As we continue SOTU preseason coverage, today we look at a unit with arguably the most question marks on the team: The O line.
I've always said, the quickest way for a football team's season to disintegrate, is poor offensive line play.
With high hopes for a much improved team under new Head Coach Mark Richt, Miami needs more steady play from their big guys up front.
There's plenty of talent at all of the skill positions, but it will all be for naught if UM does not get solid play from this group.
Big Time Improvement Needed
Let's be 110% honest about this unit.
They were a major, major disappointment in 2015.
The running game never really got going against the better teams on the schedule.
UM was 112th Nationally in yards per carry last season (3.68) and allowed 57 TFL's, (8th worst in the country).
On top of that, Brad Kaaya took way too much punishment (despite low sack numbers), including a hellacious hit Vs Clemson that cost him 1.5 games.
The Hurricanes also led D1 in penalties as a team, with this unit contributing heavily towards that (Mark Walton alone had three long TD's called back last year as a result).
The guys who open the holes, and protect the QB, absolutely must get better.
The good news?
Nearly everyone on the unit returns.
Plus, new Offensive Line Coach Stacy Searels comes over from Virginia Tech, where he accomplished more with less (in terms of pure talent coming out of H.S.).
It starts with Searels
Clearly he's got what it takes to get the most out of an offensive line.
Stops in Texas, Georgia, LSU and most recently with the Hokies have proven as much.
And it appears he has the 'Canes big guys improving, at least somewhat,
OLine coach Stacy Searels said his unit "has days where they’re really, really good, and there’s some days we’ve been really, really bad.— Jason Mizrachi (@JasonMizrachi) April 1, 2016
Searels is also a big time motivator, as illustrated below:
He'll need every bit of his tough love mentality to get this group beyond the really, really bad days, so on game days they are simply really, really good.
Searels replaces a man who was a living legend in Coral Gables, in Art Kehoe.
But Kehoe's voice no longer appeared to be getting through to these guys.
Last season this group's play was filled with mental errors, lapses in concentration, and frankly at times lack of effort.
Sometimes it takes a new voice to get through to players who aren't playing up to potential.
UM is hoping Searels is that voice.
Projected Depth Chart:
The outlook of the offensive line isn't as bad as you might think, despite last season's poor play.
Miami boasts a ton of returning talent and experience.
The returning players have totaled 77 career starts.
Among the group are 3 former 4 star players, and a 5 star recruit as well.
Here's the very early projected starting line-up:
LT Trevor Darling - The junior has all the potential in the world to lock this spot down, and play it well. But he like most of the rest of this group, had more than a few shaky moments last season.
LG Alex Gall - Gall has plenty of experience, starting 7 games total last season, including 5 at this spot. Had a very rough junior season, and sometimes appears overwhelmed physically at this level. But for now gets the projected nod, though Kc McDermott could take this spot, if he isn't one of the two starting tackles.
C Nick Linder - I absolutely loved this kid as a freshman, where he displayed great athleticism and versatility as a G. Missed all of the spring with injury, so his health is a question mark. He's a tough kid though, so I imagine he'll be ready for fall. Took a step back last season but has the physical tools and intelligence to be an All-Conference type C and bounce back big time in 2016.
RG Danny Isidora - The most experienced and consistent player on the entire O line.
When asked for some (as in plural) @CanesFootball O-linemen who have stood out in practice, O-line coach Stacy Searels: "Danny Isidora.''— Susan Miller Degnan (@smillerdegnan) March 31, 2016
RT Kc McDermott - It's time for the former 5 star, all world everything recruit to live up to the billing. If he doesn't land here, probably starts at LG. If that is the case, Sunny Odogwu would man this spot. Odogwu has struggled on the field, arguably more than any player in this group. They need McDermott here big time.
T Sunny Odogwu - At 6'8 325, is an imposing figure. But his play on the field has never really been up to par. Can the new staff get the most out of him?
T/G Bar Milo - Powerful player, and I expect him to see the field some in 2016. If Darling struggles, could be slotted at LT.
T/G Tyree St Louis - Another candidate for RT if McDermott moves inside and Odogwu struggles. The former 4 star recruit has a lot of potential and saw action in 13 games last season, though mostly on ST.
G Tyler Gauthier - A potential road grader at 6'5 315. For now likely brings depth to the G spot.
C/G Hunter Knighton - Major insurance policy for Linder. Not nearly as talented though.
T/G Hayden Mahoney - RS freshman is an unknown quantity at this point.
T Brendan Loftus - Another player who's development will be interesting to watch.
T/G Jahair Jones - The JUCO transfer did not see any action last season and was redshirted. He was recruited by Ohio State and Va Tech, so one would think there is talent to work with.
T Tre Johnson - The only incoming freshman on the O line. Is a project at this point and is likely in for a RS season.
If Kaaya is spending too much time on his back, and Walton and Joe Yearby are dodging tacklers in their own back field, it's going to be another long season.
But I expect the Hurricanes offensive line to be exponentially better this season (really they have no place to go but up).
Better coaching as well as improved strength and conditioning should help.
Experience never hurts either.
The keys will be McDermott and Linder staying healthy, and Darling finding a groove.
We can talk all day about the skill guys, the new attacking defense, and the confidence Richt has brought to the program.
But the play of these guys could be the single biggest factor in the success of the season.
Building continuity and a renewed focus among this unit will be something to watch closely when fall practice resumes.
Stay tuned for much more preseason coverage on the Miami O line, and much more, right here at SOTU.