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ProCanes NFL Primer: Intriguing Storylines Ahead of the NFL’s 100th Season

It wouldn’t be pro football without contributions from ‘NFLU’

Buffalo Bills v Detroit Lions Photo by Jorge Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The Miami Hurricanes made their long-awaited return to the college football stage a couple of weeks ago. In fact, UM will have played two games before their pro equivalents storm out of the tunnels to kick off the NFL’s 100th season. It comes as no surprise that a group of ProCanes will factor into the celebration of a new season. DE Trent Harris, WR Braxton Berrios and Phillip Dorsett earned a Super Bowl ring with the New England Patriots last year, and are chasing their seventh championship since 2001.

Being able to suit up in week one is a special achievement. Some are not fortunate enough to make it to the final 53-man roster. Others incur injuries that will force them to the sideline. There are no guarantees in this sport of gladiators. One thing we can count on is that there will be plenty of Hurricanes on an NFL roster throughout the league.

With Canes spread throughout the league, you can be sure that UM alumni will be making plenty of noise in the months ahead.

Frank rushes into the history books

Even if you put eight men close to the line of scrimmage on defense, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to stop RB Frank Gore. The 36-year-old running back has defied conventional wisdom that runners slow down as they get older. Instead, the elder statesman continues to churn forward, entering what will be his 15th season. Credit has been given to his discipline and workout regimen. The new Buffalo Bill will share a backfield with RB Lesean McCoy and QB Josh Allen as they try to dethrone the perennial AFC East champion New England Patriots.

Gore can move ahead of Barry Sanders for third on the NFL’s all-time rushing list if he gains more than 521 yards. He can also climb up the all-purpose yard rankings in Buffalo this season, with just 629 yards separating him and Steve Smith Sr. on the NFL’s All-Purpose Yards List.

Houston we have a RB problem

Houston Texans v Dallas Cowboys
A torn ACL will sideline Houston Texan RB Lamar Miller for the season.
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

One of those men who will unfortunately miss the 2019 season is Houston Texans’ RB Lamar Miller. Set to enter his eighth season in the league, the former Miami Killian High School product suffered a torn ACL early in the Texans’ third preseason game. Miller had been complimented for his work this offseason. According to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle, Miller stated, “My main focus was to drop my body fat and continue to work on my speed and my lower body strength. [...] That’s something that I tried to improve on and so far I think I did a great job.”

Miller was in the final year of a four-year deal with the Texans. He’s set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2020.

Similar to what Canes’ fans experienced last year, the Texans’ fansbase won’t see Lamar Miller and Duke Johnson backfield this season. Despite a nagging hamstring injury, the opportunity for a bigger role on offense exists for Duke as the Texans — who are operating without a GM — will add another running back to the mix. And that’s what they did on Saturday, acquiring RB Carlos Hyde via a trade with Kansas City Chiefs. Johnson was not brought to H-Town to be a volume runner. Duke Johnson is best suited to be a change of pace to Miller’s workhorse running style — before the latter got hurt. He just needs to play to his strengths as a versatile weapon that impacts the outside running game as well as a receiving threat on third downs.

Rookies poised to make an impact

NFL: Preseason-Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams
DE Joe Jackson figures to be key figure in Dallas Cowboys defensive line rotation.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Most fans and even the players themselves were disappointed to see where the bulk of the Hurricanes’ 2019 draft class ended up being selected. The good news is that they at least made it to the big dance. Now it’s time to show the rest of the league what they can do. The regular season is where you can make those who passed on you regret their decision. As far as who has the best chance to breakout, you might want to be sitting down when you read this section.

Barring injuries, most of the 2019 class will be featured on special teams. Perhaps they’ll see some snaps in blowout, if they’re lucky. I’ll go through each situation to allow you to understand why.

Defensive end Joe Jackson has been a revelation in Dallas this preseason. He has earned praise from teammates all the way up to team owner Jerry Jones. Jackson will have time to grow and learn this season, as the Cowboys have plenty of depth at their edge rushing positions. DeMarcus Lawrence, Robert Quinn and Tyrone Crawford headline a formidable unit.

Minnesota Vikings v Buffalo Bills
Looking for an opportunity as a rookie, S Jaquan Johnson has garnered rave reviews in the preseason.
Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

Jaquan Johnson seems to have picked up where he left off as a senior at The U. He’s forced fumbles, laid down some big hits and has darted over the field like a veteran as opposed to his rookie designation. Johnson is currently listed as the Bills’ third-team safety. Even with injuries to starters Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, it’s difficult to see Johnson getting snaps on defense to start the regular season.

