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Miami Hurricanes 2019 Position Preview: Offensive Line

Raising their offensive line’s level of play is paramount to the Canes’ success

Andrew Ivins/ 247 Sports

There’s a strong belief among the Canes’ contingent that the hire of Dan Enos as the team’s offensive coordinator is the cure to an ailing offense. With unquestioned depth at the skill positions, the onus falls on the men in the trenches to not just pave the way for their teammates to thrive, but to hush the groans of dissatisfied fans dating back years.

The Hurricanes will enter training camp after another below average season from its offensive bullies. The Hurricanes ranked near the bottom in the nation in virtually every offensive category. The team ranked 113th in the country in passing totals with 167.3 passing yards-per-game — yet averaged 191.6 rushing yards in the country to rank 45th in the FBS. UM’s 27 sacks allowed is in the top half of the nation in the category and their 73 tackles-for-loss allowed places them 47th.

A key to improvement in 2019 is finding some consistency along the starting five.

Here was Miami’s Starting Five vs LSU in 2017’s season opener:

LT: Tyree St. Louis

LG: Jahair Jones

C: Tyler Gauthier

RG: Haydon Mahoney

RT: Navaughn Donaldson

Now here is the Starting Five vs Wisconsin in the Pinstripe Bowl:

LT: Tyree St. Louis

LG: Venzell Boulware

C: Haydon Mahoney

RG: Navaughn Donaldson

RT: Delone Scaife

*Note C Tyler Gauthier was suspended for the bowl game due to academic violation.

Shuffling and reshuffling the decks has become more of a staple for the program of late as the team attempts to find answers to who the best starting five is. That trend continued into spring practices, with the Hurricanes’ offensive line playing in what would was a worst-case scenario alignment. Due to injuries, the Canes were forced to move players to unfamiliar positions in an attempt to assemble a quality line. Entering the summer, offensive line coach Butch Barry has the same question as he did at the beginning of spring: Who are the Hurricanes’ best five along the O-line?

Granted, getting everyone healthy helps answer that question. If we as fans have an inkling as to who the best starting five will be, then you can be sure that the coaching staff already have a vision of what the group will resemble on August 24th.

Key Departures

Tyree St. Louis — Graduation (Signed as a UDFA with the New England Patriots)

Venzell Boulware — Left early to the NFL (Undrafted)

Haydon Mahoney — Transferred (Boston College)

Tyler Gauthier — Graduation (Signed as a UDFA with the New England Patriots)

Miami lost Tyree St. Louis to graduation. Venzell Boulware decided to forgo his senior year and declared himself eligible for the 2019 NFL Draft. G/C Haydon Mahoney entered the transfer portal and will don a Boston College uniform this fall. On second glance, that’s a decent amount of attrition — they had a combined 80 starts among them — but none of these losses should have UM fans fretting too much.

Returning for 2019

Corey Gaynor
247 Sports

(Jr) Navaughn Donaldson — Miami Central — Miami, Florida

(Soph) DJ Scaife — Southridge HS — Miami, Florida

(R. Soph) Corey Gaynor — Majory Stoneman Douglas — Parkland, Florida

(R. Soph) Kai-Leon Herbert — American Heritage Plantation — Plantation, Florida

(R. Fr) John Campbell Jr. — Dr. Phillips — Orlando, Florida

(R. Fr) Cleveland Reed Jr. — Fort Meade — Fort Meade, Florida

(R. Soph) Zalon’tae Hillery —Glynn Academy — Brunswick, Georgia

(R. Sr) George Brown Jr. — Winton Woods — Cincinnati, Ohio

(R. Fr) Zach Dykstra — Spirit Lake — Spirit Lake, Iowa

(R. Fr) Jared Griffith — Riverview — Sarasota, Florida

The Hurricanes return star guard Navaughn Donaldson who is arguably the centerpiece of the unit. Since his arrival on campus two years ago, Donaldson has been a fixture on the offensive line as a guard and tackle. DJ Scaife really came into his own at right tackle in what you could consider a baptism by fire last year. Entering this season, Scaife will be a fixture along the line as well. You could also include C Corey Gaynor in the returning equation, who has one start in his career. Gaynor is projected to be at full-strength to begin training camp after suffering an injury this past spring.

Who are the New Guys?

(Fr) Zion Nelson — Sumter — Sumter, South Carolina

(Fr) Jakai Clark — Grayson — Loganville, Georgia

(Fr) Adam ElGammal — Christ the King Regional — Middle Village, New York

(Soph) Ousman Traore — Hutchinson Community College/ Hapville Charter — College Park, Georgia

(R. Sr) Tommy Kennedy — Butler/ Lake Forest Illinois HS — Lake Forest, Illinois

The Hurricanes have three incoming recruits along the offensive line: T Adam ElGammal, T Zion Nelson and G/C Jakai Clark. Zion Nelson has grabbed headlines after turning in a stellar performance through spring practices. Many now project him to be the opening day starter at left tackle. If the Sumter, SC, product can extend his excellent performance into training camp, the Canes will have a pillar on offense for the next three to four years.

The final signing of the 2019 recruiting class came after most of his recruiting class signed their letters of intent. Ousman Traore from Hutchinson Community College (Kansas) announced his commitment to Miami earlier this month. Traore will join UM for training camp and is projected to play guard.

