The Miami Hurricanes concluded the 2014 spring session with a offense vs. defense scrimmage at Sun Life Stadium, and head coach Al Golden certainly left with a few concerns.
On one hand, the defense has shown improvement once again, but it can be difficult to accurately gauge the unit's progression, which is a result of quarterback struggles.
With inexperienced youth under center, the playmakers are forced into a larger role than once expected, which also places more pressure on the offensive line.
Though being critical of one spot can ultimately result in a slippery slope, the 'Canes have numerous areas that demand extra attention from the coaches over the summer.
After Ryan Williams tore his ACL, redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen and redshirt sophomore Gray Crow were thrown under the microscope.
Combined, the young quarterbacks completed 16 of 41 passes for 128 yards, zero touchdowns and two interceptions during the 11-on-11 portion of the scrimmage. After seeing the rough performance, offensive coordinator and QB coach James Coley must develop Olsen or Crow into a serviceable starter before the opener at Louisville.
However, I won't belabor the point here. Following the spring game, the concern at the quarterback position was discussed in more detail.
Williams returning quickly from his injury is a wild card worth remembering, but the senior will likely not be ready until the middle of the year, so it's up to Olsen and Crow now.
Additionally, temper expectations about Brad Kaaya earning the starting job. While not impossible, it is extremely difficult for a non-early enrollee true freshman to be the No. 1 by the season opener.
Skill Positions Stepping Up
Consequent to the struggles of Olsen and Crow, Miami needs Duke Johnson and Stacy Coley to play up to their lofty talent levels. The Hurricanes are expecting the terrific running back and wide receiver to break huge runs and stretch the defense, opening up each other for huge gains.
The duo is not alone, of course, with early enrollee Joe Yearby and an upgraded version of Gus Edwards occupying complementary roles to Duke.
On the outside, Phillip Dorsett and Herb Waters have game-breaking speed, Rashawn Scott is a superb possession receiver and Malcolm Lewis is regaining pre-injury form.
Throw in Clive Walford, who had the second-most receptions last year, and the Miami offense has plenty of talent to guide its young signal-caller.
Golden needs the skill-position players to create open passing lanes and simplify reads for Olsen and Crow, because not every quarterback is capable of consistently throwing a receiver open. And sometimes, like Duke against Wake Forest and Dallas Crawford at North Carolina last year, the running game must carry the team.
Offensive Line Becoming a Top Unit
For the playmakers to step up, Olsen or Crow—as part of the learning curve—will need extra time to make the proper decision. Plus, the running backs are completely reliant on the run-blocking ability of the men in the trenches.
A great offense starts with a great offensive line, which is what Golden needs Ereck Flowers, Jon Feliciano, Shane McDermott, Danny Isidora and Taylor Gadbois (or Kc McDermott) to be.
Between Gus Edwards and Walter Tucker, Miami rushed for 106 yards on 30 carries (3.5 yards per attempt). Plus, Jelani Hamilton and Ufomba Kamalu both tipped a pass at the line of scrimmage, and seven defensive players earned a tackle for loss.
It was far from an embarrassing performance, but it wasn't a great one, either.
The elder McDermott, Shane, being unavailable for the last couple months while he recovers from surgery on his left foot definitely impacted the unit. According to Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post, McDermott suffered the injury against Florida and it did not properly heal.
Though sophomore Alex Gall had never played center, he temporarily replaced the senior. Per David Lake of 247Sports, Golden said, "Alex gives us versatility. He is intelligent and strong. … We are working him at center right now and he has done a good job."
Gall takes over Jared Wheeler's role as reserve utilityman, capable of playing all three inside positions. Consequently, Miami will once again boast sufficient depth on the line, but the 'Canes—who only surrendered 17 sacks last year—must be even better in 2014.
Exactly How Good is the Defense?
The Hurricanes defense had a fantastic scrimmage, tallying three interceptions during the 9-on-9 and 11-on-11 sessions. Crawford, Tracy Howard and Juwon Young each picked off a pass, and five more were broken up in 11-on-11.
As mentioned earlier, seven different players made a stop in the backfield, including Kamalu and Anthony Chickillo making one sack each. Overall, the defense's collective spring game performance was encouraging, but poor quarterback play was an undeniable factor.
Fortunately, save for Jameis Winston, the Hurricanes will not face elite gunslingers during the upcoming season. However, Miami has a recent tendency of making mediocre quarterbacks appear above average.
Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald notes Golden said improvement by the linebackers and safeties were among the most notable positives from spring ball. Of course, the 'Canes were a much-improved defense after a few games last season before relapsing into 2012 form—or better known as awful.
Golden can ill afford to have the same ol' song and dance in 2014, lest Miami be entirely dependent on its offense. And currently, that's not a pleasant thought.