When it was announced in January that Manny Diaz edged out Nick Saban and Kirby Smart for the services of then-University of Alabama Quarterbacks Coach Dan Enos, fans of the University of Miami were ecstatic.
In the minds of many Orange-and-Green-clad diehards, the addition of Enos would rectify the three prevailing criticisms of former head coach Mark Richt: His antiquated playbook, predictable play calling and inexperience on the offensive staff.
For most of 2018, fans clamored for The U to overhaul its offense with a modern spread attack that catered to the skill set of the South Florida athlete. Often overlooked during the implementation of a new offense, however, are the big guys in the trenches, who could end up benefiting most from an updated playbook in Coral Gables.
Prior to his retirement following a disappointing 7-6 campaign, many were desperate for Richt to relinquish play-calling duties and take on a CEO-type role. But at the end of the day, the head coach wasn’t the only contestant in the Miami blame game as fingers were pointed in every direction.
Many doubted the inexperience at quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator. Others pointed to dropped passes and the lack of pre-snap motion. And last but not least, the regression of an already-inconsistent O-line also drew its share of criticism.
Those were all legit questions but I had one of my own.
Why, in year three under Richt, were so many Al Golden recruits starting on the O-Line? What happened to the 3 and 4-star guys that Richt signed? Yes, there were some areas of improvement -- namely, false start penalties. And no, we don’t see what goes on during practice, but based on the final product revealed every Saturday, Hurricane fans witnessed very little development up front.
With the exception of Navaughn Donaldson -- who’s been stellar at guard but struggled at his favored position of tackle -- Richt’s guys have been consistently inconsistent, struggling to crack the two-deep up and down the offensive line.
DJ Scaife saw action as the 2018 season progressed but in the opener vs LSU, four of the five starters were fourth or fifth-year guys with redshirt-junior transfer Venzell Boulware as the backup at left guard. George Brown Jr., another redshirt-junior transfer, flirted with the two-deep at tackle before requiring season-ending knee surgery late in the summer.
Four Golden recruits entered August in the starting five with a pair of transfers as the primary backups. By season’s end, Scaife cracked the starting rotation in place of redshirt-senior Jahair Jones -- a 3-star JUCO guard out of New York, recruited by, you guessed it, James Coley and Art Kehoe. The other starters were: Tyree St. Louis, Hayden Mahoney - who has since transferred to Boston College, Tyler Gauthier and Donaldson. St. Louis was a highly-touted 4-star tackle out of IMG Academy. Mahoney was a 3-star out of Pennsylvania with a .8493 composite rating by 247Sports and Gauthier was another lower-tier 3-star with a .8441 composite. All solid players in their own right but average offensive lines will only keep you in contention in the ACC Coastal, nowhere else.
Additionally, if you go back and look at the other linemen from that 2015 Class, you’ll find names like Bar Milo and Brandon Loftus among the top offensive line signees. Even future defensive tackle Kendrick Norton was a high 3-star at guard.
Coach Richt brings in his guys
With limited time, Richt added one O-lineman to the 2016 class, Orlando’s Tre Johnson -- another lower-tier 3-star who eventually wound up in the JUCO ranks before signing with Southern Miss. Richt’s first full recruiting class in 2017 brought in South Florida 4-star tackles Donaldson and Kai-Leon Herbert plus a high 3-star recruit in Zalon’tae Hillary -- a high school teammate of Brunswick, Georgia’s DeeJay Dallas -- and Iowa’s Zach Dykstra, who has yet to crack the two-deep despite a higher 247Sports rating than both Gauthier and Mahoney. Additional depth was added with a late flip by Corey Gaynor -- a lower-tier 3-star from Broward County -- the lowest rated big man of the class but a likely starter at center this fall.
Scaife, a 4-star guard, was the top O-lineman of Miami’s 2018 class. Not far behind was 4-star Cleveland Reed and a borderline 4-star tackle in John Campbell.
This year’s class features surprise South Carolina 3-star tackle Zion Nelson, an early-enrollee who was running with the starting unit in the spring after arriving in January at 240 pounds. Thirty-plus pounds later, Nelson has, at the very least, provided some much-needed depth to Offensive Line coach Butch Barry’s position room.
Georgia’s Jakai Clark and New York’s Adam El Gammal also signed in the recent class to go with the addition of Butler grad-transfer Tommy Kennedy, who arrived with high hopes but ended up getting shuffled inside to center during the spring after struggling to crack the two-deep at tackle.
Moving forward: Tap into your strengths
I’m not an Xs and Os guru like some of my colleagues here at State of the U but I’ve covered high school football across Georgia and the southeast for 15 years. Over the last decade-and-a-half, I’ve also watched the spread offense take hold of offensive coordinators and refuse to let go. Nowadays, most teams in Georgia and Florida are using at least some form of the spread, especially the successful programs.
At first, I absolutely despised the trendy new offense that was taking prep football by storm. I thought it was gimmicky and nothing more than basketball on grass. I firmly believed the key to winning, at any level, was running the football behind a powerful offensive line. But slowly, I watched the game evolve and after years of fighting the urge to change with the times, I finally reached my breaking point watching Miami’s recent offensive struggles.
That brought me to my next question: Why is Miami recruiting lineman out of spread-heavy areas in South Florida and the southeast, then forcing them out of their comfort zone in college? As much as I hated the spread, I realized you can’t continue forcing a square peg into a round hole. If your pipeline areas are mostly spread, why not make life easier and change your offense to suit the players? Unless you plan on moving your recruiting base to the midwest, most linemen you attempt to woo to Coral Gables will be more comfortable in a spread scheme.
Spread offenses rely on quick passes, draws and misdirection plays which rarely demand blocking beyond the initial contact. And reports from Miami’s spring scrimmages have pointed to Enos using a zone-based rushing attack and, so far, he’s not asking his lineman to maul defenders off the line of scrimmage.
His new offensive scheme has been characterized as “spread,” “West Coast” or a combination of both. Enos has commented that he wants his offenses to be multiple with elements of the spread and West Coast offenses, or as he jokingly referred to it during an WQAM interview, the “spread coast.”
The most enlightening comment of the interview came when Enos went on to say that his new offense will “go in different directions based on the personnel we have here.”
No more square pegs in round holes.
It didn’t work with guys like Anthony Chickillo on the defensive line and it wasn’t successful on the other side of the ball under Miami’s most recent staff.
If Enos’ words become reality it could breathe new life into a front-five that recently, has been among the worst in the ACC. And if play in the trenches improves, the dominoes of progress will begin to tumble on the offensive side of the ball, taking quarterback play and the rushing attack with them, ultimately opening up the field for Miami’s speedy receivers and lots of points.
And that, Canes fans, is great news.