I’ll include Tommy Kennedy among the newbies, despite his participation in practices this spring. The Canes were able to win over former Butler tackle Tommy Kennedy before the end of 2018. In his final two years with the Bulldogs, Kennedy became the team’s starting left tackle, also becoming an All-Pioneer Football League All-Academic team member.

Biggest Questions Enter Training Camp

Which Pairings Will Make it Through Camp?

UM has holes to fill at left tackle and a guard spot, if you assume that Donaldson and Sacife will occupy two positions. As important as finding the best player to fill those roles is, it also boils down to the chemistry of the line. A year ago, Donaldson and Scaife were a package deal, with the veteran in Donaldson helping a then-freshman Scaife. Whether new OL Coach Barry wants to break that pairing up remains to be seen. If Nelson is the answer at left tackle that some believe, then moving Donaldson to pair with the freshman becomes more plausible.

Can UM Overcome a Lack of Experience?

No matter where the Wheel of Fortune lands on Miami’s O-Line, there’s bound to be inexperience up front. Navaughn Donaldson’s 22 career starts is the most by any member of UM’s offensive line at the FBS level. Sophomore DJ Scaife is behind him with seven starts. This is going to be an inexperienced line that is pressed to create some chemistry entering the season. The more cohesion, the less likelihood of mistakes that will cost the team.

DJ Scaife
247 Sports

I touched on this in the freshman section earlier, but each of those incoming recruits has a legitimate shot to battle for a starting spot when training camp commences. Head coach Manny Diaz has preached competition since his return. The offensive line will be the most symbolic of the new mantra this year.

Chemistry >Talent in 2019?

There are candidates and holdovers on the roster who should make the starting offensive line a challenge. That’s something that the Hurricanes need entering next season. While the previous position battles were admirable, they weren’t exactly HBO’s True Detective when it came to projecting who would win the job. I’m not an advocate for throwing bodies at the problem with the hope that five guys will establish themselves as something more than a burger chain. I’m also not resigned to the notion that securing the commitment of a highly-rated star prospect is the solution to an issue that has plagued Miami for a couple of decades now.

The solution has to be a mixture of many elements. Chief among them are pride within the group, cohesion, coaching up the talent on the roster, and for the unit as a whole to succeed together. Then and only then will we get to a point where asking “if the U is back” becomes less frequent.

Consider this: Miami has not had an offensive lineman drafted in the first round since Ereck Flowers was taken ninth by the Giants in the 2015 NFL Draft. Miami has not had a Pro Bowl lineman since 2009 when Brant McKinnie played with the Minnesota Vikings. The correlation between pro success and that at the University of Miami is not linear, but it does illustrate the talent — or lack thereof — being sent to the next level. The U has endured a drought along the offensive line for much too long.

The Shuffle Continues

There is no guarantee that whoever ends up starting August 24th against Florida will end the season in the same position. Canes fans saw a few variations of the starting five and, given the uncertainty among the line, that outcome wouldn’t be a surprise. Fortunately, or unfortunately, given the injuries from practices this past spring, the staff has witnessed a worst-case scenario version of the starting line. That leads to my next point…

The Best is Yet to Come

John Campbell (left), Zion Nelson (middle) and offensive line coach Butch Barry (right).
247 Sports

As much as we’ve all voiced our concerns about the starting unit, we’ve yet to see anything close to the best version of the team. Injuries suffered during the spring session forced OL coach Butch Barry to shuffle around most of his group. That juggling from months ago illustrated the potential for a young Miami offensive line to be a focal point in the near future. The recruits were not all enrolled and installation of the Dan Enos’ system was in full throttle. With more time to digest the scheme, assignments and earning more reps as the days pass, the situation can only improve. Perhaps I’m an eternal optimist, yet there’s a chance that this unit improves in the near future.

Projecting the 2019 Season

Why is it so hard to piece together a competent starting unit along the offensive line? Part of the answer is because you’re doing all this projecting about a player before they even arrive on campus. You try to predict their physical growth, pliability, natural bend and ability to work in tandem with other large men under pressure.

With the game featuring more athletes across the board, the prototype of an ideal offensive linemen has changed. The beer belly has gone out of style like headbands in basketball. Today you’re seeing tall, athletic tackles add some pounds to move to the gridiron. These new Hog Mollies utilize quick feet and explosive movements seen in other sports, creating a new prototype for offensive linemen.

SOTU’s KappaCane published a projection of what the starting offensive line could look like for the Canes on August 24th. Our own Todd Forrest explained how the situation along the line can be remedied by Dan Enos’ offensive system.

Projected Starting Line up

LT: Zion Nelson

LG: Navaughn Donaldson

C: Corey Gaynor

RG: Cleveland Reed Jr.

RT: DJ Scaife

It has become apparent that, if Miami is to reach the heights of success placed on the program’s shoulders, it’s going to need much better play from their big men in the trenches. Butch Barry has his work cut out for him. The Canes have seen depth pieces G Haydon Mahoney and T Bar Milo opt to transfer before their senior years. With three offensive line prospects incoming as part of the 2019 class — Adam Elgammal, Jakai Clark and Zion Nelson — the Canes are going to be fairly light along the line to start the spring.

How a group of underclassmen such as Cleveland Reed Jr., Kai-Leon Herbert and John Campbell Jr. develop moving forward will be indicative of UM overcoming mediocrity or being stuck on a treadmill for a couple more seasons. It’s time for the Canes’ offensive line to be the dictators as opposed to the scapegoats.