Barry Jackson

Here’s how UM football coaches are doing their jobs, keeping players engaged during hiatus

A six-pack of Miami Hurricanes notes from my chat this week with UM cornerbacks coach and former Canes standout player Mike Rumph:

Coach Manny Diaz, his coaching staff and UM staffers are being very diligent about keeping each other — and their players — engaged and productive during these unprecedented times.

Through Zoom, a software-based web conferencing mechanism, Diaz is holding afternoon meetings most every weekday, with 30-plus UM staffers joining the conference from their homes.

After a group meeting of about 45 minutes, the coaches split into groups, via Zoom, to discuss various topics, including game-planning for September opponents. Then they hold recruiting meetings.

During one of Diaz’s initial meetings on Zoom, he took a small break from football to have each coach “talk about why they’re grateful for where they are, talk about how grateful they are,” Rumph said. That was uplifting to the staff during scary times.

Diaz also makes sure coaches check on player academics “and make sure the kids are going online and working with their professors,” Rumph said. They also discuss “good and bad things to assess” with each position group.

Rumph and the other coaches also are maintaining regular contact with his players.

Via Zoom, Rumph holds a regular 9 a.m session with his four enrolled scholarship cornerbacks — Al Blades Jr., D.J. Ivey, Christian Williams and Te’Cory Couch, plus walk-ons Suleman Burrows and Louis Gutierrez.

“Every morning at 9, I get them all on Zoom to see their faces,” Rumph said. “We might read a Bible verse and get into what they have going on, talking about what online classes they’re taking, make sure they’re eating well, checking on their health, their family.”

How are his players staying in shape?

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Rumph said players are communicating with strength and conditioning coach David Feeley about that, and “we want to make sure they’re doing stuff but not too strenuous. They don’t have the trainers around to do what they do normally with the university, but we’ve given them ideas of what they have to do. Making sure they jog each day, make sure they’re getting some sun — some Vitamin D for their immune system — getting fresh air.”

Though skill development can be challenging, Rumph has given his cornerbacks tips on how to work “on change of direction” and other areas specific to their position.

He said the regular sessions with players and coaches on Zoom has been a godsend, and perhaps a sign of things to come in sports.

“The thing I’ve seen with Zoom is it brings back familiarity with what we’re used to,” Rumph said. “We’re normally with our players and staff more than our family.”

He said it restores something of a sense of normalcy during these unusual times “when you put Zoom on and see 20, 30 members of the staff. We joke around a little to get away from stuff we’re hearing [about the world]. We’re blessed. Who else gets to do this stuff?

“It’s been very surreal, but [meetings through Zoom] might be something new going into the future of sports. Being able to do everything from home, communicate from home [is helpful]. We’re all trying our best to take advantage of the situation. It’s innovative. Every day is something new.”

Recruiting visits on college or high school campuses are not permitted nationally because of the coronavirus pandemic, but coaches can communicate with recruits with phone calls, text messages or through social media.

Rumph said this way of recruiting lets coaches know what players are genuinely interested because “if a person is not answering their phone, they might not want the call” from a coach or vice versa. With most young people staying in their homes — and not in class — high school recruits would typically have their phones by their side and answer the calls or texts from colleges or coaches that they would like to hear from.

“We have nothing but time to continue to study film,” Rumph said.

With only four scholarship corners in his room this spring — and freshmen Isaiah Dunson and Marcus Clarke enrolling in the coming months — has Rumph lobbied Diaz to use UM’s last available scholarship on a grad transfer cornerback?

Rumph said he has not. Even though the group is generally inexperienced — beyond Ivey and Blades — Rumph said: “I like what I have. It’s a good amount of depth. This is one of the best groups of corners I’ve had since I’ve been at UM. All these kids can contribute this year; they have a good skill set and hungry to learn and fit into what we’re doing. We’ve always been able to play a bunch of freshmen at Miami, and that trend will continue. These kids will have an opportunity to play.”

Rumph sees all six in position to become quality Atlantic Coast Conference corners.

Christian WIlliams , the four-star recruit from Alabama who played almost entirely on special teams as freshman last season, lined up with the first team during two of UM’s only four spring practice sessions because he earned it, Rumph said.

“Statistically, each day when Christian started, it was because he did better than the other corners,” Rumph said. “Coach Diaz constantly grades every day, and there is no indecisiveness about [who grades out best].”

The players who grade out the best are rewarded with first-team reps in practice.

“That to me creates a level of competition we haven’t had because of the depth [issue],” Rumph said. “I had Antrel Rolle breathing down my neck when I played, and Kelly Jennings.”

How did Williams do in those four practices?

“He played decently,” Rumph said. “Him being in the weight room and being part of coach Feeley’s workout program has helped. His athleticism jumped out in high school, but he wasn’t the strongest kid. I said, ‘Once you get in that weight room, once you get bigger, faster stronger, you can be a big-time corner.’ His vertical, broad jump, everything went up this offseason. He put on about 5 pounds.”

Rumph values what he has with Ivey and Blades but wants Williams and Couch to challenge them. Eventually, Clarke and Dunson also will join that competition. Though logic would suggest Ivey and Blades are the front-runners to start in base defense, Rumph said all the jobs are open.

Couch might be the best option in the slot when UM goes to nickel packages, but Rumph also had him getting work on the boundary during the lone week of spring practice.

“Te’Cory went hard and lifted hard and put on 14 pounds” since last season ended, Rumph said. “He’s the most confident guy I have. What I love about him is he knows how good he can be. With his technique, he shows flashes and is brilliant [when he’s at his best]. Last year, he led the spring in interceptions. His ball skills are really good. I feel he can be physical when he wants to be. He has a tremendous upside. He can play nickel and blitz and play man.”

Four-star Hialeah Champagnat freshman defensive back Jalen Harrell — who has signed but not yet enrolled — can play cornerback, safety and striker, but Rumph said he does not expect him to play cornerback. He said he will end up at either striker or safety.

There has been no talk of moving freshman safeties Keshawn Washington or Brian Balom to cornerback, either; they, too, will stay at safety, where Miami has very good depth among Gurvan Hall, Bubba Bolden, Amari Carter and several young players.

Next week, we’ll have a lot more from Rumph on other notable topics on Canes football.

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