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Miami Hurricanes Football: Musical Chairs Along the Offensive Line

A growing concern, the Hurricanes continue to search for their best combination along the offensive line.

NCAA Football: ACC Championship-Clemson vs Miami Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Observing the Miami Hurricanes’ roster, news, notes and interviews from spring practice, there is one word that is mentioned frequently: competition. Head coach Mark Richt says it everytime a question is asked regarding a status of the QB battle that will linger into training camp. Co-offensive coordinator and running back coach Thomas Brown repeats the word over and over again when rattling through his expectations for would-be starters for the opening game of the season. Perhaps the only word that is mentioned as much as “competition” is “consistency”.

Either word could be used as the Hurricanes’ offensive line tries to find the five best players to make up the starting unit. With few constants and plenty of unknowns, the competition sounds wide open for the hogs up front. With both guard Trevor Darling and guard/tackle KC McDermott graduated and moving on, the shuffle to not only replace them, but to improve the line play takes on greater meaning this offseason.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Miami
A staple along the offensive line throughout his UM career, Tyree St. Louis is projected to move over to left tackle in 2018 after manning the right spot last season.
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

If there is one player that can be relied on, it’s senior tackle Tyree St. Louis. Having started all 13 games last season at right tackle for the Hurricanes in 2017, St. Louis appears to be the leading candidate to replace McDermott at left tackle. Praised by CMR for not only his presence, but his read and react in blitz pickup situations as well as his physical strength, the head coach stated that St. Louis is further ahead at this point in time than fellow tackle Kai-Leon Herbert. There are no guarantees that St. Louis is locked in to be the starting left tackle come gameday in Arlington, Texas. That said, it would be an “Angels in the Outfield” type shocker if #78 was not protecting the blind side of whoever the QB may be.

One of the other standouts has to be Navaughn Donaldson who was the talk among offensive linemen last spring. Entering his sophomore season, the six-foot-six, 350 pound guard could remain right guard, where he started 10 games last season, having missed two games due to injury. Or be a candidate to make the move over to right tackle, to bookend the other tackle spot with St. Louis. As a guard, Donaldson was as impressive as any offensive lineman, let alone any freshman could be—especially when it came to creating holes and moving bodies in the run game. Of course, the big man was humbled when Clemson defensive tackle Christian Wilkins got the better of him. But should there be a rematch, I would expect the outcome to be much different for Donaldson who now has a year of ACC experience in his kickstep.

The final holdover from the 2017 starting unit is center Tyler Gauthier. Continuing to hold a firm grip on the position, it sounds as though the senior from Venice, Florida, is stepping up into a bigger role as a leader among this group after earning an All-ACC honorable mention at the end of last season.

The rest of the offensive line remains in state of flux. The leader or co-starter at left guard is Jahir Jones, a career backup throughout most of his career at Miami, trying to make the most out of what will be his last chance to produce at UM as a senior. Crediting a lack of focus as the reason of his struggles, Jones is leaning on teammates such as Tyler Gauthier, Haydon Mahoney and St. Louis for wisdom in his battle to win a starting job. Corey Gaynor, a sophomore from Parkland, Florida, is also in the mix in this battle.

With the success of Donaldson last season, Miami hopes to strike gold this season with the addition of G Delone Scaife—a six-foot-three, 315 pound freshman who has already made a positive impression on his teammates. Earning praise and respect from Haydon Mahoney, among others, who touts Scaife as someone who works hard and he “respects as a man.” As the freshman adjusts to the overall speed at the college level, Miami’s offensive system and nuances of the game, Scaife should be poised to turn that raw potential into bonafide production. It may just be a matter of time before Scaife is inserted into the lineup. Whether that happens in 2018 or beyond still has to be worked out. CMR has been on record saying that he’s not quite sure where Scaife will line up since he could work as a tackle because of his build. So let’s bet that sooner than later, if you’re playing the odds.

George Brown Jr was penciled lightly as the top right tackle, with Zalon’Tae Hillery giving him a fight to see who can win the position. It now appears that Donaldson is being auditioned as the solution to the teams’ right tackle woes. Mahoney is now taking over the right guard spot, as Cam Underwood pointed out in his takeaways from Miami’s spring game this past weekend. For the most part, CMR and Coach Searels do not sound too enthused by the competitors yet this spring. Neither does offensive line coach Stacy Searels, who was so irritated with the play at the position that he moved center Tyler Gauthier to right tackle during a team scrimmage, with Hayden Mahoney taking over for him at center. At this pace, the IPF will be complete before the team figures out what to do at the position.

CMR indicated after the spring game that the first-team unit had only been working together a few days prior. Being optimistic, their performance should only improve with more reps. It may be wishful thinkning, but with G Cleveland Reed being the lone addition in training camp, the team will need a couple guys to step up. The Hurricanes offense is coming off a spring game in which they allowed 10 sacks between the first and second unit.

Of course, getting the quarterback position right is the primary focus for ’Canes fans. Yet finding the five best blockers to protect whoever that guy is in front of him and open up holes for a running game that was 10th in ACC in 2017 with 160.7 yards per game (71st in the nation) and was sixth in the conference in passing yards-per-game with 242.5 (54th in FBS) is incredibly hard, however with championship aspirations, these numbers must improve in order for the ’Canes to be a serious threat. Those numbers are important, but with improved play along the line and from the guys playing behind the line, Miami can only improve on an abysmal 28.8% third down conversion rate that places them 126th out of 130 FBS programs.

The numbers just further illustrate the need for improvement not just from the skill positions, but the men in the trenches as well.