QUARTERBACK | A+
Most NFL mock drafts have junior Brad Kaaya going within the first 10 picks of next year’s draft and as the second quarterback taken overall behind Clemson’s Deshaun Watson. That’s elite-level talent. His backups aren’t anywhere near that level, but there are enough bodies capable of keeping the Canes from totally sinking if Kaaya goes down. Kaaya, by the way, needs to pass for 3,130 yards to eclipse Ken Dorsey as the school’s all-time passing leader. If he ends up going in the first round, Kaaya will join Jim Kelly (1983) and Vinny Testaverde (1987) as the only other Hurricanes to do it.
RUNNING BACK | B+
Coach Mark Richt said the Hurricanes will run the ball this season and stop the run. Miami’s running game ranked 117th last season without Duke Johnson, and that’s including the 1,002-yard effort provided by junior Joseph Yearby (5-9, 200 pounds). There’s more depth now, though, with Gus Edwards (6-1, 230) healthy and freshman Travis Homer (5-11, 200) around to providing some explosiveness. There’s no Doak Walker candidate among the bunch, but sophomore Mark Walton (5-9, 205) could be if he improves on last year’s 3.5 yards-per-carry average. Edwards should help the Canes improve their lack of short-yardage success.
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RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS | B+
Two of Kaaya’s top targets from last season graduated, and Richt hasn’t hid the fact that depth and experience is a concern with only seven healthy scholarship receivers (seniors Stacy Coley and Malcolm Lewis, junior Braxton Berrios, redshirt sophomores Dayall Harris and Darrell Langham, and freshmen Ahmmon Richards, Sam Bruce and Dionte Mullins) on the roster. But there’s talent there and at tight end. CBSSports.com rates Coley (6-1, 195) as the fifth-best senior receiver in the country, and redshirt sophomore David Njoku (6-3, 245) is an athletic freak.
OFFENSIVE LINE | B+
The Hurricanes rank fourth in the ACC and 25th nationally among offensive lines with the most returning career starts (85). Left tackle Trevon Darling (18 career), left guard KC McDermott (7), center Nick Linder (18), right guard Danny Isidora (26) and right tackle Sunny Odogwu (9) and have consistently run as first teamers throughout camp so that chemistry has only continued to build. But improvement in run blocking is needed. While the Hurricanes only surrendered 19 sacks last season (34th fewest) and allowed the eight fewest tackles for loss (57), the team’s 3.68 yards per carry average ranked 112th. Depth is also a concern with senior Alex Gall the only other player on the offensive lineman on the roster with starting experience.
DEFENSIVE LINE | B
New position coach Craig Kuligowski is considered one of the best in the country, and the Hurricanes’ new scheme and aggressive nature could make this unit the most improved of any on the roster. That said, the recent dismissal of Al-Quadin Muhammad (6-4, 250), the team’s leading sack artist from 2015, hurts. Juniors Chad Thomas (6-6, 265) and Trent Harris (6-2, 250) will do a solid job leading the ends and sophomores Kendrick Norton (6-3, 305) and RJ McIntosh (6-4, 290) are quality starters at tackle. UM netted 26 sacks (64th), 66 tackles for loss (96th) and ranked 103rd against the run (201 yards per game). Improvement is expected in all three areas.
LINEBACKERS | C-
The Hurricanes landed one of the best linebacker recruiting classes in the country and are putting those guys to work right away. With senior weakside linebacker Jermaine Grace (6-1, 210), the team’s leading tackler last season, dismissed from the team amid the rental car scandal, freshmen Shaquille Quarterman (6-1, 240) and Michael Pinckney (6-1, 220) will be relied upon heavily. The issue is there’s not a lot of quality depth or experience around them. Junior Darrion Owens (6-3, 245) is slowly recovering from knee surgery and is the only linebacker with college starting experience. While the future appears bright, an injury or two can send this unit spiraling.
SECONDARY | B
Miami ranked 38th in pass defense last season (203.8 yards per game) and had nearly as many interceptions (15) as touchdowns allowed (16), but must replace the losses of first-round pick Artie Burns at cornerback and third-round pick Deon Bush at safety. Diaz, who is implementing more man-to-man press coverage, feels confident his first top three cornerbacks — senior Corn Elder (5-10, 180), redshirt senior transfer Adrian Colbert (6-2, 205) and sophomore Sheldrick Redwine (6-1, 195) — can get the job done. But he’s looking for others to step up. At safety, seniors Rayshawn Jenkins (22 career starts) and Jamal Carter (3 starts) provide some experience while sophomore Jaquan Johnson (5-11, 190) appears ready to emerge. Still, there’s just not a lot of depth and it’s a bit scary.
SPECIAL TEAMS | A+
Junior Michael Badgley was 25 for 30 on field-goal attempts last season and booted a career long 57-yard field goal last Nov. 21 against Georgia Tech. Senior Justin Vogel, a nominee for the Ray Guy Award, averaged 42.5 yards per punt (43rd nationally), dropped 20 punts inside the 20-yard line and had 13 punts of 50 yards or more last season. Elder returned both a kick and a punt for touchdowns last season, and head coach Mark Richt said there’s plenty of other talented return options if needed.
COACHING | A
Richt won two SEC championships, six division titles, nine bowl games and finished the season ranked in the Associated Press top 10 rankings seven times during his 15 year tenure at Georgia. The Hurricanes, meanwhile, haven’t won 10 games since 2003, haven’t won the division or conference since moving to the ACC since 2004 and haven’t won a bowl game since 2006. In other words, there’s nowhere to go but up. Richt’s staff has not only implemented a 4-3 scheme on defense that better suits the players already in the program, but they also bring a better track record of success than the previous staff. So, yes, the coaching staff will be better than it’s been in a long time at UM.