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Spring Cleaning: Offense

Spring Cleaning: Offense

Stefan Adams
With the spring game being held this past Saturday, spring practice is now in the books for the Canes. Since the media only gets to view a small portion of the practices, it’s “sources season” here at CIS. We gathered up some sources both inside and outside Hecht, plus what the coaches have been saying in interviews and open viewings for the spring game, to get a pulse on where the team is at heading into the long summer. Here were the bits from the offense.


Quarterback

What we want to hear
: That the QB’s will actually look competent this season.

What we’re hearing: The coaches have done everything possible to downplay things and not show their hand in terms of a pecking order at QB, rotating heavily in practice and giving each QB reps with the first team. Even still, somebody had to start the spring game, and it was N’Kosi Perry beginning with the first unit. Jarren Williams started with the two’s, and Tate Martell subbed in soon after. A team source feels every QB has a ways to go in learning the playbook, something echoed in interviews by Dan Enos.

Martell has been seen as the clear #3 through the majority of camp, but he really bounced back with a great spring game performance. A team source feels his major struggle has been adjusting to playing under center, but is really much more comfortable and effective when being able to improvise and make plays with his feet like he was this weekend. Some may have (wrongly) wrote him off, but he’s still very much in the mix for the starting job and he proved that Saturday.

Another source says the book on Perry is simple: he has a howitzer for an arm and some of the plays he’s making on Greentree are jaw-dropping. The concern right now is his football intelligence and decision-making. He has the best deep ball on the team right now I’m told. Overall, though, team sources feel Perry has had a net positive spring and has looked like a better version of himself than under Mark Richt. Maybe most importantly, he has stayed quiet off the field.

Multiple sources feel that Williams has looked like the best QB in closed practices and his big advantage is that he is the QB that is most adept at the mental side of the game. While Williams may not know the entire playbook right now, he is the most comfortable going through progressions, and is poised hanging in the pocket under pressure. He is also seen as the most accurate passer at UM right now.

What it means: As expected, the coaches reiterated the QB competition was still on-going and would be until the end of fall camp. The job truly is up in the air right now: Williams is getting the most positive buzz behind the scenes, Perry opened the spring game with the ones, and Martell moved the ball the best during the spring game. How hard each guy works over the summer on their own might really be the difference here, and it will be interesting to see how they come out looking at the beginning of fall camp.


Running Back

What we want to hear
: That Cam Harris is challenging DeeJay Dallas for the #1 role.

What we’re hearing: DeeJay Dallas got most of the first team reps this spring with Cam Harris working in too. Most feel Dallas has been as steady as ever, but that Harris has taken the next step after a bit role as a freshman, and is ready for a larger piece of the action in 2019. Harris has great burst, and shows great awareness in setting up his blocks, and he showed that off well in the spring game. Sources feel like this will be a pretty equal time-share between Dallas and Harris to start the season.

It was disappointing that Miami did not get a chance to really show off their running back depth this spring due to injuries, as Lorenzo Lingard missed the entire spring and Asa Martin missed all but the first week. Robert Burns also got hurt yet again as his durability concerns reared their ugly head. It’s fair to question if he can ever be a reliable contributor on this team. All three are expected back for fall, however, Manny Diaz confirmed at the start of spring that Martin would sit out in 2019 due to transfer rules.

Heading into spring, it was unclear if how much of a role, if any, the fullback would have in Enos’ offense. However, it’s clear that Realus George will get some burn in 2019, and Miami consistently utilized a fullback in formations during practice, as well as the spring game. Enos showed in the spring game that he isn’t afraid to give the fullback carries either.

What it means: Miami has two guys they can rely on at RB right now and that is concerning, although they have both proved their talent at the college level. The hope is that Lingard can return at close to full health in the fall and make this a trio, but it’s going to be really hard to ever count on Burns at this point and Martin is already out for 2019. An injury to one of Dallas, Harris, or Lingard makes this a dicey position, and an injury to two guys spells danger.


