I don't know about the rest of you, but signing day is my favorite day of the year. Forget the Super Bowl and forget the NFL Draft; signing day is the most chaotic, entertaining sports day on the calendar. Any time you have 17-18 year-old kids making decisions on national television anything can change in an instant and have ramifications for years to come. It's like if Jadeveon Clowney could just choose to be drafted by the Seahawks because he likes Pete Carroll and the practice facilities. I love, and sometimes hate it. But there's always something to talk about.
This year, I have to say that signing day was pretty boring for Canes fans everywhere. That is not to say this is a bad thing. In fact, you can make a very good argument that it was a good thing. Some would say that Miami had much more to lose than they had to gain on signing day 2014. So the fact that no there were no new commitments is ok when you consider that there were no prospects that flipped to other schools.
The weeks leading up to signing day, however, were not nearly as quiet. Players came, players left, coaches ALMOST left (according to sources). Because of this, we are going to take a look back at an article from December (that you can find here) where we took a look at what the 2014 depth chart could look like. For those of you that didn't read it (shame on you) it was just before the bowl game (which I will NOT be talking about, the wound is still too fresh) and took into account returning players and verbal commits. Now that all the dust has settled and recruits have signed their letters of intent, let's take another look into the future and see what's changed.
Nothing has changed here. Some were speculating that Kaaya was entertaining the idea of other schools such as UCLA or Boise State, but he will be a Hurricane for the foreseeable future. Like I said before, unless Kaaya or Olsen absolutely blow people away between now and opening day Ryan Williams will be your starting quarterback against Louisville on Labor Day weekend. This probably means that Kaaya will redshirt this year with Olsen as the back-up. Be patient, Canes fans, because the 2015 quarterback battle should be excellent.
Gus Edwards or Joe Yearby
It's all status quo here. Brandon Powell MAY have seen some action as a true freshman, but he switched his allegiance and signed with Florida. We also noted that there was a chance Dalvin Cook was on his way to Coral Gables, but he detoured to that school in Tallahassee. No worries; although the Duke of Coral Gables is coming off an injury, he should be one of the best running back in the country next year if his recovery goes well (and there hasn't been an indication it hasn't). Yearby, while coming off an injury himself, is a very high-level prospect that is already enrolled in school and has the ability to contribute early. There should be no immediate negative impact from the loss of Powell, but running back depth will need to be addressed in the 2015 class, because there is really nobody of note on the roster after these four. Crawford will provide stability if Duke isn't ready to go right away, and I saw some promising things from Edwards last year and look for him to build on that.
There are no changes on paper here. The most notable thing to happen in this unit, however, was the news from the 2013 commit everyone was waiting on, Derrick Griffin. We found out in late December that Griffin failed to qualify academically and will attend Junior College this upcoming season. That's a shame, because Griffin is the kind of player that belongs on a football field of the highest level. No matter, because as I said before, this will be one of the most talented units in the country next year. Berrios might be a little slower coming along than first thought after an ACL injury suffered in the Under Armor game, but is one of nine early enrollees from this class and is already working with team doctors. All of that aside, Coley, Dorsett, Waters and the guys will be the best welcome present Ryan Williams can have as a new starting quarterback. Miami has plenty of other prospects in this class at this position, but they will not be in for spring drills and will be more of a factor after a year or two of development.
I hate to be boring, but there is no change here either. There was some question after the bowl game whether Walford was going to skip his senior season and enter the draft, but he is sticking around and will stabilize this unit. Golden and company did add prospect David Njoku since we last met, but he figures to need a year or two of development before becoming a factor. This means that either Sandland or Dobard is going to have to contribute to an offense that would like to utilize the Tight End more. Signee Chris Herndon doesn't look to me like an immediate contributor.
We come to our first major change since our last meeting. We found out in January that tackle Malcolm Bunche will be transferring to UCLA and will use his last season of eligibility playing for the Bruins. While this was a bit of a surprise at the time, it made sense once you began to look through the facts. Bunche began his career as a starter every week, only to see his role diminish as his career progressed. I wish the young man nothing but the best. While losing a starting caliber lineman is never a good thing, Miami should be fine as it pulled in one of the best offensive line classes in the country in 2014. I always thought KC McDermott was going to see early playing time, but he becomes even more important with Bunche's departure. I think this also means we see more of fellow early enrollee Trevor Darling early on. The surprise loss of longtime recruit Reilly Gibbons days before NSD should not have an immediate impact this season as he figured to redshirt. Other than that, this line is loaded with veteran talent, especially on the all-important left side. There was some shuffling, but I'm not too concerned with this unit.
Defensive Line (Base 3-4 Scheme)
Did I just say I wasn't worried? This group is, well, not as solid.
