The Miami Hurricanes’ spring football game is upon us, and there is so much to look forward to. With a new (and seriously loaded) coaching staff and a roster that already features a number of transfers, this team should look seriously different than the one that walked off the field at Duke a winner in the 2021 season finale.
So, with so much to see and so many new faces to watch, what are some questions that (hopefully) will begin to be answered in Saturday’s spring game?
1) Who has the edge for QB2 between Jake Garcia and Jacurri Brown?
Garcia was one of the most hyped and exciting commitments in recent Miami history. He was thought by many to be the sure fire successor to D’Eriq King when King left town, but injuries to both King and Garcia in September opened the door for Tyler Van Dyke to take the ACC and the entire country by storm last fall. He was so impressive, he seems like a shoe in as QB1 this fall, and for good reason. He played at a high level and has an elite ceiling.
So the focus turns back to Garcia this spring to see if the young man can wow in spring ball and perhaps turn this QB room from Tyler Van Dyke’s to a true battle. But it’s not just Garcia in play here; true freshman Jacurri Brown is trying to make a name for himself. The uber-talented two-way threat (he totaled 3387 passing and 3323 rushing yards in his high school career; insert eye emojis here) just has a knack for making impact plays, and that can’t be undervalued.
Miami at last has a terrific problem - which of their extremely talented QB room will rise to the top - and that battle will be on display today.
2) Does Miami finally have a mauler on its offensive line again?
I mean, there’s no denying it. Miami’s line has been stinky for way too many years in a row. Whether it’s been more the talent level lacking or poor coaching, that’s been up for debate. What isn’t is how Miami’s lines haven’t even resembled a shadow of its former strong selves.
Now, Miami has a head coach who was a standout OL at Miami, along with a proven OL coach. The excuses for coaching not being there are now gone.
But does Miami have a dude on that line right now? A mean-mugging, road-grading bully who can make the recent struggles in establishing constant running lanes a thing of the past?
Jakai Clark and DJ Scaife have gotten a lot of love from the coaching staff this spring at center and could be poised for a big step forward with this staff. Josh Gattis noted that the duo have done “exceptional jobs” this spring. I also gave a triple-take when transfer Logan Sagapolu said he’s squatted 800 pounds before. If true, that’s just...unheard of, and I’d think would undoubtedly shatter the school’s squat record. That’s serious leg-drive horsepower that you look for in a people-moving lineman.
3) Who’s the next pass-catcher poised for a breakout?
Charleston Rambo is off to the NFL after a record-shattering season, so Miami will have to look elsewhere to help make up for that gap in production in 2022. There’s no shortage of candidates. Clemson transfer Frank Ladson has the ability to step in as the next star transfer wideout. Jacolby George was listed as one of college football’s 22 players to watch for a breakout by Brad Crawford of 247 Sports. George indeed has that big play potential, leading the Hurricanes with a 26.1 ypc average last year. Key’Shawn Smith ended the year third in catches and receiving yards. Romello Brinson is a terrific route runner with a knack for the ball. Xavier Restrepo is a lock in the slot and could be the most reliable third-down option on the team. Mario Cristobal singled out Brashard Smith as “turning a corner” recently. AT tight end, Will Mallory is a known (and very good) quantity, but Jaleel Skinner could push Elijah Arroyo - who had some flashes of big play ability last year - for TE2.
So many capable, quality candidates in the WR and TE rooms, it’s absolutely silly. Will be fun to see which ones separate themselves this year.
4) How will the linebackers look?
This was undoubtedly the greatest concern on the defensive side of the ball leaving the 2021 season. True freshman Wesley Bissainthe has said he’s put on serious muscle in his time on campus so far, and he should absolutely push the incumbents Corey Flagg, Keontra Smith, and Waynmon Steed for playing time right out of the gate. This group is going to have to be a whole lot better this season, and it starts with someone elevating their game and becoming a star at the position, which has been devoid of one for far too long. Having Charlie Strong coaching the group and Kevin Steele in the fold as defensive coordinator, this group should significantly improve this year.
5) How improved is the tackling?
The bugaboo for the Canes offense has been blocking, one of the game’s most fundamental tenets. The counterpart on the defensive side of the ball has been tackling. Miami now has a staff more than capable of helping them shore up their fundamentals quickly. The Canes were flat-out embarrassing in their home loss to Michigan State, compiling a horrendous 30 missed tackles, per Pro Football Focus.
Missed tackling is a mentality, as much as anything else. A lack of focus. A disregard for technique and fundamentals. Changing that has to be one of Cristobal’s primary objectives this offseason.