Seattle Seahawks’ running back Travis Homer has been able to run past defenders in the exhibition season. His biggest hurdle will have to come on the depth chart. There’s a logjam at running back that features Chris Carson, CJ Procise and 2018 first-round selection Rashaad Penny.

The first Hurricane selected in the 2019 NFL Draft, Cleveland Browns S Sheldrick Redwine is the most difficult to project. It’s been an up-and-down training camp for the rookie as he adjusts to the NFL game. Redwine has bounced between second and third team as he gets acclimated to his new level. He’s another guy that will fall into the special team contributor category.

King Calais’ reign of disruption

Calais Campbell is just seven tackles-for-loss behind seventh place John Abraham on the NFL’s all-time TFL list. Terrell Suggs tops this list with 193. JJ Watt currently has 154 entering the season. Campbell’s 81 sacks places him in a tie at 65 on the league’s all-time sack list.

Isidora Returns Home

A possible cut casualty, G Danny Isidora was acquired by the Miami Dolphins via trade. The Minnesota Vikings took the former Hurricane with a fifth round selection in the 2017 NFL Draft. Isidora started three games as Viking, having played 214 regular season snaps according to Pro Football Focus.

Herndon in timeout

NFL: AUG 24 Preseason - Saints at Jets Photo by Joshua Sarner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Chris Herndon put together an impressive 39 receptions, 502 receiving yards and four touchdowns in his rookie season. How is he going to follow that up, you ask? Well, by staying home. The burgeoning star TE is going to spend the first month of the season watching the Jets from a couch. Herndon was handed a four-game for violating the NFL’s conduct policy and program on substances of abuse. He’ll be eligible to return to the Jets’ lineup Monday October 7th, after the Jets take on the Philadelphia Eagles.

‘U’ made it!

Here’s a list of Hurricanes who will be featured on an opening day roster:

Atlanta Falcons

LB Jermaine Grace

P Matt Bosher

DE Allen Bailey

Buffalo Bills

RB Frank Gore

S Jaquan Johnson

OL Jon Feliciano

Carolina Panthers

TE Greg Olsen

Chicago Bears

S Deon Bush

P Pat O’Donnell

Cleveland Browns

TE David Njoku

DE Olivier Vernon

S Sheldrick Redwine

DE Chad Thomas

Dallas Cowboys

DE Joe Jackson

Green Bay Packers

TE Jimmy Graham

Houston Texans

RB Duke Johnson Jr.

RB Lamar Miller (Injured Reserve)

T Seantrel Henderson

Indianapolis Colts

DE Al–Quadin Muhammad

Jacksonville Jaguars

DE Calais Campbell

C Brandon Linder

Los Angeles Chargers

S Rayshawn Jenkins

LB Denzel Perryman

WR Travis Benjamin

K Michael Badgley

Miami Dolphins

WR Allen Hurns

RB Mark Walton

OL Danny Isidora

New England Patriots

WR Phillip Dorsett

New York Giants

DE RJ McIntosh

DL Olsen Pierre

New York Jets

TE Chris Herndon (Serving a four-game suspension)

Pittsburgh Steelers

CB Artie Burns

LB Anthony Chickillo

Washington Redskins

T Ereck Flowers

Surprise cuts

Seattle Seahawks v Carolina Panthers
CB Corn Elder’s time with Carolina Panthers is up in smoke.
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Corn Elder— I discussed leading up to the weekend how the third-year corner was vying for the Carolina Panthers nickel corner spot. So when the news broke that Corn Elder had been released by Carolina, I was taken aback. A standout cover corner in college, Elder struggled in that category after returning from a season-ending injury in 2017.

Adrian Colbert — After a tremendous rookie season that saw him make 32 tackles, five pass breakups and two forced fumbles, the San Francisco 49ers believed S Adrian Colbert was the answer to their void at safety. Two year later, the former Hurricane has been plagued by injuries. The Niners and Colbert went their separate ways on Saturday.

Ray Ray Armstrong — LB Ray Ray Armstrong secured six tackles in nine games for the Browns in 2018. The situation appeared to be promising for this former Hurricanes safety. Armstrong sat atop the linebacking depth chart of the Cleveland Browns at the start of training camp.The Browns felt they had enough depth and released the rangy linebacker.

