Miami Football: 3 Backups Critical to the Hurricanes' Success in 2014

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Miami Football: 3 Backups Critical to the Hurricanes' Success in 2014
Credit: 247Sports
Jermaine Grace

Three backups are critical to the Miami Hurricanes' success in 2014, and they are expected to produce in various ways.

While much of the focus has highlighted offensive efficiency, the defense is where the 'Canes must make the greatest strides for the quickly approaching campaign.

Recently, Miami has shown weaknesses at every level, but the backups are another year older and another year wiser—or at least they should be.

Each of the following players is entering his second season with the program, and the Hurricanes will rely on the young reserves every week.

 

Ufomba Kamalu, Defensive End

Credit: 247Sports
Ufomba Kamalu

Following one season adapting to the speed of the FBS level, Ufomba Kamalu is primed for a breakout year. In March, Kamalu told Susan Miller Degnan of the Miami Herald that he gained 10 pounds this offseason, bringing his 6'6" frame up to 285 pounds.

"I feel like when I got here last year, I was a little bit behind because I wasn't able to start camp with the guys," Kamalu said, per David Lake of 247Sports (subscription required). "I felt like I had to play catch-up to everything here when I first arrived, which can be tough. During the bowl practices, I got more confidence and started to play faster."

Lurking behind longtime starter Anthony Chickillo, the JUCO transfer will remain above highly touted freshman Chad Thomas for the foreseeable future. Al-Quadin Muhammad and Tyriq McCord were listed as co-starters on the post-spring depth chart, but the latter has basically exclusively been a speed-rusher.

In simpler terms, Kamalu will be a significant part of the rotation. Defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio should also look to utilize him as an inside rusher on third down, sending Kamalu out alongside Chickillo and two edge-rushers.

The defensive line was forgettable last season, but Kamalu could help form a respectable unit in the trenches.

 

Jermaine Grace, Outside Linebacker

A highly recruited yet undersized linebacker, Jermaine Grace tallied eight total tackles in 11 appearances as a freshman. However, his upcoming responsibilities will be magnified intensely and will be subject to much scrutiny.

Now a borderline starter, Grace has been forced into a duty for which he was already battling following the dismissal of Alex Figueroa. Grace, Raphael Kirby and Thurston Armbrister are the top three outside linebackers, and the trio will rarely leave the field.

Unless Darrion Owens explodes onto the scene during fall camp, any one of the three is now the first replacement, at worst. Currently, the sophomore is the odd man out of a starting position, and he is an essential cog in the Hurricanes' defensive machine, which must be upgraded.

"[Grace] 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," D'Onofrio said, per Lake (subscription required). "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."

Miami needs Grace to use those skills each outing, as the 'Canes are in even more trouble without him.

 

Artie Burns, Cornerback

Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Cornerback is one of the most difficult positions for a young collegian to dominate in his first season, let alone earn a notable spot. But as a sophomore, speedster Artie Burns will move into a larger role.

Though Miami returns both starters in Tracy Howard and Ladarius Gunter, Burns made an impression early this year. After earning a black jersey for practice, the sophomore snagged an interception during the spring game.

If Johnson and Coley do not return kicks, is Burns the next-best option?

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Antonio Crawford will likely be the nickelback, leaving Burns in the rotation on the outside in preparation for when he becomes a full-time starter in 2015.

Additionally, he is a leading candidate for kick return duties, especially if Duke Johnson and Stacy Coley are not back deep. Last year, Burns averaged 26.1 yards over 10 returns, including a 43-yarder against Virginia Tech.

Yes, he fumbled at the end of that kick, but Burns showed his value with the football. Paired with record-breaking speed, he's certainly worthy of the position—one that has the potential to make Burns a game-changer for the 'Canes.

 

Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.

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