The Hurricanes start spring practice on Tuesday, March 3rd and will play the annual spring game at Traz Powell Stadium on April 11th. Miami will look to bounce back from a 6-7 record that saw losses to FIU, Duke and Louisiana Tech. Out goes Dan Enos and his offense that was blanked in the bowl game and in comes Rhett Lashlee’s Air Raid, up tempo, spread to run offense from SMU.
There are other new pieces to the ‘Canes puzzle heading into Manny Diaz’s second year as head coach. Miami has a new transfer quarterback in D’Eriq King, a new edge rusher in Quincy Roche, and a new placekicker in FIU’s Jose Borregales.
The only jobs on the roster that seem completely safe are running back with Cam’Ron Harris as the returning leading rusher, tight end where Brevin Jordan is an All-ACC type talent, and defensive end with Gregory Rousseau. Oh, and punter with Louis Hedley as 2019’s most valuable player in my book. I’m going to assume King is the outright starting QB with Jarren Williams transferring to Parts Unknown and N’Kosi Perry spraying passes like a drunk dude at the urinal around last call.
There is a laundry list of players who will be held out of spring all together or for contact and that’s never a good thing when you’re bringing in a new O.C. and coming off of a really really really bad season. Jordan being out isn’t a huge deal because he’s a known commodity, but it would’ve been nice to see what Lashlee could do with him.
On the other hand, Navaughn Donaldson needs the work but maybe this is a chance for him to reshape his body. Don Chaney and Michael Redding could’ve been in the position to challenge for playing time in the fall, and still could, but a spring season would’ve been nice seasoning.
Of course four linebackers being out is a huge deal. While Corey Flagg and Tirek Austin-Cave might not have come in to start, it’s always nice to have them on the field in contact drills learning the defense. Also, they need to be special teamers on a team with limited depth. Bubba Bolden is recovering and we saw some flashes of his potential before being injured screwing around after a play.
So what are the three biggest position battles of spring 2020?
If there’s ever been a position group where “your potential is going to get me fired” is any more evident- please speak now. The Hurricanes have an entire room of four-star wide receivers who have been touting their potential for years in Coral Gables. The quarterback play hasn’t helped any of these cats, but Mike Harley, Mark Pope, and Dee Wiggins are now a senior and two juniors, respectively. That’s the experience a new wide receivers coach loves to see, but the production has been lacking.
Harley has averaged only 12 yards per catch over his career, while Wiggins improved to 15.1 and Pope averages 14.6 per grab. That trio has the experience and alleged speed to be deadly in Lashlee’s choice route, Air Raid based passing system. Wiggins and Pope have the size to play on the outside at six-foot-three and six-foot-one while Harley is a good slot sized receiver at five-foot-nine (not a Wes Welker type, however). This trio has to stop dropping passes and that comes with eye discipline and mental toughness which can be developed with a solid strength coach and aggressive position coaching.
Three freshmen are on campus early, even with Redding out the ‘Canes can still get a look at Xavier Restrepo and Dazalin Worsham. Redshirt freshman Jeremiah Payton is also battling for time and he has size, too, at six-foot-one.
Outside Receiver: Pope and Wiggins
Inside Receiver: Harley
Freshman to watch: Worsham
Linebacker (including Striker)
For the first time in four seasons, the Miami Hurricanes have new starting inside linebackers. Gone are Shaq Quarterman and Michael Pinckney. Now it’s time to see how Manny Diaz and Blake Baker have acquired and developed the position they are both allegedly experts in.
With the two incoming freshmen out with injuries, and Sam Brooks sidelined, too, this race isn’t going to be nearly as fun as it should be. Zach McCloud returns for his redshirt senior season and looks to be the middle linebacker. He’s more naturally gifted than Quarterman or Pinckney but has lacked the Football IQ to avoid being lost in space. Hopefully coverage doesn’t drop even further down with McCloud on the field.
Battling for the weak side spot will be Patrick Joyner Jr and Avery Huff. The linebacker crew will be supported by walk-on linebacker Ryan Ragone, Waymon Steed (if he’s available), and Colvin Alford. The depth is not strong here.
At Striker, Miami has struggled to find a full time player to jump into this role and excel. It’s really the position that needs its own coach as the Striker has to do a variety of things from be a nickel cornerback in man coverage, to playing curl-to-flat, and being an outside force player in the run game. Gilbert Frierson seems to be the Striker candidate to win the job but Amari Carter could be a name to slide there with Bubba Bolden and Gurvan Hall already having starting experience, and Avantae Williams and Jalen Harrell coming on campus this summer.
Middle Linebacker: McCloud
Weak Linebacker: Huff
What is there to say about the Miami offensive line? The play from the front five was bad but the scheme didn’t help their cause and Rhett Lashlee’s scheme will more than mask deficiencies along the line. Lashlee wants to get the ball out quick and uses the running back as a hot read to throw OTB, swings and arrows to when needed.
So who returns from the disastrous 2019 offensive line campaign? DJ Scaife is one name to look for. Scaife has been forced to play right tackle which is out of position for him, as he’s a natural guard. Scaife will more than likely be stuck at tackle for a third season while Miami tries to recruit tackles in 2020 for 2021. Corey Gaynor seems to be the center in 2020, and I liked what I saw from Jakai Clark at guard.
The second guard position likely will be occupied by John Campbell this spring. With Donaldson out, Campbell could return to the left guard spot. Another option could be Adam ElGammal although he was brought in as a tackle. Cleveland Reed will provide guard depth this spring.
Left tackle seems to be Zion Nelson’s natural fit and while he gave up a ton of sacks in 2019, I saw some bright spots from Nelson that could lean towards a promising future. He will be battled by the incoming freshman Jalen Rivers, but there’s also veteran players in Zalon’Tae Hillery and Kai-Leon Herbert who have yet to produce for Miami.
I would like to see the ‘Canes give Rivers a chance at right tackle which could slide Scaife inside and give Miami a few position battles at guard, but then again tackle is the weakest position for Miami so the more tackles the better.
Left Tackle: Nelson
Left Guard: Campbell
Right Guard: Clark
Right Tackle: Scaife
Spring football is exciting but usually very bland in the end. Hopefully in 2020 Miami can get a televised spring game. For all of Manny Diaz’s false bravado and showmanship, he’s failed to back it up both on the field and in the big time spring atmosphere of the Alabamas and Clemsons of the world.
The defense should dominate spring scrimmages but it will be nice to hear less about bad throws and sacks and more about completing passes and moving the ball in 3rd down situational drills. It’ll be interesting to see how certain players are used, such as Worsham and Restrepo, Will Mallory, Amari Carter, and Quincy Roche.