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Miami Hurricanes 2018 Position Preview: Offensive Line

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Last season, the Miami Hurricanes saw deep struggles from the offensive line. In 2018, the Hurricanes hope to change that with a relatively inexperienced offensive line.

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

When the Miami Hurricanes open up their season on a Sunday against LSU, they will line up with multiple pieces of firepower on each side. However, question marks remain on both sides of the ball, including the offensive line which drew a lot of concerns from coaches during the Spring for both poor play and inexperience. While the summer will be a convincing time for the line’s development, a deeper look at both the coaching and the players is required.

COACHING

As a group, the offensive line is coached primarily by Stacy Searles. Searles is entering his third season with the Miami Hurricanes after being hired following Mark Richt’s hiring in 2016.

Before becoming the Hurricanes’ offensive line coach, Searles was the offensive line coach of Virginia Tech, Texas and Georgia, where he coached under Mark Richt from 2007 to 2010. These offensive lines under Searles have been highly effective, especially during his tenure at Texas.

In 2012, Searles led an offensive line with no seniors apart of the starting lineup to allow just 4.1 tackles for loss per game, a figure that ranked third in the nation. The next season, Texas finished 36th in the country in rushing yards per game and 17th in sacks.

The Starters

This season for Searles presents a whole new task, which begins with the starting offensive line.

Last season, the offensive line was a perfect combination of experience and fresh talent. Spear-headed by senior tackle KC McDermott and senior guard Trevor Darling on the left side, the rest of the offensive line featured two juniors (Tyler Gauthier and Tyree St. Louis) and true freshman Navaughn Donaldson, a 4-star recruit coming out of Miami Central. As a group, the Hurricanes offensive line allowed the Hurricanes offense to rattle off 160 yards per game and 19 overall touchdowns. The rushing offense, led by Travis Homer and Malik Rosier for most of the 2017-18 season, was good when given the ball, averaging just over 5 yards per carry for the season.

NCAA Football: ACC Championship-Clemson vs Miami
With KC McDermott moving to the NFL, the Hurricanes have huge shoes to fill at both tackle and guard.
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

When passing the football, however, the offensive line struggled mightily. Despite the experience from the offensive line, Malik Rosier was sacked a total of 29 times in 13 games, a number that was in the bottom half of college football. The 2.23 sacks per game tally were tied for 75th in the country with the likes of Duke, UCLA, FIU and Penn State.

This season, the offensive line looks different for the Miami Hurricanes and the question marks surrounding it is a warning sign early in the season. With McDermott and Darling both moving on to the NFL, the offensive line goes into fall camp with question marks around the offensive line.

While the starting lineup has played together for most of camp, the Spring was not kind to the offensive line. In the spring game, the unit allowed 8 sacks and none of the running backs were able to get things going, with the most yards going to Travis Homer who had 29 yards on just 7 carries.

When talking about the offensive lines’ performance after the Spring game it was clear that Richt was tired of not being able to fully gauge his offense’s ability because of the poor offensive line play:

“If I were to play a game against us, I’d be using tight ends and backs to chip and help...” stated Mark Richt immediately following the Spring Game, “I started to do that toward the end when I got tired of not being able to step up and throw it.”

Projected Miami Hurricanes’ Starting Offensive Line

LT LG C RG RT
LT LG C RG RT
Tyree St. Louis Jahair Jones/Venzell Boulware Tyler Gauthier Hayden Mahoney/Venzell Boulware Navaughn Donaldson

When looking at the current offensive line, it’s easy to see that maybe it isn’t ready for big time. The Hurricanes’ go into this season with two new starting guards and each tackle making a position change with Tyree St. Louis moving to left tackle from right tackle and Navaughn Donaldson moving from right guard

For the most part, the experience will come from the aforementioned St. Louis and Tyler Gauthier, the most experienced of the starting five offensive linemen. Both seniors, St. Louis and Gauthier are 2-year starters and both started all 13 games last season. While St. Louis is the most experienced of the two, starting 21 games dating back to 2016, Gauthier has started 17 games straight as well. Both are great in pass protection, which should be a major positive for the Hurricanes next season.

In terms of actual talent, a lot of it will come from Navaughn Donaldson. Coming into his sophomore year, Donaldson is making the aforementioned switch from guard, where he started 13 games last season, to right tackle. In his freshman season, Donaldson was named a Freshman All-American by both ESPN and FWAA.

In terms of guards play, it is where most of the question marks will come. Between Hayden Mahoney and Jahair Jones, only one has any kind of significant action on the offensive line, with Mahoney playing in 12 games last season. Even then, the two combined for just 2 career starts. Jones is obviously the biggest question mark of the two because most of his action last season was from special teams.

The Depth

One of the biggest question marks for the Hurricanes will be the depth on the offensive line. Of the five players rotational offensive linemen, only three players have made an impact and the three have combined for just 16 games played since 2016. In those 16 games, only four starts have been made, with three of them coming in 2016 from Venzell Boulware.

While the two tackle spots and the center spot are locked up, the two guard spots are likely up for grabs in fall camp. Of the competitors for those spots, the player most likely to take a spot is Boulware. In the offseason, Boulware transferred from Tennessee to Miami in order to gain more playing time. As a redshirt freshman in 2016, Boulware made appearances in 7 games for Tennessee, starting in games against Alabama, Missouri and Vanderbilt. Hurting Boulware, however, will be his time to impress as he is set to enroll with the Hurricanes during the second summer season and will only have fall camp to make an impact.

At center, Corey Gaynor has the most experience of any rotational offensive linemen, playing 10 games in 2017.
Credit: 247Sports

Other than Boulware, a majority of the experience comes from sophomore center Corey Gaynor. In 2017, Gaynor played in 10 games for the Hurricanes and also started against Georgia Tech at the guard spot. Gaynor will be one of the most important pieces to the rotation because if an interior offensive guard gets injured, it’s likely the replacement will be Gaynor.

Other than Gaynor and Boulware, the experience gets slimmer and it’s a huge concern for the Hurricanes. Two of the rotational linemen expected to make a difference are two freshmen (John Campbell and DJ Scaife) and George Brown, a redshirt junior who transferred from LSU to Miami, has played just 3 games in his college career. While Campbell and Scaife are both true freshmen who will be expected to make an impact at the next level, both have talent that is hard to deny.

Coming into college, Scaife was a consensus four-star recruit and was ranked as the sixth-best offensive tackle by Rivals and chose Miami over other ACC offers from NC State and Syracuse. In 2017, he was named to the Miami-Herald All-Dade First team and helped Southridge running backs average 4.0 yards per carry in 2017. Campbell was also ranked a four-star recruit by Rivals and chose Miami over Alabama, Florida State and Auburn. While both of the freshmen will be expected to make an impact early on in their college careers, the talent will help them make this transition. Both could possibly follow a similar path to Donaldson, who was one of the most important performers on last year’s offensive line for the Hurricanes.