Miami Football: Projecting Who Will Win Hurricanes' Open Starting Positions
Before the regular season begins at Louisville, the Miami Hurricanes must fill a combined nine open starting spots on offense, defense and special teams.
From a quarterback to a pair of linebackers to the punter, a few 'Canes are favored to become new No. 1s. The competition level is increasing at nearly every position on the roster, which is a clear improvement over recent years.
So in 2014, both upperclassmen and underclassmen are challenging each other for the available roles throughout the summer and will continue in fall camp.
But eventually, someone has to earn the starting responsibilities. Who comes out on top?
Two-year starter Stephen Morris has moved on to the NFL, positioning Ryan Williams, Kevin Olsen and Brad Kaaya as the leading candidates to replace him.
Williams, of course, is currently rehabbing after knee surgery, so Olsen and Kaaya are the best options at this time.
Olsen struggled during the spring game, but had been taking second-string reps for the majority of March and April.
David Lake of 247Sports.com (subscription required) notes that Kaaya's teammates—including Phillip Dorsett and Tracy Howard—are already impressed with the young gunslinger.
But once Williams returns and is fit to play, Al Golden will give his senior a fair opportunity at the No. 1 role. There are two stipulations, though: If Williams does not come back until the middle of the season or later, or if Olsen/Kaaya has a phenomenal start, the senior will only see limited action for the third straight year.
Fall camp will provide a much better look at the competition, but Olsen will be given the early nod.
Stacy Coley will start at one wide receiver spot, and Rashawn Scott will serve as the sophomore’s backup.
On the other side, however, the Hurricanes must replace school-record-setter Allen Hurns. Dorsett, Herb Waters and Malcolm Lewis are engaged in a battle that will continue until the final days before the season opener.
Dorsett led the unit in 2012, but a knee injury shortened his 2013 campaign. Waters was the fourth-leading receiver last year, which is about what should be expected of him this year, too.
Lewis has played in just a handful of games since arriving on campus, having been sidelined by both a terrible ankle injury and recovery from groin surgery. Prior to the spring game, Manny Navarro of The Miami Herald noted that Coley said, "It's great to see him have his mojo again."
The senior Dorsett will essentially retain his past duties, but Lewis and Waters will provide excellent targets for Olsen/Kaaya/Williams in the slot.
One of the least glamorous roles on the team, the Hurricanes are moving forward without 42-game starter Brandon Linder. Fortunately, the replacement has been waiting patiently for his opportunity and took advantage during spring practice.
Danny Isidora sported an orange jersey, denoting his leadership on the offense.
According to Christopher Stock of 247Sports (subscription required), fellow lineman Sunny Odogwu commented on the redshirt sophomore:
He's very loud, vocal. He's always laughing and telling stories. He's a really good guy, really energetic on the field. He's a good athlete. What I've seen from is basically is how in-shape he's in. He's a really good-conditioned athlete. That's what you have to be at this level.
If the spring was any indicator, expect Alex Gall to slide into Jared Wheeler's do-everything role, and watch for Trevor Darling in garbage-time situations.
Barring injury, however, Isidora is the team's right guard for 2014.
The void left by Seantrel Henderson is not as enormous as once anticipated, but experience on the offensive line is still important.
Redshirt sophomore Taylor Gadbois does not meet that criterion, considering he has only appeared in four career games. After a noteworthy spring performance, however, he pulled away from his freshman challengers.
As Lake stated (subscription required), "Gadbois has all but locked down the starting right tackle job going into the 2014 season due to his own stellar play and the lack of a true challenger."
While Sunny Odogwu is listed as Gadbois' immediate backup on the post-spring practice depth chart, KC McDermott will contend for reps, too. The younger McDermott is the only tackle who could possibly overtake Gadbois, but that is unlikely to occur.
Defensive end Shayon Green was the most important contributor on the defensive line over the previous two seasons, but he is no longer eligible. So, where does Miami turn after losing a key player?
Al-Quadin Muhammad, that's where. His true freshman season was not amazing by any stretch of the imagination. In 13 appearances, he tallied eight total tackles and his two sacks came against FCS Savannah State.
As shared by Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post, he certainly was fun to track throughout the spring.
Tyriq McCord is simply a speed rusher, and Muhammad is easily more prepared than Trent Harris. Chad Thomas may slide in behind the sophomore, but the young end needs to improve his overall skills before he earns a starting job.
Muhammad, on the other hand, has clearly improved since the end of the 2013 campaign and is on track to become a three-year starter.
Note: If defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio is not set on keeping Ufomba Kamalu on the opposite side, he may overtake Anthony Chickillo while Muhammad starts as well.
Now that Curtis Porter and Luther Robinson have graduated, one defensive tackle spot has been vacated.
Olsen Pierre is returning for one position, so Earl Moore and Calvin Heurtelou are the main contenders for the other. Additionally, Corey King and Jelani Hamilton will be heavily involved in the competition.
The duo will ultimately fall short of top roles, though that doesn't mean they will not play in 2014.
Anyway, Moore earned a black jersey during spring practice. According to Lake (subscription required), D'Onofrio noticed that "the light went on" and the junior is "locking in and doing his job."
Lake reported (subscription required) that D'Onofrio recognized Heurtelou's progress, saying, "He has come in and worked really hard."
Neither player being named the starter would be surprising, but Moore's three years in the program compared to Heurtelou's six months will give him the necessary boost.
Denzel Perryman is moving inside to replace Jimmy Gaines, leaving a pair of outside linebacker spots open after Tyrone Cornelius ran out of eligibility.
Both Alex Figueroa and Thurston Armbrister have some starting experience, but Armbrister has significantly more than Figs. Entering his fourth season for the 'Canes, Armbrister has appeared in 25 games (10 starts).
Figueroa has only played in nine contests at Miami, yet he has proved himself to be the favorite at the position.
As long as the sophomore can avoid succumbing to a nagging shoulder injury, Figueroa's energy and focus will force the coaches' collective hands.
As mentioned on the previous slide, Perryman's switch and Cornelius’ departure opened this job.
Raphael Kirby had been backing up Gaines, but the coaches moved him outside to better use his speed to cut off running backs around the corner.
Following a true freshman season primarily utilized as a special teamer, Jermaine Grace impressed head coach Al Golden in spring ball.
Lake shared (subscription required) some comments Golden made about Grace:
He is a guy that will be hard to not want on the field on first and second down because of his instincts and playmaking ability. He has a knack for finding the football. He is a good blitzer, he is good in pass coverage, and he has good instincts against the run.
When Miami takes the field against Louisville, Kirby will be the starter. But as the season progresses, Grace will move into the starting lineup at some point.
Replacing a player who obliterated a school record is never easy. When that player is a punter, it becomes nearly impossible.
While the Hurricanes will not find Pat O'Donnell 2.0 in Matt Goudis, Ricky Carroll or Justin Vogel, Miami has viable options from which to choose.
Interestingly, according to Athlon Sports, Goudis said he prefers not to punt. With that being said, his personal preference may only matter so much, and it could impact absolutely nothing.
Even as a senior, Carroll is a relatively unknown commodity. The only recent kicking we've seen from Florida transfer Vogel is via padless punts on YouTube, but he will push Goudis for the punting responsibilities.
As it stands, though, it's Goudis' job to lose.