Wide Receiver

What we want to hear
: That this is one of the deepest WR groups in the country.

What we’re hearing: The wide receiver group was also hit by injuries, with Jeff Thomas, Mike Harley, and Brian Hightower ending spring on the sidelines. One team source says new WR coach Taylor Stubblefield has really taken to Thomas, and he is really pushing the junior to reach his potential. The staff feels Thomas will be a star in this offense. However, the most consistent WR every day has been grad transfer KJ Osborn, and pretty much every coach and player has singled him out for his work ethic in interviews. He has been invaluable as a steady presence in a mostly immature group and showed how he can make plays in the spring game.

Hightower is getting buzz as an “NFL guy”, and he really impressed out of the gates this spring, but he needs more consistency day-to-day to truly secure a starting job. Most feel he still likely to start the season as Miami’s #3 at this point, though. Hightower has the great size and ball skills to really make an impact on the outside for Enos.

A team source feels that it’s Mark Pope that is the next most talented option on the roster and he has become hard to handle in the slot especially. Dee Wiggins saw a ton of first team reps on the outside this spring with Hightower out and is still working on filling out his frame. Jeremiah Payton started slow, but really came on towards the end of spring, culminating in a good spring game outing. A source said the team is expecting Payton to continue to progress mentally over the summer and really push for reps in fall. Harley had a really good camp as well and will always have a role as the team’s best blocker.

A concern at this spot is Evidence Njoku, as he is still behind at the mental side of the game and he is having problems with drops. Not to be forgotten, Marshall Few showed in the spring game that he is capable of seeing the field if necessary as a quick option in the slot.

What it means: This is a very talented group with a lot of players that seem to be right on the verge of turning the corner. Hightower, Wiggins, and Pope will continue to battle into the fall for the right to start, although it probably won’t matter much who officially starts as they have all earned playing time as of now. This is going to be an important offseason for Njoku. Going into his third season, he really needs to start flashing more often or he is going to be passed by permanently.


Tight End


What we want to hear
: The tight ends will be heavily featured in Enos’ offense.

What we’re hearing: Brevin Jordan is still the clear #1 and began spring with the ones before bowing out with injury, but Enos used him and Will Mallory in two tight end looks a ton in practices. Sources feel Mallory has really blossomed with the chances he’s gotten after Jordan went out, and Mallory has continued to put on good weight. With his athleticism, he’s clearly going to be a freak in this offense if he gets enough looks.

Michael Irvin II returned from his knee injury last fall and was really a pleasant surprise. He could have easily faded into the background behind Jordan and Mallory, but he was instead consistently making plays throughout spring, which culminated with a TD in the spring game. Most around the team feel he could be a low-end starter and will definitely add value as a high-level backup.

Brian Polendey missed all of spring ball and was behind all three even before his knee injury last fall. It’s going to be hard for him to really make an impact on this team.

What it means: This is a talented group that showed Miami’s tight end tradition will keep on rolling no matter who is running the offense. Jordan and Mallory will be a two-headed monster as sophomores, and Irvin is a reliable veteran that can step in in a pinch and get the job done. The TE’s are certain to play a big role in 2019.


Offensive Line

What we want to hear
: That the line is showing signs of being not terrible.

What we’re hearing: It’s been hard to get a read on the offensive line with so much shuffling going on due to injury. Corey Gaynor, Zalon’tae Hillery, John Campbell all began with the first team this spring, and all missed at least some time with injury. Not exactly ideal for a unit that really needs to come together and gel to even have a chance at being better than last season’s mediocre line.

Navaughn Donaldson and DJ Scaife were consistently cited as Miami’s best two linemen and it’s not even close. After that has been Gaynor, who’s biggest issue in the past has been on the mental side of the game at center making all the calls. One team source feels Gaynor has made a lot of progress in that area from last season and is ready to handle the starting role. His physicality and toughness has never been in question.

