After a long offseason, made longer by virtue of ending the 2017 season on a 3 game losing streak, Miami Hurricanes Football is (almost) back! And, with the 2018 season just days away from starting, I convened our SOTU contributors for a roundtable Q&A to give their thoughts and predictions for the season. Here’s the first part of our discussion, with the second part coming tomorrow.
Question 1: What are your expectations for year 2 of Malik Rosier at QB?
Cam Underwood: We all know that I’m not the biggest Malik Rosier fan out there, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that Mark Richt is going to start Rosier this season. No, there won’t be a short leash. No, CMR isn’t going to bench Rosier. This is, for better or worse, entirely his show this season. That being said, I expect to see some eye-popping numbers, some really great plays, and some really bad ones as well. Everybody in the program has talked about Rosier’s development and progression, particularly with his arm motion, overstriding, and consistency. While I want to believe that there has been growth in all those areas, I’m going to need to see it before I believe it. But, for those wanting numbers, a 3500 yard, 30 TD season with 350+ yards rushing and 5+ TDs on the ground is well within Rosier’s reach, absent injury.
Evan Hadrick: I’m not confident about this, but I have a feeling we’ll see Malik progress in his second full year leading the offense to the tune of 3500 yds, 60-65% comp pct, 25 tds and 8 ints. There are too many weapons and Malik has too much experience for us to hold him to anything less.
Justin Dottavio: Malik is going to improve a ton. A season of starting is under his belt and he’s used to the role. Add to that the talent increase and I foresee a big bump in accuracy.
Matt Washington: Coach Richt has talked about leadership extensively throughout the offseason. Aside from taking control of the huddle and being more vocal, Rosier’s season boils down to decision-making. If he regresses into the form that has you cursing to anyone within earshot, then all the progress reported this offseason will be of little to no substance.
John Camera: I expect him to be a little better but more importantly more consistent. I’m not expecting Kaaya-type passing but can we see that completion percentage hit 60%?
Dylan Sherry: I expect Malik Rosier to throw less interceptions than the previous season, but his inconsistency will still be factor. I think the offense will remain unfortunately streaky.
Kevin Fielder: I expect both modest improvement and a lot of the same with Rosier’s second year as a starter. While Rosier was mostly unspectacular and mightly struggled at points last season, he still finished the season with 31 total touchdowns and just 14 interceptions. His athleticism is a gift that Coach Mark Richt can use to open games up but the hope has to be that we see more of Rosier from the beginning of the 2017 season and less of the end of the season Malik Rosier, where Rosier struggled mightily. If late-season Rosier shows up, it may be time to move towards the new generation with N’Kosi Perry.
John Reynolds: I expect Malik to have improved a lot. From all reports he’s worked hard in the offseason to ensure his development as a QB. Additionally, experience can be the best teacher sometimes, so I’d expect him to take a step forward.
Donovan Hutchins: My expectation for Rosier is for him to be more consistent in year two. Given the Canes’ roster, he doesn’t have to win games, he just needs to manage them by making the right reads, handing the ball off to the stacked backfield, and don’t put the ball in harm’s way. If he is able to consistently complete around 60-65% of his passes and hit open WRs the Canes will be a hard team to stop.
Marshall Thomas: My expectations for Rosier are a lot higher than most people’s. His receiver group is deeper than last year, and has a year under his belt. I think he rebounds from those last three games, and we see a much better Malik.
Question 2: Which offensive position is the strongest for Miami in 2018?
Underwood: Tough call here, but I’m going with Wide Receiver. Miami has one of the deepest, and most diverse, WR corps’ in America, and that group will show their talents repeatedly during the 2018 season. Ahmmon Richards is one of the best WRs in the country. Jeff Thomas has ELECTRIC speed. Lawrence Cager and Darrell Langham have made big catches using their 6’4”+ height. And that’s before we get into talking about guys like Mike Harley or Mark Pope or Evidence Njoku or Marquez Ezzard or Brian Hightower or Dee Wiggins. Depth and talent to an elite level is everywhere you look for Miami at WR. THIS is what a Miami position room is supposed to look like.
Hadrick: Wide Receiver. Ahmmon Richards is a bonafide star if he stays on the field. Lawrence Cager started coming into his own last year, and the youth in this group is really inspiring.
Dottavio: Running back is Miami’s strength with wide receiver right behind the backs. Any time you have three good backs you’re an elite position group.
