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Miami Hurricanes 2020 Spring Football Position Preview: Offensive Line

With spring practice approaching, here’s a primer for the Canes’ 2020 offensive line.

Miami v Florida International Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

After National Signing Day, Rhett Lashlee gave his early estimate of Miami’s young offensive line, “We’ve got some guys that played upfront that are young but there is length and athleticism.” After a shaky 2019, the addition of Garin Justice and incoming talent, Jalen Rivers should help boost the troubled unit.

Virginia v Miami Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Miami started two true freshmen last season. The move was not indicative of either players’ rare talent. It was the best option for an up-and-down unit. Averaging an appalling 3.8 yards a carry, the lack of push generated by the offensive line was a key roadblock to the Canes’ 2019 success. Pass-protection fared no better, Miami gave up 51 sacks in 2019. Ranking 127th in this category (sacks against), there was no phase of the team’s offensive line that was free of struggle. Coming into 2020, drastic improvements and an insertion of talent is paramount.

The Returnees

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 24 Camping World Kickoff - Florida v Miami Photo by Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
  • Zion Nelson - Zion Nelson will be a sophomore coming into 2020. Surged into duty out of necessity, the 6’5” South Carolina native started all thirteen games at LT. He struggled at several spots during the season, including the opening matchup against the Florida Gators. His strains in that game were no worse than any other player upfront. The offensive line and his best game came against the Louisville Cardinals. The canes only allowed one sack and had a 449-yard offensive performance, which included 197 yards rushing.
  • Navaughn Donaldson - Donaldson started in every game he suited up for in 2019 (12). After an exciting freshman season that landed him on the All-ACC honorable mention list, Donaldson spent the next two seasons shuffling positions and maintaining inconsistency. He came to Miami with tons of talent and potential. In 2020, he will need to rise to the occasion. After suffering a leg injury against the Duke Blue Devils, Donaldson was unable to play in the Canes’ bowl game. The Canes will have to wait and see on how the injury influences his ability to get in shape and Donaldson’s availability for the spring.
  • Corey Gaynor- The RS Junior started all 13 games at center for the Hurricanes. He should be a main fixture at the center position.
  • Jakai Clark - The other true freshman to crack the Canes’ starting lineup was Jakai Clark. Clark was a name that impressed in the summer and, after waiting in the wings fro a game, he started the remaining twelve games of the season. He put together a solid season that should play dividends in 2020.
  • DJ Scaife Jr.- DJ Scaife Jr started all 13 games last year for the hurricanes. Rated as the top offensive lineman for the Hurricanes by PFF, Scaife Jr. will be a serviceable swing tackle throughout his time in Miami.

John Campbell Jr., Kai-Leon Herbert, Zalon’tae Hillery, Ousman Traore, Zach Dykstra, and other unproven players are also returning. The immediate sentiment I feel when looking at the list of names is apprehension. The starting core and the tentative names behind them have to play better. The new D’Eriq King helmed offense will not flow without stability in the trenches.

The Newcomers

Andrew Ivins, 247Sports
  • Jalen Rivers- As one of the banner players of the Category 20 recruiting class, Under Armour-All American Jalen Rivers has it all. The 6’6” and 331lbs early enrollee can push Nelson or Donaldson for their starting jobs. He will certainly not find himself on the redshirt list in 2020.
  • Chris Washington- 3-star OT Chris Washington is 6’7. His great length and feet but will need to improve his power before making a real impact for the Canes. Unlike 2019, Miami is in a position to redshirt at the freshman tackle position.

Ideally, Miami could’ve benefitted from a few transfers build some true competition in the offensive line. Unless Rivers supplants one of the returning vets, the offensive line will be identical to a year ago. Hopefully, the season of experience together and the jolt of better coaching will unite to push this group from pedestrian to reliable.