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Miami Hurricanes Football: The Battle to Play in the Slot

With Braxton Berrios heading to the NFL, a new Hurricane will be tasked with lining up in his place in 2018.

NCAA Football: Bethune Cookman at Miami Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

We’re getting closer and closer to spring practices. You know, that time of year where starters get pushed by those who attempt to capture more snaps in game situations. Let the competition begin!

While everyone looks to see who emerges from the fire that is the quarterback battle, there are a couple of scraps among the wide receiver group that also remain to be settled.

Chief among them will be the battle to replace Braxton Berrios as the slot receiver. With the Hurricanes coming out in a healthy amount of 11 personnel formations a season ago (one running back, one tight end), opportunity exists for someone to ascend into the spot formerly filled by number eight.

The odds on the favorite to do so would be Mike Harley. Entering his sophomore season in 2018, Harley is a quick twitch, elusive receiver who is lining up to be lightning in a bottle working in the middle of the field. There’s a huge disparity between Berrios’ 679 receiving yards and Harley’s 91 receiving yards in 2017; however, with a growing amount of game experience under his belt, Harley will be in-line to thrive in the slot.

The question among the receivers in 2018 may not be if the freshmen can be kept off the field, but more accurately how long can the upperclassmen keep them off the field. One of those outstanding freshmen will be Mark Pope. Before you come at me, I know that Pope is a six-foot-one receiver, which is gargantuan regarding your typical slot receiver body type. However, the Hurricanes have passed into the realm where they have a glut of talent on offense, and finding snaps for guys in 2018 will not be easy. Pope is just too damn talented to not be on the field for Miami. I think that he will push a couple upperclassmen for some playing time this spring. However, it’s not unreasonable to envision Pope lining up in the slot at some point this season.

Keeping to the theme of ‘not out of the question to be playing the slot’, we could see Ahmmon Richards moved around the formation in 2018. The reason is that over the past couple of seasons of the Mark Richt era, it appears that the offensive play-caller is all about featuring his playmakers. Richt attempted to do so with RB Mark Walton before a mix of ailments and ultimately an ankle surgery prematurely ending his season. I fully expect 2018 to be the year of Ahmmon Richards, with the junior being unleashed on defenses in multiple ways.

Back to players that project to play in the slot on a full-time basis—how about Jeff Thomas? This falls into a similar conversation as Mark Pope, where Thomas needs to find snaps somewhere on offense. If you consider Ahmmon Richards as an outside wide receiver, then you’re left with one more outside receiver spot to fill, with four or five candidates who could reasonably start along with Richards. Working in Thomas’ favor is that coaches and fans have witnessed his long speed throughout the season. With improved downfield accuracy from the QB position, Thomas is ten toes on the cusp of a breakout season. However, working in the slot may not utilize Thomas’ best asset of speed and separation on deep routes.

What do you think? Is it simply just Mike Harley’s spot to lose, or do you see an outside contender ursruping him for playing time in the slot?