inside view: “We signed Bubba Baxa to be our starting kicker,” special teams coach Todd Hartley said. “That’s our expectation. He knows that. I said that’s a lot of pressure on you. Mike Badgley [now with the Indianapolis Colts] is leaving. I am signing one kicker for you to be the starting kicker at Miami. He knows that.”
Potential 2018 role: Hartley said Baxa was the top kicker he evaluated in this class, and UM will roll with him this year and if all goes well, the next four. There’s no question about the leg strength – there’s a youtube video of him kicking a 70 yard field goal – but accuracy is the concern.