Great football teams are built in the trenches. The Miami Hurricanes defensive front has continually set the tempo and flashed its dominance on the field. The other side of the coin, the Canes’ offensive line, has been plagued with inexperience, injuries, and poor play. With Rhett Lashlee’s player and talent friendly scheme taking over the offense, several returning and new players stand to benefit. The change in offensive philosophy isn’t the only shift for the unit. Garin Justin has taken over the offensive line coaching duties after spending the last two seasons with the UNLV Rebels. Transfers like former Houston Cougar Jarrid Williams and Florida Gator Issiah Walker have added to a strong list of incoming talent and returning veterans.
Even after the bolstered roster, several roadblocks and questions have yet to be resolved. Is Jarrid Williams starting at LT or RT? How does Donaldson’s redshirting effect rotation? Undoubtedly, the unit is a far cry from the youth and the untested five which suited up at Camping World Stadium last year. Fans will have to wait and see if their upped expectations can be realized.
The Miami Hurricanes return all five 2019 starters to the program including John Campbell Jr., DJ Scaife Jr., Corey Gaynor, and Zion Nelson. Navaughn Donaldson, Miami’s most experienced offensive lineman, will spend the upcoming season redshirting. According to PFF, this unit was ranked 109th in run blocking and 110th in pass blocking last year. The starting core also allowed the 8th most pressures (140) in football.
Miami has added some new faces to try to strengthen the depth up front. Houston Cougars transfer Jarrid Williams brings a resume of experience and talent. Florida Gators transfer Issiah Walker, Top 150 recruit Jalen Rivers, and project Chris Washington are also new names in Coral Gables this year.
Cleveland Reed Jr., Jakai Clark, Kai-Leon Herbert, Ousman Traore, Zalon’tae Hillery, and others are among the 2020 returnees. Clark and former 2019 scout team offensive lineman, Traore, have seen a bit of action in the spring with the first-team offense.
With the additions, several young players will have the ability to develop at a solid pace. Miami’s offensive line depth has moved from abysmal to solid in a span of a few months. The projected starting lineup could be as follows:
- LT: John Campbell Jr. - Campbell started two games in 2019 at both tackle and guard.
- LG: Jakai Clark- Clark started 12 games as a true freshman in 2019.
- C: Corey Gaynor- Gaynor started all 13 games at center in 2019.
- RG: DJ Scaife Jr.- According to PFF, Scaife was the highest-graded Canes offensive lineman in 2019. He has started 20 games at Miami, majorly at RT.
- RT: Jarrid Williams- Williams, the Houston transfer, has started 19 games at offensive tackle. He played all of 2019 at RT.
There may be a musical chairs-style reshuffling with those players, but these are the names that I feel will crack the starting lineup. Reed and Traore will likely provide strong depth at OG/C. The backup tackle shakeout will come down to Zion Nelson (played 13 games at LT as a true freshman in 2019) and the availability of Rivers or Walker. Early enrollee Rivers may be in line for a redshirt season. Fellow four-star transfer Issiah Walker, has yet to hear back from the NCAA about his 2020 eligibility status.
Nelson allowed the most sacks (12) amongst Power Five tackles in 2019. He’ll now get a chance to develop in a rotational and bench role. The team will also have the bonus of a depth player that has starting experience. For guys like Hillery and Herbert, it’s truly time to show any signs of life.
Regardless of how the the starting lineup pans out, the unit has been improved. With recruits like Ryan Rodriguez, Laurence Seymore, and Michael McLaughlin coming next year, the developmental pipeline in the trenches appears to be on the rise. There’s also a mindset and tone shift surging through the team with the insertion of new life into the offense.
Canes and NFL great Bryant McKinnie and perennial Pro Bowl offensive tackle Joe Thomas have both spent time in the offseason talking to the offensive line. As sports fans know, Zoom calls and new attitudes can only take you so far. We’ll have to see if the insertion of new talent and reinforced coaching will translate to on-field success.
Who do you think will be in the starting lineup? Will the offensive line be the most improved position group on the team?