Washington: Running back. Travis Homer became the alpha dog at the position a season ago. DeeJay Dallas averaged 5.29 yards per carry as freshman. Trayone ‘Choc’ Gray is now doing double duty at RB and FB, which should showcase more of his talent. Oh, and there’s this kid named Lorenzo Lingard, who has been in since spring has all the intangibles to be the next great tailback at the U. That’s four guys before we even get to Robert Burns who’s healthy and impressed coaches in the offseason and Cam’ron Davis who’s no slouch at the position either. It’s a loaded backfield for sure.
Camera: This is a tough call. I’m going to have to go RB. I love the receivers this season but the Canes have three guys who can be legit starters for any other team. Homer is the all-around guy, Dallas is the x-factor and big play guy and Lingard will be the future (but see some snaps in the present).
Sherry: I think the receiving corp is the strongest unit for the Canes’ offense. Our running backs are wonderful also, but the receiving corp is so deep and talented with a healthy Ahmmon Richards.
Fielder: This one for me is simple, wide receiver. The wide receiver room this season is deeper than it has been for a while. Even after losing Berrios to the NFL, the Hurricanes return Ahmmon Richards, Lawrence Cager who are both expected to make huge impacts for the Hurricanes. Outside of that, players like Jeff Thomas, Brian Hightower, Mike Harley and Mark Pope will all make impacts as underclassmen. Miami has a gift with the receivers and it’s something they need to use to their advantage.
Reynolds: Running Back should be Miami’s strongest offensive position in 2018. With the stable of backs Miami now has, our running game should take the next step this year. Especially considering how diverse our backfield is, with the one cut running of Travis Homer, the agility of Deejay Dallas, and the physicality of Choc Gray, along with two talented freshmen. The sky is the limit for this group.
Hutchins: This was a toss up for me between RBs and WRs, but I will give the edge to the receiving group. With a healthy Ahmmon Richards and a confident Lawrence Cager and Darrell Langham with their large frames on the outside they will be hard to stop. Then mix in Jeff Thomas and Mike Harley in the slot position and this group becomes a “pick your poison” situation. They just need someone to get them the ball when they are open.
Thomas: In my opinion, the strongest group in Miami’s offense is the receiver position. When you have a healthy Ahmmon Richards, thats always a plus. Then you throw in Lawrence Cager, Jeff Thomas, Mike Harley and several freshman ready to step up and contribute.
Question 3: Which offensive position is the weakest/most concerning for Miami in 2018?
Underwood: Offensive line. I know some thought I was going to go Rosier here, but we’ve seen some really good stuff from him, although it was mixed with inconsistency. The OL, however, was so pourous this spring it had to be reshuffled. And, with 3 starters gone from a largely average line last year, and several returning players recast in new roles, the cohesion and performance of this unit will be key for Miami’s success. If Miami’s OL can be average or better, this offense could put up BIG numbers. If.
Hadrick: Tight End. I’m excited to see what our freshman duo of Brevin Jordan and Will Mallory can bring to the offense, but there are no established contributors with this group.
Dottavio: Tight End leaves me a lot to be concerned about as there’s a lot of potential but not a lot of actual game experience in college football.
Washington: I’m most concerned about quarterback. If Malik is the same old guy, I wouldn’t be surprised to see CMR give him a quick hook to try out one of the underclassmen. I don’t know if those guys are ready for the spotlight of being a starter. So if the worst-case scenario does happen and Malik goes down, I would be extremely concerned.
Camera: Offensive line but to take it a step further, offensive guard could be dire. Who really knows how Jahair Jones will perform when the bullets are flying? Maybe Boulware or Gaynor can help solidify the spot but this season there is no surefire guy at guard.
Sherry: I think the offensive line is the most concerning for me. Malik of course is untrustworthy, but at least we know what his game is like. The offensive line could a complete surprise, both good and bad.
Fielder: For me, the offensive line is the most concerning. The second unit has a severe lack of game experience and the starting unit is a Navaughn Donaldson or Tyree St. Louis injury away from panic mode. If it stays healthy, there’s a chance it will be good enough but you can’t bank on something like the offensive line being healthy all season.
Reynolds: I’m most concerned with the tight end group. If just one of Brevin Jordan or Will Mallory go down with injury, Miami will find it hard to find production from this position group. This position is far too thin, especially when considering the legacy Miami has with Tight Ends.
