Heading into their first-ever ACC Championship game, on a cool evening in Charlotte, North Carolina, the Miami Hurricanes were set to change the national perspective of the program from one that celebrated a chain to a program solidified as a national title contender. It was a whirlwind season for then-starting right guard Navaughn Donaldson. According to 247 Sports, Donaldson is a four-star offensive tackle recruit from Miami Central High School, who was viewed as one of the big gets — literally and figuratively — to the Canes ‘Swag’ ‘17 recruiting class.
Similar to his ACC Championship game, Donaldson’s season was one of improvement by fire. Since his arrival to the team in the spring of 2017, the common thread among each response was how impressive the young man was for someone coming out of high school. Taking a majority of his snaps in high school at tackle, Donaldson was expected to step up to learn a new position along with the nuances that come with being a guard.
Those compliments and accolades in the spring parlayed into Donaldson earning the starting gig at right guard against Bethune-Cookman. While taking steps backwards in most professions is looked upon as a negative thing, Donaldson’s agility when moving backwards is viewed as an impressive trait. That ability to kick back effectively with a 270+ pound lineman charging out of their stance towards him makes Donaldson able to both impede the defender’s momentum and stonewall the threat from collapsing the pocket. Having started at guard in 10 of Miami’s 13 games last season, the emergence of No. 55 provided continuity along the line of scrimmage for the Canes’ offense.
As he enters his final year as a Hurricane, Tyree St. Louis has become the elder statesman along Miami’s offensive line. One of five OL commits for the Canes in the 2015 recruiting cycle, St. Louis used his freshman season coming out of IMG Academy to get better acquainted as he acclimated to the college game, mainly working on special teams. The orientation in year one worked, and St.Louis started eight games at right tackle to close out the 2016 season. He would remain a constant at right tackle throughout the entirety of the ‘17 season as well.
After Donaldson and St. Louis blocked in tandem on the right side of the line for much of last season, the dynamic duo have been separated for the sake of Miami attaining their true potential in 2018.
Donaldson is now back to what many believe is his natural position of playing tackle. After issues this spring at both tackle and guard, sliding Donaldson over to right tackle provides the Canes with a more athletic, monolithic counter to an unrelenting wave of edge-rushers on the schedule starving for a stat.
With the graduation of KC McDermott, Miami needs to find a successor — which likely means that for the first time in his Hurricane career, St. Louis will not be starting at right tackle. The Bradenton, Florida, native is projected to start on the “blind side” AKA left tackle. Allowing an average of 2.23 sacks per game, Miami’s 29 sacks allowed tied them in that category with Duke for the fewest in that category in the ACC a year ago. That total will hopefully wither based on changes already made and those yet to come along the starting five on the line of scrimmage.
The move brings new challenges for each player.
After having to deal with the dearth of talent at defensive tackle in the ACC, Navaughn Donaldson now finds himself tasked with impeding equally as talented (if not more so), athletic edge-benders. A quick study, Donaldson posses All-American talent that should translate well at his new/old position.
In his final campaign as a Hurricane, St. Louis can be part of a senior class that has helped the Canes attain success while also reaching unprecedented territory in the program’s history. St. Louis’ 21 starts lead all Miami offensive lineman, illustrating a wealth of experience that should translate well sliding to the left side.
Of course there are plenty of questions before kickoff in Arlington that will need to be addressed as the the season unfolds, such as:
Could we possibly see the two players flip spots?
Which tackle will defensive coordinators target on game days?
Who can play on an island more this season and who is going to need help in pass protection?
Canes supporters and the casual college football fan will not get any answers until the ball is mercifully kicked off to start the 2018 campaign.
Miami ended up getting crushed by Clemson in their first ACC championship game last season. It was a baptism by sacks and tackles-for-loss that served notice to the program that there were still stairs to climb to regain a seat among the aristocracy of the sport. Not to throw shade at last year’s group, but the combination of Donaldson and St. Louis anchoring down the O-line is the better than the combination of McDermott at left tackle and St. Louis at right tackle that Miami had last year. With a high ceiling of potential, the pair of Donaldson and St. Louis should provide stability that the coaching staff and fanbase crave.
If Miami is to assert themselves as possessing some of the best skill position talent in ACC, if not the nation, they’re going to need the offensive line to buy them time to work downfield. The bookends of that offensive live will be integral in any success for the unit this year. The alternative would mean that, for the first time in the Mark Richt era, the Canes failed to meet expectations.
IT’S ALWAYS ABOUT THE U!