The wait is over! Spring Practice for the Miami Hurricanes starts today! The Canes, looking to move forward from an incredibly disjointed and disappointing 7-6 season, will use the next 15 practices to develop talent and skill across the roster.
We’ve previewed every position group, and here they are for your eyeballs
On top of those position previews from our SOTU staff, here are 5 items to watch for during spring practice:
Another year with the same thing up top. As I noted in the QB position preview for spring, the 4-way battle between Tate Martell, N’Kosi Perry, Cade Weldon, and Jarren Williams will be the spotlight interaction of the spring. Miami has not had quality QB play recently (yes, that’s putting things mildly), and that absolutely must change. For Miami to have had one of the worst QB performances nationally — something like 120th out of 123 for the season — is inexcusable. And that poor performance had a direct correlation to Miami’s poor record in 2018.
An added layer of intrigue exists due to Martell’s still-pending immediate eligibility waiver. Sure, he’ll practice either way that ruling goes, but knowing if he’s going to be eligible this year changes things. It would shift how reps would be split, for one thing, as the bulk of 1st team work would shift to Perry, Weldon, and Williams. And, many other things as well. So, while all 4 are trying to learn Dan Enos’ offense and prove their ability to flourish in that system, Martell is unsure if his work will potentially bear fruit in 2019 or 2020.
For the first time in a long time, Miami’s QB battle is actually open. No player in this group has an inside track on the job. So let’s see who steps up, and who struggles. August 24th is coming soon and Miami has to settle the QB position before that time.
As I was finishing this piece, Miami Athletics announced Cade Weldon’s transfer out of the program. So, the current QB battle is down to 3 contenders — Martell (still awaiting waiver ruling), Perry, and Williams — and that attrition we thought was probably coming is here.
Several players are gone from last year’s starting OL; Tyree St. Louis, Tyler Gauthier, Venzell Boulware. If Quarterback — the game’s prestige position — is #1 on the “needs fixing” list, then Offensive Line is a close 1A. Can’t run if you can’t block. Can’t pass if you can’t block. Can’t really do much of anything if you can’t block. So, Miami needs to get a unit together that can block.
Butler grad transfer Tommy Kennedy is the new face among the group. With nearly 40 games college experience, the hope and goal is that Kennedy take over the Left Tackle spot and handle his business well. Former Freshman All-American Navaughn Donaldson, now a junior, is locked in at Right Guard. Delone Scaife could play guard or tackle, but I like him at Right Tackle, and paired up next to Donaldson. That duo did very well together last year, when Scaife was only a freshman.
Along with LT (which, again, is hopefully going to Kennedy), the Left Guard and Center spots are open for competition. Guys like Cleveland Reed, Corey Gaynor, Za’lontae Hillery, Kai-Leon Herbert, and John Campbell will all look to work their way into the rotation. Of that group, Herbert was the highest ranked recruit as a Tackle, but would need to take a BIG step forward to challenge for either OT spot.
This isn’t just about the Cornerbacks; both CB and S will need to find players to step up into bigger roles, though that seems to be more of a ready-made proposition at S.
At cornerback, Trajan Bandy returns as a starter. A blue chip recruit who made some splash plays as a freshman before stepping up in a big way as a sophomore, Bandy is tough and physical, and great in coverage. His spot is etched in stone.
The other CB spots — both CB2 and nickel — are up for grabs. Sophomores DJ Ivey and Al Blades Jr. will look to compete for both spots, as will redshirt freshman Nigel Bethel. While strides will (hopefully) be made this spring, the CB position will get an influx of talent in the summer when 4-star recruits Te’Cory Couch and Christian Williams arrive on campus. They won’t likely start from day 1, but depending on how things go this spring, both could be in line for major playing time in the fall if the Ivey/Blades Jr/Bethel group doesn’t show enough progression.
At Safety, Miami replaces both starters after Jaquan Johnson and Sheldrick Redwine graduated. The talent is clearly there with Amari Carter and Gurvan Hall, and that should 100% be the starting tandem in spring. Add in USC transfer Bubba Bolden this summer, and Miami will have 3 NFL caliber athletes at this position. So, it’s not so much about finding out who can do the job here; it’s about pairing the top group together and letting them go play fast, physical football.
I always include this in my spring and fall camp previews, but one of the most important things to watch, and hope, for is that the team makes it out of the month-long practice session healthy.
There have been multiple injuries that have affected players in camp the last few years. Ryan Williams tore his ACL in 2014. Lawrence Cager tore his ACL in 2016. Ahmmon Richards pulled his hamstring in 2017 and was never the same, Gurvan Hall hurt his shoulder midway through spring 2018, Michael Irvin II tore his knee in fall camp 2018, De’Andre Wilder hurt his knee in fall camp 2018, and the list goes on.
But, for a team still developing the quality depth and talent needed to reach the levels of success to which we ALL aspire, staying healthy is important.
The New Miami
After years as an assistant, Manny Diaz steps up to being the Head Coach, and at a HUGE job like Miami. How does he steer the ship through the spring?
Miami has an entirely new offensive coaching staff, which includes a new OC with a new scheme. How does that group work together to propel Miami forward to the summer and upcoming season?
Miami has a new defensive coordinator (yanno, since the previous one is now the head coach). Miami also has a new defensive line coach, after he last one stepped up to the same job the NFL. How do those coaches keep Miami’s defense championship-caliber?
Player progression is always a key in the spring. Who steps up and lays claim to a larger role in 2019?
And, in general, the new energy around the program. Mark Richt did well and he put Miami on a higher trajectory than existed previously, but what does the NEW Miami look and practice like? Who are the leaders? Who wins the position battles? What will it be like to have a FULL PRACTICE SESSION this spring with 0 cancellations due to lightning now that the Carol Soffer Football Indoor Practice Facility is operational?
Every year is a new journey, but for Miami, the NEW Miami, this is doubly true. On every level, I want to see how that works, and how the team, and program overall, moves forward toward the 2019 season.
That’s what I’m watching this spring. How about you? Hop in the comments and let your thoughts be known.
Welcome to the NEW Miami, ladies and gentlemen.