The most recent milestone of the Miami Hurricanes preseason, ahead of their bout with the Alabama Crimson Tide, has come and gone with the first official scrimmage now in the books. Prior to the scrimmage, we shared some Things We Needed and Wanted To See in the scrimmage. From all accounts, Canes Football team had what sounds to be an explosive performance on the offensive side of the ball, but despite that there is reason to believe that the defense may have found something it has been looking for since the end of the 2019 season. Most importantly (KNOCK ON ALL THE WOOD) there were no major injuries out of the event, which is always the greatest takeaway you can get. For a short recap from Coach Diaz, watch below, then we will jump into the takeaways.
What We Loved Seeing from the Scrimmage
D’Eriq King Doing D’Eriq King Things
We loved seeing one of the best players in the country be just that, be one of the best players in the country. D’Eriq King showed the diversity in his game that got him the acclimation thus far in his career. What we have also seen is less fear throwing deep outside the hashes as well as more strength into those throws. Before being taken down, footage of the scrimmage corroborated the improved arm strength King has displayed in practice. Seeing it at full speed should give us all plenty to be excited for going into the season.
At one point it was described that King lost the pocket, was able to shake multiple defenders through the middle of the defense before the play was called complete. At another, King showed excellent touch to the back pilon with Charleston Rambo, which is great to see considering the two have not played a game together yet. Brad Kaaya, Stephen Morris and Jacorey Harris game us glimpses of hope and high-powered offenses. If King makes the leap that we all think he can with a second year in the offense and an expanded roster of playmakers, the offense may be Miami’s best in two decades.
While the demise of the linebacking group has been document ad nauseum (See Linebacker U(gh), The Need For More Fast, Athletic Linebackers and The Art of Tackling), the recovery of that group is one with less coverage. During the offseason Miami flirted with many linebackers in the portal, including Palaie Gaoteote, Juwan Mitchell and Dimitri Moore, all of whom, as we can see, went elsewhere. This was the first indication (or indictment) of the staff's preference for the depth on campus. Finally, it seems as though we have our first true glimpse into why. Highlighted in Manny Diaz’ presser, Keontra Smith was credited with 4 tackles, a sack, a pass breaks up and a momentum changing tackle later in the scrimmage. That coupled with his dedication in the weight room, Smith is making a strong play to be one of the starting linebackers once the season starts. The biggest stand from that stat line is the versatility we can see developing, with Smith showing out in the open field, rushing the passer and dropping back into coverage. We need Smith to continue this trend into the next practices and scrimmage to feel comfortable but it is a great start.
Secondarily (yes, MORE linebacker info), Tirek Austin Cave was reported to have had a great scrimmage. The news of this development is one to keep an eye on. Austin -Cave’s pedigree is the ideal one Miami needs on campus. The New Jersey native was a tackling machine while playing inside linebacker at Camden Catholic, highlighted by a 162-tackle campaign in his junior season. Austin-Cave’s athletic profile checks out as well, showing excellent range and speed on film at linebacker, while having a great frame to play the position (6’1, 225lb). If things are clicking for Ausin-Cave, whom I chose as a sleeper in Ten Way Too Early Hot Takes back in March, we may have quite the missile to deploy come game time.
The Freshman Receivers Are the Real Deal
The freshman receivers showed, up, and showed out, one in particular. While the biggest of the bunch, Romello Brinson, showed great numbers (4/73 yards) and in the toughness category (playing through a small injury described by Diaz), and the smallest, Brashard Smith showed his craftiness, it was the middle receiver, Jacolby George who was juuuust right. The freshman receiver absolutely went off, culminating in a massive 7 for 127 and a score stat line that truly was the highlight of all the receivers Sunday evening. The playmaker is best known for his ability to create space in a phone booth, very similar to what senior Mike Harley brings to the table. Further, the ability to finish plays, play the ball and run after the catch highlight a prospect who no longer can be considered a sleeper. Canes Nation is awake and watching. George’s performance and pedigree should NOT however, come as a surprise, as friend to the site Stephen Kraning, (@365CANESFOOTBALL), has been the most vocal in local Canes media of George’s incredible potential.
