University of Miami

Grading the Miami Hurricanes entering 2015 season

UM linebacker Jermaine Grace
UM linebacker Jermaine Grace MIAMI HERALD STAFF


Brad Kaaya ranked 23rd nationally in quarterback rating (145.88), led the Atlantic Coast Conference in touchdown passes (26) and earned ACC Rookie of the Year honors last season as a true freshman. But he lost quite a few weapons, and his offensive line returns only 22 games of starting experience combined. That puts a lot of pressure on Kaaya, who turns 20 two days before the start of the season. Athletic backup quarterback Malik Rosier, a redshirt freshman, will be sprinkled in on zone-read options.


Filling the shoes of UM’s all-time leading rusher Duke Johnson will likely be a task shared by three dynamic rushers. The bruiser is sophomore Trayone Gray (6-2, 215) and two explosive Johnson-like talents in sophomore Joe Yearby (5-9, 195) and four-star freshman recruit Mark Walton (5-10, 190). Repeating last year’s 5.26 yards a carry average (22nd nationally) will be tough, especially with a young line and the loss of junior Gus Edwards (6-2, 230 pounds). There is quality, but not too much depth.


Kaaya’s three favorite targets from a year ago are gone, but there are four receivers back — senior Herb Waters, redshirt junior Malcolm Lewis, junior Stacy Coley and sophomore Braxton Berrios — who each had at least 20 catches last season. By most accounts, Coley (6-3, 187) appears ready to rebound from a disappointing sophomore season (23 catches, 184 yards, 0 TDs) and become the primary playmaker. Fifth-year senior Rashawn Scott (6-2, 205) had 35 catches for 512 yards and three TDs in 2012 and could rebound from an injury-plagued career and become a star. Tight end, where 6-4, 262-pound Standish Dobard returns with three starts under his belt (seven catches, 147 yards, 0 TDs) is a bit more of a concern than receiver.


Outside of 6-4, 322-pound junior Danny Isidora (13 starts in 2014 at right guard), 6-3, 300-pound sophomore Nick Linder (four starts at left guard in 2014) and 6-6, 318-pound sophomore tackle Trevor Darling (five starts at right tackle) there aren’t any other returning players with any meaningful minutes of experience under their belts. UM ranked 31st in fewest sacks allowed (21 total) and 18th in fewest tackles for loss allowed (60) last season but had much more in the way of starting experience back, including Ereck Flowers, a first-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, at left tackle. Building cohesion early before the start of ACC play is going to be vital.


For all the improvement the Hurricanes had defensively last season (14th in total defense and 30th in rushing defense), they still ranked 105th in tackles for loss (4.92 per game) and 68th in sacks (2.08 per game). Nobody on the defensive line had more than Ufomba Kamalu’s 3.5 sacks. The 6-6, 295-pound fifth-year senior is back, and more is expected from the unit, including former five-star recruit Chad Thomas, now a 6-5, 254-pound sophomore. Golden said near the end of camp he finally believes his defense physically looks the way it should to run defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio’s 3-4 hybrid scheme and create more pressure on opposing passers.


Butkus Award runner-up Denzel Perryman is gone, and depth is a bit of a concern, but second-leading tackler and speedy weak-side linebacker Jermaine Grace, a 6-1, 208-pound junior, and 6-1, 235-pound senior Raphael Kirby (13 starts in 2014, 54 tackles) are back to provide some leadership and experience. Coaches are also hopeful redshirt sophomore Al-Quadin Muhammad (6-4, 256) will grow into the dominant pass rusher they believe he can be at rush linebacker. Sophomore Darrion Owens (6-3, 238) is now playing three different positions at linebacker and impressing the staff.


The Canes’ secondary improved from 92nd in pass defense (249.8 yards per game) in 2013 to 17th (192.5) in 2014. It brings back plenty of experience at safety led by 6-1, 205-pound senior Deon Bush, who ranked second nationally last season with five forced fumbles. D’Onofrio said he has three starting cornerbacks in his mind in 5-11, 191-pound senior Tracy Howard and juniors Artie Burns (6-0, 193) and Corn Elder (5-10, 180). He just doesn’t have a lot of experienced depth behind them. Two of the three recently recruited freshmen will have to play in dime formations and backup situations. UM produced only 10 interceptions last season (84th nationally) and is looking to improve there.


The Hurricanes ranked 117th in kickoff coverage return average (24.57) last year, a drastic drop from a year earlier when they ranked 31st (19.83). That’s the primary area where the team needs to improve. Overall, though, Miami is in good shape. Kicker Michael Badgley (14 of 18 on field goals in 2014) and 2014 All-ACC third-team punter Justin Vogel (13th in net punting, 40.5 yards per game) are back. And Coley should thrive in the return game.

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