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After early signing day 2020, this is now Manny Diaz’s roster

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No more excuses, this is a Manny Diaz roster heading into 2021.

Surviving as much as striving, Hurricanes prepare for second-half push Michael Laughlin/Sun Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

The Miami Hurricanes have been plagued by a poor culture since Larry Coker took over the program before the 2001 season. Coker, a longtime assistant who never should have been tapped as head football coach, never had the A-Type personality to be the CEO over the cash cow Hurricanes program Butch Davis left him. Davis, a near tyrannical ruler, headed north to Cleveland and the NFL’s Browns franchise, leaving Miami with little time. They opted to promote from within and went with Coker.

While Larry Coker (read: Ed Reed) guided the 2001 Hurricanes to a BCS National Championship, you could see the writing on the wall at times even in year one. Miami struggled with Boston College and Virginia Tech, needing late game heroics to seal their undefeated regular season. By 2002, the talent was still there but the player-led leadership was starting to lack. Reed was off to the Baltimore Ravens and Coker didn’t have a dominant personality taking control.

Boston College Golden Eagles v Miami Hurricanes Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images

Since Coker, Miami has been plagued by piss poor culture from Randy Shannon, Al Golden, Mark Richt, and now even Manny Diaz. Coach Diaz showed rocky discipline over himself and players in year one, while that dad improve in year two. As the COVID woes stretched on you started to hear the same ol’ adages heading into the fateful afternoon against the UNC Tar Heels who curb stomped the ‘Canes to the tune of 62-26.

The culture is now all Manny Diaz’s. On the offensive side of the ball, only thirteen players remain from the Mark Richt era of 2016-2018. Diaz, it’s safe to assume, has had control over the board on defense since his arrival in 2016 as defensive coordinator. That left the specialists, both of whom he signed, and the offense.

Who is left on O pre-Manny as head coach?

From what I saw on the roster, the players left are limited to 13 offensive players, many of who have earned a start over their careers (2020 status in parentheses). Quarterback N’Kosi Perry (RS Jr); running backs Robert Burns (RS Jr), and Cam’Ron Harris (Jr); Wide Receivers Mike Harley (Sr), Mark Pope (Jr) and Dee Wiggins (Jr); tight ends Brevin Jordan (Jr) and Will Mallory (Jr); and offensive linemen DJ Scaife (Jr), Cleveland Reed (RS So), Navaughn Donaldson (Sr), Corey Gaynor (RS Jr), and John Campbell (RS So).

Miami Hurricanes football practice Al Diaz/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Of that group, only Harley and Jordan should even think about going to the NFL. The rest should return for the 2021 season. It would actually benefit Harley to return as he could raise his draft stock with a James Proche type of season in ‘21.


The Offense

Quarterback

Miami has a great leader and solid quarterback in D’Eriq King. King, who could stick around for his 6th season of college football and second in Coral Gables, still has a decision to make about coming back for ‘21. But the Hurricanes have Richt holdover N’Kosi Perry. Perry had some terrible showings in ‘20 backing up King, and should not get serious practice reps this spring or summer.

NCAA Football: Miami at Duke Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

Former four-star QB Tyler Van Dyke, three-star Payton Matocha, and four-star ‘21 signee Jake Garcia are on the roster, too. Van Dyke and Matocha did not receive adequate reps this season. If King does opt to leave for the NFL or to go pro in something other than sports (he could wind up an FBS head coach before he’s 30- just listen to the guy!), Miami has talent but not production behind him.

This is why PROGRAMS like Alabama and Clemson get their freshmen into ball games earlier than three minutes to go in the 4th quarter. It has their backups prepared in case of injury or an early NFL decision, but it also keeps them happy and the ones they want to keep away from the transfer portal. Winning is a conscious decision.

Running Back

In the backfield, Miami has potential but still not a lot of production. Cam’Ron Harris benefitted from long runs against UAB, Duke and other bad defenses. He struggled at times and his ‘big play’ skewed his data. Jaylan Knighton and Don Chaney shouldn’t have had to play as pivotal of roles as they did, but Robert Burns is a wasted scholarship. Thad Franklin is the new four-star in the room for ‘21. Chaney is thunder, Knighton is lightning, and Franklin brings a mix of both next season. Miami would benefit from Harris staying for another season- if he’s 100% committed to the cause.

