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The Rebuilding of the Hurricanes’ Offensive Line

With transfer center Matt Lee committing to Miami, the Hurricanes have an offensive line for 2023 that should be much improved.

NCAA Football: Central Florida at Cincinnati Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

Since arriving in Miami in December of 2021, Head Coach Mario Cristobal and his staff have recruited well. But after a season of offensive line struggles, he has made it a focal point to get experienced players to reform the trenches.

After adding Javion Cohen from Alabama in December, the Hurricanes got a commitment from Matt Lee, one of the top interior linemen in the transfer portal.

The Miami Hurricanes offense struggled in 2022. The offensive line, with injuries and poor play, was a big part of that. In Josh Gattis’ first season with the Hurricanes as offensive coordinator, the offense ranked 95th in rushing yards per game and yards per rushing attempt.

The passing attack was a little better, ranking 60th in passing yards per game. But the offense only averaged 23.6 points per game, 97th in the country, a drop of over 10 points per game from the season before. It was the worst scoring offense Miami has had since 2007.

To help fix the offense, Cristobal and his staff recruited both high school and college players. For immediate assistance, they added Cohen and Lee, two of the top 10 linemen in the portal.

For the future, they have one of the best offensive lineman groups in the country with five-star offensive tackles Francis Mauigoa and Samson Okunlola. They rounded out the class with Tommy Kinsler, Antonio Tripp, and Frankie Tinilau.

The faces on the Hurricanes’ line will look extremely different from last season. Only two linemen appeared in 12 games and both left. Jakai Clarke and Anez Cooper each played in 10 games last season and Jalen Rivers played in nine.

With a healthy group of linemen and the additions for 2023, it should make a pretty good starting group. There is also an abundance of talented players who will be able to play multiple spots and fill in when needed if they don’t win a starting spot.

But, what could the starting offensive line look like when they kick off the 2023 season?

Tackles: Zion Nelson, Francis Mauigoa, and Samson Okunlola

Interior: Jakai Clarke, Matt Lee, Javion Cohen, Anez Cooper, Jalen Rivers

Left Tackle: Zion Nelson

Entering the 2022 season, Nelson was one of the top prospects at his position and was seen as a possible first-round pick. He missed the first couple of games due to knee surgery, came back, and played against Texas A&M before missing the remainder of the year.

Nelson should come back and take over as the starting left tackle to protect Tyler Van Dyke’s blind side. It is also important to respect the incoming tackles who are some of the best recruits at their position in program history.

Left Guard: Javion Cohen

As the starting left guard in 24 games for Alabama over the last two seasons, Cohen has a proven track record of success at the position. He was a second-team ALL-SEC selection last season and should help build a great left side of the offensive line with Nelson.

Center: Matt Lee

One of the top-graded centers in the country over the past two seasons at UCF, Lee is a great option at center. This could also be Clarke continuing to play at center and Lee moving over to right guard.

Right Guard: Jakai Clarke

There were a lot of players who had their chance at right guard last season. Clarke started at center for much of last season, but could easily move over to right guard with the addition of Lee. Jalen Rivers and Anez Cooper are also options who could play a role at this position.

Right Tackle: Francis Mauigoa or Samson Okunlola

Hopefully, one of the two five-star tackles can come in and be ready to contribute as a true freshman. Mauigoa is the second-highest-rated tackle in program history behind only Seantrel Henderson.

If neither of these freshmen can come in and be ready to start, players like Matthew McCoy, Michael McLaughlin, or Chris Washington may need to make a leap and take on a big role.

This offensive line may have been saved by Cristobal and the rest of this staff. Without some of these transfers and recruits, the offensive line could have been extremely thin due to the losses.

To have the options that will be coming off the bench when healthy in 2023, the unit should be a strength compared to a weakness over the last few seasons.

Theoretically, the Hurricanes could be in a position where a former projected first-round pick could be the third tackle behind two big-time recruits. With two great transfers in the interior of the line, players who could easily be starters will provide great depth.