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The Talent Myth: It Is the Players Too

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At 6-6, There is Blame to be Borne by All Involved

Miami v Duke Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

After a disappointing season in which Miami went 6-6, with loss after loss to perceived “lesser talented” teams like GT, FIU and Duke, Manny Diaz and co. are in the crosshairs of an indignant Miami fanbase.

Miami v Florida International Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

This article is by no means an encomium to the Miami Coaching Staff or university administration that hired Manny Diaz and allowed him to bring in an offensive coordinator that runs an antiquated offense. I may be in the minority, but I do not find Miami to be a very talented football team.

Georgia Tech v Miami Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

At 6-6 against one of the easiest schedules in Miami history, there is more than meets the eye. Make no mistake: it is Manny Diaz’s duty as head coach to improve and cultivate the talent he has been dealt, by fostering a gritty, tough, and disciplined football culture. To achieve success, a program must marry player development to proper schemes, designed to extract the absolute best from the existing roster by putting players in a position which suits their natural abilities and skillset. In 2019, Manny Diaz has failed miserably on both of the aforementioned fronts and deserves blame. Still, the point remains: Miami’s 2019 roster is not as talented as widely believed by the fanbase, who has a tendency to simplify the laundry list of problems facing the Miami program in order to pin the blame on one singular cause.

Star Ratings Are Overrated

“Talent” is a largely ambiguous concept that cannot be accurately qualified and defined, which is the crux of the issue.

In recent memory, I can only recall two five-star recruits that had productive careers at Miami: DE Chad Thomas and RB Duke Johnson. While not a superstar, Chad Thomas was a staple on Miami’s very good 2016 and 2017 defensive lines. RB Lorenzo Lingard, Miami’s only five-star signing since Chad Thomas (according to 247), has yet to play at Miami due to injury and plenty of quality running back depth.

Miami v Pittsburgh Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Miami v Virginia Tech Photo by Michael Shroyer/Getty Images

While Miami does not sign many five stars, the list of busts among the 25 highest rated players is staggering and includes: Willie Williams, Ryan Moore, Kyle Wright, Arthur Brown (never played at Miami and transferred to KSU), Reggie Youngblood, Marcus Forston, Lance Leggett, Willie Dixon, Charlie Jones, DajLeon Farr, and Bobby Washington. Of the top 25 signees in Miami history, there were seven productive players including Seantrel Henderson, Kenny Phillips, Leon Williams, Anthony Chickillo, Chad Thomas, Tracy Howard, and Brandon Harris, but only five superstars in DJ Williams, Willis McGahee, Greg Olsen, Duke Johnson, and Devin Hester. The conclusion: over half of the 25 top signees in Miami program history were complete busts!

University of Miami’s Lance Leggett carries the ball on a lo Photo by Al Diaz/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

While there is a demonstrable correlation between recruiting rankings and on-field success, it is by no means an end all, be all, like it is often claimed. While there may be a major difference between top talent and ~20th ranked talent, the gap between 20th (which is what Miami is when roster attrition is factored in) and ~30-40thth is clearly not as much (VT, UNC). What is more, roster talent at Miami is not evenly distributed and it is widely recognized that Miami has always had a hard time attracting talented offensive lineman to its campus. Recruiting class rankings are not advanced enough to take into account that the offensive and defensive lines are far more important than skilled position players: an area Miami has always excelled.

Miami Struggles to Recruit the Trenches and It is Reflected on the Field

Consider the 2015 offensive line class at Miami—which would still be on campus if Miami had the luxury to redshirt players like many other teams do—that included Bar Milo, Tyree St. Louis, Jahair Jones, Brendan Loftus (who?), Hayden Mahoney, and Tyler Gauthier. All of the aforementioned lineman were listed as tackles, but only St. Louis played tackle at Miami and was undoubtedly a solid player. Gauthier was a solid center in 2017 and 2018. The other players either never contributed at Miami or were embarrassingly bad when they did get an opportunity to play (Jones, Mahoney). How Bar Milo was rated as a 4-star tackle I will never know, but if that does not tell people about the errancy of recruiting rankings, I am not sure what will.

Virginia v Miami Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

The 2016 offensive line class was even worse as Miami landed only one lineman: 3-star OT Tre Johnson, who never played a down at Miami. No program can hope to compete for any title—even the lowly Coastal Division title—with no fourth or fifth year players on the OL. Unlike other positions, OL takes years of physical and mental development in order to play at a high level. Zion Nelson seems to be physically gifted, but he should never see the field at Miami for at least three years. Because of poor recruiting and player development, he was forced into action.

Miami Also Recruits the Wrong Type of Players

On the other side of the coin, Kendrick Norton and RJ McIntosh who—along with the highly rated (albeit troubled) star Gerald Willis —formed Miami’s best trio of Dts since the end of the glory years (2005/2006). Norton and McIntosh were both low-rated 3 stars: Norton an offensive guard and McIntosh a strong-side DE. Even a casual fan with rudimentary football knowledge could see how quick and explosive Norton and McIntosh were—compared to the higher rated 4-star Anthony Moten for example, who was serviceable but not spectacular.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 11 Notre Dame at Miami Photo by Richard C. Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Miami Model Is Followed By Other Programs, But Not Miami

Butch Davis and Jimmie Johnson were excellent at recruiting intelligent, passionate, and athletically gifted football players, without too much regard for their ranking. Time and time again, Miami passes on guys who do not fit a preconceived mold that go on to shine elsewhere due to their grit, speed, and determination to prove wrong the schools that passed on them. Many players Miami does have on its roster would be better served playing another position, but due to a lack of depth, are forced to play a position that they have outgrown or are not athletic enough to play at a high level. The examples of this over the years are numerous: Anthony Chickillo played 3-4 DE at Miami when he should have played 4-3 DE, Vaughn Telemaque played FS at Miami, but should have been a SS or even OLB. Ray Ray Armstrong played SS but should have been an OLB.