Wide Receiver

NCAA Football: Miami at Duke Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

The wide receiver room just added an influx of four-star blue chip talent in Romello Brinson, Jacolby George and Brashard Smith. “Athlete” Chase Smith is a Miami legacy (Willie Smith), and at six-foot-three, 190 pounds could be the tall receiver the ‘Canes need. This talent influx joins upperclassmen Harley (if he stays), Pope and Wiggins; as well as the young cats in Jeremiah Payton, Xavier Restrepo, Dazalin Worsham, Keyshawn Smith, and Michael Redding III. The WR room is filled with four-stars, it’s time to produce. This group has been lazy, unproductive, and had bad culture stories leaking from its position room.

Tight End

The tight ends are an interesting story. Brevin Jordan will probably leave for the NFL. He has elite natural ability, has made a few big plays, and has been banged up in all three seasons with the ‘Canes. There’s no reason to add extra miles to his body.

Behind him are Will Mallory, Larry Hodges, Dominic Mammarelli, and ‘21 signees Elijah Arroyo and Kahlil Brantley. Mallory started to make plays this season and Rhett Lashlee likes two TE sets so it will be interesting to see if the second guy will be another rangy type like Mammarelli or Arroyo, or a shorter fullback type like Hodges or Brantley.

NCAA Football: ACC Championship-Clemson vs Miami Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Offensive Line

The offensive line at Miami has been a complete mess for the better part of the past decade. It’s been a mixture of recruiting misses, poor development, immobile QB’s (Jarren Williams, Perry, Brad Kaaya) and bad scheme (Richt, Dan Enos).

This group is filled with Richt Era signees in key positions. Scaife, Gaynor, and Donaldson all have a large chunk of starts under their belts. Reed and Campbell have started games, too. Miami hasn’t been able to settle on positions for anyone on this list except for Gaynor who is the starting center. Scaife and Donaldson have both played guard and tackle, and there’s always talk about Donaldson at center, too.

Garrin Justice will have the highly touted Issiah Walker hopefully ready for ‘21, as well as a guy I think can start next season in Jalen Rivers, and Chris Washington. Add that to transfers Jarrid Williams (a RS Sr transfer who will have the 6th year under the new rules) and Ousman Traore, as well as Jakai Clark and starting left tackle Zion Nelson.

The new signees leave fans with a lot of hype heading into next season. Four-star Laurence Seymore is a guard out of Miami Central. Another four-star, tackle Michael McLaughlin looks like a day one starter, and former Columbus center Ryan Rodriguez is a three-star that could start by 2022. Coach Justice needs to get this unit to the next level, as does S&C Coordinator Dave Feeley. There is no excuse for Miami to get pushed around like they do on the O-Line.


The Defense

The defense is all Manny Diaz’s. He’s been the main coach over that side of the ball since 2016, and with Scott Patchan at Colorado State, I can’t think of anyone still on campus pre-Diaz. This is his roster, his side of the ball, and his choice at D.C.

Georgia Tech v Miami Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Defensive End

I would assume that Quincy Roche and Jaelan Phillips are gone. Gregory Rousseau opted out of the 2020 season and will be in the NFL, too. That leaves Cameron and Chantz Williams as well as Jahfari Harvey and three-star Quentin Williams at defensive end. Miami added four-star Columbus DE Jabari Ishmael to the room for next season. Another room filled with high potential players who need to be coached up and add production to their resume.

Defensive Tackle

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 14 Bethune-Cookman at Miami Photo by Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Defensive tackle has been a ‘one guy looks good, the rest are meh’ sort of position group for Miami over the past few seasons. John Ford could return for another senior season with the new rules which could help Miami and Ford. He started to turn the corner late in the season. Nesta Jade Silvera has shown flashes but doesn’t play disciplined enough football to not get caught too far upfield and cutback on frequently.

Jared Harrison-Hunte was probably the most impressive of the DT’s over the season when he played. He’s joined by Jalar Holley, Jordan Miller, and Jason Blissett Jr that are already on campus. Then comes the big dog. Miami signed five-star Miami-Palmetto defensive tackle Leonard Taylor. Taylor is a guy everyone in the country wanted but Manny Diaz landed. The ‘Canes also brought in three-star tackle Allan Haye as an insurance policy if Taylor went else where.

Linebacker

Independence Bowl: Louisiana Tech vs. Miami Al Diaz/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

I say this about once a week but three of the top four coaches in the program are allegedly linebacker coaches. Diaz, his DC Blake Baker, and his STC/Strikers coach Jonathan Patke are all linebacker coaches by trade. However, this has been a confusing position at Miami. Shaq Quarterman and Michael Pinckney never seemed to develop after their sophomore seasons. Zach McCloud can now return for a 6th season but he lacked in intensity needed for an inside linebacker in a 4-2-5 defense.

