5 Things We've Learned About Miami Through Fall Camp so Far
The Miami Hurricanes' fall camp is well underway, and news continuously emerges from the Greentree Practice Fields.
Seven days of practices have provided insight into a necessary schematic change, a position settling down, updates on the quarterback competition and more.
Before the opening scrimmage of the fall, these are the biggest things we have learned through the opening sessions in South Florida.
Offensive Line Depth Filling Out
Returning starters Ereck Flowers, Jon Feliciano and Shane McDermott lead a powerful offensive line, and the Hurricanes will need consistent blocking in their run-first, "tempro" offense.
Golden has continually preached a desire to have a deep offensive line rotation, which is where Trevor Darling, Taylor Gadbois, Hunter Wells and Alex Gall are so important. According to Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post, Golden is encouraged by his reserves.
Those guys are starting to make me stop talking about 7, 8, 9, 10. They're getting going pretty good. Trevor, Taylor, Hunter Wells had an excellent day today, Alex Gall. We've got a long way to go, but those guys are getting me fired up for the way they're approaching it and working and how smart they are.
Kc McDermott and Danny Isidora round out what was the initial five-man unit, completing a solid group that will anchor the Miami attack.
Duke Johnson Catching More Passes
Christy Cabrera Chirinos of the South Florida Sun Sentinel notes Duke Johnson is getting "lots of throws ... out of the backfield. More than usual, it seems."
At first glance, it seems relatively intuitive that a team should be finding its running back that way. Plus, two years ago, Duke and Mike James racked up 63 receptions.
However, during his seven appearances as a sophomore, Duke tallied just four catches. Compared to 27 as a true freshman, Miami essentially abandoned what helped make Johnson so dynamic.
Offensive coordinator James Coley appears determined to find his elite playmaker in a way they barely utilized in 2013, and that is certainly encouraging.
Cornerbacks Confident, Experienced
Highlighted by junior Tracy Howard, the Miami cornerbacks are an experienced unit, which has led the players to an increased belief in themselves.
"You just have to listen [to the coaches] and put your ego to the side sometimes and take pride in the defense," Howard said, per Chirinos. "I can have a great year this year. Every year, it gets better and better. Especially with the maturity and experience, the sky is the limit."
"I feel more confident at this level now that I have played for two years," junior Antonio Crawford said, according to David Lake of 247Sports (subscription required). "I try to execute what the coaches call and I am in better shape, so that helps me finish on plays rather than be tired."
Between Howard, Crawford and senior Ladarius Gunter, the trio has amassed 32 starts, 164 tackles, 20 pass breakups and nine interceptions since 2012. And with sophomores Artie Burns and Corn Elder joining the mix, the current unit is the best Miami has fielded in recent memory.
Brad Kaaya Continues to Excite
After an impressive opening to fall camp, senior tight end Beau Sandland raved about true freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya, per Porter.
"He has great vision downfield and in the short game," Sandland said. "He doesn't try to force things. I think he's OK with taking the checkdown and not always going to the bomb. I think everyone's been really impressed with Brad."
And from fourth-year head coach Al Golden, per Susan Miller Degnan of The Miami Herald:
Q: With Brad, is there anything he shows you that makes you think he couldn't handle [himself] at Louisville?
A: Zero. Zero percent. Poise, maturity, confidence, self-assured. And you know, a guy that turned a program around in his league and won a whole bunch in a row. Good leader right now, finding the reads he needs to find. Doing what he needs to do. Good start for him.
The upcoming closed-door scrimmage has been Golden's deadline for cutting the competition from four to two, and Kaaya seems favored to survive alongside Jake Heaps. According to Porter, Golden said he will release a depth chart that will ultimately show the pair of contenders for the starting position.
And if Kaaya earns a spot in the final two as tentatively expected, the quarterback battle will be even more fascinating as the season-opener approaches.
True Freshmen Earning Roles, Not Given out of Need
Some players like Duke, Anthony Chickillo and Deon Bush exploded onto the scene immediately, but other 'Canes would have benefited from a redshirt season.
From Chirinos: "More than once, Al Golden has conceded the point. During his first three years at Miami, several players have been pressed into action before he thought they may have been fully ready to compete in big-time college football."
But now, the once-thin Miami roster has finally reached the point where Golden is comfortable plugging in true freshmen only when they deserve it. Kaaya, Kc McDermott, Trevor Darling, Chad Thomas, Trent Harris and Darrion Owens have each made their presence felt.
McDermott jumped Taylor Gadbois on the depth chart at the beginning of fall camp. When McDermott was unavailable for one session, Darling stepped into his role.
Additionally, Golden believes Thomas is already more than a third-down specialist, per Porter, and both Harris and Owens have sported black jerseys for the majority of camp.
Depth-wise, the Hurricanes are finally making important strides in building a complete team from seniors to freshmen.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.