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Miami Hurricanes 2021 Position Preview: Offensive Line

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The success of the Canes’ 2021 season starts in the trenches. Let’s take a look at who’s returning and the positions that are up for grabs.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 24 Camping World Kickoff - Florida v Miami Photo by Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In 2020, the Miami Hurricanes were 98th in sacks allowed (30 sacks allowed through 11 games and gave up an average of 2.73 sacks per game). The team had marked improvement from the mediocrity in the trenches in 2019 (averaged 3.5 yards per rush in 2019 and 4.2 per rush in 2020). But when you take into account the D’Eriq King surge—a QB who can extend plays and the pocket with his legs (averaged 4.1 yards per rush and was ranked 16th best in college football in creating points for his team), there are several areas for refinement. And whether it’s short-yardage blocking or beyond, these aspects will need to be addressed if the Canes want to take the ACC Coastal, and hopefully more, this year.

From a developmental standpoint, the addition of Garin Justice as the position coach and Rhett Lashlee’s up-tempo spread offense has been beneficial to lineman on the roster. And with lots of experience returning and the offensive coaching staff entering their second season, there’s hope that the group should be trending in the right direction in 2021.

The Group

Miami v Florida International Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

All five starters from the 2020 season are back for 2021, including redshirt senior and Houston Cougars transfer Jarrid Williams and Corey Gaynor who could’ve left for the 2020 NFL Draft. Veteran guard Navaughn Donaldson, Jalen Rivers, UNLV Runnin’ Rebels transfer Justice Oluwaseun, Florida Gators transfer Issiah Walker Jr., DJ Scaife, Chris Washington, and several others are also vying for starting spots or can provide essential depth.

According to analyst Phil Steele, Miami’s offensive line is seasoned. The group features a combined 190 starts. The Minnesota Golden Gophers have the second-most offensive line starts with 181 and the Boston College Eagles have the second-most starts in the ACC with 125.

Also, at least seven Canes have at least 20 collegiate starts over their careers. Navaughn Donaldson (34 starts), DJ Scaife (31 starts), Jarrid Williams (29 starts), Corey Gaynor (25 starts), Zion Nelson (21 starts), Justice Oluwaseun (21 starts) and guard Jakai Clark (21 starts) all bring tons of experience. Zion Nelson also got an offseason of praise and has been named one of the best OT prospects in the 2022 draft by some media outlets. A true testament to his hard work and development, he only allowed 12 pressures and three sacks during the 2020 season.

Outlook

Virginia v Miami Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Offensive line play is vital to every team. The front five must be dependable and on the same page, especially with a Canes’ playbook which is full of optionality. Miami comes into the 2021 season deeper than they’ve ever been on the o-line. With Nelson being their highest-graded lineman (70.3 overall and 79.3 pass-blocking according to PFF), he has the LT position locked down. Corey Gaynor (center) and Donaldson (RG) are also set to start. The positions really at play here are really LG and RT. Jakai Clark is still working his way back from injury so it may be second-year freshman talent, Jalen Rivers’ (6-feet-5 and 325 lbs), show when the Canes take on the Alabama Crimson Tide to start the season. At RT, look for the competition between Scaife, Jr. and Jarrid Williams. So far, Scaife Jr. has looked solid after the position switch. Oluwaseun can also play the left guard or right tackle. As an addition, Miami can even get solid tackle minutes from John Campbell Jr. and several other young talents on the team.

Projection: Nelson, Rivers, Gaynor, Donaldson, Scaife Jr.

This year, unlikely many recent others, Miami will have the significant depth to provide something that Manny Daiz preaches—competition. Canes fans can only hope that the continuity, coaching, additional talent, and scheme, equates to success.

What’s your projection for the starting offensive line went the Canes take on Bama?