Quarterbacks, running backs, tight ends, defensive ends, pretty much 21 of the 22 position units progressed at least a little bit during Miami’s spring practice. The one unit that remains to be a concern, and possibly took a step back over the past couple months is the Hurricanes offensive line.
As you’re reading this article, this “news” isn’t coming as a surprise to you at all. Past articles have been written, you’ve seen the Tweets, as a Miami fan, you are very much aware that this has been an ongoing problem for the Canes.
It’s also a problem that didn't just begin with the 2019 Hurricanes either. I mean, we were having these same concerns at this point last year, and from the horror that the 2018 offensive line produced, it’s only natural we keep addressing this topic and continue to worry.
Giving them a little benefit of the doubt, Miami’s offensive line is facing some challenges. First, moving from Stacy Searels to Butch Barry at line coach, and also learning a new concept with offensive coordinator Dan Enos. Plus, the Canes lost Hayden Mahoney, Venzell Boulware, Tyler Gauthier, Jahair Jones and Tyree St.Louis, either to the NFL or to the transfer portal. In fact, Navaughn Donaldson is only returning constant starter from last years line.
Still, it shouldn’t look this bleak.
Throughout spring practice, there were very few positives coming out of this unit as a whole. Expected starter at center, Corey Gaynor was injured. Grad transfer Tommy Kennedy didn’t nearly live up to the hype. And while head coach Manny Diaz has told reporters that he’s seen an increase of confidence in the group, frankly it’s hard to see.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this situation is that it’s still anyone’s guess as to who the starting five on the line. The starting rotation went through several changes in the spring, with some guys on the first team one week, then the second team the next. Then you also have Donaldson make the move to center once Gaynor was injured.
When the Canes took the field for their second scrimmage of the spring, the first team offensive line read as follows: DJ Scaife (LT), Zalon’tae Hillery (LG), Donaldson (C), John Campbell (RG) and Kai-Leon Herbert (RT).
Then the next week at Miami’s spring game in Orlando, it was switched up: Zion Nelson (LT), DJ Scaife (LG), Donaldson (C), Cleveland Reed (LG) and Kai-Leon Herbert (RT). And on that day, the Hurricanes offensive line gave up nine sacks. Simply put, this much jumbling around with the starting-five will create some confusion chaos.
Miami's first-team offensive line, from left to right: Zion Nelson, DJ Scaife, Navaughn Donaldson, Cleveland Reed, Kai-Leon Herbert.— David Wilson (@DBWilson2) April 20, 2019
Now obviously it’s not too big of an issue that they’re switching things up in April, but what raises concerns is perhaps the inability to learn the new offensive system, and also the obvious inconsistency of guys like Reed, Campbell and Hillery.
Now, even though the majority of the news from the offensive line in the spring was negative, there were a few bright spots. The progress that left tackle early enrollee Zion Nelson made was welcomed with sighs of relief and excitement for what the future holds for him. If Nelson impressed enough to move him into the starting-five and move Scaife to guard, then that should tell you something.
How Zion Nelson can go from 2-star to starter. The young freshman has gotten the attention of fans, the media, and Dan Enos with his worth ethic and natural skills. https://t.co/jbgsXSi5ed pic.twitter.com/cuKwcVom83— StateOfTheU.com (@TheStateOfTheU) April 23, 2019
So this Zion Nelson thing is potentially gonna happen? That's crazy. But if he's the guy to play LT, then he's the guy. The work on the field tells the story. If he's earned it (and he's up to like 270+ now with the S&C program), then he's earned it.— StateOfTheU.com (@TheStateOfTheU) April 22, 2019
Kai-Leon Herbert’s development has also been something that fans were ecstatic to see. Having not played much his first two years, the former four-star recruit is going to have tons of eye on him during 2019.
Kai Leon Herbert says his first two seasons at Miami we’re marred by torn labrum, meniscus injuries. He’s healthy now— Manny Navarro (@Manny_Navarro) April 16, 2019
Finally, though this was expected, Navaughn Donaldson once again being the leader on the line is no surprise to anyone. Though he started spring at his natural position of right guard, Donaldson made the difficult switch to center in place of the injured Corey Gaynor. He’s performed so well that there are thoughts that Donaldson will just stay at center and move Gaynor to guard once he’s healthy.
Navaughn Donaldson first scrimmage playing Center did not have any fumbles snaps no blown assignments Manny's presser really emphasize what a good job he did— SANECANE FISHING on Utube #MSDH (@sanecane) April 13, 2019
Sadly however, it doesn't look like this o-line unit is anywhere near championship caliber. It will be a very critical summer for these guys, especially those like Reed and Campbell. A Miami offense that features talented drop-back quarterbacks, in addition to what could be a top rushing attack in the nation, unfortunately won’t be able to do anything if the offensive line doesn't hold up.