Sam Brooks Jr showed a ton of promise and needs more seasoning at ILB. He’s joined by Avery Huff, Corey Flagg Jr, Tirek Austin-Cave, Bradley Jennings Jr, Patrick Joyner Jr (a lot of damn juniors in the LB room!), Waynmon Steed and staff favorite Ryan Ragone. Steed played a lot against UVA and did well from what I saw.

Brooks has to be a clearcut starter. New blood to the mix includes three-star Thomas Davis and three-star signee Deshawn Troutman. Orlando area high school coaches have told me Troutman has the goods to be an All-ACC type of player.

Striker

Gilbert Frierson and Keonta Smith both return at the Striker position. Both had big plays and big misses on the field this season. They’re probably joined by signee Tyler Johnson who has a rangy build like the previously mentioned duo. This group and position have to really own their role on the field in ‘21.

Cornerback

Miami v Florida State Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

This group has drastically underachieved since Malek Young had to retire from the unit. Between guys leaving early and not playing up to their ‘star rating,’ Mike Rumph should be in trouble. However, Rumph is back! Rumph didn’t sign anyone and the position group is lacking in depth.

I’m assuming Al Blades Jr will return healthy and ready for 2021. D.J. Ivey has had a hit or miss career thus far. Te’Cory Couch was only a sophomore and I think deserves more playing time in the back end. Marcus Clarke and Isaiah Dunson are young guys that couldn’t crack the line up even with poor play on the field.

Rumph hasn’t added talent to the position room yet, but hopefully a JUCO player comes in for competition.

Safety

The safety position might have underachieved in ‘20, but Coach Banda didn’t on the trail. Banda (a potential Utah State DC candidate) signed five-star freak athlete James Williams. Williams is six-foot-five, 218 pounds and could be a big time safety or play anywhere on the field. I hope they get creative with this guy. Banda didn’t stop there, he also brought in four-star safety Kamren Kinchens from Miami Northwestern.

Williams and Kinchen join a talented group in Amari Carter, Bubba Bolden, and Gurvan Hall who have all started games at Miami. Then there’s also Avante Williams from DeLand, Keshawn Washington, and former four-star Jalen Harrell. If anyone has stockpiled talent it’s Banda.


Special Teams

It sounds like placekicker Jose Borregales will be heading to the Senior Bowl and NFL Draft. He will be replaced by his brother, Andres. Punter Lou Hedley returns which is great news for the ‘Canes. Where Miami needs to improve is in their return game and coverage schemes. I can’t remember the last time Miami had a dynamic kick returner (Corn Elder?) or truly dynamic punt returner.

While Braxton Berrios and K.J. Osborn were solid punt returners, Miami failed to find a new returner throughout 2020. Patke looked clueless on how to coach a return game on either side, and coverage was lacking but benefitted from the strong legged punter and kicker.


Overall program picture

Miami v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

The Hurricanes finished 7-6 in Mark Richt’s last season before retirement, before slipping to 6-7 in Manny Diaz’s Year One. Coach Diaz cut the fat and dumped the offensive staff, pushed out a few of the cancerous players, and brought in some higher quality transfers over the off-season.

In Year Two, Diaz has finished the regular season 8-2 with blowout losses to Clemson and UNC, while blowing out Duke and FSU. The Hurricanes showed late game mettle against UVA and NCSU that they hadn’t shown in years past.

Now that the roster is leaning 72 Diaz to 13 Richt, it’s time to stop making excuses and start seeing something that resembles a competitive spirit all 11 weeks of the season. The Hurricanes often fall back to the mean of the pitiful ACC Coastal which has been won by a different team every season since the ACC started having divisions.

With no divisions in ‘20, Miami would have been 4-1 in the Coastal and looking at a potential ACC Championship Game date with Clemson. However, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Clemson Tigers will be in Charlotte, instead.

The Hurricanes are more than likely going to attempt to keep this staff in tact, after the turnaround in winning percentage and recruiting windfall. Besides cornerback, Miami did a hell of a job bringing in the number 12 class per 247 Sports, and they definitely have the talent to win the Coastal in ‘21, if Manny Diaz can get past UNC’s Mack Brown.

2021 Prediction: 10-2 regular season, 10-4 overall.