University of Miami

Miami Hurricanes’ offensive line injuries create ‘unbelievable opportunity’

Miami offensive linesman Kc McDermott (52) is taken off the field after sustaining an injury against Duke in Miami Gardens, Fla., Saturday, Sept. 27, 2014.
Miami offensive linesman Kc McDermott (52) is taken off the field after sustaining an injury against Duke in Miami Gardens, Fla., Saturday, Sept. 27, 2014. AP

Hurricanes quarterback Brad Kaaya said he isn’t worried.

Center Shane McDermott said he isn’t worried.

Freshman defensive end Chad Thomas? Not worried.

“Oh, they’re going to hold up. I know it,” assured Thomas of Miami’s shuffled offensive linemen after the top two right tackles went down with apparent knee injuries against Duke and are not expected for Georgia Tech. “We’re going to push them every day this week, starting with ‘Tough Tuesday.’”

After indicating he would have information Sunday night on the diagnoses of starter Taylor Gadbois and freshman Kc McDermott, UM coach Al Golden again skirted specifics Monday morning.

“We’re operating without them right now,” Golden said. “Great opportunity for [Hunter] Wells, for [Nick] Linder, for Trevor Darling and Sunny [Odogwu].

“I just don’t have anything definitive right now. We’ve got to be careful. It’s not like we can just say, ‘He’ll be back in a day or two.’ We’ve got to make sure we’re going through the battery of tests, and once we find out, we’ll let you know.’’

It’s already becoming increasingly evident that the two won’t play against the Yellow Jackets (4-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), as senior left guard Jon Feliciano moved to first-team right tackle during Monday’s light practice, and freshman Linder mostly practiced at first-team left guard.

Redshirt freshman Odogwu practiced at backup right tackle, with Darling at backup left tackle — though Darling, who played right tackle at Miami Central High, could move to that side if needed.

Wells, who was suspended for the Duke game, will be back as a reserve guard against Georgia Tech. But fellow guard Alex Gall (back injury) was still in a red, no-contact jersey Monday.

Senior center Shane McDermott, the older brother of 6-6, 305-pound Kc, one of the nation’s top tackles when he came to UM in January from Palm Beach Central High, also would not divulge his brother’s injury. He said Kc was in “high spirits’’ and being taken care of by a doctor.

When asked if Kc needs surgery, Shane said, “We don’t know that yet. I guess they’re taking it day by day and we’ll have to see.”

Added McDermott: “Of course we’re going to miss those two guys. But we’ve been rotating so much during practice that we aren’t really less confident. All we know is that Georgia Tech is a good defense.”

It could be a lot better, however, as the Yellow Jackets’ rushing defense ranks 92nd of 125 teams, allowing 194.3 yards a game. Georgia Tech’s early-season opponents: Wofford, Tulane, Georgia Southern (averaging 367.2 yards with its triple-option offense) and Virginia Tech.

Georgia Tech is also 105th nationally in sacks, with five in four games. The Yellow Jackets are 72nd in total defense, allowing 401.3 yards a game, and 31st in passing yards allowed (207-yard average).

UM offensive coordinator James Coley said the Hurricanes (3-2, 1-1), who have allowed eight sacks this season, use Feliciano at tackle because he’s the next best man for the job.

“You can say, ‘Aren’t you weakening two spots by moving a guy from guard to tackle?’”Coley said. “Not if that guy is your next best tackle.”

Linder, the younger brother of former UM guard and Jacksonville Jaguars rookie Brandon Linder, took part in about 10 plays against Duke and 20 or 30 plays against Florida A&M and Arkansas State. At 6-3 and 285 pounds, he was a first-team Class 7A All-State selection from Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, and didn’t arrive at UM until the summer because St. Thomas doesn’t allow its players to graduate early.

“I have all the trust in the world in Nick,” Kaaya said. “He’s a good player. He played big-time ball at St. Thomas. Nick is a really smart dude.”

Said Golden of Linder: “Prepared hard, was ready for his opportunity and played really well. But that’s not dissimilar to what we’re seeing in practice everyday. He brings a poise and a real familiarity in there with those guys, and it’s good.”

Golden chooses to look at the O-line situation in positive terms — at least publicly.

“It’s an unbelievable opportunity for somebody,” the coach said. “Obviously, that’s why we worked all those different combinations all training camp and all year as we get ready for games.’’

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