This is starting to look like Miami football. The offense has a deep stable of gamebreakers and the defense is ready to dominate. As we all know, the season will depend on quarterback play. Even with that uncertainty, I see double-digit wins. Eleven is a realistic goal.
Below are my thoughts on the team based on what I’ve seen and heard around Greentree.
QB- I didn’t think Malik Rosier could start here. My view was that he wasn’t talented enough to win games by himself but was reckless enough to lose games by himself. Coach Richt felt the same way.
Rosier proved us all wrong. He won the job clean after an uneven spring. What changed? Three things. First, he started making better decisions. His accuracy can still run hot and cold, but the ball goes to the right place. Braxton Berrios, who has played with Rosier for four years, noted that his study habits have improved.
Second, Rosier fits this year’s offense. The infusion of talent at WR (along with the lack of talent at FB/TE) has transformed this team. Eleven personnel (1 RB, 1 TE) and 10 personnel (1 RB) is the new normal. When James Coley was here, he ran two different offenses in practice: a pro-style passing attack for Kaaya, and a simplified spread for Rosier. You saw that in the Duke game. Now, that’s the way we play.
Third, even when Rosier was struggling badly in practice, he usually performed better in scrimmage situations. That, along with the way he played at Duke, tells me he may be a gamer.
With Malik, I expect the hot streaks to be very good. There will be bouts of inaccuracy. The key will be making sure the low-points aren’t that low.
Evan Shirreffs was the more consistent quarterback early on, but tailed off and allowed Rosier to separate. At 6’5 with an average arm, his bread-and-butter is throwing it between the numbers. He is also the best ballhandler on fakes. In my view, he’s a more athletic Ryan Williams.
N’Kosi Perry is as advertised in terms of skill-set. I’ve been going to Greentree for 23 years, and he’s the most talented pure passer I’ve ever seen there: more consistently accurate than Morris, more velocity than Kaaya. Of course, Greentree only tells you so much. Elite quarterbacks in practice can become merely above-average with a live rush (see Morris/Kaaya hype). But the ability is obvious. His issues are what you’d expect: not as comfortable with the system, muffed snaps, loose ball protection and struggles against the blitz. Nonetheless, I still expect him to see time this year.
I’m a Cade Weldon fan. At the same stage of development, he’s way ahead of Rosier, Shirreffs, Allison and Morris. My takeway is that Weldon has Miami-caliber physical talent. Strong arm to stick NFL throws, sturdy frame and an excellent athlete. His accuracy is more B-level but good enough. It’s hard to tell without live tackling, but he looks like our best runner on spread-option plays.
I also like his demeanor. Remember, Weldon is not a Golden Boy who had a QB tutor and went to private school. He played for Tampa Jefferson against rugged competition. On the field, he’s fire to Perry’s ice. Weldon shows emotion and is not afraid to fight a DL who cheap shots him (as Jon Ford found out). He threw more picks than any other QB, but they were aggressive mistakes. He’s not afraid to throw. If he shows patience and learns from Richt, he has big upside.
RB-Mark Walton is who he is, one of the best backs in the country. He practices with tremendous energy and looks more confident and assertive as a runner. While some RBs plateau early, Walton has continuously improved going back to his HS career. I think Miami fans will like Travis Homer. He has legit explosiveness through the hole and runs with no fear. He lacks some wiggle and open-field creativity, but he still scored several long TDs (including one during the second scrimmage).
Robert Burns remains an enigma. He looks great when he plays (beginning of spring, end of fall camp) but is always hurt. He’s healthy now, and if he stays that way I expect him to be our third back. He reminds me of Jonathan Stewart. Trayone Gray just can’t put it together. A fourth-year player with his size and athleticism should not struggle as a receiver and blocker. I hope he finds his niche somewhere.
WR- The biggest change in this team has been the added juice at WR. I've been a Mike Harley advocate for a long time, but he's exceeded my highest expectations. Remember when Pete reported that Harley was running late-night sand pits with Trajan Bandy? That hard work is paying off. Nobody has been able to cover him at camp. His deep speed is obvious, he has surprisingly great ball skills, he is sharp and explosive in his routes and he catches the ball with his hands. My comparison would be a combination of Travis Benjamin (as an athlete) and Philip Dorsett (in terms of polish). If he can hold up physically, he will make big plays this year.
Jeff Thomas is probably even more talented, given his ability to elude with the ball in his hands. He plays the slot with Harley outside. Like Devin Hester, Thomas has struggled with nagging muscle injuries. But those types of guys are like Ferraris. When it’s time to put on a show, Thomas will be ready.
DeeJay Dallasis the third newcomer who has changed the dynamic of this group. He’s not as fast as Harley and Thomas, but much heavier with a knack for making athletic catches. His ability to go-up and get it reminds me of a smaller Anquan Boldin. He’s still a bit raw in his routes and often turns to run before securing the catch, but he usually makes the play. Expect to see him all over the field, including the backfield. Versatile players need to be smart, and Dallas is.
