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Marsh’s Mailbag: Who Will Take The Place Of Navaughn Donaldson? Which Defensive Tackle Is Ready To Step Up?

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Which player for Miami is being overlooked the most? Who are some big 2022 recruits to take note of? Those questions and more!

Miami Hurricanes Spring scrimmage Al Diaz/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

At the beginning of this off-season, what was your greatest position of worry, and has it changed with everything that’s happened since?

Immediately following the bowl game loss to Louisiana Tech, my biggest concern had to be either the quarterback or offensive line. Granted, this was before we hired Rhett Lashlee as our new offensive coordinator. But to answer your question, now that Miami landed D’Eriq King at quarterback, as well as brought in Jarrid Williams on the OL and also OL coach Garin Justice, on top of hiring Lashlee, my greatest position of worry has changed.

Though, I must say, there’s not one specific position group that keeps me up at night. I’m not worried about our offensive line, more excited than anything.

If I had to pick one group, I'd probably have to say cornerbacks or linebackers, but again, they don’t reallyyyyy worry me. Losing Trajan Bandy was a huge blow to Miami’s secondary, and the Canes will need a big jump from DJ Ivey, as well as Te’Cory Couch and Christian Williams. I’ve said before, I think Al Blades Jr. puts together a fantastic season.

Then at linebacker, I'm very confident in the ability of fifth-year senior Zach McCloud, but it’ll be up to the other LB’s on the roster, mainly guys like Avery Huff and Sam Brooks Jr. Can these two youngsters develop quickly in 2020 and keep Miami’s defense elite?

Since depth at cb might become an issue this year what candidates from safety do you see making the transition?

Sticking with the cornerbacks, I like it. If you’re already saying that depth at CB might become an issue this year, it’s already an issue. I love the players we have at corner now, we just don't have enough of them. That being said, and I’ve been saying this for a while, don't be surprised to see true freshman Avantae Williams get some reps at the nickel. He has good coverage skills for a first-year player, and I think he makes an impact on defense in 2020.

Other than that, I'm not really sure who else at safety could make that transition to CB. I wish Amari Carter made the transition to striker or even linebacker, not cornerback though.

Is our Interior DL as fierce as our edge rushers?

Fierce? Not sure how to determine that quality, so I'm not sure. They’re not at the level of our edge rushers, I will say that. It’s hard to compare our interior DL to guys like Gregory Rousseau, Quincy Roche and Jaelan Phillips, three players who very well could all go in the first round in the draft.

Let me say this however, I think if Nesta Jade Silvera can stay healthy all of 2020, he’ll turn into the star defensive tackle we all thought he’d become. Senior Jon Ford is a solid player at tackle and I think he’ll have a productive season. Jordan Miller has the potential to become a really good DT for Miami, but we have to actually see it.

Who’s your starting 5 on the o line?

Well, now that Navaughn Donaldson will be redshirting in 2020, that changes a lot of things on the Canes offensive line. As of right now, here’s my starting 5 for the o-line. Jarrid Williams at left tackle, Ousman Traore at left guard, Corey Gaynor at center, DJ Scaife Jr. at right guard, and then John Campbell Jr. at right tackle.

But also, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Canes put Gaynor at right guard, and start Jakai Clark at center. Clark showed a lot of promise in 2019, and he’s my pick to replace Gaynor at center once he’s gone. In addition, I also wouldn't be shocked if Scaife is starting at right tackle, a position where he’s started 19 games at over the last two seasons.

Who’s the can’t miss recruit in 2022?

I’m no recruiting whiz, and I definitely don’t act like I am. I don't know about “can’t miss recruits” but there are several who I know Miami is after. I know Rhett Lashlee is fond of 3-star quarterback Braedyn Locke out of Texas, a player who Lashlee offered when he was at SMU. Other quarterback names to know is 4-star Jacurri Brown from Georgia, and also Zion Turner from St.Thomas Aquinas in Broward County. I am a HUGE fan of Turner, as he led his school to a 15-0 record in 2019 and the high school national championship as a sophomore. Though, I’ve heard big time schools like Alabama are pressing hard for him.

Few more names to remember is 4-star linebacker Wesley Bissainthe out of Miami Central, 4-star safety Kamari Wilson from Fort Pierce, and also 4-star cornerback Earl Little Jr. out of American Heritage in Broward County.

