The University of Miami will have to replace 11 starters and potentially five players who look like they will get taken within the first three rounds of the NFL Draft next month: running back Duke Johnson, receiver Phillip Dorsett, offensive tackle Ereck Flowers, tight end Clive Walford and linebacker Denzel Perryman.
So is there enough talent in Coral Gables to improve upon a 6-7 season and contend for the Atlantic Coast Conference title?
That was a hard question to answer at Saturday’s spring game, especially with a trio of key players out with injuries (cornerback Tracy Howard, defensive tackle Calvin Heurtelou and safety Rayshawn Jenkins), another held out because he broke curfew (running back Joe Yearby) and 17 of the 22 recruits in the signing class still yet to arrive on campus.
But here’s what offensive coordinator James Coley and defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio said they saw this spring in terms of growth:
▪ Even though he split time this spring between baseball and football, redshirt freshman Malik Rosier (6-1, 212) has impressed all camp, and coaches feel better about the backup quarterback situation.
“He’s juggling two different calendars right now,” Coley said. “When he goes full time in the fall it’s going to be fun — because he can play, man, he can run. He’s a really good athlete.”
▪ Although he was picked off three times Saturday, starter Brad Kaaya “got better every week as well,” Coley said. “His passing percentage was sick all spring long, 78-80 percent.”
▪ Gus Edwards left Saturday’s scrimmage with a left shoulder injury, but the 6-2, 230-pound junior will enter the fall as the No.1 back, ahead of Yearby. Coley said Edwards has some of the fastest “GPS numbers” on the team, which measure speed, effort and distance traveled.
"You see consistency with the reads, the decision making, when he's running routes, his protections," Coley said. "With his overall consistency you can feel comfortable calling the base offense with him starting the game. Either way, they're both going to play."
▪ Replacing the speedy Dorsett, who helped stretch the field, won’t be easy. But Coley believes he has two receivers capable of doing it: senior Herb Waters and junior Stacy Coley.
“Herb’s got to come down with a couple of those catches, finish the play,” he said. “Stacy, we just need to get him the ball.”
▪ Who is the most improved offensive weapon? “I would say Malcolm Lewis because of the strides he hit with getting his weight down,” James Coley said. “He made so many plays this spring. I would say it’s hard to say Malcolm Lewis isn’t back to his speed.”
▪ Does UM have a linebacker that can remotely fill Perryman’s shoes?
“One guy? Not one guy,” D’Onofrio said. “He had physical gifts, and the ability to time those [big hits] up and see them happen, annihilate the ball carrier. Not everybody has that level of explosiveness to them, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be great players.”
▪ D’Onofrio said senior Raphael Kirby is the leader of the group “that sets the standard in meetings, on the field, how he prepares.”
"Obviously Jermaine [Grace] has a unique skill set in that he can run," he continued. "Darrion Owens is different. He's 6-3 and he can do a lot of things for us. They're all kind of different in their own way and they're all improving."
▪ Although the defensive line must replace two starters who logged a lot of playing time in Anthony Chickillo and Olsen Pierre, D’Onofrio said he is pleased he has six former first-year players who got plenty of experience last season.
Who is the best pass rusher? “I’d rather talk about most improved,” D’Onofrio said with a chuckle. “I think [Ufomba] Kamalu made some really big strides. Chad [Thomas] is gifted, so he’s got an opportunity where he can just beat guys easily at times. For a young player, [Trent Harris is] really a technician both in the run game and the pass game. He knows how to use his hands to beat guys, knows how to set up moves and do all that kind of stuff.”
▪ D’Onofrio said new defensive line coach Randy Melvin has been stressing a different technique when it comes to pass rushing that he prefers. “If you meet a point of resistance we can’t stop and try to bat down balls,” D’Onofrio said.
"We want to keep collapsing the pocket, keep making progress on the quarterback. That was a big goal and I think we did that. I see the guys doing that right now, working their countermoves. Randy has done a great job."
▪ As for the secondary, which lost only Ladarius Gunter to graduation and junior Antonio Crawford (he left the team), D’Onofrio said the safeties showed a lot of growth.
"The No. 1 thing back there that they have to be able to do, they have to be able to communicate, get us in the right call," D'Onofrio said. "[Jamal Carter] and Dallas [Crawford] made huge strides in that area. Very proud of what they've done there."
UM has three corners and one safety coming in the fall. If needed, D'Onofrio said, Deon Bush would be his first choice to switch from safety to corner in a pinch. Gunter did that the other way, moving from corner to safety, last season.
"Deon played some corner [Saturday]," D’Onofrio said. "He'd been doing it throughout the spring. That's something we always try to do, look ahead and down the line, move guys around a little bit."