With UM spring practice scheduled to begin on Tuesday, sizing up how UM stands, by position, on offense:
▪ Quarterback: Four should be available this spring: Tate Martell, N’Kosi Perry, Jarren Williams and Cade Weldon. Freshman Peyton Matocha will enroll this summer.
The critical question, of course, is whether the NCAA will rule Martell eligible for this season. If he is ruled eligible, he instantly becomes the front-runner to start.
If he’s not, it’s a toss-up between Williams and Perry. According to a UM official, Williams is the more accurate of the two, and some believe he could become a poor man’s Deshaun Watson.
As much as new offensive coordinator Dan Enos loves Matocha, it seems unlikely that he could arrive this summer and beat out veteran players.
As for the Martell situation, athletic director Blake James told WQAM last Friday:
“We have been working with Ohio State and the NCAA, hope to bring this to closure sooner rather than later. When that’s going to happen, it’s hard to [know] an idea. I honestly thought we would have been to the finish line by now, but we’re not there. Hoping to have that decision from the NCAA soon. Tate will do spring ball either way, but hopefully a decision for Tate for next year.”
James said “it’s hard to decipher from the outside” why one transfer gets a waiver and another doesn’t.
“That’s something we as an association have to work on,” James said. “There’s not a clear understanding as to what criteria need to be there in order to determine if a young man is eligible or ineligible.”
▪ Running back: With Travis Homer having moved on to the NFL and Lorenzo Lingard still working his way back from knee surgery, UM should have five scholarship backs fully available this spring: Deejay Dallas, Cam’Ron Davis, Robert Burns, Asa Martin and Realus George.
Lingard will participate in some parts of spring ball, but he figures to be limited less than six months after knee surgery. The Canes expect Lingard to be fine for the start of the season.
Dallas, who ran for 617 yards on 5.7 per carry and caught 10 passes for 88 yards, is the front-runner to start the opener against the Gators.
But Davis impressed late in the season, finishing with 116 yards rushing and a 5.9 average. He will likely get plenty of work and compete with Lingard for the No. 2 job.
Burns appears at a crossroads in his UM career, having battled injuries and carrying the ball just two times (for 10 yards) in his first two years at Miami.
UM isn’t optimistic about the NCAA granting Martin’s request to play this season. But Martin — who will have three seasons of eligibility regardless — is highly regarded, and the Canes have high hopes for the Auburn transfer and former Mr. Alabama running back.
George played sparingly behind Trayone Gray last season but was the nation’s No. 1 fullback recruit a year ago. He will have a chance to forge a role in Enos’ offense, which values an H-back.
▪ Tight end: The Canes now have five on scholarship, all on campus: sophomores-to-be Brevin Jordan and Will Mallory, early enrollee Larry Hodges, plus Michael Irvin Jr. and Brian Polendey.
Irvin is coming off August knee surgery, and Polendey off September knee surgery. They will participate in spring ball, but to what extent remains to be seen.
Jordan caught 32 passes for 287 yards as a freshman, then was a standout recruiter for the Canes this offseason, helping lure transfers Bubba Bolden, Martell and Jaelan Phillips.
Mallory caught five passes for 57 yards before a late-season injury and should get plenty of work in two tight-end sets.
New tight ends coach Stephen Field said Irvin is working hard and has made a good impression. He will get a fresh look after an uneven career here. His father, former NFL and UM star Michael Irvin, visited with UM coaches last month.
Polendey, who has not been the blocker the former UM staff expected, must prove this year that he can contribute on offense.
The versatile Hodges, an early enrollee, can play tight end or H-back.
▪ Wide receiver: Two newcomers — and a new old one — add intrigue to the position.
Buffalo transfer K.J. Osborn and four-star freshman Jeremiah Payton will participate in their first spring ball as Hurricanes. (Both drew raves from coach Manny Diaz last week.)
And Jeff Thomas will be back on the field with the team for the first time since being jettisoned from the program Thanksgiving week.
They will join returnees Mike Harley Jr., Brian Hightower, Mark Pope, Dee Wiggins and Evidence Njoku.
Gone from the program: Darrell Langham (eligibility expired), Lawrence Cager (transferred to Georgia) and Marquez Ezzard (transferred to Georgia Tech).
Osborn, who had 53 catches for 892 yards at Buffalo last season, should be in line for significant playing time. He should be a better version of Cager, presumably without as many drops.
Thomas, who led UM in receptions with 35 (for 563 yards) before his two-month departure, should again be the Canes’ most explosive player on offense and special teams.
Of the four sophomore receivers (including redshirt sophomore Njoku), Hightower has shown the most ability, with Wiggins close behind and Pope and Njoku having much to prove.
Pope was the highest rated of the group (one of only three five-star players on the roster) and Njoku impressed everyone during August practices. But Pope and Njoku each caught only one pass for 11 yards.
Harley (21 for 240) should be in the good graces of the new offensive staff — including receivers coach Taylor Stubblefield — because he’s a high-effort player and a willing and skilled blocker. Hightower flashed elite skills last summer but it never fully came together for him last season, partly because of an ankle injury.
▪ Offensive tackle: Tommy Kennedy, the Butler grad transfer, is the heavy favorite for the starting left tackle job in what should be a showcase season for the NFL.
He was second-team All Conference at Butler and had December offers from UM, Texas, Oklahoma and others. The hope is he’s an upgrade over Tyree St. Louis, who was merely adequate.
Meanwhile, D.J. Scaife enters spring as the likely starter at right tackle, and UM believes he can be very, very good. He started the final seven games and graded out the highest of all of UM’s offensive linemen, improving dramatically after an uneven start in the FSU game.
The top tackle backups: LSU transfer George Brown Jr. (struggled badly last spring and then was lost for the year with a knee injury), sophomore Zalon’tae Hillery and redshirt freshman John Campbell.
Freshman tackle Zion Nelson is an early enrollee and also will be available for spring ball; Diaz raved about him last week. And freshman tackle Adam ElGammal enrolls this summer.
▪ Center: Corey Gaynor should take over for Tyler Gauthier, who graduated, barring something unforeseen.
Gaynor impressed with his physicality as a freshman — even starting a game — but saw his playing time diminish as a sophomore last season (88 snaps) before getting work at center in the Pinstripe Bowl. UM likes his physicality.
Freshman Jakai Clark could be Gaynor’s backup but isn’t yet enrolled.
▪ Guard: Navaughn Donaldson would seem the clear-cut starter at right guard; he seems better suited to that position after beginning last season as the starting right tackle.
But both of the left guards have moved on — Hayden Mahoney to Boston College and Venzell Boulware for what he hopes will be an NFL career.
What’s remaining on the roster presents no clear-cut left guard favorite among Kai-Leon Herbert (who struggled in practice at tackle), Cleveland Reed (a four-star recruit out of St. Meade last year) and long shot Zach Dykstra, who has played sparingly in two years at UM.
The former staff, including coach Mark Richt, loved the potential of Reed.
The Canes could use a grad transfer at guard, but two-time All ACC guard Parker Braun opted for Texas over UM, UF and others after recently leaving Georgia Tech. Perhaps another player will surface if nobody takes hold of the job in the spring.
Picking a first-team left guard — in concert with Enos and Manny Diaz — will be the first major personnel decision for new offensive line coach Butch Barry.