After discussing four position groups that should be highly productive, let’s talk about one that sometimes hindered them.
Here’s the good news about Miami’s offensive line: nearly everyone’s back. Nine of 10 players who saw any playing time up front in 2015 are back this year. Only one, reserve offensive guard Joe Brown, elected to transfer. For a five-man unit that must play together to be successful, that cohesion is a positive.
The major concern: I’m not certain how high the ceiling is for this unit, which struggled mightily at times last season. The Hurricanes were eighth nationally in tackles for loss allowed (57) and tied for 34th in sacks allowed (19), but Brad Kaaya’s good decision-making deserves some credit for that. He was hit and hurried regularly. UM also struggled to run block, ranking 112th in yards per carry (3.68). The offensive line was a major contributor to UM’s penalty woes (9.3 flags for 84.2 yards per game, ranking 128th of 128 FBS teams).
New position coach Stacy Searels takes over for Hurricanes mainstay Art Kehoe, whom Mark Richt elected not to retain. Searels, formerly of Virginia Tech, Texas and Georgia, inherits a group that had a lot of growing up to do this offseason, and has a large class of redshirt freshmen trying to get in the mix. Aside from Nick Linder at center and Danny Isidora at right guard, I’m not sold on anyone having a starting spot locked down.
A look at Miami’s offensive line situation heading into the spring:
Projected depth chart
LT – Trevor Darling, Jr.; Bar Milo, R-Fr.
LG – Kc McDermott, Jr.; Alex Gall, Sr.
C – Nick Linder, Jr.; Hunter Knighton, R-Jr.,
RG – Danny Isidora, R-Sr.; Tyler Gauthier, Soph.;
RT – Sunny Odogwu, R-Jr.; Tyree St. Louis, Soph.;
On the way: OT Tre Johnson, Fr.
Moving on: OG Joe Brown (left team)
Major storyline: Starters are unclear. What’s very much certain: this unit needs to rise up, or Miami’s promising talent at the skill positions will face another long season.
Though no announcement has been made, it’s possible Linder (6-3, 300) could miss all or part of the spring. Linder, who played through various ailments in his first two seasons, had surgery on his right shoulder in early January, a UM source told the Post. Linder started 13 games last year as a sophomore. If he can’t go this spring, you might see Knighton (6-6, 300), Gall (6-5, 312) or redshirt sophomore Tyler Grimsley (6-3, 300), who has yet to see the field.
Odogwu (6-8, 318), Miami’s right tackle and accidental short-yardage back, is a question mark for the start of spring ball. Odogwu, who started nine of 12 games, tore his MCL Nov. 27 at Pittsburgh and had knee surgery in mid-December. Then-coach Larry Scott said at the time Odogwu could miss the first two weeks of spring practices. Odogwu, for his part, colorfully described trying to play through the injury when we caught up with him at the Sun Bowl.
His potential absence could mean more work for St. Louis (6-5, 312), who saw 13 games of action as a true freshman, mostly on special teams. He was the backup in the Sun Bowl, with McDermott (6-6, 300) getting the start. I happen to think McDermott, who made six of his eight starts at left guard, is better inside; Miami seemed to find a groove with him and Darling (6-5, 316) on the left side, Linder in the middle, Isidora and Odogwu on the right.
At right guard, Isidora (6-4, 325) has started 26 consecutive games. That could be in jeopardy if Gauthier (6-5, 315) impresses the new staff, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Isidora has been mostly solid in that spot for two years.
Darling started 12 games at left tackle last year, but had his shaky moments. The door seems open for Milo (6-6, 296), an athletic redshirt freshman, to challenge him. However, Searels and Richt haven’t made public assessment on any of these players, so we don’t know if they see a Milo, who hasn’t seen game action, as a guard or tackle. Same goes for redshirt freshmen Hayden Mahoney (6-5, 296) and Brendan Loftus (6-6, 302) and redshirt sophomore Jahair Jones (6-4, 320).
If I were a betting man, I would guess Linder is the center, because he’s a savvy one, and Isidora’s experience wins him the right guard spot. Other than that … we’ll have to wait and see.