The biggest mover of the spring has been early enrollee Zion Nelson, who was expected to be an after-thought as an undersized lineman that would likely not see the field for at least a year. Nelson instead finished the spring as Miami’s starter at left tackle and has put on 30 pounds since January, showing high-level aggression along with his great flexibility and athleticism. Although it’s not ideal, one source feels he is in a good position to earn a starting job at tackle heading into the fall.

Although expected to be a big part of Miami’s offensive line originally, multiple sources have said Tommy Kennedy has been a huge disappointment to the staff and is questionable to even see the field this season. One source called him a walk-on level talent right now and he will need to really work hard to add strength this summer to even earn a role in the rotation.

Campbell gets a lot of mentions as someone who is way ahead of schedule, but he hasn’t quite been able to make that step into a clear-cut full-time starter yet. The word on Hillery was that he was inconsistent this spring, but did enough to stay in the running for a starting job. Kai-Leon Herbert has stayed healthy for an extended period for the first time in his Miami career and is mounting a serious challenge for the right tackle job. Cleveland Reed was a clear second teamer until the injuries started to hit, but I’m told the staff was pleased with how he performed in his reps on the first team overall. He still needs to work on conditioning and shaping his body.

George Brown is still underwhelming, while Zach Dykstra doesn’t even get mentions despite tons of opportunity available this spring.

What it means: Outside of Donaldson, Scaife, and Gaynor, Miami is going to need to find two more guys to step up, make their best five, and start to get comfortable playing together. It really shows the lack of real depth at tackle that someone like Nelson, who was expected to be a clear redshirt in 2019, can walk right in and challenge for a starting spot. However, the fact that he is flashing this early at all is a good sign for a boom-or-bust prospect like him, and if he can keep adding weight over the summer, anything can happen. Miami could very well field a solid first team line this season, but the second team line is scary, and if there is a rash of injuries, it could collapse the offense.
 

Comments (64)

Great article Stefan. Here's what I would like at each offensive position:
  • QB: Give me the biggest leader of the group. Who can lead us to a road ACC win when we are down 10, it's 35 degrees and windy, and our defense is getting gashed. We saw Perry look like a deer in the headlights in this situation last year but I'll give him a pass given our pathetic offense was. Your guess is as good as mine.
  • RB: Three headed monster imo. Just run some creative run plays and not straight up the gut out of shotgun please.
  • WR: The talent is there. We should use JT like Tyreek Hill or Hollywood Brown imo. Osborn will be the other guy to go. The rest of the rotation should be guys who can consistently catch and take their roles seriously.
  • TE: I'll take our tight end room over anyone in the country. Two headed monster.
  • OL: Need to see improvement and build some cohesiveness for the unit.
 
Multiple sources feel that Williams has looked like the best QB in closed practices and his big advantage is that he is the QB that is most adept at the mental side of the game. While Williams may not know the entire playbook right now, he is the most comfortable going through progressions, and is poised hanging in the pocket under pressure. He is also seen as the most accurate passer at UM right now.

He must be really good in closed practices.
 
How did everyone just whiff on Kennedy?

Not all of us did, but we had posters telling that we weren't competent to see what we saw. Their logic was that the kid had transfer interest from other schools, so he must be a plug and play tackle here. Apparently age, physical maturity and limitations, level of competition, and actual performance didn't matter. We were told to shut up and "trust the coaches".

You know, the offensive coaching staff we don't even have anymore.....
 
How did everyone just whiff on Kennedy?


He executed his assignment consistently well against weak competition and he's a low-risk guy so needy schools bought in. Kennedy did a good job selling himself with his accolades and reputation. The reality is his traits were never good on film - he doesn't create space with his pass sets and he's not strong or physical in the run game - and he's a tweener.

Ironically our OL coach was on the Bucs last year when they drafted Alex Cappa who, like Kennedy, dominated at LT at lower levels but lacked the physicality to kick inside where contact happens faster and more intense. Neither Kennedy or Cappa has the length or quickness to be trusted outside so it's tough for them to find their niche.
 
