The Miami Hurricanes are entering the final week of spring workouts, culminating in the annual spring game at Sun Life Stadium.
But as the 'Canes approach the landmark, a few unanswered questions linger over the team. One major recent incident was prospective starting quarterback Ryan Williams tore his ACL, leaving Miami under the control of a young gunslinger.
Additionally, the defense has been preaching improvement, but how high are the expectations for the Hurricanes' more veteran-infused unit next season? Looking specifically at one key fundamental of football and one position helps, but the questions still remain.
Following two midweek practice sessions, the spring game will be held on Saturday, April 12 at 6 p.m. ET.
Can the Defense Tackle?
At the beginning of the 2013 campaign, the Miami defense was, to paraphrase an oft-used expression by head coach Al Golden, flying around and making plays. But as the season wore on, the 'Canes reverted to poor decisions, bad reads and, most importantly, missed tackles.
Simply put, the defensive linemen need to shed blocks and disrupt the intended flow of a given play. Then, the linebackers can close in on the ball-carrier while the secondary moves in to eliminate any potential hole.
Earlier this spring, Matt Porter of The Palm Beach Post wrote Golden said:
"We've got to tackle better. We've got to read our keys better so the windows aren't as big. There's a lot of things that we've obviously studied that we've got to fix here this spring, but our tackling already is better than it was in the fall."
Coach-speak? Or truth?
Well, at least 10 players have donned a black jersey this spring, denoting Golden's and defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio's collective praise for the respective 'Cane. But Miami needs to have physical improvement from the team leaders—not just vocal and motivational progress.
Have the Defensive Tackles Improved?
Is this just another rag on the defensive tackles? No, not quite.
The Hurricanes have played much of spring without their best interior lineman, Olsen Pierre. The senior has been sidelined due to an unspecific head injury, missing the majority of practices and both scrimmages to date.
According to Porter, Ufomba Kamalu and Anthony Chickillo are expected to play inside on third down when the Miami defense utilizes a 4-3 formation. However, personnel on first- and second-down situations in the 3-4 are somewhat unknown.
A handful of reserves have been given valuable reps in Pierre's absence, but is the current progression of the 'Canes' D-tackles sufficient?
Per Susan Miller Degnan of the Miami Herald, D'Onofrio said "Earl [Moore] has been steady. He has gotten better. Probably the last three or four practices have been really consistent for him. The light went on."
Moore earned a black jersey following the second scrimmage, though it's worth nothing he has appeared in 23 career games and tallied just six career tackles. Behind Moore, JUCO transfer Calvin Heurtelou and junior Corey King are chasing the emerging lineman down.
So, after a few months in the weight room and then spring practice sans Pierre, have the D-tackles improved? While the spring game will not showcase linemen in midseason form, Miami followers are expecting some improvement from the position since the end of 2013.
Is Kevin Olsen Ready to Lead?
Williams' unfortunate injury means the Hurricanes offense is dependent on redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen.
Consequent to Williams' absence, Gray Crow is ultimately the only competitor for the starting quarterback job. In 2013, Crow completed six of eight passes for 75 yards, one touchdown and one interception during two appearances.
Brad Kaaya and Malik Rosier will arrive on campus this summer, but asking either freshman to mentally grasp the entire playbook and properly execute the calls by September is unrealistic.
Yes, Garrison Lassiter, Michael Welch and Isaac Hoza are on the roster, but many have probably not even heard of Lassiter, let alone Welch and Hoza. Save for the trio never seeing the field, there are no logical expectations for any of those players.
Granted, though Olsen has zero game experience, he will be surrounded by Duke Johnson, Stacy Coley, Joseph Yearby and other talented playmakers. The freshman will not be asked to be a hero under center, but he still needs to learn how to become an efficient distributor—like Williams had been this spring.
Christy Cabrera Chirinos of the South Florida Sun Sentinel noted Golden has been looking for Olsen to become more of a leader.
And unless Williams has a swift recovery period or the ACL tear is somehow not that extreme, it's Olsen's team now.
Ready or not, here he comes.