Great dynasties start with the offensive line and the quarterbacks they protect. The San Francisco 49ers dynasty of the 80’s through early 90’s, the Dallas Cowboys three Super Bowls in the 90’s, and the Alabama Crimson Tide have proven this blueprint works in modern college football. Start with the offensive line and build out from there. The Miami Hurricanes resurgence in the late 90’s started with the offensive line, too.
Bryant McKinnie, Brett Romberg, Joaquin Gonzalez Martin Bibla... the list goes on. When the Hurricanes built their dominant offensive line around 1999, they started to win football games. From 2000-2002, the line paved the way for running backs likeFrom 2000-2002 the Hurricanes were guided by the offensive line. The ‘Canes line opened holes for backs like Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee, James Jackson and Frank Gore while protecting Ken Dorsey. If you turn on a Miami Hurricanes game in 2018, the line looks sloppy, slow and weak.
So what has happened to the offensive line, a once proud position in Miami football lore?
Al Golden’s staff had its flaws but most of the complaints were directed toward Strength and Conditioning Coach Andreu Swasey. Swasey was a long-time holdover that apparently is beloved by former ‘Canes players but Miami teams looked slow, weak and small under the bulk of his tenure. Sure, head coaches set the direction of strength and conditioning, also called athletic performance, programs. Golden seemed stuck with Swasey either financially or through back channeling and guys like Nick Linder and KC McDermott were pushed around even in 2016.
In 2018, Swasey is an assistant strength coach under Chad Smith at FIU. Swasey doesn’t have a bio on the FIU website but is assisted by Thomas Carroll. Carroll is a former Hurricanes player that has no qualifications listed on the FIU website. Poor athletic performance programs stunt players growth; the same can be said for diet and nutrition programs which Miami practically didn’t have before Mark Richt’s arrival. Yet with all of the hype behind Richt, Gus Felder, and the new diet and nutrition programs the Hurricanes offensive line now looks overweight, weak and confused.
With all of the complaints directed at Golden, the current staff under Mark Richt has been using his players now even into year three. Of the bulk of the starters on the offensive line throughout 2018, they’ve been either Golden recruits or a transfer in Venzell Boulware. Few Mark Richt and Stacy Searels line recruits have cracked the starting lineup. You can say what you want about Art Kehoe but apparently his recruits are really difficult to replace at Greentree.
Tre Johnson, a three-star from TFA in Orlando, was the only offensive line signee in the 2016 recruiting class. Offensive line is the easiest position to miss on because of the size and ability disparities of high school defensive linemen. Think back to the late 90’s when Jarrell and Jermell Weaver were defensive ends at Miami-Northwestern. Times have changed even from then but you’re still bound to find 6’2, 205 pound defensive ends to line up across from at the high school ranks.
2017 was the offensive line recruiting haul that Richt needed in 2016. The 2017 class was seen as a “can’t miss” crew of blue chip offensive tackle Navaughn Donaldson, plus four-star tackle Kai-Leon Herbert, three-star tackle Zalon’tae Hillery, massive three-star tackle Zach Dykstra (one game played in 2018), and center/guard Corey Gaynor (two games played in 2018). Gaynor’s film was by far my favorite and he played a little fullback and guard before showing up on orange and green milk cartons as a missing person on game days.
Of that 2017 haul, only Navaughn Donaldson has started and he was recently moved to the second team heading into Week 11. I had serious doubts about Donaldson as a tackle and believed he was a guard in a zone scheme. Donaldson was destroyed at the All-American practices- the excuse was, “No one goes hard at those.” So if the defensive ends also weren’t going hard, then he’s that much worse than them still.
I was also concerned that his high school highlight tape was all pulling plays, and limited pass protection plays. It was strange to me to not have a guy that large be the dude that you run directly behind at the high school level. He should be able to put his hands on a high school defensive end and just run the kid to the fence on every play.
The 2018 offensive line haul shouldn’t have to play as true freshman. The two positions I still believe in redshirting (unless injured) are offensive and defensive line. Other than that, stick the kid on special teams or find a way to get them involved to develop in-game skills at the Power 5 level. Scaife has started, but four-star guard Cleveland Reed, and three-star tackle John Campbell (three games played) are likely redshirt candidates.
