How many times have we read about a player killing it during the spring, yet it never translated to game day? Miami will kick off spring practice shortly, and this will be a very important spring for many players trying to move up the depth chart. Manny Diaz has made wholesale changes on the offensive side of the ball, so competition to impress the new coaching staff should be high. The Canes are also coming off a 6-7 season, so very few, if any players should feel comfortable with their standing as a starter.
Who needs to improve the most? Here are the Top 5 guys who need to have a big spring.
DJ Ivey – Trajan Bandy has left for the NFL so both returning CBs, Al Blades Jr. and DJ Ivey need to step up in his absence. Ivey had some really poor moments in 2019 including a TD allowed on a fake punt where he literally stood still and watched a WR run right past him. In fairness though, DJ played much better in the 2nd half of the season. Ivey should be able to cement himself as the number 2 CB on the team with a nice spring. Miami would like to see their starting duo turn into All-ACC type players in 2020.
Nesta Jade Silvera – Nesta dealt with injury leading into 2019, but the time is now for the talented DT to make a name for himself. Nesta was brought in with the thought of being the next dominant DT for the Canes but so far hasn’t lived up to expectations. Miami would like to see Silvera be a penetrating DT who lives in the backfield making TFLs and getting pressures and sacks on the QB. With some younger players chomping at the bit for playing time, Silvera needs a big spring to show that he can lead the interior of the D-Line.
Zion Nelson – It has been well chronicled how much Miami’s O-Line struggled in 2019, and Nelson was highlighted many times getting abused as a starting LT. Nelson was not ready for that role, but going into year 2, the hope is that he’s grown into it. He gained about 50 pounds prior to last season starting, but still was undersized and not strong enough for the position. With another year in the weight-room, and a new system which should make it easier for the line as a group to succeed, Nelson needs to show that he can handle protecting the blindside for D’Eriq King. Jalen Rivers will push for the starting job, so Zion Nelson is officially on the hot seat.
Mark Pope – Pope was a star in High School and came to Miami with much fanfare. So far he hasn’t had a lot of time to shine in the Canes offense, and as a junior he needs to start asserting himself. Rumors were everywhere that Pope didn’t get as much burn as we all hoped for because he was having trouble learning the playbook. He seems though like a perfect fit in Rhett Lashlee’s up-tempo offense. There are other guys ready to step up at WR, but with Jeff Thomas and KJ Osborne gone to the NFL, Pope has a chance to be a star. The ball is in his court.
Gurvan Hall – Hall was a starter in 2019, and played decently throughout the year, but much more is expected in 2020. The game should slow down for Gurvan and the hope now is that he takes the next step to leader, and playmaker in the secondary. One thing Hall needs to do a little more is get himself, and others in the right spots which should help Miami give up less big plays. If Hall can make a solid step forward, he should be All-ACC at worst.
The linebacker group as a whole obviously needs to sort itself out during spring and fall camp, but with Zach McCloud coming back I feel less anxious about the position. If these 5 guys come up big, and the new hires and transfers pan out, watch out Miami could be in for a good year.