Most talented quarterback Miami has had in your time as a fan (not necessarily the best or greatest)?

This is a difficult question, because since I became a fan of the Canes in the early-to-mid 2000’s, Miami hasn’t exactly had a plethora of great quarterbacks. If you were to ask me who the best was, it’s Brad Kaaya, no question about it.

Though, when it comes to who the most talented was......I’ll probably have to say Kyle Wright. I know, I’m clearly not the biggest fan of Wright, as I suffered through my childhood years having to watch him and the Canes lose. Coming out of high school though, Wright was a 5-star recruit, and probably the biggest commit that Miami has ever had at the position. So the talent was obviously there, but due to many issues, Wright never became that guy for the Hurricanes. I also would throw Stephen Morris in the mix as well.

Most underrated player on the roster you think will exceed expectations?

In 2020? I honestly think it could be running back Cam’Ron Harris. So many people are talking about the freshman duo at RB with Jaylan Knighton and Don Chaney, that many forget how effective Harris was in 2019. As the backup to Deejay Dallas, Harris rushed for 576 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 5.1 yards per carry. And plus, Harris had two or three long runs that were called back because of a penalty.

Now that Dallas has moved on to the NFL, it’s Harris’ turn to carry the load. No doubt guys like Knighton and Chaney will get reps, but I think Harris breaks out for 800-1,000 rushing yards. He’s not loud on social media like other players, he’s just your prototypical blue-collar kind of football player, which are my favorite kind of football players.

If we don’t win the Coastal and have another disappointing season with all the talent we have...is Diaz out?

Well, here’s the thing. What if Miami wins 9 games in the regular season, but fails to win the ACC Coastal, but then the Canes win their bowl game to finish 10-3? Could you really fire Manny Diaz after a season like that? Coastal or not, 9 wins is the floor for me, maybe 8 but I'm not buying it. Anything less than that, he’s got to go. The schedule is too soft, the talent is there, the offensive system is there, how can you not win 9 games?

Which of the redshirt interior d-lineman makes the biggest impact?

Great question. I’ve been very high on the three defensive tackles that redshirted in 2019, Jared Harrison-Hunte, Jalar Holley and Jason Blissett Jr. I’ll never forget when I was interviewing defensive line coach Todd Stroud last fall camp, and he kept going on about these three guys, saying they were the most talented freshman DT’s he's ever seen.

Out of those three players, I see Holley making the biggest impact in 2020. Holley has a high-motor as well as the athletic traits you need from a defensive tackle, and even in the first and only week of spring practice, Holley was getting reps with the first-team defense. The duo of Holley and Nesta Silvera could be deadly for opposing offenses. I wouldn’t even be surprised if Holley snags the other starting DT spot from Ford or Miller.

However, don’t sleep on Blissett or Harrison-Hunte either. Harrison-Hunte has tremendous lower body strength, and is an effective pass-rusher just like Blissett. Keep an eye on all three of these players the next couple years for Miami.

What offensive AND defensive players do you all think will have a breakout 2020? Players that no one is really talking about.

I’ve answered this question probably a hundred times over the past few months, so excuse me if my answers change each time. Today, I'm going to say DJ Scaife on offense, and then on defense I'm going to go with Gilbert Frierson at the striker position.

Scaife has been a pretty consistent starter (20 starts last 2 years) on the Canes o-line throughout his first two seasons, and they’ve thrown him at nearly every position possible on the line. In 2020, I expect Scaife to start at right guard, though I’d confident with him at either guard or tackle, that’s how versatile he is. Because of how horrendous Miami’s o-line was in 2019, many people automatically think that Scaife isn’t any good, which is completely false. In 2019, Scaife was named MVP for the Canes offense. Here’s a stat for you, UM’s o-line surrendered 3.5 sacks per game in 2019, but Scaife gave up only 3 sacks all season. Kind of strange to peg an offensive lineman as a breakout player, but I'm sticking by it.

I talked about Frierson a few weeks ago, saying I could see him as a potential breakout player, and I still believe it. Frierson is taking over at striker for Romeo Finley, and with his great athletic abilities and superb instincts, I think he’ll fill Finley’s role nicely. With 4.5 speed, Frierson has the quickness that Finley didn’t have, and I wouldn't be that surprised if he ends up leading the Canes in interceptions in 2020.