The 2018 Offensive Line
The 2018 offensive line has been made up of Al Golden recruits and a transfer in Boulware. Golden recruit Tyler Gauthier, a center, has started all nine games heading into Week 11. Tyree St. Louis has started all nine games in 2018 at left tackle, which seems badly out of position for the right tackle. St. Louis is a Golden recruit.
Golden recruit Jahir Jones has started five games and played in all nine. He has played a lot of left guard in 2018. Hayden Mahoney, a guard that I never thought would see the field, has started seven games and played in all nine this season. DJ Scaife has started three while playing in nine games, and Boulware has started three while playing in all nine as well.
The Hurricanes are struggling mightily at figuring out the best five to put on the field on the offensive line. St. Louis is obviously playing out of position and can’t hold off a speed rush with his limited skill set. Jones has been dominated on the interior at the level of Nick Linder in 2016. Gauthier does a fine job at center and if Gaynor can’t crack the guard rotation in 2018 I worry about the position in 2019 with Gauthier graduating.
The mismanagement of Donaldson along with only signing one O-Line recruit in 2016 hurt. Also, the lack of development on guys like Hillery, Herbert, Dykstra, and George Brown has hurt in pass protection as well as in the run game. Miami’s line coach Searles wasn’t able to produce a left tackle out of four or five recruits and had to move St. Louis. With that, the ‘Canes needed a right tackle which forced a musical chairs situation with Donaldson who should have remained a guard. The domino effect of not finding a left tackle in three recruiting classes, and missing on the transfer in Brown, has forced Miami into a weird place where they must hit in 2019.
The 2019 Offensive Line
2019 recruiting class
Per 247 Sports, Miami has two offensive line recruits listed for the class of 2019. Michael Tarquin out of North Marion (FL) High School is a four-star tackle. Kingsley Eguakun, a three-star guard out of Sandalwood High School (FL) is also an expected signee. Early signing period is December 19-21 in 2018 and Miami has to finalize their class soon in order to ensure that at least these two, if not two additional linemen, sign in the 2019 class.
2019 starting offensive line
If Searles is back as the offensive line coach, and all signs point to Mark Richt remaining the second most loyal coach in college football history (the top award goes to Urban Meyer), he will have only himself to blame if the line doesn’t pan out. Year four will be his kids taking the field at Hard Rock Stadium.
From the list below, Searles and Richt need to find five guys that can play Power 5 football in the ACC. I would suspect Gaynor is the center while Donaldson, Boulware and Scaife figure out the guard positions. Tackle is again an issue with the loss of St. Louis. The ‘Canes need to develop Hillery, Herbert and Campbell quickly or risk having to start another young freshman in Tarquin in 2019.
- Tackle: Hillery, Herbert, Brown, Campbell | Tarquin (verbal)
- Guard: Donaldson, Boulware, Scaife, Dykstra, Milo, Reed, Mahoney | Eguakun (verbal)
- Center: Gaynor
My projection is that by 2019 Campbell will be the left tackle with Donaldson out of position at right tackle. Left guard will be Scaife and right guard will be Boulware. The center will be Gaynor.
The current offensive system does no favors to the offensive line. Miami is clearly running a vanilla scheme with predictable play calls and outcomes. The defenses are rearing up and bringing an all out pass rush from their defensive lines because it’s obvious when Miami is on a passing down. However, if coaching college football is acquisition, development and deployment this staff is currently failing at acquiring a left tackle, developing their younger players, or deploying a scheme to work to the strengths and around the weaknesses.
We saw the poor scheme against Notre Dame in 2016, Pitt in 2017, and the first half against West Virginia in 2016 as well. Miami used five man protection against blitz happy WVU in the bowl game and couldn’t move the football. Once Richt allowed Brad Kaaya to use RPO’s and started leaving a back or the tight end in against the blitz- Miami took over the ballgame. The offensive line is the hardest position to scout, develop, and coach. You need a true task master with an uncanny ability to mix enthusiasm with stern discipline to get the most out of the line.