Ten important storylines for Miami Hurricanes 2016 training camp

The Hurricanes have more than a few things in common with South Florida’s other big-time football operation.

Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya throws a pass as head coach Mark Richt, background, watches during spring NCAA college football practice, Tuesday, March 15, 2016, in Coral Gables, Fla. (AP)

Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya throws a pass as head coach Mark Richt, background, watches during spring NCAA college football practice, Tuesday, March 15, 2016, in Coral Gables, Fla. (AP)

Like the Dolphins, they have a new coaching staff trying to fix a litany of issues. The ultimate goal is to restore shine to a team that’s been dull for far too long.

The starting quarterback is now a veteran, and his offensively-minded head coach will grant him more in-game freedom than he’s ever had. It remains to be seen whether his offensive line can keep his jersey clean.

On defense, a new coordinator will hope a change of scheme brings increased production from some highly regarded names. Cornerback and run defense are worrisome areas until proven otherwise.

Oh, and there’s the stadium thing. Both play at the same place. Neither knows quite what to call it.

Though some of the questions we have about the Hurricanes won’t be answered until January, here are 10 major storylines we’ll be following once Miami returns to practice Thursday:

Who’s the backup QB?

Brad Kaaya is That Dude, but he may not be around much longer. The time to find a successor is now. Malik Rosier, Evan Shirreffs and true freshman Jack Allison will try to make an impression on Mark Richt and his staff before recruits N’Kosi Perry and Cade Weldon join the fray in 2017.

Can the Canes cover?

Two of Miami’s top three cornerbacks from 2015 in the NFL now, one as a first-round pick. That leaves Corn Elder as the only corner with meaningful experience. UM moved grad transfer Adrian Colbert from safety to push youngsters Sheldrick Redwine, Michael Jackson, Terrance Henley and true freshman Malek Young.

Is there a lead back?

Joe Yearby and Mark Walton can run and catch out of the backfield, and the returning Gus Edwards adds power and speed. Any one of them could lead the team in rushing yards. Walton was the starter in the spring, before his brief summer suspension.

Which true freshmen will make an impact?

The three linebackers — Shaq Quarterman, Michael Pinckney and Zach McCloud — are a safe bet. Wide receivers Sam Bruce and Ahmmon Richards will see lots of early playing time at a position that lacks depth.

Who else could make a leap? 

Hard to imagine defensive lineman Gerald Willis stopping now, after a year spent ripping it up on scout team. Redwine and safety Jaquan Johnson could break out with more playing time. If their knee injuries are healed, linebacker Darrion Owens and right tackle Sunny Odogwu could land starting jobs. Wide receiver Braxton Berrios looked like a new man in the spring.

Which assistant coach will have the biggest impact? 

Richt — and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz — believe defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski is the best in the nation, and he has oodles of talented players. It would be a disappointment if he doesn’t get a big season from ends Al-Quadin Muhammad and Chad Thomas, and generate pressure with a decent-at-worst group of tackles.

Will Kaaya have enough protection? 

If offensive line coach Stacy Searels can turn around his new group, that’s a major win for the Canes. Kaaya needs a couple seconds to throw, and didn’t get that nearly often enough last year. The hope is left tackle Trevor Darling, left guard Kc McDermott and center Nick Linder, all juniors, and fifth-year senior right guard Danny Isidora can steady the line as Odogwu, a redshirt junior, battles sophomore Tyree St. Louis.

Where is the second unit strongest and weakest? 

In the spring, the Hurricanes appeared to have great depth at running back, tight end and defensive line. Safety and linebacker were reasonably deep. Wide receiver, offensive line and cornerback were very shallow, and none of Kaaya’s potential backups stood out. Now, what’s changed since then?

Can Stacy Coley stay healthy?

Been wondering this for a while. There are good backs and tight ends to take pressure off Miami’s wideouts, but the passing game will be in much better shape if Coley has an All-ACC-caliber senior season.

What about recruiting? 

Recruits interested in Miami are hopeful about the Richt era, but the Hurricanes need a good season to lock in a class with top-1o potential. Miami sits ninth in 247Sports’ national rankings on the eve of camp, and a strong year — at least eight wins — could help sway a few four- and five-stars to be a part of what Richt is building.


As usual, we’ll be all over the Canes this fall. Be sure to check the blog daily for news, analysis, video and other goodies. You can also follow me on Twitter (@mattyports), Facebook (Post on Miami Hurricanes), Instagram (mattyports) and Snapchat (msp8888).

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