Stephen Morris is primed for a special senior season after a stellar 2012 in which he completed 58 percent of his passes for 3,345 yards, 21 touchdowns and seven interceptions while setting a school record for total offense in a season (3,415 yards) and an ACC-record 566 yards in a last-second win over N.C. State. He’s not the concern. It’s what happens if he goes down. Ryan Williams (15-20, 137 yards, 1 TD in 2012) has always looked a bit slow-footed in the pocket and it appears the future — true freshman Kevin Olsen — is going to need some time to develop.
RUNNING BACKS: B
Just like quarterback, the concern here is not the No. 1 guy Duke Johnson. The reigning ACC Freshman of the Year figures to improve upon a 2012 season in which he amassed 2,060 all-purpose yards and scored 13 touchdowns in 12 games. The question: Will he get much in the way of help? Senior Eduardo Clements (16 carries, 70 yards, 2 TDs in 2012) is coming back from a neck injury and sophomore Dallas Crawford had eight touches all of last season. Freshman Gus Edwards (6-2, 225) is a big bruiser but might not be ready to help just yet.
RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS: A
Maybe the best collection of pass-catchers the Hurricanes have had in a decade. Dorsett, who hauled in 58 passes for 842 yards and 4 TDs to lead the team last season, is the team’s deep burner with 4.29 speed. Scott, who dealt with some maturity issues and suspensions last season, finished second with 35 catches for 512 yards and three scores. Although UM’s tight ends finished short of their 50-catch goal in 2012, but bring back Clive Walford and welcome highly-touted JUCO transfer Beau Sandland to the mix. Freshman receiver Stacy Coley could be special.
OFFENSIVE LINE: A
The entire starting offensive line returns — including sophomore tackle Ereck Flowers, who started four games and saw plenty of action. UM coach Al Golden said he would like the team’s depth to be better. The team lost redshirt freshman Danny Isidora and sophomore Hunter Wells to injuries in camp. But the starting five plus Flowers could be special. Look for redshirt freshman Taylor Gadbois and true freshman Alex Gall to see some snaps in reserve roles.
DEFENSIVE LINE: C
The Hurricanes have added size and depth along its most troublesome unit from a year ago. How much quality has been added remains to be seen. Junior Anthony Chickillo (6-4, 275) led the team with four sacks last season, and UM’s other starting end senior Shayon Green led the team with 67 tackles, but just two behind the line of scrimmage. A healthy Curtis Porter at defensive tackle should help Miami’s run defense (112th out of 120 FBS programs in 2012). But there is still a long way to go, especially with the pass rush (UM had a total of 13 sacks in 2012).
Bad gap assignment work led to UM having one of the worst run defenses in the country last season as opponents often ripped off long runs. With the loss of two of the team’s top four tacklers (Gionni Paul and Eddie Johnson were let go this offseason), one might imagine the unit would take a step back. But the arrival of talented freshman Alex Figueroa and the return of weakside linebacker Denzel Perryman and middle linebacker Jimmy Gaines provides hope. Depth ultimately is the biggest concern. Converted safety Thurston Armbrister, now bigger at 6-3, 233 pounds, and sophomore Raphael Kirby (6-0, 235) are the first two players off the bench.
The Hurricanes believe they have a solid trio at cornerback with junior Ladarius Gunter (27 tackles, 6 PBUs in 2012) and sophomores Tracy Howard (17 tackles, 4 PBU) and Antonio Crawford (7 tackles). Sophomores Deon Bush, returning from sports hernia surgery, and Rayshawn Jenkins (27 tackles, 1 INT, 3 PBU) are the future at safety and should eventually be on the field a lot together. If all five live up to expectations, UM should improve upon its pass defense ranking of a year ago (102nd out of 120 FBS schools).
SPECIAL TEAMS: A
Punter Dalton Botts and kicker Jake Wieclaw are gone, but they aren’t being replaced by rookies. Graduate transfer Pat O’Donnell takes over at punter after earning second-team All-Big East honors at Cincinnati a year ago with a 42.9 average. Sophomore Matt Goudis played in three games last year and was impressive in UM’s first fall scrimmage, converting on all three field-goal attempts of 45 yards or longer. Duke Johnson and Phillip Dorsett were excellent return men last season and will once again share those duties.
Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch put in a productive two seasons before leaving for the Jacksonville Jaguars and taking running backs coach Terry Richardson Miami native and former FSU assistant James Coley comes over to call the plays after learning under Jimbo Fisher at LSU and at FSU. Defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio and his staff return intact, but have a lot to improve on in their third season together. When it comes to recruiting, the staff has done an excellent job despite having the cloud of an NCAA investigation over its head for three years.