Gerald Willis III — After going undrafted this past spring, it appeared that DT Gerald Willis III had a prime opportunity to make an NFL roster when he signed with Baltimore Ravens as an undrafted free agent. Months later, Willis is back to square one. The Ravens released the DT on Saturday. Baltimore could choose to add Willis to their practice roster, assuming he’s not claimed by another team on waivers.

Michael Jackson Sr. — The former Hurricanes cornerback was a fifth-round selection of the Dallas Cowboys in the 2019 NFL Draft. Michael Jackson Sr. is like most perspective job seekers right out of college. He has all the measurables and intangibles that make him the ideal candidate for the job, yet lacks the experience that every company craves for security. Dallas has Jourdan Lewis, Chidobe Auwuzie and Anthony Brown listed ahead of the rookie cornerback. In an ideal world, Jackson would earn more defensive snaps as the season unfolds. As we know, however, nothing is promised in the NFL. There’s potential for Jackson to be signed to the Cowboys practice roster later today.

Other Notable Cuts

WR Braxton Berrios

CB Jhavonte Dean

DL Ufomba Kamalu

OT Tyree St. Louis

G Tyler Gauthier

RB Trayone Gray

DT Tito Odenigbo

SPECIAL NOTE*: Eligible practice squad players can be signed beginning today at 1pm EDT.

Breakout ProCane for the 2019 Season

Rayshawn Jenkins

NFL: Preseason-Seattle Seahawks at Los Angeles Chargers Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

As he enters his third season in the NFL, Rayshawn Jenkins will be relied on like never before by the Chargers’ defense. Jenkins is set to become their starting free safety after turning in an impressive offseason. His importance to the Bolts’ defense actually picked up towards the tail-end of the 2018 season. Employed as a single-high safety, sometimes coming down into the box as a linebacker, Jenkins’ presence provided the Chargers with more speed and versatility in the front-seven. A year later, the Chargers are counting on him to continue his stellar play. Despite the absence of fellow S Derwin James, the defense is expected to propel this LA franchise towards another playoff push.

Most Reliable Fantasy Option

Jimmy Graham

Arizona Cardinals v Green Bay Packers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

When you earned 636 receiving yards, 55 receptions and two touchdowns, you’re doing well for yourself in the NFL. For Jimmy Graham, his 2018 numbers fall well short of the marks he was accustomed to in his prime — 51 TDs and totaled 4,752 receiving yards with the Saints. The 32-year-old TE is out to prove that he still has those big games in him. You can say the same for his quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, who also played below his standard last season. Under first-year head coach Matt LaFleur, the Packers should continue to live and die through the passing game. Meaning you can submit you weekly or daily lineup in fantasy knowing that Graham will be highly targeted on a weekly basis. Consider Jimmy as a flex or middle-tier TE option.

*It should go without saying that the best value in traditional formats is Michael Badgley.

Most Valuable ProCane (Defense)

Olivier Vernon

NFL: Preseason-Cleveland Browns at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Cleveland Brown DE Olivier Vernon seeks to engulf any QB in his path.
Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Probably not the ProCane defensive end that you thought you would see. As a member of the New York Giants, Olivier Vernon missed the first five games of 2018 with a lower body injury. He still produced 30 tackles, seven sacks, five tackles-for-loss, 21 QB hits and a forced fumble!

After being traded to the Cleveland Browns in the offseason, Vernon is healthier and surrounded by plenty of talent. Vernon will line up alongside DL Larry Ogunjobi, DL Sheldon Richardson and DE Myles Garrett to round out an impressive line Browns’ defensive line. UM head coach Manny Diaz stated earlier this week that sacks aren’t everything. That’s fair. However, they do speak to a defender’s production and influence on a game. It’s why we’re expecting Vernon to match his career-high 11.5 sacks from his second-year with the Dolphins. In Cleveland’s 4–3 defense, Vernon will be focusing on getting penetration and pressure on opposing QBs, as opposed to dropping back in coverage, which he often did as a New York Giant. With a better ensamble surrounding him, the defensive end has the opportunity to thrive once again.

Most Valuable ProCane (Offense)

Greg Olsen

Buffalo Bills v Carolina Panthers
TE Greg Olsen (center) continues to be one of UM’s best ambassadors in the NFL.
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

It’s only fitting that the offensive MVP is one of the ambassadors of Tight End U. The 34-year-old dealt with a lingering foot issue that allowed him to play in only nine games last year. It’s been so far, so good for Greg Olsen in camp. The biggest concern with this selection is the health of his quarterback, Cam Newton. Olsen is the receiving target that Newton trusts, but should also be the top option for anyone who lines up under center for the Panthers this year.