Can Miami Hurricanes solve offensive line woes in 2016?

Last year, Miami was one of the nation’s least-experienced teams, especially up front. It showed.

Virginia Tech's Andrew Motuapuaka (54) gets a hand on Brad Kaaya (15) as Dadi Nicolas (90) beats Danny Isidora (63). (Getty Images)

Virginia Tech’s Andrew Motuapuaka (54) gets a hand on Brad Kaaya (15) as Dadi Nicolas (90) beats Danny Isidora (63). (Getty Images)

The Hurricanes’ offensive line struggles — and issues in blocking in general — contributed to an offense that ranked among the lower third nationally in rushing and finishing drives (112th in yards per carry, 107th in third-down conversions). Kicker Michael Badgley saw too much action. Quarterback Brad Kaaya saw too many defenders.

According to Phil Steele, Miami ranks 25th nationally in returning offensive line starts, with 85. Last year, they entered fall camp with 22 (after dismissing tackle Taylor Gadbois and his five career starts in July).

The breakdown:

26 — Right guard Danny Isidora (R-Sr.)
18 — Left tackle Trevor Darling (Jr.)
17 — Center Nick Linder (Jr.)
9 — Right tackle Sunny Odogwu (R-Jr.)
8 — Left guard Kc McDermott (Jr.)
7 — Guard/center Alex Gall (Sr.)

The Hurricanes will likely open fall camp with Darling at left tackle, McDermott at left guard, Linder (who missed spring practice recovering from shoulder surgery) at center and Isidora at right guard. At right tackle, sophomore Tyree St. Louis and Odogwu, who missed the spring recovering from knee surgery, will battle for a starting spot.

Coaches are less confident about the second unit, though redshirt freshman Bar Milo has shown promise as a backup tackle. At a glance, new coach Mark Richt‘s staff (strength coach Gus Felder, position coach Stacy Searels), has the unit in better shape; McDermott, to name one, looks much more trim. Odogwu said he is “178 percent healthy” after surgery. Linder told reporters recently he was, too.

Offensive line starts are not always a reliable predictor of production. But if the Hurricanes can’t overhaul the group they have — they hope to do so next year, provided they are able to sign a few good tackles — the same group returning a year older, stronger and ideally, healthier, is more palatable than … well, not having the experience.

Four-star Miami Central tackle Navaughn Donaldson and three-star guard Zach Dykstra of Spirit Lake, Iowa have committed to UM for 2017. The Hurricanes would love to add reinforcements from a list that includes four-star Plantation-American Heritage tackle Tedarrell Slaton and guard Kai-Leon Herbert, five-star tackle Alex Leatherwood (Pensacola-Washington), four-star guard Nick Brahms (Navarre) and three-star Miami-Booker T. Washington tackle Kadeem Telfort. Leatherwood (Alabama) and Telfort (Florida) have committed elsewhere, though Telfort was once committed to UM.

ESPN’s research showed Miami is one of three power five conference teams returning 60 or more offensive line starts, a quarterback who threw for 2,000 yards, a running back who rushed for 1,000 yards (Joe Yearby, now a junior) and a wide receiver with 500 or more receiving yards (senior Stacy Coley). The other teams are Pittsburgh and Indiana.

It’s something. It’s a start.


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