Hutchins: The most concerning position for me is the Offensive Line. Coach Richt has a “run early and often” mentality and for that game plan to be successful you need the guys in the trenches doing their job. From all reports, this young group is starting to gel, but will they consistently be able to get enough push to move the chains in short yardage situations? Last year, “third down and under 3 yards” might as well have been “third down and 20 yards” and a lack of push upfront is why the Canes were ranked 127 of 130 NCAA football teams in third down conversion percentage.
Thomas: Most concerning is honestly the quarterback. I’m contradicting myself here, but Rosier worries me. A good quarterback can work with an average offensive line. If Rosier gets hurt or is struggling, we have no experienced guys behind him. Talented yes, experienced no.
Question 4: Who is your breakout player on offense in 2018 and why?
Underwood: DeeJay Dallas. It’s no secret that the Georgia-native is one of my favorite players on this team, and I’m simply enamored with his sudden change shiftiness and multifaceted skillset. He’s solidly in the lineup as RB2, but will be used as wildcat QB, slot WR, Punt Returner and maybe Kick returner this year. No matter where on the field you put Dallas, he’s a big play waiting to happen. No, he doesn’t have Jeff Thomas or Lorenzo Lingard type speed, but Dallas is supremely quick, faster than you think, and is doing all that at 220lbs now. When he got chances in the 2nd half of the 2017 season to make plays, Dallas did just that vs Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, Clemson (yes, he did), and Wisconsin. That was just the tip of the iceberg for my boy DJD. You’ll see.
Hadrcik: Travis Homer. He did a great job filling in for Mark Walton last season, but I think he will really flourish knowing that he’s the guy coming in. Lorenzo Lingard Jr could’ve affected that, but for the time being it appears that Homer will get every opportunity to own his role.
Dottavio: I’m really hoping it’s Mahoney or Brevin Jordan. I think Jordan has a good year but he’s not ready to be elite yet.
Washington: Lawrence Cager. He had 16 receptions, 237 receiving yards and three touchdowns a season ago. Big # 18 could eclipse those numbers this year. With a healthy Ahmmon Richards drawing most of the attention in coverage, I expect Cager to be the biggest benefactor of one on one coverage this year.
Camera: I think Brevin Jordan is going to be ACC Rookie of the year. He is the perfect tight end for this offense. Also those quick bubble screens with Njoku and Herndon? Imagine that with Jordan.
Sherry: I predict Lawrence Cager will have a season much better than his previous ones. There’s more competition at the position now, but his size and strength could be heavily relied upon in the red zone.
Fielder: DeeJay Dallas. I’ve been on the DeeJay Dallas hype-train ever since he’s joined the Hurricanes and nothing, for me, has changed. Dallas has extreme versatility and dangerous speed. His versatility allows Mark Richt to use him in a lot of different sets and looks and his open field talent makes him a long touchdown waiting to happen. Dallas will be turning a lot of heads this season.
Reynolds: Jeff Thomas will be the breakout player for Miami’s offense in 2018. He showed flashes of greatness while learning the ropes last year in his freshman season, and if Malik Rosier’s long range accuracy is improved at all this season expect Thomas to be the big benefactor.
Hutchins: I have DeeJay Dallas as my breakout player for the year. Last year, after he moved to RB full time we saw flashes of his capabilities. This year he had a full off season to work at the position and from reports earlier this year he is bigger, stronger, and faster. I fully expect Coach Richt to continue to find unique ways to get the ball in his hands. Expect to see more of the wildcat formation in short yardage situations and him spit out wide in 4 WRs sets.
Thomas: My breakout player on offense for 2018 is Lawrence Cager. Cager shows great flashes of potential in 2017, especially against Wisconsin. He has the size, and is now the starting at the X receiver position, expect big things from him.
Question 5: Who is your offensive newcomer of the year and why?
Underwood: Brevin Jordan. Miami’s freshman TE was the #1 TE in the nation for last year’s recruiting class, and he’s drawn rave reviews since the moment he set foot on campus in May. After Michael Irvin II’s injury, Jordan is TE1 for the Canes — a role many thought he would assume sometime this season, regardless of injury. He’s got the size, athleticism, and skill to be a weapon in many different alignments for the Canes. And, Miami actually uses their TEs (unlike some other schools) so Jordan will get plenty of looks this season. Jordan’s Freshman All-American season starts on Sunday. Book it.
