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Despite Flashes, WR is a Glaring Issue for ‘Canes

In Saturday’s Spring Game, Miami’s WRs struggled in their first appearance without Charleston Rambo and Mike Harley.

Restrepo had a productive day, reeling in 6 catches for 60 yards.
Jared Lennon / The Miami Hurricane

During the Spring Game on Saturday, we saw lots of improvement within the Miami Hurricanes football team. The offensive line looked lightyears better than last years, and as a result, the ‘Canes were able to get good yards on the ground. The offense and its ideology is clearly different than last years. Offensive coordinator Josh Gattis’ offense prioritizes running the football and using the run game to open up deep shots in the passing game. While we will probably see less deep shots this season, each deep ball will be more effective and meaningful. This puts enormous pressure on the receivers to catch these passes when the defense is brought up.

With one of the best QBs in the nation, an improved offensive line, a legit run game and an elite tight end room, without improvement, wide receiver could be the only position that holds the ‘Canes back in 2022. While we knew there would be some issues at wide receiver due to the losses of Charleston Rambo and Mike Harley, we didn’t know how it would look until they were all on the field at once.

In the Spring Game, the ‘Canes receiver trio of showed promise, but also that work still needs to be done and that there is still room for growth. At halftime, Coach Mario Cristobal voice his concerns with the way the young wide receivers had been playing.

“I don’t like the fact that we have some really good throws and opportunities for big plays and we aren’t coming down with the ball. We’re not straining to come down with the ball and we got to change that,” said Cristobal.

The Trio’s Performance

In the Spring Game, the starting wide receiver trio of Restrepo, George and Smith made some plays. Restrepo stepped up, bringing in 6 catches for 60 yards. George reeled in a few balls and caught TVD’s lone touchdown pass. Smith caught a couple of slants and showcased his speed. Each player showed flashes of being ready to take that next step into full-time starter, but all wasn’t good in the game.

Restrepo always seemed to be open and made a few nice grabs. His usage is clear, as five of his six catches were out routes. He did have a drop though, and also ran an out route one-yard short of the goal line on a crucial 3rd and Goal. While that’s good, this offense with Van Dyke has the potential to be explosive and needs more than just dink-and-dunks.

George showcased his speed, getting behind DBs on multiple plays but failed to complete the play. His best drive of the game was the ‘Canes two-minute drill before halftime where he caught a pair of passes. As mentioned before, he caught the lone passing touchdown from Van Dyke on a sprint-out from about the five-yard line. His usage is clear, as almost all of his targets were downfield but he and Van Dyke just couldn’t connect. That needs to improve before the season starts.

Smith had a few nice routes and catches, but couldn’t bring the ball in on a few deep passes. Most of his production came on a pair of slant routes. He was having trouble getting behind the DBs at times. Of the three, Smith is the most experienced one in terms of catches. We’ve seen him perform in game, and a leap is expected of him. More is needed from Smith going forward.

Drops, Drops and Drops

Restrepo didn’t have many drops, but his lone drop was costly and it would be drive killing in a normal game. This is a play that sets you up for a shorter, more manageable 3rd down conversion. Instead of 3rd and 5, it was now 3rd and 10. That can’t happen going forward if Miami wants to compete for an ACC Championship and National Title.

Van Dyke consistently looked for George on deep balls and crossers, but the two weren’t able to connect. George will be Miami’s primary downfield threat and it was clear that the chemistry with TVD wasn’t where it needed to be. While it’s a difficult catch, plays like this need to be made for Miami to continue building on the explosive offense from 2021.

This play was one of the most successful plays for Van Dyke and Rambo in 2021. A simple go route. While it’s not an easy completion, this play is instrumental to the success of Miami’s offense. Granted, Smith fell down, but this ball is virtually perfect and needs to be caught. With a QB like Van Dyke, completing the explosive plays is imperative.

Does Miami have a No. 1 WR or is the Portal Needed?

First, let me say this. I don’t think having a ‘WR-by-Committee’ is a bad thing, but there needs to be a guy that you can trust in certain situations to just beat the man in front of them. Situations like 3rd/4th and long or one-on-ones in the red zone are where that role is needed. Right now, I’d say Restrepo is easily the most trusted, but one of George (6’0) and Smith (6’1) needs to step up and solidify themselves as the alpha for those type of plays due to their size. This is where the loss of Rambo will be felt the most, but both players are capable of stepping into that role. If not, the portal could be utilized.

As mentioned, George and Smith could step up. However, it wouldn’t surprise me if Miami were to look around the transfer portal for a wide receiver. Louisville transfer and Miami native Tyler Harrell is one of the best uncommitted receivers remaining in the portal. In 2021, he caught 18 balls for 523 yards and 6 touchdowns, averaging an incredible 29.1 yards per catch. Harrell would come in and instantly contribute. His talent is exactly what this offense needs to thrive.

Overall, Miami’s WR core is young and relatively inexperienced, so growing pains are expected. This year could be the year for the ‘Canes, so hoping players take leaps could prove to be costly. With that being said, Miami’s WR room is filled with talent and will hopefully improve in the summer.