After the first month of practices twice a week and one scrimmage in the books, the University of Miami Hurricanes have several notable headlines starting to take shape heading into the 2016-2017 season. Let's take a look at each one and discuss them:
A battle for second place. As we thought heading into spring ball and has stayed the case, Brad Kaaya is the clear number one as the offensive signal caller. However, between newly signed recruit Jack Allison, redshirt freshman Evan Shirreffs, redshirt sophomore Malik Rosier and transfer Vincent Testaverde all the reps are being shared evenly. As we progress forward there may be some separation between the backups but right now they're all sharing evenly for the second, third and fourth strings via a rotation.
Technique, technique, technique. Even if Kaaya is the leader of the offense, there's still work to be done. The previous regime may have helped Kaaya and the others grow as readers of a defense and become more knowledgeable in their playbooks but it seems to be, based on the first month anyways, that the way Mark Richt wants his quarterbacks to operate in the pocket and step into throws is vastly different than what was taught previously.
A freshman probably won't be in the rotation next season. Two years ago Joe Yearby helped take pressure off Duke Johnson. Last season Mark Walton helped spell Yearby at different points during a given game. Next season don't be surprised if Travis Homer takes a redshirt. This is no indictment on Homer and his ability but rather the fact that a newly healed Gus Edwards is now in the fold for the Canes ground game.
No real separation has occurred between Mark Walton, Joe Yearby and Gus Edwards. Similar to the backup quarterback position, each back is getting his crack at the majority of the carries in practice but none has separated himself. This isn't an issue as all three could be used on gameday but it would be nice to have one true "bell cow" of the group. Keep in mind, Coach Richt has often times juggled running backs in the past that've all needed their touches to get going in a given game (think Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb in 2014 and Gurley and Keith Marshall in 2012).
Stacy Coley ate his Wheaties in the offseason. One of the more noticeable offseason changes has been the physique of the incumbent number one receiver, Stacy Coley. Many of the reporters on hand for the Canes' spring practices have noted that he's put on several pounds and looks "vastly different" from previous seasons.
Good thing he bulked up because Coley maybe the aerial attack next season. Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post noted Coley may have to have an "Amari Cooper-like" season next year due to the lack of proven pass catching options next season. The Cooper reference means that Coley may get 30-40 percent (if not more) of the looks through the air and the rest of the receivers will pick up the leftovers.
The depth behind Coley is anyone's guess. We're seeing a theme here when it comes to the second and third stringers. Coach Richt was transparent last week when asked by the media of the pecking order of the receivers. He essentially said "it's Stacy Coley as the number 1 option then Braxton Berrios as a distant number 2 and then everyone else." Lawrence Cager and the incumbent freshman will be fighting for playing time, any thought of redshirting any of the three freshmen probably will be indicative of if one or all can show that they can grasp the offense.
A position of strength last season gets stronger. With David Njoku and Christopher Herndon III coming on strong at the end of last season, Canes fans looked towards '16 as the year of the tight end. Coach Richt has seen that as well. Compound the issues of overall talent at the wide receiver position and Coach Richt has stated that you'll see both players lineup all over the field to cause mismatches throughout the defense.
A known weakness still hasn't been settled. On the flipside of the point just discussed, the offensive line was putrid at points last year and it looks like Coach Searels is raising the warning flag ever so subtly that the issues may not have been fixed as of yet. The evidence comes from no one other than the position coach himself. Last week he put out the word that if "any tackle in America" wants to come to Miami and compete at the position they could. Now, he's looking for elite talent of course but it highlights the point that Miami has many guards on the squad and not necessarily players to play at the end of the line of scrimmage.
Offseason injuries have slowed down the evaluation process. Both guard Nick Linder and tackle Sonny Odogwu have had to miss the spring practices due to offseason surgeries. Both players were on the two deep and both will probably be counted on to start next season (Linder most definitely) so it's imperative that they get back on the green tree practice field.
Overall Thoughts So Far from Spring Practice for the Offense
Depth throughout the two deep is a mess. After thinking about it and then writing the above.. The only settled position is the quarterback position and the tight end rotation. After that, everything is up in the air. Maybe you include Stacy Coley as a true "starter" but overall, the wide receiver position maybe one of the most unsettled position groups on the team.
Overall playmaker speed is not on hand (as of yet). Coach Richt highlighted this issue and it's something that definitely should be taken into account for next season. Stacy Coley is dangerous in space, sure, but with the running backs you have one bruiser (Edwards) and two guys that are better at short to mid-range runs rather than necessarily true "home run" hitters like Miami has become so accustomed to in the past. Mullins and Richards maybe able to add to the top end speed when they get here in the fall and Bruce could possibly add to the punt return game as another shifty option in a small space but trying to rely on freshmen for big plays is a tall order.