Power ranking the Hurricanes’ position groups after second scrimmage

It’s tough to truly assess a team’s personnel in the spring. Key players are sometimes injured. Graduates have left and incoming recruits have yet to arrive. Positions lack depth.

But we’ve seen enough to offer a decent snapshot of where Miami’s position groups stand. A quick look, after Saturday’s outing at Oxbridge Academy, with the spring game on tap this weekend:

In this image from a UM-produced video, David Njoku makes a catch during practice. (YouTube)

In this image from a UM-produced video, David Njoku makes a catch during practice. (YouTube)

2016 SPRING FOOTBALL

Spring grades: Offense | Defense | WQAM review podcast

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Scrimmage 2 story, stats, power rankings | Scrimmage 1 story, stats

Position-by-position previews

1. Quarterback. This is on the strength of Brad Kaaya, who looks every bit deserving of whatever preseason hype will come his way. On Saturday he was accurate and poised even when his protection broke down. He hit receivers in stride and made gorgeous deep throws out of the reach of the secondary. He took sacks when he had to rather than turn the ball over, but had the skill to make something out of nothing (his quick-zip throw to Mark Walton for a touchdown stands out). His backups have not been impressive. It would be a good thing for UM if they didn’t have to be.

2. Defensive line. Would they get eight sacks against a more stout offensive line? Possibly not, but there are legitimate dudes on this line. Chad Thomas, Al-Quadin Muhammad, Trent Harris and Demetrius Jackson were tough for UM’s tackles to handle, and the interior brought plenty of heat. The offense’s big plays mostly came when Kaaya was able to throw over the trenches. It’s early, but these are signs the Manny Diaz-Craig Kuligowski partnership is off to a good start.

3. Tight ends. Hard to think David Njoku won’t have a big year — and he’s not the only one to worry about. Chris Herndon, who lines up at fullback and H-back, is fast for a big man and has decent hands. Stan Dobard is a rugged blocker who will contribute with a catch here and there. Since UM has a less-than-reliable offensive line, Mark Richt made 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends) a regular part of his play-calling on Saturday. That should be a strength when the games count.

4. Running backs. Mark Walton had more flash, with two long runs and a spectacular one-handed touchdown catch, but Joe Yearby’s numbers were better (10 carries on 63 yards). Against the backups, Gus Edwards looked (healthy and) fast, while Trayone Gray had some nice moments and a few gaffes. With four-star recruit Travis Homer coming in, Miami is in good shape here. Asked if Walton was separating himself after the scrimmage, Richt said it was too early to tell.

5. Linebackers. Miami isn’t as deep as it wants to be here, but the three pups — Shaq Quarterman, Zach McCloud and Mike Pinckney — look like they will help a lot this fall. As expected, Jermaine Grace is UM’s best linebacker (though we didn’t notice him covering receivers one-on-one too much). It’s hard to know exactly which part of the defense was at fault, but UM’s receivers and running backs were open numerous times and picked up yardage on the second level. Once Darrion Owens (knee) returns, this unit will look a lot better.

6. Safeties. Seemed fairly solid, with Robert Knowles (two interceptions) making a case for more playing time with his work against the reserves. Starters Rayshawn Jenkins and Jamal Carter and top backup Jaquan Johnson didn’t make glaring mistakes.

7. Wide receivers. Stacy Coley would be the No. 1 target on most ACC teams. He dominated UM’s cornerbacks with two catches for 87 yards before departing with a hamstring injury. It’s completely fair to wonder if he can stay healthy enough to contribute, and that’s a worrisome proposition since he is UM’s only elite receiver. Braxton Berrios, Darrell Langham and Lawrence Cager made a few nice catches and dropped a few passes. UM has some size, but an infusion of speed, skill and just plain depth is needed here.

8. Cornerbacks. Corn Elder and Sheldrick Redwine had shaky days on Saturday, but seem to be a promising tandem. The problem: they haven’t shown a ton so far, and things fall off quickly after that. UM needs those two to improve and stay healthy, and simply must have more from Michael Jackson, Ryan Mayes and Terrance Henley.

9. Offensive line. This unit is a work in progress, to say the least. Simply overwhelmed at times by the front seven on Saturday; at one point, offensive line coach Stacy Searels yelled, “no more sacks!” at his group. The good: when they were able to protect Kaaya, he made plays, and they created a few holes in the run game. Getting steady center Nick Linder (shoulder) and bruising right tackle Sunny Odogwu (knee) back will help. If the line develops into a decent unit, Miami will have a highly productive offense.

10. Special teams. Last, but really should be given an incomplete mark; we’ve only seen a few field goals out of this unit. Both Michael Badgley and backup Marco Baeza have missed from 40-plus. We haven’t seen punter Justin Vogel — who was strong last year — or the return game or kickoffs.

 

 

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