One year ago, the Miami Hurricanes began fall camp with all eyes on the quarterbacks, a position so unstable that two true freshmen and a newly arrived transfer battled for the job.
Thursday morning, when fall camp opens for the 2015 installment of Hurricanes football, the quarterback is the only position 100-percent secure.
Not a bad place to start.
“I really look forward to it because everyone else looks forward to it,’’ ACC Rookie of the Year quarterback Brad Kaaya told the Miami Herald. “Here, camp, the way it used to be looked at was, ‘Camp is starting and this is about to be a grind, this is about to be hell week. It’s going to be rough. You’re going to have no fun. You’re going to be here all day.’
“Whereas now, everyone I see in the facility, everyone on the team, is saying, ‘I can’t wait for camp. I can’t wait to get after it.’
“The intensity and eagerness I see is making me even more excited for camp to start.”
It’s the young men surrounding sophomore Kaaya that have presented the biggest quandary for coach Al Golden, about to begin his fifth season in Coral Gables.
How do you replace first-round NFL Draft pick Ereck Flowers at left tackle? How do you replace first-round receiver Phillip Dorsett, third-round tight end Clive Walford, third-round running back and all-time UM rusher Duke Johnson? Who replaces fourth-round offensive guard Jon Feliciano and his center, Shane McDermott, now fighting for a spot on the Dallas Cowboys’ roster?
Not to mention Butkus Award finalist and second-round linebacker Denzel Perryman.
“I think you make up for it the way we did,” offensive coordinator James Coley said. “We recruited. Obviously those guys were talented, and they’re going to have big-time futures in the NFL. Just like you recruited Brad Kaaya, you go out and recruit [tackles] Trevor Darling and Kc McDermott. You didn’t expect them to play so early, but they did.
“You go out and recruit your [running backs] Joe Yearby, Gus Edwards and Mark Walton. At tight end you sign David Njoku and Chris Herndon and Standish Dobard.
“That’s how you replace them.’’
The Hurricanes can only hope.
Darling, McDermott and Yearby all played last year, though McDermott’s season was cut short in late September when he tore the medial collateral ligament of his left knee and had subsequent surgery. Right tackle Taylor Gadbois was dismissed from the team in the offseason.
Starting right guard Danny Isidora is back, as well as projected center Nick Linder, who started four games, but was banged up and hurting near the end of the season.
Walton is the newest tailback standout from Miami Booker T. Washington, battling junior Edwards, sophomore Trayone Gray and sophomore Yearby, who was suspended for the spring game for violating an undisclosed rule and missed much of July’s workouts with a personal issue.
“There are no issues with Joe,” Kaaya said, adding that Yearby “was back” by late July “in seven-on-sevens making plays and scoring touchdowns. He looks bigger and faster.”
2014 Mackey Award finalist Walford’s heir apparent is junior Dobard, who has started three games in his career, with seven catches for 147 yards — and one costly fumble in the third quarter of last year’s FSU game.
Replacing leading receiver Dorsett will be a challenge that the Canes hope is met by an array of talent, including Rashawn Scott, back after sitting out 2014 with a clavicle injury; and Stacy Coley, who went through a sophomore slump following a breakout freshman year.
Compact sophomore slot receiver Braxton Berrios, another year removed from an ACL tear, looks bigger than ever and said recently on 560 WQAM radio that he was timed in the 40 in “4.41 and 4.43.”
Defensively, the Canes have bolstered their depth on the defensive line with the return of rush end Al-Quadin Muhammad after suspension, but have yet to prove they can disrupt quarterbacks. And while Jermaine Grace has shown he can dominate from the weak side, senior Raphael Kirby (54 tackles last season) moves into the middle to replace a national star in Perryman (110).
The defensive backs are led by senior safety Deon Bush, but will he stay healthy? Newcomer Jaquan Johnson has impressed in the offseason. At cornerback, it’s now or never for senior Tracy Howard, who came in as a five-star recruit and has plenty of motivation to surge.
Fall camp is closed to the public, with the media limited to the first 15 minutes of viewing.