Jacolby George film review ! LETS GET IT! UM will be getting such a smooth Runner with long strides to EAT UP YARDS! Technically sound will play slot but can be a outside guy at times at UM due to REFINED ROUTE RUNNING & ELITE PLAYMAKING SKILLS ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/ojMP7SsBIP— 365CANESFOOTBALL (@365canesinfo) February 19, 2021
What You May Not Have Noticed
The Pin Drop (Location)
Starting with a quick hitter here, but the location of the scrimmage is telling, and in a way that greatly impacts the Canes 2022 recruiting class. The Scrimmage was held at Monsignor Edward Pace High School. Some may wonder about the significance or even write it off as the school trying to truly hide the scrimmage from peering eyes. For those of us that are heavier into recruiting, that signals a whole difference meaning.
Shemar Stewart, the number one prospect in South Florida and Eight overall nationally is a student at Monsigner Pace. Just as we are mostly going off stats and comments from the game, we cannot confirm nor deny this, but there is little doubt in my mind that the staff used this to get Stewart a bird's eye view of the scrimmage with access to whatever he may want to see. Despite the climate of the current schedule reading Fall camp, recruiting NEVER stops.
Zack McCloud? Yes Zack McCloud
While the tenure for Zack McCloud has been a tenuous one as of late, it seems as though the sixth-year senior has found a home at defensive end. The 6’3 250 end was spotted hitting for what amounted to a game changing sack late in the game on what was described as an “And Long” play. Throughout camp McCloud has received accolades from just about anyone within distance, including players, Coach Simpson and Coach Diaz. While McCloud may not be a star at the spot, improving his ability to contribute to the defense will go long to protect the rotation and depth on the edges.
Ok Maybe a Small, Teeny Tiny Injury
During the scrimmage it was reported that potential starting cornerback Tyrique Stevenson had to leave the game early due to an injury to his wrist, which was seen being attended to on the sideline. While Stevenson stayed iced on the sideline for the remainder of the scrimmage, the injury is not believed to be serious and should not become an issue too deep into camp.
What Needs to Come Next
While it was good news to see the linebackers show both life and depth, it may be concerning that the offense is ahead of the offense at this stage of the game. Usually in camp settings it the reverse, with defense normally the side of the ball that controls the flow of the events.
Context matters, however. The offense is as gelled and consistent as can be, mid-way through year two of both Lashlee and King, returning everyone on the line, in the running backs room and at receiver. Not to mention the additions of Rambo and the freshmen at RB and TE. There is plenty to like if you are on this offense and plenty of reason for a Coach like Rhett Lashlee to feel comfortable emptying the playbook with the consistency throughout the group.
On Defense, we need to start seeing that awakening. While there were highlights, like the LB play, Leonard Taylor’s two sacks and James Williams interception, much of the rest of the defense felt as though they were quiet for the wrong reason. The defense that Manny prefers is built from the inside out, so most likely more reliability and consistency is needed up front at defensive tackle and echoing out to the edges. As we have seen with players like Gerald Willis, Kendrick Norton, R.J. McIntosh and, to an extent, Greg Rousseau, when you have multiple disruptors in the middle, the defense as whole benefits. Whether it is a pairing of Nesta and Jared Harrison-Hunte or more play for Leonard Taylor, we will need to see a sustainable spark from the middle of the defense or this could be 12 games of shootouts again like last year.
Playmakers on Defense
While it may not seem fair to pile on the defense, it did feel apparent that the offense won the night. Whether it was the reaction of Manny Diaz’ post scrimmage or the dearth of info for the offense compared to the bereft nature of the defensive info, the defense needs sparks throughout its units. Keontra Smith, as highlighted by Coach Diaz, is our hint that this is the case. If history is our friend, we know Coach Diaz is not afraid to say what needs to be worked on and where. I feel as though his highlight of Smith and his momentum changing play alludes to a desire to see much more of it. It may be fair to say as detail above that the group is trying to get completely comfortable with the changes on that side of the ball, it should be simple enough to find footing in a friendly defensive scheme, a coordinator who has been here for five years, and the extra help that the defense has on the sidelines in Coach Mike Rumph, Coach Todd Stroud and Coach Bob Shoop.
We can point to a few players that have had that spark, with the likes of Bubba Bolden and Nesta Silvera, but now it's time to see players like Keontra Smith, Corey Flagg and Jahfari Harvey step up to meet those mentioned. This defense with expectations met by those three as well as a Tyrique Stevenson or a Gil Frierson will transform this defense from one trying to cause Havoc to one that is Comfortable in Chaos.
Let’s see what the next scrimmage has in store for us in the coming days.