Barry Jackson

What we're hearing on UM's offense, including a big concern and some encouraging news

UM's Travis Homer (24) scores a touchdown against Wisconsin in the Orange Bowl. Homer remains UM's starting running back heading into the summer.
UM's Travis Homer (24) scores a touchdown against Wisconsin in the Orange Bowl. Homer remains UM's starting running back heading into the summer.

What we’re hearing from UM people on the football team’s offense heading into the summer:

Offensive line: This should be the biggest concern heading into the summer, because of high sack numbers allowed (particularly by the second group) this spring and an inability to consistently create holes in the running game. That’s partly a function of UM’s defensive line being very good, but there’s more to it than that.

Let’s face it: UM hasn’t had a dominating, championship-level line in many years, and despite landing occasional elite players in recruiting (Navaughn Donaldson would qualify), offensive line and quarterback (along with genuinely dominant defensive tackle play) are the biggest factors holding the Canes back from being at national championship level. Malik Rosier's escapability masked some of the pass protection deficiencies that Brad Kaaya couldn't.

UM feels generally comfortable with Tyree St. Louis at left tackle and Tyler Gauthier at center, and Donaldson’s play at right tackle encouraged the staff after he moved there from guard more than midway through spring ball. But St. Louis still has considerable room for improvement.

UM is cautiously optimistic that Jahair Jones will be a pretty good left guard, but right guard Hayden Mahoney (whose only other Power 5 conference offer was from Boston College, according to Rivals) can be exposed the longer he plays. The hope is that Tennessee transfer Venzell Boulware claims that job, or backup center Corey Gaynor — whom coaches like — improves enough to challenge Mahoney and Boulware.

George Brown Jr., the four-star LSU transfer, began the spring as the first-team right tackle but lost the job because he was slow getting out of his stance and yielded a bunch of sacks. Kai-Leon Herbert, in his second year on campus, hasn’t done enough to challenge for a major role, which is disappointing considering how highly recruited he was.

Early enrollees John Campbell and Delone Scaife aren’t close to being ready for significant playing time, one UM person said.

One UM source said don’t rule out Zalon’tae Hillery in the guard battle; he has had some good moments.

The second-team line has mostly been, from left to right, Brown, Scaife, Gaynor, Hillery and Campbell.

Quarterback: Malik Rosier will enter August camp with a clear lead, but one UM source said N’Kosi Perry and Jarren Williams cannot be ruled out and that Rosier isn’t going to have a long leash during the season if he struggles.

One UM official said Rosier is still streaky but did a better job protecting the ball this spring and made several phenomenal throws in private March and April practices, including a 40-yarder to Darrell Langham in the final scrimmage that couldn’t have been thrown more perfectly. That — plus his exceptional knowledge of the offense — have Rosier firmly in the lead.

One UM official said Perry’s issue is that he looks to run at times when he should be looking to throw, and his deep ball isn’t as consistent as Rosier’s. Perry undoubtedly has improved, especially with his knowledge of the offense, and his accuracy is pretty good, but he hasn’t been quite as dynamic a playmaker as some expected. He’s still a work in progress.

The word on Williams is that his accuracy at times was the best of all the quarterbacks and he has a legitimate chance to challenge Perry for the backup job, with an outside chance to win the starting job. But if you give Williams the backup job, you risk losing Perry, who could become disillusioned.

What’s holding back Williams is knowledge of the offense. Though he’s a bright young man, it takes time to learn the playbook, checkdowns and have a grasp of college defenses.

Running back: Travis Homer remains the unquestioned starter, and one UM person said he has exceeded expectations because he’s clearly more than a change of pace back.

Ballyhooed five-star prospect Lorenzo Lingard is the most explosive of the running backs, with the best breakaway speed, but aside from one 30-yard run, his yardage in three scrimmages was modest, largely because of poor blocking.

But UM people saw flashes that validated his five-star ranking. On one play in the spring game, he eluded a defender at the line of scrimmage and made a quick turn that resulted in an eight-yard gain. You can’t teach that. But Lingard needs to work on pass protection, so that coaches can trust him in that area.

Deejay Dallas was a playmaker throughout spring and UM needs to get the ball in his hands five to 10 times a game, as a runner, receiver and Wildcat quarterback. “The guy always makes plays wherever you put him on the field,” offensive coordinator Thomas Brown said.

Robert Burns improved, but a UM person said it’s difficult to envision him getting much work unless he can develop into a powerful short yardage back — the role UM envisioned for former back Gus Edwards but that never quite materialized before he left for Rutgers.

Realus George, expected to play meaningful snaps at fullback, and Camron Davis arrive this summer.

Receiver: One UM official said the dynamic playmaking we saw from freshman Brian Hightower in the spring game — including two touchdown passes — was typical of how Hightower looked all spring. He plays like a big receiver is supposed to play; he makes contested catches, has good hands and gets open.

The other early enrollee receiver, Daquris Wiggins, made some mental mistakes but catches the ball cleanly.

Lawrence Cager and Langham don’t consistently play to their size, which frustrates coaches. Langham last year allowed several balls in his area to be batted away by smaller defensive backs, resulting in interceptions. Both obviously had some good moments last year and this spring, but coaches want more. And now there’s another highly skilled big receiver on campus (Hightower) to wrest snaps from them if they don’t become more consistent.

Jeff Thomas impressed in the slot role this spring and is the front-runner for one of two open starting receiver jobs alongside returning starter Ahmmon Richards, who was limited this spring after December knee surgery. Thomas ran a lot of takeoffs and post routes last year but UM this spring made better use of Thomas on crossing patterns in the middle of the field, and Thomas showed a knack to get open and the elite speed to get yards after catch. Mike Harley, a physical blocker with a work ethic coaches love, is behind Thomas.

Dayall Harris had a decent spring, and highly regarded receivers Mark Pope and Marquez Ezzard arrive this summer.

Tight end: As one UM football staffer said, freshmen Brevin Jordan and Will Mallory can’t get here fast enough.

Though Brian Polendey impressed with two catches for 48 yards in the spring game, it was an underwhelming spring for both Michael Irvin Jr. and Polendey, according to one UM person. Neither proved particularly reliable as receivers (there were plenty of drops), and both must get much stronger as blockers. Some UM people thought Polendey would be a better blocker than it’s turned out.

Here's my Monday post on what we're hearing on UM's defense.

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