I haven’t said much about Ahmmon Richards because there is not much to be said. He missed most of camp with a hamstring (like last year) but is an obvious stud. With the departure of David Njoku and Stacy Coley, Braxton Berrios is back to his natural slot position and looks incredible. He was the best player on the field in the first two scrimmages and is beating all of our corners.
I was worried about Lawrence Cager’s comeback, since his quickness out of breaks was such a unique part of his game at 6’5. There was no need to worry- he’s better than before. His body has filled out, he can still separate, and he’s cut down on the concentration drops. Dionte Mullins is battling Cager and doing a solid, if uneven, job. Cager’s focus gives him the edge there. Both should play. Dayall Harris is solid. No area stands out, but he is pretty sudden in his routes for a big guy and will get snaps. Darrell Langham has continued to improved and made a bunch of plays in the scrimmages. He does a lot of damage on slants with his size.
Evidence Njokumade a great early impression before getting hurt. For a tall guy, he can play with short-area suddenness. He’s not just a strider. His catch radius is outstanding and he didn’t seem overwhelmed by the aggression of Florida DBs. He’s raw, but not a project. One guy who really impressed me is freshman walk-on Marshall Few. This is a guy who had 156 yards and 2 TDs against American Heritage’s loaded DB corps in the state title game last year. Few has worked exclusively in the slot and shown very good quicks and eye-hand coordination. He is easily an FBS player.
TE- We needChris Herndon to stay healthy. He's an NFL TE. Michael Irvin IIis frustrating. Sometimes, the son has the desire to follow his father but not the God-given talent. Irvin has the talent to play here but struggles with conditioning and mental toughness. With that said, he has played very well since recovering from a bout of dehydration. Irvin is a natural receiver with the quickness to separate and a good feel. Think a bigger, not as consistent Nick O'Leary. Brian Polendey is a good worker but at least a year or two away from being a role player. He drops too many passes. While his blocking fundamentals are solid for a freshman, he needs more strength to be effective in-line.
OL- Our first team should be one of the better groups in the ACC. They held up against our DL all camp and gave the first-team QBs beautiful pockets in the scrimmages.
Kc McDermott is the key to the whole thing. I always pegged him as a guard because of his short arms. But he’s more athletic than I thought. He goes up against Joe Jackson in 1-on-1s and often stonewalls him. When we moved McDermott to LT last year, the OL took off. Same thing happened this spring. Our line started off with St. Louis at LT and McDermott at guard. When McDermott moved to LT, we found our best combination. He’s the leader of the group.
Trevor Darling had a much better camp than spring. He’s competing like a senior, even though he’s still more comfortable at tackle IMO. Ty Gauthier is a rock and one of the most physically strong centers I can remember at Miami. Navaughn Donaldson has lost 40 pounds and is doing all the right things, physically and mentally. He will still lose his balance and fall of blocks from time to time, but when he’s right he dominates. Tyree St. Louis has taken the biggest leap. His issue was always being a step slow off the snap. That’s when he would get beat. Now, after a year of experience, he’s quick off the snap and playing with a ton of confidence.
The second team is a different story, but I love our top backup. Corey Gaynor is the next KC Jones. Maybe I’m biased because I’ve been driving the bandwagon since February 2016, but this guy has a rare combination of attitude and pure blocking ability. He’s flexible, he has the coordination to square up with his target and he always has great pad level. He’s played center, guard and should end up as our starting fullback.
Hayden Mahoney is the other guy in the mix (Darling would move to tackle if one of the starting tackles goes down). Like Gaynor, Mahoney has shuffled between center and guard. He’s really improved, which shows why you need to be patient with some OL. Mahoney’s strengths are flexibility, length and technique. His weakness is, well, strength, which is why he really could use another year before getting thrown on the field. Jahair Jones is another improved player inside. He’s still slow of foot, but when he locks on a block it’s hard to get by him.
Kai-Leon Herbert is going to a good one but needs more seasoning. Excellent feet and attitude. I don’t expect him to redshirt, but he will struggle against college level defensive ends if forced to play meaningful snaps as a freshman. George Brown is just too weak. He has the length and some athleticism but can’t hold up against power. Tre Johnson and Zach Dykstraare scout-team guys at this stage. They have the height and decent athleticism but not much else at this point.
DE- Most loaded position on the team. Chad Thomas is playing with a lot of passion. He’s still not a pure sack artist, but he disrupts everything by batting balls, getting in the backfield and generally creating havoc. Joe Jackson continues to progress into an elite player. Demetrius Jackson brings a nice mix of pass rush and run stuffing ability. He and Chad often move inside on passing downs.
