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Miami Hurricanes Football: Where do the 'Canes turn minus Al-Quadin Muhammad and Jermaine Grace?

Manny Diaz and the defensive staff's creativity and developmental skills will be tested very early on.

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

So.....  this happened.

In a Spring/Fall in which the program and fan base has been revitalized and the overall mood around Coral Gables has been mostly positive, this sort of lets some of the air out of the balloon.

But it is not the end of the world.

There are other players on the roster with talent, who will have to step up.

Make no mistake about it,  Grace and Muhammad were two of the D's most talented and experienced returning players.

It's going to hurt.

But no successful season is ever smooth from start to finish.

Which players on the roster have the best chances to fill the huge voids?

Let's take a closer look......

Al-Quadin Muhammad had a chance to be one of the best pass rushers in the ACC but all is not lost:

It's sad to see someone with his massive potential go....

But, if your glass is half full, you'll be happy to know that DE fortunately is one of the deeper positions on the team.

Here's why:

Trent Harris is now a full time defensive lineman.   He's a smart player, who has also spent time at LB, but showed plenty of pass rushing chops when asked last season (3.5 sacks).   Given the opportunity for additional reps, he could double that total in 2016.  Harris isn't the mostly highly touted player on the roster at DE, but his motor and savvy should make him improved and effective this coming season.

Chad Thomas is probably the guy on the team who came to Miami with the most hype, based on his prep career. He's yet to live up to his 5 star billing, but the talk of his development this fall has encouraging.  It's now or never for Thomas, and perhaps the increased pressure will lead to great things:

If you asked me to list a top 5 of players I was most looking forward to pre suspensions, Demetrius Jackson would have easily made the cut.  The combination of his freakish athletic talent, and working with an accomplished D Line guru like Craig Kuligowski is a match made in heaven.  I think Jackson has the best chance of anyone in the group to break out big time this season.

Freshmen Jojo Jackson and Pat Bethel were probably looking at cups of coffee or redshirt seasons prior to AQM's dismissal.  But both are good enough to come in and contribute right away.

Because of the talent behind Muhammad on the roster, I think the Hurricanes defense can sustain his loss, and still be pretty good.

Grace's dismissal however will be harder to overcome:

UM already has two freshmen slated to start at MLB and one of the OLB spots.

Shaq Quarterman is going to be a beast, and Michael Pinckney has far exceeded expectation...

Those two came in as early enrollees and are far ahead of the learning curve.

But you can not discount the value having a seasoned hand like Grace next to them would have provided.

Another freshman, in Zach McCloud, may now be forced into more action.  McCloud too, has a chance to be very good, but missed assignments are much more common in freshmen (even gifted ones) than 4 year players.

Three first year players all playing together on the second level of your D is exciting for the future, but scary for right now.

Darrion Owens has some game experience, but is coming off of a major injury, and was expected to mostly compete with Pinckney for the weak side LB spot.   He'll now be asked to do more at some point this season. But given he missed both of the fall scrimmages to rest for the season, he might not be ready for full time action just yet.

Jamie Gordinier is a nice looking player as a pass rusher from the OLB spot.  But if you listen closely to the staff, he's lacked consistency.  He also lacks PT when the lights are on.

Mike Smith, Charles Perry, and Terry McCray are all guys who have been around.

But we haven't heard or seen enough of them to know what they can do.

In reality, Owens and McCloud are probably going to have to be the ones to step up and fill Grace's void.

There's no way to sugarcoat this....

If depth was already a concern for the linebacker group, it's now something that could keep coaches and fans alike up at night.

And Grace's play making potential is going to be missed.

Can the D still be very good?

If it is, it means the coaches have done some exceptional things.

Improvement is imminent based on scheme alone.

But you still need the pieces in place to have a top level unit.

Miami lost two major pieces this weekend.

Overall I think the play of Jackson and Thomas will make AQM's departure something we can all stomach.

But minus Grace, the LB unit can not afford maybe even one major injury.

It's going to be dicey, but Diaz will have to find a way to work around it.

Rest assured 'Canes fans,  the season is not lost because of the dismissal of two very good players.

But it just became all the more challenging.