Spring got started Tuesday the 17th, practices open to the media will not begin until Saturday the 21st. It's the first look at your 2015 Canes and also your first look at life after Duke. Once you're done pouring out a little drink for the players that have moved on, come join me as we take a look at some reasons to be excited this spring. The Offense...
Quarterback: QB is sorta a big deal, so it's good we have a good one returning in Brad Kaaya. Betcha didn't know his mom was Fel... oh wait, you do, everyone does, so tell your friends it's time to move on...
Last year at this time we had a starting QB in Ryan WIlliams. As a senior he was supposed to lead the way while the future (Kaaya) developed. An ACL injury midway through the spring trashed those plans and Kaaya had to learn on the job once the season started. This year Kaaya will benefit from his first spring with Miami; getting in rhythm with his receivers will be key being that his top targets from last year are getting ready to be drafted into the NFL pretty soon. It's clearly his team now, so developing chemistry on the field with his weapons is job number four. Job number one through three is staying healthy.
Behind Kaaya we have...... hmmmmm. Don't get hurt, Brad.
Backing up Kaaya this season will be either R-FR Mailk Rosier (who is on the baseball team and won't be at every spring practice), and R-Jr Gray Crow. Crow was moved around a bit last season but has seen his share of back up reps at QB. Crow will get the lion's share of second string snaps at QB in spring, but one would imagine Rosier has the higher ceiling as a replacement long term in a worst case scenario. To round out the QBs available for spring, we also have a familiar name in transfer: Vincent Testaverde. Not sure what to expect from him but just due to the lack of QBs available for spring, the coaches should get a good look at everyone.
Tight Ends: It's not going to be easy to replace Clive Walford, but TE should be fun to watch this spring. Standish Dobard figures to take over as Kaaya's favorite target, but there is some unproven talent behind him.
Dobard spent most of last season as the second tight-end - mostly blocking and mauling - which he excelled at. He slid over to number one when Walford went down at the end of the season. He's shown the potential to be a solid pass catching TE. It just may not be fair to think he can produce like Walford, who many believe was the best TE in the nation. Last spring I was impressed by the catches Dobard was able to make; hopefully this year offers more of the same.
Coming in behind Dobard is where it gets fun, hopefully. Sophomore Chris Herndon (who played a few snaps last season and earned praise from the coaching staff) seems to be in the mix for playing time at one of the TE spots. At 6-5/245, he has the size. He will be competing with #1 JUCO transfer Jerome Washington. Washington (who comes in at 6-5/255) has the body to play right away and potentially become the starter down the line, but for spring purposes will be competing for the second spot. Also in the mix may be the most physically gifted of the bunch: R-Fr David Njoku. At 6-4/230, with his ability to run and jump, he's more built for a pass catching TE than short yardage run blocker, but spring will be his opportunity to show what he can do. The coaching staff will need to find a way to utilize his talent. Rounding out the TE position is R-Jr Jake O'Donnell. At 6-7/ 260, he's a huge target and a huge body for blocking. He hasn't seen much action, but has a ton more experience than the rest of the group so should earn plenty of reps this spring.
I see Dobard starting, but if he isn't it's because Miami struck gold in Washington, Njoku, or Herndon. They'll have to jump off the page in the passing game which will leave Dobard in a similar role as last year - being utilized as a blocker. The offensive line is a huge question mark, so having someone like Dobard there to help out is a plus.
Wide Receivers: With Phillip Dorsett getting ready to wow scouts at the NFL combine, we are left this spring with a talented group whose time has come. Their numbers don't quite stack up to their names, but this year receivers like Herb Waters and Malcolm Lewis will be called upon to step up. Stacey Coley cannot get any worse stat wise than last year, so he should be grinding his teeth to put last year behind him and dominate spring. Braxton Berrios will actually be able to practice this spring now that his knee is healthy; so while hitting a tire with a sledge hammer has it's place, actual reps with the QB may prove more beneficial. What we should all be super excited and terrified about is Rashawn Scott getting back on the field. I say that firmly believing he can be the number one WR on the team. There's just a lot of "if's" that come along with that statement. Roughly 17 seasons ago he was second on the team in receptions, but due to some issues and a few broken collarbones he hasn't been able to contribute. Last spring he was easily the most impressive WR before he got himself an injury that Head Coach Al Golden called "exotic" (never a good thing). Apparently the downside to leaping and adjusting midair is that you come down awkwardly and break stuff. Coming off of a redshirt season Scott has (or at least had the tools to be) a top target. Getting the rust off during spring and staying healthy is step one. We'll also get a look at our new really, really tall guys: Tyre Brady and Darrell Langham. Langham redshirted last season and Brady probably might as well have (from a statistical standpoint); so while there's a ton of mouths to feed ahead of them - talent rules all - so spring will be their chance to impress. Everyone should benefit from new WR coach Kevin Beard; the former Cane should be able to maximize the talent from a deep group.
Running Backs: Duke is gone, adjust your expectations accordingly.
Last spring wasn't all too sexy in the the running back room. This year we will still need to wait until summer before the jewel of NSD gets on campus, but the cupboard isn't bare. Returning top backs Joseph Yearby and Gus Edwards should get most of the work this spring, with Walter Tucker getting work at essentially a "fullback" type of role. Tucker is also a track star so keep that in mind. He came along nicely in the blocking game last season, but with his athletic ability it's easy to see why the coaching staff wants to try and get the ball in his hands a bit more. Not saying to run him up the middle an extra nine times a game, but dumping him the ball in the flat so he has some space doesn't sound terrible. That leaves Trayone Gray; he's a talent but is he a running back? Spring would be the time to figure it out. He came in with a lot of fan-fair midway through camp and took his first carry in practice for a TD. His first run in a game was for a TD, but only had a few carries after. At 6-2, 220 we should all be interested in what he becomes this spring.
Offensive Line: Three of last year's starting five have moved on, one of which will be a first round draft pick. I hope Kaaya's red non-contact jersey is really, really bright this spring.
Remember last spring when the top two running backs weren't available for spring and things didn't look that great because of it? That - just with the O line this spring. Taylor Gadbois and KC McDermott who figured to be important pieces to the line are still recovering from knee surgery and won't be able to go this spring. So, on the plus side they can't get hurt in practice (hi-fives the air), and the other guys will get good reps in. The bad is obvious - the rest of the offense will be handcuffed if the line can't hold blocks during spring. Danny Isidora (who is also one of our top tier lineman) will be available for spring and will be the most experienced starter. Nick Linder who saw action last year should make his switch to center (the position he was brought in for). Him and Kaaya will need to get on the same page obviously. Hunter Wells and Alex Gall should see plenty of time during spring, but the most interesting part of spring for the line is seeing how Fr. Jahair Jones fits in. He should be able to start but everyone is excited to see what the 6-5 312lb LT can and cannot do. Along with Jones, seeing how Soph. Trevor Darling has developed is important. Will he become a full time starter or stay in a rotation of serviceable players? Coming in and starting as a true freshman is no small feat, but he had his ups and downs. Sunny Odogwu is still a monster but looked raw last season; his progress is worth watching. And anything Hunter Knighton does on the field will be awesome. He's back from a major health issue that occured while training, so having him back in the mix is a huge plus for the team, for him and for his family.
Well there you have it Hurricanes fans. We will have much more on what to watch for, plus more comprehensive updates from the spring as practice opens up to the media. And a closer look at the defense as well.