Snapshot of Miami Hurricanes’ returning starters presents incomplete picture

A general view of a helmet at Miami practice at Greentree Fields, Aug. 2016. (Miami Herald)

Who will emerge as starters for the Hurricanes this fall? (Miami Herald)

Miami ranks among the most experienced teams in the nation according to Phil Steele’s annual count of returning starters, which he released this week.

But it’s hard to see the Hurricanes, who lose a host of NFL-bound talent, as a wholly veteran group.

The team’s number of returning starters hardly represents the whole picture, as SB Nation’s Bill Connelly notes. By his calculation, Miami is near the bottom of the FBS in returning production.

Continuity in the passing game matters, and Miami is somewhat of an unknown until replacements for quarterback Brad Kaaya, wide receiver Stacy Coley and tight end David Njoku emerge. Similarly, graduating a Corn Elder-led secondary means Miami won’t have experienced playmakers.

This isn’t to throw water on anything. Miami has several talented options under center, one of the best receivers in the ACC in Ahmmon Richards, a nasty front seven and a 12th-ranked recruiting class that addressed needs everywhere. There’s more experience and competition along the offensive line than in years past. UM’s schedule also sets up nicely.

Also, UM landed a major addition Tuesday when transfer cornerback Dee Delaney said he’ll be a Cane.

This is a snapshot of what teams have before spring, which is a time for players to elevate. Last spring, Elder, running back Mark Walton and defensive tackles Kendrick Norton and R.J. McIntosh grabbed starting spots, as did linebacker Shaq Quarterman. Richards and linebackers Michael Pinckney and Zach McCloud came alive in the summer, and defensive end Joe Jackson emerged in September.

According to Steele’s calculation, Miami has 15 returning starters (seven offense, eight defense). They are:

OFFENSE (7)
RB Walton
TE Chris Herndon (started alongside Njoku)
WR Richards
Four OLs (Steele doesn’t name each team’s returning starters, but it’s likely he’s talking about left guard/tackle Kc McDermott, right tackle Tyree St. Louis, center Nick Linder and guard/tackle Trevor Darling. Guard Tyler Gauthier became a late-season starter after injuries to Darling, Linder and right tackle Sunny Odogwu, who also returns)

DEFENSE (8)
DEs Chad Thomas and Joe Jackson
DTs Norton and McIntosh
LBs Michael Pinckney, Shaq Quarterman and Zach McCloud
CB Malek Young (started final four games)

In number of returning starters, Miami sits in a group of 23 teams tied for 25th nationally, and tied for fifth in the ACC. The nation’s leader is Syracuse, which visits Miami on Oct. 21. The Orange have 20 returning starters, according to Steele, including all 11 on defense and its quarterback (Eric Dungey).

North Carolina State (17), Georgia Tech and Florida State (16) are ahead of Miami. Boston College, Wake Forest and Notre Dame (which visits UM Nov. 11) are equal to Miami’s 15.

Other Miami opponents:

Virginia, Duke (14)
Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Toledo (12)
and on the low end, Pittsburgh and Arkansas State (10).

SB Nation’s Connelly, meanwhile, assesses returning production rather than simple depth chart losses. He gives more weight to continuity in quarterback play, receiving and rushing yards, and defensive playmaking.

As such, Miami ranks 120th in returning production.

Among ACC teams, only Pittsburgh (123rd) and North Carolina (126th) are in greater need of star newcomers.

UM opponents:

Syracuse (17th), Virginia (25th), Georgia Tech (29th), FSU (39th), Duke (48th) are on the high end.
Toledo (81st), Notre Dame (86th), Virginia Tech (92nd) are on the low end.
Arkansas State (64th) is middle-of-the-pack.

This is but one factor in assessing a team’s expected production. Alabama and Clemson, for example, rate 73rd and 117th in Connelly’s metric, and given the way they have recruited in recent years, who among us believes they will not find capable replacements for their outgoing leaders?

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