Hadrick: Brevin Jordan. This offense has shown a propensity for big plays from its tight ends, and Jordan looks to have the perfect skill set to replicate the recent run of success of David Njoku and Christopher Herndon IV. There should be a learning curve, but the abundance of weapons around him should help Jordan transition quickly.
Dottavio: The newcomer of the year will be Brevin Jordan. He’s an athlete so he’ll arrive with a lot of physical tools plus playing time Will be at a premium for him.
Washington: Brevin Jordan. No surprises here, Jordan was expected to come to the program and make an immediate impact. With the injury to Michael Irvin II, Jordan’s orientation to the college game will be streamlined. A tremendous talent, there will be some trials that test the young man’s fortitude, but I think Jordan exceeds expectations as a freshman for Miami.
John Camera: See above. Brevin Jordan is going to haunt defenses.
Dylan Sherry: Brevin Jordan is my newcomer of the year, he possesses great physical attributes, and can be a playmaker if he grasps the playbook well.
Fielder: Brevin Jordan. The highly-touted tight end recruit is a player with a huge opportunity after Michael Irvin II went down for the season. Jordan is a modern tight-end with a wide receiver build and the ability to make plays in so many different ways. Pair his skill sets with the fact that Miami is TEU and it’s hard to think Jordan won’t impress this season.
Reynolds: I think newcomer of the year will turn out to be Brian Hightower. He’s flown under the radar a little bit since coming to campus, but after a great spring and fall he comes into this season at 2nd on the depth chart at his WR position. He could be poised for a strong freshman campaign if he continues this trajectory.
Hutchins: With TE Michael Irvin Jr. going down for four months with an MCL, I can see TE Brevin Jordan as the newcomer of the year. Part of being the newcomer is getting the snaps and since he was just named the starter he will have plenty of opportunities to show case his top end skill set.
Thomas: My offensive newcomer of the year is Brevin Jordan. I’ve been hyping this kid up all summer long, and I think this freshman is going to make heads turn this season. Over 1,100 yards receiving as a senior in high school, his talent is unbelievable.
Question 6: Which defensive position is the strongest for Miami in 2018?
Underwood: Linebacker. Shaq Quarterman is a preseason 2nd team All-American by nearly every entity that put out a list, and on the Butkus Award (best LB) watchlist. He’s a steady and solid performer. Michael Pinckney is instinctive and dynamic, making plays from sideline to sideline. Zach McCloud has started with those 2 for 2 years, and is good, but may lose PT to STRIKERS Romeo Finley (the likely starter at that position) and Derrick Smith. Add in Mike Smith, a solid backup to both Quarterman and Pinckney, and some talented, but unproven, underclassmen, and LB is a definite position of strength for the Canes’ Defense.
Hadrick: Safety. Jaquan Johnson is a consensus First-Team All-American, and his impact is clearly felt, but Sheldrick Redwine has developed into a quality running mate for Johnson. Both are constantly around the football, and its very likely that you’ll see both don the Turnover Chain multiple times this season.
Dottavio: Linebacker, dammit. The Bermuda Triangle 2.0 had better be ready to maximize their potential. They’re a physical bunch with athleticism and experience.
Washington: Linebacker. Shaq, Pinckney and Zach McCloud are the best starting trio at the position in the nation. Mike Smith, Bradley Jennings Jr., Waymon Steed and De’Andre Wilder are capable of playing a decent amount of defensive snaps if there’s a need.
Camera: Defensive end was a consideration but I think linebacker is the clear choice. Miami has three NFL-caliber linebackers and two guys who will probably be top 50 picks when they go to the NFL (Shaq and Pinckney).
Sherry: I think linebacker is the strongest corp on defense. Zach, Shaq, and Mike have been rocks since their Freshmen years, and I expect them to continue to anchor the defense.
Fielder: On defense, the secondary is probably the deepest position for the Hurricanes. While there a question marks there, players like JaQuon Johnson, Michael Jackson, and Sheldrick Redwine makes it hard to believe the secondary won’t succeed. Even outside of those three, the Hurricanes secondary holds players like Trajan Bandy, Al Blades Jr., Gilbert Frierson and Amari Carter, who will all make impacts this season. I expect the secondary to force multiple turnovers and make life for quarterbacks that much harder.