Trent Harris is the same solid, reliable player as always. Scott Patchan has made his share of big plays against the first team OL, including his old IMG buddy Tyree St. Louis. Some time at TE makes sense given the lack of depth, but I expect him to continue to develop as a DE.
Jon Garvin and D.J. Johnson are top-of-the-food-chain talents. Garvin is skinnier and quicker laterally, which makes him more effective than D.J. right now as a pass rusher. D.J. looks like an NFL player in pads and is extremely explosive in a straight-line. He has come on strong in the past couple weeks. He may not beat the OT with a move off the line, but once he has a flight path he can close distance like a DB. Both should play a ton.
Jon Ford looks like a future millionaire. Huge, not fat, flexible, quick off the snap and competitive. He's not there yet, but once Kool teaches him what to do he will be unreal. Ryan Fines and Tyreic Martin aren’t ready to play.
LB- We know what Shaquille Quarterman can do. He is quicker and better with the weight loss. Zack McCloud is ready to make the leap. He’s been as impressive as anybody on defense. Michael Pickney missed a good chunk of camp, but once he came back he immediately started making TFLs, timing his blitzes and getting his hands on footballs. His instincts and timing are the best I’ve seen since Spence.
Mike Smith separated himself from the other backup LBs. The knee injury is fully behind him and he is playing 100 MPH. Unfortunately, Darrion Owens hasn’t recovered his pre-injury speed. His value comes as a big, physical presence and smart player.
CJ Perry has missed most of camp with injury. That has allowed DeAndre Wilder to really emerge and get reps. The Diaz SLB typically plays in a lot of space, and Wilder’s speed has been eye-popping in that role. He is all over the field running and competing, even if he’s still learning what to do. The next step for him, along with learning the defense, is filling out and shoring up his tackling. Bradley Jennings is the opposite. He lacks speed but has a thick frame, great instincts against the run and a striking tackling style. Both freshmen should play.
S- Now that they’ve moved on to the NFL, we are starting to realize how talented Rayshawn Jenkins and Jamal Carter were. Their size and physical presence will be missed. But the Killian Duo will be more than adequate, especially in the passing game. Jaquan Johnson is a leader on defense who has practiced at both safety and nickel. Sheldrick Redwine has corner cover skills when he gets matched up with receivers. Both guys can make plays on the ball and neither is afraid to tackle.
Robert Knowles replaces Johnson with the 1s when Johnson goes to Nickel. His progress has been really encouraging and is a testament to him, Coach Banda and GA Mike Zuckerman. Knowles gets his hands on a lot of passes in centerfield and is not afraid to come downhill with urgency. Amari Carter hasn’t caught up to Knowles yet but is clearly talented. Think Jamal Carter with more intelligence and ball skills. Romeo Finley responded to the challenge of the two freshmen and stepped up his game in camp. His best attribute is getting downhill and using his closing speed. His weakness is pass coverage. Derrick Smith is all about upside. His coverage ability surprised me—at one of the practices I attended, he was able to flip his hips and run with Jeff Thomas. Once he sharpens his mental game, he will jump in with the other five.
CB- This position has been a pleasant surprise. I think we stack up with almost anybody. Dee Delaney is a ballhawk who plays with a ton of energy and physicality. For every pass he intercepts, he gets his hands on five others. Mike Jackson has stepped up. He always had great size and solid speed, but now he’s playing with confidence. In addition to his coverage, he has made a lot of plays as a blitzer. Rumph had a similar playing style and has done an excellent job molding him.
Malek Youngis a third starter. His patience stands out- he does not bite and will make the receiver work. Jhavontae Dean is the most talented cover guy on the team. He has all the tools- length, speed, transitions- to be a first round corner. Confidence is the key with him. The first week, he was covering Ahmmon Richards and looking like a starter. Once the physicality went up, he took a step back. Rumph and Diaz will be good for him, because they know his upside.
Trajan Bandy is fun to watch. He reminds me of Jaquan Johnson, his competitor at nickel, except he’s smaller and more explosive. Bandy put on an absolute show in the first practice with a pick 6 and a couple more huge plays. The best way to describe him is a finisher—if he gets beat, he has a unique ability to knock the ball out of the receiver’s hands before he secures the catch. I expect him to be one of Diaz’s favorite players, if he isn’t already.
Overall, I'm high on the talent. The coaches are proven. We have great leaders in Walton, McDermott, Shaq and Quan. It will come down to QB and staying healthy at OL.
Love this write up. Lots to like. If Cade Weldon went after that mountain of a human Jon Ford, I want him to be out starter somewhere down the line. I really hope this Patchan getting reps at TE is a just in case type scenario. Thanks for the rundown D$. Gonna be fun watching the youngsters play a bunch on Saturday.
Does anyone feel more comfortable about our cb group than our safety group at this point? I think the safeties will be solid I just think there is more talent in the cb group right now or the development is better