Thank goodness that Zion Nelson developed the way he has and that we have DJ Scaife who can play all along the line is a solid doing it.
 
Tweed confirmed it was NOT an ACL for Lingard, so the recap on him is a little fuzzy. The staff hopes for him to be close to full-go by fall camp? If he didn’t tear his ACL, and the man who confirmed he didn’t would know, he’s in no danger of being limited at all by fall camp. Lingard should be 100% soon, and certainly well before the summer.
 
As I’ve said since Day 1. Hell even before Dykstra showed up here, he will not play at all and will transfer before his time is done here.
 
Tweed confirmed it was NOT an ACL for Lingard, so the recap on him is a little fuzzy. The staff hopes for him to be close to full-go by fall camp? If he didn’t tear his ACL, and the man who confirmed he didn’t would know, he’s in no danger of being limited at all by fall camp. Lingard should be 100% soon, and certainly well before the summer.

Just because it wasn’t an ACL doesn’t mean it wasn’t a severe injury. There are other ligaments in the knee that can tear, as well as tendons, tissue around the knee, the patella, it’s a complex joint. Just saying someone doesn’t have an ACL doesn’t mean they didn’t have other significant damage.

And we don’t know the actual nature of his injury.
 
So coming out of spring the Depth Chart looks like -

QB - Perry or Martell or Williams

RB - Dallas or Harris

WR 1 - JT

WR 2 - Osborn

WR 3 - Hightower

TE - Brevin or Mallory

LT - Zion

LG - Donaldson

C - Gaynor

RG - Who Knows (Reed, Campbell, Hillary, Herbert) - whoever steps up

RT - Scaife
 
IMO if we continue to get more QB and OL development this offense has the potential to explode

With the amount of talented playmakers we have it would be a shame to have those two positions let us down again. I don’t think Enos let’s that happen

Predictions -

QB - Tate gets better under center over the break and starts to take the lead to start. Still think Perry and Williams will be right there until the end of camp.

RB - Lingard comes back healthy and we see a 3 headed monster at RB

WR & TE - too much talent to have a let down

OL - Zion is the surprise of the season and wins the LT job. And one or two of these 4 takes the next step (Reed, Hillery, Herbert, Campbell)

Let’s Ride!
 
So coming out of spring the Depth Chart looks like -

QB - Perry or Martell or Williams

RB - Dallas or Harris

WR 1 - JT

WR 2 - Osborn

WR 3 - Hightower

TE - Brevin or Mallory

LT - Zion

LG - Donaldson

C - Gaynor

RG - Who Knows (Reed, Campbell, Hillary, Herbert) - whoever steps up

RT - Scaife
I believe Scaife is being worked as a guard, not tackle. I think John campbell is sitting at RT, with Zion at LT
 
No kidding regarding the OL. If we can get 50% better play out of that unit this season, then our offense will average the requisite 28ppg we need to go 11-2 for the year. If we get 31-35ppg because the OL stays healthy AND the QB is above average, then who beats us? It would look then like a 12-0 record and a Top 5 showdown with Clemson in the ACCCG easily. But we know for us and our team rarely has things gone that smoothly across the entirety of a season so I’m back to my original thoughts on 11-2 being the benchmark for the team record wise.
 
No kidding regarding the OL. If we can get 50% better play out of that unit this season, then our offense will average the requisite 28ppg we need to go 11-2 for the year. If we get 31-35ppg because the OL stays healthy AND the QB is above average, then who beats us? It would look then like a 12-0 record and a Top 5 showdown with Clemson in the ACCCG easily. But we know for us and our team rarely has things gone that smoothly across the entirety of a season so I’m back to my original thoughts on 11-2 being the benchmark for the team record wise.
Need to find some Ol talent in the portal fast. Go Manny
 

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