Miami Hurricanes senior center Tyler Gauthier was in a bit of a playful mood on Tuesday after practice.
Gauthier, who has been anything but playful on the field as he prepares for the No. 25 LSU Tigers in the season opener on Sunday night in Arlington, Texas, was asked by a reporter if he had a mullet hair style—short at the front and sides and long in the back.
“Oh yeah,’’ answered Gauthier, his thick, blond locks matted with sweat. “I’m probably going to go to the barber shop in a couple of days and clean it up for Game One. It looks good. I just woke in the morning and realized that I love my country, and a bald eagle flew down and actually cut this with his talons.
“It was kind of awesome.
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“You’ve got to knock a little off the sides,’’ Gauthier continued, “a little bit off the top, too, to knock it down and maybe put ‘USA’ on the side. But just let the back flow, man.’’
As long as those vaunted LSU defensive linemen at AT&T Stadium aren’t flowing to quarterback Malik Rosier, who needs that line to keep the pocket from collapsing like it did too many times last season.
There’s no hiding that the offensive line and its depth is Miami’s biggest concern on offense. There was plenty of inconsistency during last season’s 10-3 campaign, and earlier this summer former starting right tackle/new left tackle Tyree St. Louis and new starting right guard Hayden Mahoney blamed “injuries, lack of focus’’ and just plain running out of gas.
The Canes ranked 75th nationally last season in sacks allowed (29). They were 54th of 129 ranked teams in passing offense (242 1/2 yards a game) and 71st in rushing offense (160.8-yard average). The last three games of 2017, all losses, the Canes rushed for 45 yards (Pittsburgh), 104 yards (Clemson) and 174 (Wisconsin).
UM lost left tackle Kc McDermott and left guard Trevor Darling to graduation, but the 2018 starters —6-5, 315-pound St. Louis, 6-4, 316-pound left guard Jahair Jones, 6-5, 300-pound Rimington Trophy candidate Gauthier, 6-5, 305-pound Mahoney and 6-6, 340-pound right tackle Navaughn Donaldson — are, according to coach Mark Richt, consistently playing very well and seem to be making the coach more secure than he has been in the past.
The Canes believe they have two solid backups in left tackle DJ Scaife and left guard Venzell Boulware who can give the others a breather. But Scaife, despite being a considerable talent, is a 6-3, 300-pound true freshman out of Miami Southridge who is transitioning from tackle; and Boulware, who has experience as a 6-5, 305-pound graduate transfer out of Tennessee, is also new to UM and learning the playbook.
“He’s been doing amazing,’’ St. Louis said of Scaife.
Of the other backups (center Corey Gaynor, right guard Cleveland Reed and right tackle John Campbell), two are true freshmen.
LSU transfer George Brown has been at backup left tackle before he underwent knee surgery to repair his right MCL.
“After the second fall scrimmage at Tropical Park on Aug. 18, Richt said, “I thought our offensive line played great with the [first-team] unit. The two unit had their moments, but not many.’’
Keep in mind that the second-string offensive line went up against UM’s No. 1 defense, projected to be among the best in the nation.
“I mean, they’re learning,’’ Gauthier said, “especially the freshmen. They have to learn the playbook, they have to learn to play with our intensity. They’re getting it. They are, for sure. ...All it’s going to take is a little more time and they’ll have it down.”
One man on UM’s staff who played on the Canes’ offensive line from 2001-2004 and believes this year’s group will do just fine is director of player development/defense Joel Rodriguez.
“Offensive line is the most developmental position in all of football,’’ Rodriguez said earlier this summer. “You’re literally training someone’s body and muscle memory to operate the way the body is not wired to operate. It’s hard and it takes a lot of time and a lot of reps.”
Said Gauthier of his quarterback: “Malik is going to be fine. ...We all love the test that’s coming out of the gate. They’re big. They’re strong. We’re not starting with a smaller team this year. We’re jumping right into it. I think that’s what we need.’’
▪ UM released the first depth chart of the season, with the backup quarterback listed as Cade Weldon OR N’Kosi Perry.