It’s June and fall practices are still a month and a half away, so here’s a less-than-important question to consider:
If Miami was going to use an offensive lineman for a trick play, who would it use? Who is suited, better so than anyone else in the position group, to take a handoff or a short pass and rumble into the end zone?
“There’s a lot of guys who claim they could be wide receivers if they lost some weight,” junior Tyler Gauthier said recently, when asked who among his peers has the best hands. “That’s a tough one. If you ask Hayden Mahoney, it would be him. He’s quite confident in that.”
At that moment Mahoney, 6-foot-5 and 295 pounds, was on the basketball court shooting jumpers and rebounding with kicker Michael Badgley, linebacker Jamie Gordinier and several elementary school opponents during a community visit in Coconut Grove. He looked light on his feet, though for his number to be called should Mark Richt reach to an amusing place on his play card, Mahoney may need to be on the field more than the 18 snaps he played last season. If you’re pulling a trick play, you do it with a starter, which Mahoney likely won’t be this year.
Maybe he will be one day. “He’s a heck of an athlete,” Badgley said. “He’s got hands. He can play basketball, too.”
Other contenders include the man expected to play left tackle this fall, senior Kc McDermott. As an underclassman at Palm Beach Central High, he was a decent power forward. Redshirt freshman Tre’ Johnson was a hoops devotee growing up, as was redshirt sophomore Bar Milo. Freshman Navaughn Donaldson moves well for a lineman of any size, much less one 6-6 and 350 pounds. If the reports coming from Hurricanes practices are any indication, he would be fairly tough to tackle if he had the ball and a head of steam. Fellow freshman Kai-Leon Herbert is athletic enough to kill zombies, so that must count for something.
Before transferring to UCLA, Sunny Odogwu had a claim to the crown. He played soccer and basketball growing up in Nigeria, and chased college hoops dreams before coaches steered him to football, turning him a 6-8, 325-pound right tackle. He may not have had the best hands, but he may have had the largest. “He could just go grab everything,” Gauthier said.
He was also the only offensive lineman on the roster to have scored a touchdown in a real game.
Miami isn’t rushing to covert any of its linemen to tight end to replace the depth lost by the transfer of Jovani Haskins (concerning that situation, expect more reps for freshman Brian Polendey and walk-on Malik Curry). Such switches do happen, though, usually in reverse. Fifteen years ago, Eric Winston began his UM career as a block-first tight end before coaches realized he was fairly good at it. He became the best college left tackle in America and is entering his 12th NFL season, the last three with the Cincinnati Bengals.
The inspiration for this post, Pitt’s Brian O’Neill, is also a former tight end.
* Senior Nick Linder reports his shoulder should be ready for fall practices, which begin Aug. 1. Linder missed most of the spring — and last spring — clearing the way for Gauthier to train more at center. He’s been more than serviceable, but it’s too early to say whether a healthy Linder (6-3, 298) or Gauthier (6-5, 305) will play center. The other would be a candidate to start at a guard spot. Gauthier and Linder have played both in games.
* Linder said he’s impressed by the new freshmen group, which includes Donaldson, Herbert, Corey Gaynor, Zach Dykstra and Zalon’tae Hillery. “They’re big,” Linder said. “They’re strong. They look good. I’m excited to see what they can do. Real excited. It’s a good group of guys.” Searels has said Gaynor (6-4, 285) and Dykstra (6-6, 300) are interior linemen, while Herbert (6-5, 285), Hillery (6-6, 287) and Donaldson can play guard or tackle. Of those newcomers, Donaldson is the only apparent starter or first-off-the-bench sub. If any of the others push for playing time in August, so much the better, but the Hurricanes could start three seniors (McDermott, Linder and Trevor Darling, the latter of whom coaches have told to pick up his play) and two juniors (Gauthier, Tyree St. Louis).
* A partial Linder take on Donaldson: “He’s a big fella.” Gauthier said he’s come “very far” from the team’s first meetings this spring, when “trying to get him to learn the plays was hard,” Gauthier said. “Now he pretty much knows the plays when we say them.” Donaldson was good enough to get spring tryouts at right guard and right tackle, and remained with the first unit all spring.
* Linder believes the line will be better than last year when it, like most groups on Miami’s roster, sagged in the middle of the season. “We lost a great player in Danny [Isidora], but we’re getting a lot of depth coming back, which is really exciting, and we have a lot of new freshmen who can help us,” Linder said. “It should be good. And it’s another year in the offense, another year with [offensive line] coach [Stacy] Searels.”