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Spring Football Position Preview: Offensive Line

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The path to a “New Miami” begins upfront for the Canes offense

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For the Hurricanes, the blame for the failures of the 2018 season were spread out fairly evenly when it came to the offensive side of the ball. Former head coach Mark Richt’s refusal to relinquish play calling duties was a point of contention throughout the entirety of the season. The lackluster play at quarterback left a lot to be desired for a majority of the season, which added to Canes’ fans frustration with the lack of urgency in addressing the infencies on the offensive side of the ball.

However, a group that took plenty of heat for the majority of the season is the offensive line. The issues along the O line have plagued the program one season after another. It’s not for a lack of effort, as the Hurricanes have tried to solve the problem in a couple of interesting ways. First, they went with the belle-of-the-ball approach, chasing after five-star prospects like Seantrel Henderson in 2010. Then they tried out JUCO and prep school signees from California to Virginia. Despite their creative approach, the Hurricanes have found only a few gems through those methods. Recruiting older, more established prospects from the junior college ranks seemed a reasonable way to address holes along the line. That method is the alternative to the much preferred option — recruiting rule #3 — of trying to land prospects in South Florida and the surrounding areas.

While Miami has hired an offensive coordinator, the pressure is now heaped upon the back of Dan Enos and new offensive line coach Butch Barry to solve the 1000+ pound problem that is the play of the Hurricanes’ offensive line. Finding capable blockers doesn’t solve all of UM’s problems, but it certainly helps with one significant issue. Given the wealth of talent at skill positions, the O-Line’s ability to provide another second in pass protection or a couple inches of space to create a running lane are substantial in the grand scheme of the offense.

New OL coach Butch Barry is tasked with solving the quagmire of fielding a quality five-man unit along the offensive line beginning this spring.
Green Bay Press Gazette

There’s no fighting the fact that the mighty Miami Hurricanes struggle to block with any consistency. It hasn’t been for a lack of effort, either. Former Hurricanes’ offensive lineman and longtime NFL veteran, Eric Winston, outlined why it’s difficult to find offensive linemen in college in an article written by The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman titled Why Offensive Line is the Toughest Position for College Football Recruiters to Evaluate.

“I think this goes for every position, and this is why I think we fell off in Miami, coaches are always just looking for finished products,” he says. “They’re not willing to let a guy go that doesn’t fit their system. If you’re Iowa, they have that sound outside-zone system. That’s what they do. The 340-pound road grader doesn’t fit their system. They know exactly what they’re looking for. They don’t really give a (crap) about the star system. They’ll take that two-star guy.”

Eric Winston

That sounds about right, given the misfortunes of the Hurricanes in the past few seasons. Finished products are safer options for an established program than a lean, athletic kid out of high school who posses the intangibles, yet needs to put in the work to be great. A great test case for Miami will be 2019 class signee Sumter HS OT Zion Nelson. He signed with the Hurricanes weighing 240 pounds, and there was a social media backlash for the Canes signing someone who didn’t have the measurables to fit the mold of a traditional hog molly.

However, with the Hurricanes moving towards “The New Miami”, a fresh approach could be the long-awaited solution to what ails the Canes.

All of this is to say that the offensive line remains a work in progress entering the 2019 season. For now, the Canes will need to do with what they have on the roster. While there has been chatter about Miami dipping into the water of the transfer portal to help bring in another offensive lineman, only time will tell.

The Departed

NCAA Football: Miami at Louisiana State Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Canes lost a trio of starters along the offensive line from the 2018 squad. UM will need to find the next men up in a few areas, but particularly from center to the left tackle. Former LT Tyree St. Louis and C Tyler Gauthier exhausted their college eligibility. In the case of St. Louis — who was a stalwart at right tackle for two seasons before shifting to left tackle his senior year — finding a capable replacement will take priority here. Gautier was the guiding light for offensive starters, often tasked with calling out blocking assignments and adjustments at the line when the Canes went with redshirt freshman N’Kosi Perry as the starting quarterback.

The surprise departure remains transfer guard Venzell Boulware. He had a year of eligibility left, but decided to capitalize on his stock, opting to go pro this year. Although Boulware was only with the program for a season, his impact in the run game was greatly appreciated, especially given his ability to move towards the second level of the defense.

Miami also lost a couple of players of their own to the transfer portal. G Hayden Mahoney left, joining Boston College as a graduate transfer. Former Chaminade HS star Bar Milo chose to leave the program for an opportunity elsewhere this spring.

The New Guys

Can Butler transfer Tommy Kennedy be part of the solution along Miami’s offensive line?
247 Sports

Jaelan Phillips, Tate Martell, KJ Osborn. While fantastic addition, each came from the transfer portal. However, the first member of the portal gang was T Tommy Kennedy, a graduate transfer from Butler. Considered one of the best prospects along the offensive line, Kennedy committed to Miami under the previous coaching staff, but has stuck by his pledge regardless of the changes on staff. A left tackle in his days at the FCS level, there are projections that have Kennedy in the lead to start at left tackle for Miami in 2019.

The Hurricanes attracted a few prospects to sign letters of intent to help the Canes improve along the offensive line. Zion Nelson, Adam ElGammal and Jakai Clark represent the Canes as members of the 2019 recruiting class. Nelson is the only member of the trio who will be in camp this spring.

The Returnees

Key returnees for for 2019 are junior Navaughn Donaldson, redshirt sophomore Corey Gaynor, sophomore DJ Scaife. Of those players mentioned, the growth of DJ Scaife in his second year on campus is worth keeping an eye on when practices commence. Gaynor appears to be out front in the race to be named starting center come August 24th.

Rounding out the group are promising young prospects such as Kai-Leon Hebert, John Campbell Jr., Zalon’tae Hillery, Zach Dykstra, and George Brown Jr. Each of those men have an opportunity to compete for a position along the line beginning March 19th.

Concerns

What to do with Navaughn Donaldson

It’s fair to say that Donaldson has been the Hurricanes’ best offensive line prospect for the past two years. The 2018 season offered a heaping share of humble pie for the junior guard, however. Notice how I put ‘guard’, which appears to be Donaldson’s best position at this point in time. He has the size to play tackle, yet didn’t thrive during the first half of the season when he was a starter at the position. Having lost weight prior to the 2018 season to fit in at tackle, you have to wonder what lessons, shape and the overall pschye of the big man will be entering 2019.

The Understudies Must be Ready

Finding a starter at left and right guard will be a priority this spring for the Canes. Considering the youth along the line, the Hurricanes are going to need as much development across the position as they can get. That means second year players such as Cleveland Reed, Kai-Leon Herbert and John Campbell should be in a position to push for a starting gig.

Toughness Needed

This is not an indictment on the players of the past, but the Hurricanes’ offensive line needs some bullies upfront. For all the talk of “The New Miami” being what the program needs, along with its ‘walk it like you talk it’ attitude, the offensive line will need to run a marathon before fans will truly believe the Canes are heading in the right direction. Under new OC Dan Enos and OL coach Barry, Miami is going to have to play with more conviction if it wants to rise to the heights it so desperately wants.

Summary

The renovations are well underway for the Hurricanes’ offense. A quarterback competition is a given entering the weeks to come. The pecking order needs to be established among the skill position players from running back to receiver. Establishing some sort of identity offensively will be a priority in the next phase of preparation for the 2019 season for the Hurricanes. All of which will be a moot point if the team can’t find a way to wring all the the potential out of five to seven offensive linemen. The rehabilitation for the men upfront begins in a couple weeks.

IT’S ALWAYS ABOUT THE U!