Reynolds: Defensive Back should be Miami’s strongest position on the defensive side of the ball in 2018. There are two players, Jaquan Johnson and Michael Jackson, that could be first round draft picks in the Spring. When you add experienced talent with the likes of Sheldrick Redwine, and then add in another corner like Trajan Bandy, you have the makings of one of the best secondaries in America. Things only look better when you look further into the depth chart, Jhavonte Dean has immense talent even if he’s struggled to settle in at Miami, and freshmen like D.J Ivey, Gurvan Hall, and Al Blades Jr. should grow and develop into solid players throughout the year. This group has become deep and talented since the new staff’s arrival. They’re ready to prove it this year.
Hutchins: The Linebacker group is the strongest defensive position and it begins with the starters Michael Pinckney, Shaq Quarterman, and Zach McCloud. In their third year as starters, this could be the last for the trio of Juniors. With that in mind, I expect them to elevate their game even further than what we have seen the past two years.
Thomas: The strongest defensive position for Miami in my opinion is the linebackers. Its hard to argue against a unit that has been starting together for two full seasons already with Quarterman, McCloud and Pinckney.
Question 7: Which defensive position is the weakest/most concerning for Miami in 2018?
Underwood: Cornerback...kinda. I know Michael Jackson is an elite CFB player at one corner spot, but the other spot is up for grabs. That could be Jhavonte Dean stepping up. It could be Trajan Bandy moving outside and starting. It could be Al Blades Jr., or Gilbert Frierson, or DJ Ivey. But, for now, largely due to the fact that whoever plays the CB2 role (not Nickel, Bandy’s got that on lock) will be new to starting on the outside, that’s something worth watching for me.
Hadrick: Defensive Tackle. It is very possible that a month from now we’ll all feel much better about this position, but right now it’s the only place on the defense where we should be concerned about depth and lack of experience. Gerald Willis III has the talent to fill the void in the interior.
Dottavio: Defensive Tackle. It’s hard to lose two starters and a seasoned back up and not see it as a weakness. Willis III, Ford, Bethel, and Tito will be good but last year saw some elite plays being made.
Washington: It sounds odd saying that cornerback is the most concerning position of the defense when you have Michael Jackson manning one side of the field and Trajan Bandy as one of the best inside corners in the conference. But, I’m going to need to see something from Jhavonte Dean, and the freshmen before I buy into the group as a whole.
Camera: Depth on defense is a concern all the way around but I think Corner might be the scariest. There are some promising freshmen this season but what can we expect from them? Jhavonte Dean barely saw the field last year and he’s likely to get a lot of playing time. How will Bandy fare with more responsibilities as a sophomore?
Sherry: I think the defensive line is the most concerning despite getting Gerald Willis back. Losing that many starters to the the draft/graduation, and initiating a new unit coach causes a major shakeup.
Fielder: Defensive line depth is a massive concern for me. The Hurricanes lost Chad Thomas, RJ McIntosh and Kendrick Norton to the NFL. While the likes of Joe Jackson and Gerald Willis can carry the weight for the defensive line, the depth behind them is a massive concern. Question marks litter the defensive line and makes you think that the Hurricanes’ defense could implode if there is a massive injury to one of the star players on this year’s line.
Reynolds: I’m most concerned about the defensive line in 2018. This group has lost a lot of talent over the last few years, and while the production can be replaced, it’ll be important to replace that leadership and experience. Run games will gash you ALL DAY if you don’t get into the right positions at the line. Linebackers can help with that, but at the end of the day it comes down to leadership on the DL. They’ll need to match the consistency and production of last year’s group, and that’s no easy task.
Hutchins: Weakest/most concerning position is relative given how talented I believe the Canes defense will be this year. At the end of last season, I would have listed the defensive line as the anchor of the defense, but then Juniors RJ McIntosh and Kendrick Norton declared for the NFL and arguably the best Defensive Line Coach in the game bolted for Bama unexpectedly. The defensive line is still talented especially on the edges with Joe Jackson and Jon Garvin, but the question is depth and new coach Jess Simpson.
Thomas: The defensive weakness for Miami is their defensive line. The talent is there, but replacing three guys that went on to the NFL is going to be hard. Guys like Gerald Willis and Jonathan Garvin have got to step up and support Joe Jackson.
Alright. Plenty to sift through and comment about in part 1 of our Roundtable discussion. So, comment away. And be sure you check back tomorrow for part 2.