Miami Football: 5 Things We Learned About the Hurricanes This Spring
The Miami Hurricanes are continuing their rebuilding phase and progressing toward becoming a perennial conference contender, and spring practice was the first step of the 2014 project.
Miami wrapped up the session in mid-April, but a few things were learned about the team on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
Moving forward, head coach Al Golden and his coaching staff will be addressing various issues while still attempting to refine positive signs.
The 'Canes are far from consideration as an elite team, but they definitely showcased a few of the latter signs over the six-week period.
Ryan Williams Injury Leaves Biggest Question
Senior quarterback Ryan Williams suffered a torn ACL during the second scrimmage, which will leave the Miami offense under the guidance of freshman Kevin Olsen or sophomore Gray Crow.
While both players showed a few flashes under center, neither Olsen nor Crow executed well throughout the spring game. Granted, the underwhelming efficiency was undoubtedly a product of Olsen serving as the second-stringer and Crow taking such limited reps in practices.
Brad Kaaya and Malik Rosier, a pair of 2014 signees, arrive in mid-May and will compete for the starting job. Per Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post, offensive coordinator James Coley said "the best quarterback will win, regardless of age."
With that being said, Kaaya's eventual impact will likely not be obvious until the 2015 campaign. Learning the playbook, building rapport and establishing rhythm with receivers is not an overnight process, which is why Olsen has a major advantage over his fellow quarterbacks.
The redshirt freshman certainly improved, but his ceiling is much, much higher than his performance a few weeks back. It's not a slight on Olsen, he's simply a young player who would have benefited from chasing a senior instead of being the one pursued.
Running Backs Are Extremely Talented
Duke Johnson is a proven superstar, and 4-star recruit Joseph Yearby was an elite back in high school, which Miami hopes will translate to the collegiate level.
But those two backs observed the majority of spring ball from the sideline, so sophomores Gus Edwards and Walter Tucker took center stage.
Edwards, who showed a more physical running style, was visibly improved in many areas of his game.
Per David Lake of 247Sports (subscription required), Edwards said, "I am not making nearly as many errors right now. I know my pass blocking assignment and I know the playbook very well compared to last year. I am just more comfortable out here."
Behind him, Tucker made the most of his reps, using his track speed to accelerate through running lanes. He will replace fullback Maurice Hagens, paving the way for the talented tailbacks.
Linebacker Depth Is a Great Sign
Because Jimmy Gaines and Tyrone Cornelius ran out of eligibility after last season, Denzel Perryman and Thurston Armbrister were the only returning linebackers with significant experience.
Raphael Kirby, Alex Figueroa and Jermaine Grace have played limited meaningful reps, while Tyriq McCord was utilized more as an edge-rusher than true linebacker.
During the spring, though, Perryman, Kirby, Figueroa, Armbrister and Grace were each awarded a black jersey at one point. Behind the quintet, early enrollees Juwon Young and Darrion Owens both made an impression on the coaches, and sophomore JaWand Blue entered the mix as well.
Five months removed from the unit being one of the biggest concerns for the 2014 season, Miami fans can breathe a little easier when thinking about the linebackers.
Safety Is a True Two-Deep Position
Playing behind Rayshawn Jenkins and an oft-injured Deon Bush last season, the duo of A.J. Highsmith and Kacy Rodgers II left much to be desired.
Jenkins was one of the Hurricanes' bright spots in 2013, tallying 46 tackles, three interceptions and eight pass defenses. But he missed the spring session, and Miami needed defensive backs to emerge.
However, its demands were answered with Bush playing at full strength, Jamal Carter stepping up and Dallas Crawford showing leadership.
Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald notes Golden was pleased with the improved safety play, saying Bush "regained his freshman form." The junior safety said Carter "has been great," and defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio called Crawford's transition from running back to safety "remarkable," lauding his "tremendous instincts."
Jenkins and Crawford will battle for one safety position, while Carter and Bush will compete for the other. And after seeing that projected two-deep, the Hurricanes will easily be more comfortable with the safeties in 2014.
Made It Through Without Serious Injuries
Save for Williams, of course, Miami made it through March and April without suffering serious injuries.
Jenkins, center Shane McDermott, wide receiver Braxton Berrios and cornerback Ladarius Gunter were held out during the entirety of the spring, but no one else joined the list.
Among others, Clive Walford, Herb Waters, Malcolm Lewis and Olsen Pierre each returned from various ailments and were full participants by the spring game. Additionally, Johnson and Yearby eventually worked out in an extremely limited contact environment, but their respective returns were outstanding, positive signs for the 'Canes offense.
While Pierre (head) and Figueroa (shoulder) were both monitored closely, Miami had nothing significant to report as the spring concluded—and that's a great thing. When the 2014 class arrives in a few weeks, the competitions at every position will not be inhibited by any injuries.
Whoever wins the job, wins the job. Is it September yet?