Reporters at ACC Media Days picked the Miami Hurricanes to win their first Coastal Division crown this season after finishing 9-4 in Mark Richt’s first season at the helm last year.
Here’s how we graded the team after fall camp by position:
Quarterback | C
Brad Kaaya’s early departure for the NFL clearly hurt UM. When Athlon Sports came out with its top-130 rankings for college football’s projected starting quarterbacks in the spring, redshirt junior Malik Rosier checked in at No. 82. Boston College’s Darius Wade (No. 105) and Wake Forest’s Kendall Hinton (No. 89) were the only quarterbacks in the ACC rated lower. If UM is going to win the Coastal Division, it’s going to need Rosier (one career start and 61 passes total in his career) to not be the reason the team slips. If he does struggle, highly touted freshman N’Kosi Perry or inexperienced redshirt sophomore Evan Shirreffs will be pressed into duty. That appears to be something neither is really ready for.
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Running back | B
Mark Walton and Louisville Heisman winning quarterback Lamar Jackson are the only players in the ACC who finished in the top 10 in rushing last season in the conference who are back in 2017. Walton isn’t the concern here. It’s his backups. Joe Yearby, who was UM’s second leading rusher last year, left for the NFL a year early and went undrafted, and Gus Edwards, the team’s third-leading rusher, left the program to play closer to home at Rutgers. There’s only four scholarship running backs on the roster, and sophomore Travis Homer is the only one who carried the ball last season. He did that seven times.
Wide receiver | A-
Ahmmon Richards, who set the freshman receiving record at UM, is a bonafide superstar in the making, and there’s some depth behind him with senior Braxton Berrios and speedy freshmen Mike Harley and Jeff Thomas. Still, beyond Richards and Berrios, there’s not a lot of playing experience on the roster. Junior Dayall Harris caught nine passes for 90 yards last season, redshirt sophomore Lawrence Cager missed all of last season with an injury, sophomore Dionte Mullins was on the practice squad, and redshirt junior Darrell Langham has spent three seasons on the practice squad. Somebody else beyond Richards needs to step up.
Tight ends | B-
First-round NFL Draft pick David Njoku is gone, but senior Chris Herndon is still around. He finished fourth on the team in catches (28), receiving yards (334) and touchdown grabs (two) last season. Miami, though, needs sophomore Michael Irvin II or someone else on the roster to step up their game and contribute.
Offensive line | B-
UM was set to bring back four starting linemen from a unit that was a little better than average in 2016, ranking in the top half among FBS programs in fewest sacks allowed (51st) and yards per carry (59th). Then, it was abruptly announced in the middle of fall camp center Nick Linder (25 career starts) was transferring. That left seniors Kc McDermott (21 career starts) and Trevor Darling (27 starts) and junior Tyree St. Louis (eight career starts) as the veteran returning experience. Junior Tyler Gauthier, who started the final four games of the 2016 season at left guard, is now the center. True freshman Navaughn Donaldson, a four-star recruit from Miami Central, is expected to be the starter at right guard. Depth beyond that, though, is thin and might become an issue.
Defensive line | A
It’s no surprise why ESPN ranked UM’s defensive line the fourth-best in the ACC in February. Miami ranked in the top 25 nationally last season in four different defensive categories: scoring defense ( No. 12/18.5), team sacks ( No. 22/2.85), tackles for loss ( No. 5/8.3) and total defense ( No. 20/345.5) and none of the three starters lost to graduation were in the front seven. The team’s 108 tackles for loss was the sixth-most in school history. Senior defensive ends Chad Thomas (4 1/2 sacks) and Trent Harris (three sacks) provide 38 games of combined starting experience between them. There’s plenty of depth behind them led by junior Demetrius Jackson (28 tackles, six tackles for loss, 2 1/2 sacks) and sophomore Joe Jackson (11 1/2 tackles for loss, 8 1/2 sacks). At defensive tackle, both starters return in juniors Kendrick Norton (39 tackles, 10 tackles for loss) and RJ McIntosh (47 tackles, 9 1/2 tackles for loss).
Linebackers | A
The idea of starting three freshmen last season seemed crazy, but Shaq Quarterman, Mike Pinckney and Zach McCloud lived up to their reputations as high school standouts. ESPN ranked Miami’s linebackers the second-best in the conference behind Virginia Tech in February, and now there appears to be more legitimate, talented depth behind them with the arrival of freshmen De’Andre Wilder, Bradley Jennings and Waynmon Steed, who were handpicked recruits by defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. There’s also experienced depth in front of them.
Defensive backs | B
Miami lost three talented starters to graduation, including a pair of draft picks in cornerback Corn Elder and safety Rayshawn Jenkins, but there’s some who believe there won’t be much of a drop-off in terms of production. Sophomore cornerback Malek Young (four starts) is back along with juniors Sheldrick Redwine (five starts) and Jaquan Johnson (five starts), who will be the starters at safety. UM also brought in early enrollee Amari Carter, high school All-American Trajan Bandy, JUCO transfer Jhavonte Dean and The Citadel transfer Dee Delaney, an FCS All-American last year. Delaney looks like he will start opposite of Young at corner.
Special teams | B+
ESPN tabbed the unit the fifth-best in the ACC in February. Senior kicker Michael Badgley was a big reason why. He was named to the All-ACC preseason first team after converting 21 of his 26 field-goal attempts last season, including 10 of 11 from 40 yards or more. Punter Justin Vogel, named to the All-ACC second team last season, must be replaced. Berrios provides a steady hand on punt returns. He returned one for a touchdown last season. He will have somebody new returning kicks alongside him, and it will likely be freshman DeeJay Dallas.
Coaching | A-
Diaz revamped the Hurricanes defense in one season and has now added quality depth with a strong recruiting class. Coach Mark Richt and the offense have the tougher job here with key starters and backups lost to graduation and early departures for the NFL. There’s just not a lot of depth or experience beyond receiver on offense, but Richt appears to be doing a good job filling holes in recruiting.