In some of the more significant Canes’ offseason news in recent weeks affecting the 2020 season, Navaughn Donaldson announced he would utilize his redshirt option for his senior season. This isn’t a huge surprise as Donaldson suffered a lower leg injury against Duke in the 2019 regular season finale, which forced him to miss the Walk-on Independence Bowl against Louisiana Tech. The injury lingered into the spring, as Donaldson then missed Miami’s only four spring practices. Apparently the injury was more serious than a standard ankle injury, as Miami Head Coach Manny Diaz told The Athletic that Donaldson would be the only player not ready for the start of fall camp as he was coming off major knee surgery in December.
Thereafter, on June 24, the Canes most experienced and consistent fixture on an otherwise underwhelming offensive line group, announced that he would be redshirting for the 2020 season.
After talking to family and the coaching staff I decided to redshirt and focus on me this season.— Navaughn Donaldson (@55_world_) June 24, 2020
Donaldson, who has played in 35 games for Miami, will definitely be missed this upcoming season. However, while the Donaldson redshirt could be considered a curse for an offensive front that is trying to come back with a vengeance in 2020, it could be a blessing in disguise for the Miami Central product - and the Hurricanes program, generally.
On the one hand, Donaldson has been a steady force on the line since he joined Miami in 2017 and was undoubtedly expected to be the leader on a revitalized offensive line coached by new addition, Garin Justice. Prior to the redshirt declaration, he has also been projected by NFL mock drafts to be selected between the third and fifth round in 2021.
On the flip side, Miami is in the process of bringing in a crop of young talent to the offensive line that should reap the benefits of Donaldson’s off-field presence as they transition to the college level. And, on paper, a top notch on-field offensive line in 2021. In particular, Miami was able to land four-star recruits, Jalen Rivers and Issiah Walker, Jr., as well as three-star recruit, Chris Washington, for their 2020 class, and currently have 2021 commits in four-star recruits, Laurence Seymore and Michael McLaughlin, and three-star recruit, Ryan Rodriguez. In addition, if Donaldson is able to properly employ his redshirt season, then he could use the 2021 season as an opportunity to catapult his draft stock.
So how exactly can Donaldson make the most of his redshirt campaign? In theory, Donaldson could be slated to play in four games as a redshirt, so Justice and Diaz could consider utilizing him, especially if the ACC Coastal ends up being close. Another option - and one which would properly be more beneficial for the long-term growth of both himself and the Miami program - is that Donaldson could continue to lead by example, which he has been doing since his arrival to Miami in 2017.
Donaldson’s Undergraduate Transition - Leading By Example:
With the prospect that some of the young talent may be called upon to play earlier than expected due to Donaldson’s redshirt, his previous experience as a starter as a true freshman/undergraduate could be important for his peers’ growth. For background, the four-star product enrolled early at Miami going into his freshman year in order to work with then offensive line coach, Stacy Searels, as well as team nutritionists, so that he would be ready to make an immediate impact on the field at the collegiate level. During his recruiting process, Donaldson decided to stay local at Miami, despite strong bids from in-state rivals FSU and Florida, and out-of-state bids from UNC, Auburn, and Georgia. The latter of which involved heavy recruiting by then Bulldog coach, Mark Richt.
Donaldson was largely regarded as a top-100 overall prospect heading into his freshman season. He was recruited by then Miami Head Coach, Al Golden, and he opted to stay in Miami largely to be close to his family. Despite Golden leaving the Canes, there was still some familiarity with Richt taking over Miami’s program, and he remained committed to the Canes. At that point, he was the gem of Miami’s 2017 class based on his top notch run-blocking and overall physical traits.
As Donaldson entered the Canes program as a 6’5”, 330 pounder, he was largely regarded as a versatile lineman who could plug in at either the inside or outside. Searels told 247 Sports, “I’ve always thought Navaughn had the ability to play tackle. I would think he’ll get a shot there early, but he has the ability to play multiple positions and the more positions a kid can play the more valuable he is. I think he certainly has the size, range, and athleticism to play offensive tackle.”
And, even though Donaldson felt most comfortable at Right Tackle going into his freshman year, he ended up starting ten games at Right Guard in 2017. He was plagued with minor injuries his freshman year as he missed two games, but was talented enough to receive ESPN Freshman All-American Honors.
The eagerness and work ethic required to earn starts as a true freshman are invaluable traits that Donaldson could harness to impart wisdom upon his younger counterparts. Prior to joining the Canes, Donaldson stated, “Coach Searels said that it was good to have me there and that if I come [in January] I’ll have a great chance of starting as a true freshman. I like that.” Ideally, the Canes will not be required to throw all of the freshman right into the fire, but Donaldson will be able to assist the young offensive linemen in their adjustments to life as a student-athlete and to provide tips on how to earn playing time early on.
As his career continued at Miami, he exhibited another strong trait by always showing a willingness to play at positions that the Canes needed him at the most. In his sophomore year, he started his first six games at Right Tackle and then shifted back to Right Guard for the final seven contests. In addition, when fellow lineman Corey Gaynor was plagued by injuries going into the 2019 season, Donaldson was open to receiving reps at Center. However, by the time the season started, Donaldson shifted over to Left Guard, where he became a mainstay and started all 12 games prior to the Duke injury. Notably, in the opener against a loaded Florida Gator defensive front, Donaldson was the only starting Offensive Lineman that did not allow a single quarterback pressure.
Until his injury, Donaldson may have been the only bright spot for the Canes offensive line in 2019 - an abhorrent group that gave up 51 sacks. In general, over the past few years there has not been much consistency with the offense, offensive line, or, frankly, the team. In fact, it has been a carousel at the quarterback position, the offensive line signed their second coach in as many years, and Miami has finished 13-13 combined over the past two years.
Despite the turbulence, Donaldson has remained loyal to Miami since he originally committed in the Summer of 2015, as part of the 2017 class. So while his gargantuan presence will be missed on the field in 2020 (now listed on Miami’s website as 6’6”, 363 pounds), he intends to get better and put on for his city as his recent Instagram post depicts.
In the meantime, if the veteran can continue to exhibit strong leadership qualities, it will not only pay dividends for himself and the Miami program in 2021, but could aid Donaldson in his goals to achieve success at the next level.