On Saturday, I was on hand for the Miami Hurricanes 2016 spring game. In the end, the Green team (1st team offense/2nd team defense) beat the Orange team (2nd team offense/1st team defense) 24-7. You can read the post-game quotes here.
Outside of those quotes, these are my thoughts on the game, and where the team stands as we head into the summer.
Brad Kaaya is the f*cking truth
I know that you know this, but it's worth repeating: Brad Kaaya is an elite QB. He's so good. And, I think it's worth saying because he's been the Canes' starter for years so we may take him for granted. That would be a mistake.
Kaaya ended the spring game with a stat line of 29-45 passing, 345 yards, 3 TD and 1 INT (his first of the spring, btw). That stat line included no less than 5 drops by his receivers. Kaaya was equally effective under center and in shotgun. We knew this already, but he proved once again that he's the real deal.
What's that? Oh, nothing. Just the architect of Miami Hurricanes Football posing with some cheerleaders. Ho hum.
HOWARD pic.twitter.com/yezurB5mK4— AD (@Apdirtybird) April 16, 2016
Running Back Depth is a plus
Miami has 3 RBs who could conceivably start, and 4 who should be able to see time in the rotation. Mark Richt and RB coach/OC Thomas Brown are both proponents of using multiple RBs in their offense. So, I fully expect to see 50+ carries this year from the top 3 guys.
Which leads me to my next point: this is how I see the RB depth chart heading into summer.
- Mark Walton. I think he's the starter out of this group and I don't think it's especially close. Mark Richt recruited Walton to UGA and missed out. Now that they're working together at Miami, I expect big things from both coach and player.
- Gus Edwards. Still "dances" a bit too much for my liking, but he's the big back who can be the compliment to Walton. He looked really good on Saturday.
- Joe Yearby. I know I'm gonna get hate for this, since Yearby was the starter and a 1,000 yard rusher last year, but I think he's best suited for a slashing type role, not a workhorse role. On twitter, I noted Yearby as 2A to Edwards' 2, and I think that's more of a fair placement. He's not a full 3rd, but he's not the starter IMO, either.
- Trayone Gray. I feel bad for Choc, because in another backfield, he would be #2 or maybe #1. But, here, with the trio ahead of him, he's gonna be a rotation player and maybe return guy. He still has the ability to develop and could be a bigger contributor as a senior, but I don't see many more than the 23 carries for him that he logged in 2015 in this upcoming season.
Blending this current team with recruiting, my other main focus, a question from a loyal SOTU reader:
@breu_brasi @TheStateOfTheU Do you think Homer can jump into the top 4 in the fall?— McKenzie Moore (@McKenzi35248938) April 17, 2016
In a word, no.
Homer, a 4-star recruit from burgeoning powerhouse Oxbridge Academy, is fast, with good hands, nice vision and balance. He's also a 17y/o kid coming into one of the most crowded RB rooms in America.
Walton, Edwards, and Yearby are CLEARLY the top 3 in the rotation. In my opinion, Homer would have to break into the top 3 at RB to avoid a redshirt. For people thinking "Homer can just get carries", my response is "from who?" Is Homer taking carries from Walton? Nope. From Edwards? Nah. From Yearby? No way. From Gray? MAYBE.
And, like I said in the ranking part, Gray had 23 carries last year. Even if Homer were to get ALL of those carries, it's not enough PT to justify burning his redshirt. Homer probably wants to come in and play as a freshman. But, I don't see that as happening. Sorry.
Star TE scores 2 TDs on the day
You probably thought you were going to see me write about David Njoku here.
Christopher Herndon was the star TE of the day. He had 6 catches for 76 yards and 2 TDs, which is a solid day, if you were wondering. Herndon showed everything you need to see from a TE: blocking, crisp routes, good hands, and, once he caught the ball, the ability to punish defenders. He ran through 2 defenders on his 1st TD, and he ran over Corn Elder on his 2nd.
I still think Njoku is the better TE because he's a physical FREAK and was the leading receiver at the end of the year, but Herndon isn't far behind him. Look for Miami to utilize the pair together frequently this season.
Defensive Line is a big positive
This is the group that has most clearly benefited from the coaching change. All day long, and all spring long, the DL has been getting up the field and making plays.
This group goes a legit 9 deep, with Al-Quadin Muhammad, Chad Thomas, Demetrius Jackson, and Trent Harris at End, and Kendrick Norton, RJ McIntosh, Courtel Jenkins, Gerald Willis, and Anthony Moten at Tackle. And, that group is hungry, finally playing the 1-gap scheme they're built for, and ready to bring it on every play.
