Feedback we’re hearing more than a week into UM spring practice:
▪ For all the good things Manny Diaz has done for the program — from acing the transfer market to creating a buzz — any list of factors determining the success of this season will start with quarterback play and line play.
And one UM official who has watched practice — two without pads — has serious concerns about the offensive line.
The fact Tommy Kennedy isn’t what UM expected is one problem. “Not a good body at all,” that UM official said.
But the other issue is whether John Campbell has good enough mobility and footwork to be an above-average right tackle in 2019, opposite D.J. Scaife. UM officials aren’t down on Campbell by any means; they love the upside there. But there are questions that need to be addressed.
Campbell missed Thursday’s practice with an injury and was replaced by former LSU transfer George Brown, who UM coaches said allowed a bunch of sacks last spring before an injury sidelined him for the season.
Because Hayden Mahoney decided to move on (to Boston College), the Canes must hope that either Zalon’tae Hillery (who’s getting the first team work) or Cleveland Reed or perhaps backup tackle Kai Leon Herbert is ready for starter snaps at right guard. That, too, is an unknown.
Navaughn Donaldson should be fine at left guard, and I have faith that Scaife will develop into a decent left tackle, at the very least.
Corey Gaynor brings a feistiness and toughness to center, but as the UM official said, this offensive line is nowhere near the level of elite teams.
And it’s a line that projects to have three first-time starters, so growing pains are to be expected.
This is a pedigreed group of recruits, so the talent is there. If new offensive line coach Butch Barry can get this unit to play cohesively and effectively against the Gators, it will be a commendable job by the coach and his players.
Meanwhile, there are also questions about whether Pat Bethel and Jon Ford will be good enough at defensive tackle, though Chigozie Nnoruka’s addition from UCLA this summer (as well as the addition of three well-regarded freshmen) should help.
One UM official described Bethel as workmanlike. Former defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski has said Ford has first-round talent, but consistency has been the issue there. Ford has impressed this spring, defensive coordinator Blake Baker said Thursday.
And here’s something encouraging about defensive tackle: One UM official was impressed last week with defensive tackle Jordan Miller, who was a project but seems to be making progress.
In a display of strength, he knocked over multiple blockers on one play last week. Miller started spring drills on the second team, ahead of more ballyhooed Nesta Silvera, who was on the third team and has ground to make up.
▪ Here’s one big positive about the defensive line: Freshman defensive end Jahfari Harvey has impressed early, as has Gregory Rousseau in his return from last September’s ankle injury. UM needs to hold opponents to short gains on first down so it can unleash its pass rush with Rousseau, Jon Garvin, Virginia Tech transfer Trevon Hill and potentially Harvey.
“Jahfari, you have to remind yourself the guy should be sitting in English 4 class right now because he’s really done some nice things coming out here early on,” Diaz said. “He’s a guy that we couldn’t believe in recruiting that there weren’t more people busting down his door to try to get him. We’re really thankful he’s here and he’s shown us nothing in the first few days of practice to take us off that opinion.”
▪ Though Tate Martell’s accuracy has been an issue, especially on sideline throws, one UM person said not to overstate that concern and that Martell is better than Jarren Williams and N’Kosi Perry in terms of football knowledge and athleticism. And Martell was far more accurate this week than the first week.
Though Perry has improved, Williams is the most accurate of the three quarterbacks and appears the strongest challenger to Martell.
▪ In Dan Enos’ offense, look for bootlegs and lots of plays featuring quarterbacks on the run. That works to Martell’s advantage, because he’s best equipped to run those plays.
During closed practices, UM has been using some I-formation with two tight ends.
And a UM official said in particular, tight ends Brevin Jordan and Will Mallory and receiver K.J. Osborn are three players excelling in executing the presnap motion that Enos has added to the offense. Those players, in particular, have been running those plays with precision, suggesting they have been studying the playbook in their off time.
Jordan is now sidelined with a left knee sprain and is listed as “day to day.”
▪ Running back Cam’Ron Harris (formerly known as Cam’Ron Davis) has excelled at weak-side runs, we’re told.
▪ Asa Martin, who will sit out the 2019 season after transferring from Auburn, impressed early before being sidelined for the duration of the spring with a left leg injury. UM still needs to find out what it has in Robert Burns, who has good size and other strong attributes but has been a non-factor in two seasons.
▪ Al Blades Jr. has been the best of a few cornerbacks competing to start opposite Trajan Bandy. He’s a good tackler and very serious about his craft.
“He takes it all seriously,” departing senior Sheldrick Redwine said of Blades. “Hard worker. Energetic guy. It can be 6:30 in the morning and he comes in the morning screaming. I think he’s going to take a huge leap this year.”