Coaches say Miami Hurricanes are ‘a couple’ recruiting classes away from ideal depth

Freshman Travis Homer (left) and sophomore Jaquan Johnson (right) are shining on special teams this year. (Getty Images)

Freshman Travis Homer (left) and sophomore Jaquan Johnson (right) are shining on special teams this year. (Getty Images)

Salute to Hurricanes seniors

S Jamal CarterC Alex Gall | RG Danny Isidora | S Rayshawn Jenkins | P Justin Vogel | TE/DE Stan Dobard | CB Corn Elder | WR Malcolm Lewis | CB Adrian Colbert | WR Stacy Coley | FB Gage Batten | FB Marquez Williams | LS Frank Gabriel, five others


Graduating safety Rayshawn Jenkins is bullish on the future of the Hurricanes.

“In my opinion, everyone [needs to] keep doing what they’re doing,” he said. “This is the best I’ve seen it since I’ve been here. I feel like if everyone keeps on the same path, they can do whatever they want. They can compete for national championships, ACC championships and just get this place back to where it used to be.”

How long might it take for Miami to realistically be there? Coach Mark Richt, in his talks with reporters this week, wanted to keep his focus on a senior-day Saturday game against Duke (3:30 p.m. ESPN2). But he answered several questions pertaining to the years ahead.

“My guess is it would take a couple [recruiting classes] to get the depth you’re hoping for and you’re looking for,” he said. “We are, for the first time in a while, able to go to 85 scholarships – that in itself is going to help us.” But even if Miami had 85 scholarship players — it currently has 76, and of those, 13 are injured, redshirting or ineligible.

“When people talk about depth, you’re talking about guys that you think are able to play and are ready to play,” Richt said. “If everybody has 85 [scholarships], you have depth. You have people there. But do you feel comfortable putting them in a game, is what most coaches are talking about when they say, ‘We lack the depth that we need.’

“We’re at that point right now. In some positions, we’ve been very fortunate not to have anybody get banged up, so it didn’t show up as a glaring need. We’re probably one guy away or two guys away in a couple of positions that could get scary in a hurry. We’ve been very fortunate.”

Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, who has led a remarkable turnaround in a formerly under-performing unit, said recruiting is “the whole key” to Miami’s turnaround. He and the other coaches believe in their systems, but he feels his group is “probably two” recruiting classes, “realistically” from having the depth he wants.

“Because when you’re still not able to redshirt and get those guys in your weight room—you’ve just got to think, when you’re talking about freshmen and sophomores, it’s not just the experience that they lack, it’s when you’re playing against older players,” he said. “How many more times has that older player been on a squat rack since they’ve been in college? How many more times have they been through a walk-through? How many more times have they been through an offseason program?”

Because of dismissals, injuries and other attrition, Diaz said Miami “had no choice” but to play true freshmen like linebackers Shaq QuartermanZach McCloud and Michael Pinckney, defensive end Joe Jackson and cornerback Malek Young — all of whom have performed admirably. They’ll return, but Miami will lose three starters and another contributor in the defensive backfield. He’s auditioning some players now on special teams.

“You see [safety] Rob Knowles make a good tackle on a kickoff last week against N.C. State,” Diaz said. “[Safety] Romeo Finley’s becoming more and more comfortable with the defense. We have guys – [safety] Ced Wright – that really should have redshirted, but because of our depth situation they had to get pushed in there. In the long run, that experience will help them. And obviously, we’ll need guys to step up immediately once we hit spring practice.

“We have to find a way to get a signing class now of guys that are ready to contribute early, and then stack the ’18 class on top of that again with guys that want to come in here and hit the ground running.”

Offensive line coach Stacy Searels, who took over a unit that struggled last year and for most of this season, said he’s “very encouraged, especially when you get [injured seniors-to-be] Nick [Linder] and Sunny [Odogwu] back added to the group. You’ve got a lot of guys that are playing. [Sophomore Tyler] Gauthier has stepped up and is playing and other guys are getting a lot of reps [like sophomore right tackle Tyree St. Louis]. I’m excited about it. We’ve got to do a great job in recruiting and bringing some more talent in. If you have depth, you have competition and competition makes us a lot better.”

They lost four in a row in October, but Richt believes they were “a couple plays away in a couple games” from being “right at the very top” of the ACC Coastal.

They “weren’t really close” against Virginia Tech, he said, but were within a score of North Carolina and Florida State. “You win those two, it’s a whole different story for your program,” he said. “I’m not going to put a timetable or any limits as to how quickly we could become a champion in our division. That’s the goal.

“I’m not going to say that’s going to take years. I’m going to say we’re going to be fighting for that thing as soon as the season starts next year.”