Recruiting: Which offensive linemen are Miami Hurricanes chasing?

Navaughn Donaldson pushes away a defensive end during the Under Armour All-America Game. (247Sports)
Navaughn Donaldson pushes away a defensive end during the Under Armour All-America Game. (247Sports)

On Wednesday, the signing day two-week warning bell sounded, and this weekend is a major one for official visits. Feb. 1 is almost here.

That, of course, means the Hurricanes are in the middle of a frenzied final stretch. UM’s group of 20 commits is rated among the highest in the country – No. 13 by ESPN, No. 14 by Rivals and No. 16 by 247Sports – but like all coaches, Mark Richt is looking for more.

Let’s set the stage by assessing at how Miami is faring at positions of need. We previously looked at wide receivers and defensive backs. Finally: the hogs who could become Hurricanes.

[Start making plans: UM sets 2017 season opener]

[Njoku should be first Cane drafted in 2017]

[Miami announces Gus Edwards will transfer]

[Hoops falls short at Wake Forest | ESPN analysts on UM]


The situation: Though UM loses one mainstay – right guard Danny Isidora, who was dependable and durable in his three years as a starter – there are open jobs all over the line.

The Hurricanes hope Kc McDermott and Trevor Darling, two seniors-to-be who have played both tackle and guard, can settle in and be productive (and in Darling’s case, be healthy). Sophomore Tyler Gauthier played well at left guard in the final month of 2016, and he projects as the center with Nick Linder (shoulder surgery) expected to miss the spring. Another upcoming junior, Tyree St. Louis, was uneven at right tackle last year after taking over for the injured Sunny Odogwu.

Since Miami hasn’t been consistently strong at tackle since Ereck Flowers declared for the draft in 2015, UM’s best recruit may be George Brown, a 6-foot-7 LSU transfer who sat out last year. His main objective in that time was to add strength. UM hopes he’s ready for action.

Who’s coming: Four offensive linemen have committed, but hopes in Coral Gables are highest about Navaughn Donaldson, a 6-foot-5, 330-pound Miami Central grad. A high-four-star recruit, Donaldson has a lot of athleticism and power, though like many high school offensive linemen, he needs time to work on his body. Good thing: he will participate in spring ball, and told Canesport he will play right tackle to start.

The others who have committed may not make an immediate impact. Iowa native Zach Dykstra (6-6, 290) will enroll early, but his ceiling is considered to be lower. Center Corey Gaynor (6-4, 290) and tackle Zalontae Hillery (6-6, 285) arrive later. Offensive linemen usually take a while to develop, so we’re not writing anyone off.

Who they’re chasing: One more quality player is needed.

That could be Kai-Leon Herbert, who will visit this weekend (in a group of prospects that includes uncommitted four-star wide receiver Jeff Thomas and three-star defensive back Brian Edwards). Herbert, a Michigan commit from Plantation-American Heritage, is also considering Florida. The Gators are still looking for an offensive line coach, which could help the Hurricanes. Herbert (6-5, 280) needs to fill out, but ESPN wrote he “has an extremely high upside” and “could develop into a very good left tackle.”

That could be said about Herbert’s teammate at Heritage, Tedarrell Slaton, but Slaton seems to have other ideas. He told multiple outlets in the last month he wants to play defensive tackle in college, and apparently prefers Georgia, Kentucky and Florida over Miami, which wants him on offense. He didn’t visit Miami last weekend because of a basketball tournament, his coaches told Canesport.

Three-star prospect Toryque Bateman, a 6-8, 310-pound tackle from Alabama, told Canesport that “Louisville is 1, Miami is 1B.” He’ll visit on Jan. 28.

Final thoughts: The Hurricanes would be jumping for joy had they flipped five-star Pensacola native Alex Leatherwood, an Alabama signee who (like Donaldson) shined at Miami’s Paradise Camp in July. Those two at the tackle spots would make the Hurricanes a force, since the O-line has been a sore spot the last two seasons. Miami’s imminent quarterback race features six inexperienced participants. A strong front would elevate all. Best-case for the spring, in this view: Brown leaves no doubt about the left tackle job, McDermott and Darling become solid guards, Gauthier takes over at center and St. Louis and Donaldson fight for the right side. At the very least, the addition of Brown and Donalson means competition. In the fall, with Linder, Odogwu and recruits in the fray, it will be more crowded, and that should raise everyone’s games. Miami would hope, anyway.

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