The Orange team defense forces a 3 & out. This No. 1 defense is definitely competing and firing off the ball— J.T. Wilcox (@JTWilcoxSports) April 16, 2016
Offensive Line needs work
It wasn't the prettiest game for the OL, but it wasn't the worst, either. The lines, 1st and 2nd team, both looked more comfortable in the run game than pass protection.
I will readily admit that evaluating OL is not my strong suit. But, when the defense has multiple TFLs, 5 or 6 sacks, and plenty of other disruption, things need to be addressed.
There were a couple players on the OL who were simply overmatched by their defensive counterparts. Hopefully, when Alex Gall and Nick Linder return from injury, the line will take a step forward. That's going to be a key, as their ability to open holes for the run game, and protect the franchise QB will be paramount to the Canes' success in 2016.
Freshman LBs are the truth
While several incoming recruits will benefit from a redshirt, LBs Shaq Quarterman and Mike Pinckney are ready to go RIGHT NOW.
That pair, who started and played the entire game with the 1st team defense, played with high energy and great effectiveness. Quarterman was credited with 7 tackles and a TFL, but I had him closer to 10 tackles on the day. Pickney had 5 tackles and 2 TFLs, and also was a factor in pass defense.
Any uncertainty I had about starting 2 freshmen LBs was erased by what I saw on Saturday. They're not perfect players and will make mistakes, but those are the growing pains you have to go through with young players. But, I think it's pretty clear that the Canes' first team defense is better and stronger with Quarterman and Pinckney on it.
DBs still a weak spot
Jaquan Johnson was a standout on the 2nd team. His instincts are incredible and he just makes plays. He was probably the best DB on the day for me.
Corn Elder had an up and down day. He's not a #1 corner, but he's being forced into that spot. He's a great #3 corner, even #2. But he struggled against Braxton Berrios for most of the day in coverage. Elder did, however, bring plenty of ferocity in supporting the run, making several big tackles.
Sheldrick Redwine was okay, but not great. Michael Jackson dropped a sure-fire INT on 2nd team on a floater. Ryan Mayes went unnoticed. RS Frosh Robert Knowles switched from S to CB and made a couple plays. He is thinking at the position, you can see he's a step slow, but he has the physical talent to be pretty good out there in time.
Jamal Carter and Rayshawn Jenkins were shaky at best in tackling situations. Both ended up making a couple nice plays on contested catches, breaking them up. But, there needs to be a steady level of play at Safety that wasn't present on Saturday.
Long story short: the more pressure the front 7 can bring to help the secondary, the better.
Just a couple quick hitters:
- Stacy Coley is going to have a big year. He sat out this game, but it's clear he's the #1 receiver here. The offense will benefit from his return from a hamstring injury in the fall.
- Incoming WRs will play, too. Sam Bruce, Dionte Mullins, Ahmmon Richards, and JUCO Dayall Harris will play "if they're ready", according to CMR. With low numbers at WR (2nd team offense had to play walk-ons opposite Darrel Langham the whole day), the infusion of talent from the aforementioned 4 players will be a welcomed sight come June. CMR also said those 4 players could factor in the return game.
- Former players were back on the field and it was awesome. Early in the game, there were maybe 100 former players in the NE endzone, taking in the game. As the game got to halftime and early in the 2nd half, that group had grown to 200+, easily. Bringing back former players is something that should have been done a while ago, and I'm elated that CMR and staff have welcomed them back.
- There were PLENTY of recruits on hand. I saw 20+ from Chaminade-Madonna. Another 15-20 from St. Thomas Aquinas. And, there were top tier recruits like 5-star RB Stephen Carr, 4-star RB Darrian Felix, 4-star S Xavier McKinney. Commits N'Kosi Perry, Cade Weldon, and Gilbert Fierson (2018) were on hand as well. And PLENTY more. I'd estimate a solid 125-ish recruits were on hand for the Spring Game. They got a good show, IMO.
- Lawrence Cager and David Njoku both had 2 drops on the day. Easy, wide open drops, too. Can't have that.
- Braxton Berrios had a really nice day. He and Malcolm Lewis both made some tough catches over the middle.
- Backup QB is still unsettled. Malik Rosier got the first crack at things for his team, but Evan Shirreffs, Jack Allison, and Vincent Testaverde all played as well. None of those 4 QBs really looked all that good, and each made plays that left much to be desired. Let's just say this group has a lot of work to do.
- Both sides of the ball were pretty vanilla with their play calling. That's typical of a Spring Game. Save the surprises for the Fall.
- The weather was beautiful until the very end of the game, when clouds rolled in. Luckily, the rain skirted Lockhart stadium and the spring game went off without a hitch.