Rohan Marley Photo by Will Mcintyre/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images/Getty Images

On its current team, Amari Carter lacks the range and coverage skills to be a great safety but could be an OLB with elite speed. While I love the heart and speed Trajan Bandy plays with, he would be best suited to a nickel back role. Nigel Bethel, who departed in the offseason, was Miami’s fastest corner on a roster loaded with safeties trying to play corner. Al Blades Jr., despite a lack of elite top-end speed, is the only corner with the agility and hip swivel necessary for being a good cover guy. Miami’s claim to fame and historical competitive advantage was its speed, but Miami no longer has elite team speed and consequently I watch every team out-run Miami’s linebackers and defensive ends (sans Greg Rousseau), week in and week out. Hopefully Sam Brooks and Avery Huff will buck this trend because watching FIU players outrun their Miami counterparts on the site of the old Orange Bowl was revolting.

Hurricanes football practice 8/8/2019 David Santiago/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

On offense, Miami does not have a wide receiver with elite speed sans the unreliable Jeff Thomas and as a result, its receivers do not get much separation. Of course the antiquated pro-style offensive scheme must bear much of the blame, but the departed Brian Hightower is an example of a wide receiver—like Aldarius Johnson and many others before him—who just does not have the elite speed required to be a star. Mark Pope, while speedy, has not put it all together yet. Miami is sorely missing a Sinorice Moss or Roscoe Parrish.

Miami Hurricanes vs. Temple Owls

Brevin Jordan is a stereotypical Miami tight end with great speed who would play in any era. To the contrary, Miami’s OL room is full of guards trying to play tackle (with the exception of Zion Nelson, who should not be playing at this stage). In the old days, Miami recruited slender and athletic tackles and blocking tight ends (Eric Winston) to play tackle.

Attrition

While roster attrition occurs at every school, it seems to occur at Miami at a much greater frequency. Of the 2015 class, only Robert Knowles and Scott Patchan remain—Lawrence Cager should be on the team as well, but transferred to Georgia this offseason where he is the Bulldog’s leading receiver. Of the 2016 class, only 7 of 19 signees remain: Shaq Quarterman, Romeo Finley, Michael Pinckney, Pat Bethel, Tyreic Martin, Michael Irvin Jr., and Zach McCloud. Miami would be much better if it still had guys like Malek Young, Ahmmon Richards, and Joe Jackson playing as seniors—in addition to getting the potential out of signees Sam Bruce and Jovani Haskins. Miami has also already lost six players from the 2017 class and four from the 2018 class respectively, which has left Miami with only 76 scholarship athletes, 67 of whom are no older than third-year players! While that is still not an excuse to lose to a 1-5 GT team transitioning from the option or 5-5 FIU, it is alarming and does help explain the team’s lack of maturity, focus, incessant mistakes, and overall inconsistency.

Physical Talent Doesn’t Tell The Whole Tale

Recruiting rankings hone in on physical attributes, but football is as much mental as it is physical. The great Miami teams of yesteryear played with a conviction and intensity that has been seldom seen since the 2005 VT game.

The 2017 blowout victory over ND was the manifestation of old-school Cane intensity which resulted in a night to remember.

I do not think it a stretch to say that Miami has major culture problems and has a roster with as many or more soft, entitled, and nonchalant players, as it does vintage Hurricanes like DeeJay Dallas, Brevin Jordan, Gregory Rousseau, KJ Osborn, and Trajan Bandy. As much as coaching, a cancerous culture is a major reason for Miami’s decline, as well as FSU’s. Toughness, grit, work ethic, and heart cannot be measured by third-party scouts. Miami needs more guys like Jaquan Johnson: undersized, but plays like a giant when needed most.

Another vital component that Miami is sorely lacking is a roster full of intelligent football players. In recent years, Braxton Berrios, Jaquan Johnson, and Trent Harris come to mind as guys who met or even surpassed their star rating, largely due to intangible aspects including football IQ. While proper coaching undoubtedly aids the mental development of a given player, the onus to improve by studying the game and watching film, falls on the individual player. Judging by pre-game and post-game social media posts before and after losses, Miami is clearly lacking in the mental aspects of the game. There is a stark contrast between the football understanding of guys like Jon Beason, Greg Olsen, Ray Lewis, Antrel Rolle, Sean Spence, Eric Winston, Mo Sikes, Ed Reed, Phillip Buchanon, Jon Vilma, Dan Morgan, Ken Dorsey, Brett Romberg, Joaquin Gonzalez, etc. and its current roster.

Miami Hurricanes vs. Temple Owls

Referee bias notwithstanding, mental errors like committing the same penalties every week and giving up a fake punt after being coached multiple times to be vigilant of a fake punt, only happen with a roster littered with largely apathetic and aloof football players. All that being said, it is Manny Diaz’s job to inspire his players to give their best, or else remove malignant individuals from the program to prevent the cancer from spreading.

A cause for concern: the culture surrounding the Miami Football Program, seems to have gotten even worse in 2019. During the offseason, it is time for a reckoning within the walls of the Hecht Center.