I'll address the giant elephant in the room; yes, Travonte Valentine decided to go elsewhere. No, I do not think potential coaching instability was the ENTIRE reason he chose to do so. When Valentine committed to LSU on NSD it was the FOURTH school he committed to, so it really shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that he changed his mind again. Miami did everything they could (without getting themselves in trouble again) and it just came down to the fact that he liked LSU better. It happens. The bad part about it is that Valentine was a great player at the biggest need on the roster.
What we are left with is questions all along the line, but new some of the new guys will hopefully answer those questions. Lost in all the talk about Valentine is highly regarded recruit Anthony Moten. He is a prototypical 3-4 end that should contribute some as a true freshman while he continues to develop. JUCO transfer Calvin Heuterlou was added since we left off and is already enrolled in school. I fully expect him to be the starting nose tackle next season, mostly because there really isn't much else there. The other JUCO transfer, Wyche, was a little bit of a confusing situation leading up to signing day with a strange ACC rule that kept him from enrolling early. All you need to know is that he is coming to the U in May and figures to contribute at nose tackle and at end (which is similar to a tackle in a 4-3 set, for those unfamiliar with how the 3-4 works; think Richard Seymour or Muhammad Wilkerson). While I think Chickillo will be the starter to begin the season, the man with the best nickname on the roster, Ufomba Kamalu,(seriously, if someone has something better than the NIGERIAN NIGHTMARE I'd like to hear it) will be coming for his job. He is a freak athlete that just needs to put it together on the field, and Chick just hasn't been the same since his freshman year. Valentine's departure brings veteran Jelani Hamilton into the picture, but he has been a disappointment up to this point in his career and wasn't even on the field in some games this past season. I've said it before but I'll say it again; good defense starts at the point of attack, and last year the point of attack was one of the worst in the country. We all saw the results of that. I'm a little less optimistic about this group without Valentine, but there is reason to think they will be better than last year and progress is the name of the game.
My goodness, this group has me excited. I see so much athleticism and potential it makes my head spin. There are no changes since last time for these guys since Perryman decided to return for his senior season and Chad Thomas stayed home after seeing what Alabama and the school in Florida's capitol city had to offer. Some of you might be wondering, "wait, isn't Chad Thomas a Defensive end? What about Muhammad?" and yes, you are correct, kind of. In the 3-4 set, most of the time you have your best pass rushers play outside linebacker, like Aldon Smith or Demarcus Ware. While guys like Thomas, Muhammad and McCord will probably be listed as "linebackers" they will spend most of their time getting to the quarterback.
That's enough for my football X's and O's lesson, let's get back to the task at hand. With Perryman back it solidifies the inside linebackers and gives the defense much needed experience and leadership. Kirby will finally have his time to shine and I think he will do just that. If you haven't heard about Chad Thomas by now, just know that he is really, REALLY good. I said in my last article I think he will be the best player in our front seven from day one and I still believe that (and just as a bonus, he is an emerging rapper that chose Miami in part because because of its music program. Seriously, get excited about this guy). Owens and Harris are already in school and look like perfect fits in this defense; Owens for his versatility and Harris for his ability to rush the passer. I could go on and on about the guys I'm excited about in this unit but we would be here a while, but we should continue. There's a lot of reason for optimism here, folks.
Again, nothing changed on paper here. But the loss of corner Nigel Bethel a few weeks before NSD hurts, especially since his position wasn't replaced in this class. It shouldn't have an immediate impact in the upcoming season, but like running back, this will have to be addressed in 2015 (and that class is LOADED with top-level prospects that have Miami high on their list. No reason to worry TOO much). There is a lot of returning talent in this unit and a lot to like. Burns has too much talent not to be in the starting lineup (he's 6'1 200 and runs for the track team) and I think Howard could have a season that will at least make him consider leaving early. Gunter is a solid starter if needed, but could be upgraded. I think it will be key to see how Deon Bush bounces back after recovering from an injury most of last season, but incoming freshman Kiy Hester looks like a stud. This unit isn't without questions, but there is a lot to like.
So there it is. These are the guys you will be rolling with next year, Canes fans. And considering what could have happened to this program from the Nevin Shapiro situation, and what COULD have happened had Coach Al Golden decided to take his talents away from south beach(have you seen what's happened to Vanderbilt's class?), I'm pretty happy with it. Sure, it could be better, but it could also be much, MUCH worse. The schedule next year doesn't do any favors for a team with a new quarterback and a young defense, but I think that there is enough talent to post a similar record to last year and be one of the favorites for the ACC coastal. Don't expect this team to be like the teams from the ‘80s and early 2000's, but this team will compete.