As Mark Richt and his staff try to rebuild the Hurricanes, they achieved a major goal on signing day: bolstering the offensive line.
Not only did Miami keep Navaughn Donaldson — a player rated No. 43 nationally regardless of position by Rivals — away from Florida State and held off Florida for tackle Kai-Leon Herbert, coaches believe their under-the-radar signees will make a difference.
In a WQAM interview Tuesday, Richt raved about center Corey Gaynor, a local recruit who was committed to Minnesota when Miami offered last fall.
Richt said the 6-foot-4, 280-pound Gaynor plays “mean as a snake” and compared him former Georgia center Ben Jones.
That’s a high honor in Richt’s world. Jones had Air Force, Troy and UAB offers in 2007 when then-UGA offensive line coach Stacy Searels told him the Bulldogs wanted him. He started four years at UGA and has started five seasons in the NFL, last year for the Tennessee Titans.
“Corey Gaynor is not going to be a four- or five-star guy, but he might start as a freshman,” Richt said.
That will perk the ears of senior-to-be Nick Linder, who has started the last two seasons but is coming off shoulder surgery.
That’s fine with Searels, who enters his second season at UM with a deeper, more talented group.
Right tackle Danny Isidora and center Alex Gall graduate, and two Al Golden signees, Hunter Knighton and Brendan Loftus, left the team late last season.
“We needed numbers in this class,” Searels said. “To get five in this class gets our scout team numbers up to where they should be.”
Miami also signed three-star Zach Dykstra (6-6, 300), an Iowa native who enrolled early, and three-star Georgia product Zalon’tae Hillery (6-6, 280), who will enroll in May.
In addition to Linder, the Hurricanes return seniors Kc McDermott and Trevor Darling, both of whom have played tackle and guard. Junior tackle Tyree St. Louis and guard/center Tyler Gauthier figure to be in the mix, along with redshirt senior tackle Sunny Odogwu, assuming he recovers from leg surgery.
Another new face this spring: LSU transfer and redshirt sophomore George Brown (6-7, 283), whom coaches challenged to gain weight in last year’s redshirt season.
Donaldson, who is already on campus and expected to begin training at right tackle, could push for a starting spot this fall. He needs to reshape his body — he’s listed at 6-6, 335 pounds — but may be the most gifted athlete UM has up front.
“I can’t wait to get my hands on him this spring and really work with him,” Searels said. “He needs to get a grasp of our system, our scheme, our technique. Physically, he’s got all the tools you’re looking for. It’ll be a process. Hopefully by the time that first game rolls around, he’ll be ready to play.”
Searels, who said he envisions Herbert (6-5, 285) as a tackle, thinks the Plantation-American Heritage product “can come in and help us quickly. … Very athletic young man. He’s gotten better every time I’ve watched him, since spring ball.”
Like Richt, he had lots of praise for Gaynor, who reported he had 106 pancake (knockdown) blocks as a senior.
“I think that kid’s toughness, attitude, demeanor is awesome,” he said, enthusiastically. “I love the kid. He’s going to be a great addition to our room.”
The returnees, Searels said, “understand what’s expected. They’ll feel pressure to step their game up. We all want to be better than we were last year.
“I’ve told all these kids to get ready to fight for a starting job. If you sit and wait, you’re getting passed by. It’s been made real clear.”