Miami Hurricanes football 2017 depth analysis: Five strongest position groups

Demetrius Jackson (left), Chad Thomas and Miami's defensive line had a lot of quarterbacks on the run in 2016. (Getty Images)

Demetrius Jackson (left), Chad Thomas and Miami’s defensive ends had a lot of quarterbacks on the run in 2016. (Getty Images)

Summer is for taking a big-picture view of the team (and for taking time off, but you’re not here to hear about that). In this two-part series, let’s rank Miami’s depth by position group.

You already got the bad news, so here’s some good news: The five least worrisome areas for the Hurricanes, about six weeks before the Aug. 1 start of fall practices. We take into consideration who is returning, who appears ready to contribute, who could leave (graduation or the NFL) after the season, and UM’s current commits and recruiting trends.

The least of Miami’s worries is first.

[Previously: Where on Miami’s roster is depth lacking?]

DEFENSIVE ENDS

No issues here. Miami’s starters are All-ACC-caliber, it has talented backups and brought in two outstanding freshmen. Among the seven scholarship players, there’s no dead weight. Oh, and the position coach (Craig Kuligowski) is considered among the nation’s best assistants, with a track record of producing NFL talent. The Hurricanes are likely to start senior Chad Thomas and sophomore Joe Jackson, who have elite length, speed and strength. Off the bench, they can turn to senior Trent Harris and redshirt junior Demetrius Jackson, both smart players who can rush and hold up against the run. Freshmen Jonathan Garvin and D.J. Johnson could make early impacts, and Garvin enrolling for spring ball helps his case to play early. A wild card is Scott Patchan, a four-star recruit in 2015 who has dealt with knee issues. If healthy, Miami will lean on him next year, as Joe and Demetrius Jackson, Garvin and Johnson step into the forefront. UM has an intriguing commit in three-star Gregory Rousseau (6-6, 205) and is likely to sign one more.

Projected depth chart:

Thomas (strong-side) and Joe Jackson (“Viper”/weak-side); Demetrius Jackson and Harris

Patchan and Garvin/Johnson

WIDE RECEIVERS

A worry the last two seasons because of injuries and attrition, UM is finally back where it needs to be. The Canes enter the year with 10 scholarship wideouts on the roster, and nice balance between the classes. UM probably goes seven or eight deep in a group that seems to have slightly more speed than size. Sophomore Ahmmon Richards is the headliner, and the second, third and fourth spots are likely to be taken by reliable senior Braxton Berrios, sophomores Lawrence Cager (coming off ACL surgery) and Dionte Mullins, and freshmen DeeJay Dallas, Jeff Thomas and Mike Harley. Don’t count out junior Dayall Harris, who had a quiet debut after transferring from junior college. UM wouldn’t mind if big junior Darrell Langham (6-4, 220) carried over his spring progress, or if freshman Evidence Njoku (6-5, 205) proved too good to redshirt. But UM should have plenty of options in the passing game, which could help offset some concerns at tight end.

Projected depth chart (with the caveat that some players can play multiple positions):

Cager (X), Berrios (Y) and Richards (Z)

Harris, Thomas/Harley and Mullins  

Langham and Njoku (X), walk-on Malik Mayweather (Z)

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

We’re separating the defensive linemen into ends and tackles, but that’s tougher on the other side of the ball because a) Miami cross-trains mostly everyone and has no problem playing its best at different positions in games b) we don’t yet know where the five freshmen Miami signed will play and c) the Canes clearly have a wealth at D-end and a potential issue at D-tackle. UM needs more athletic tackles than it does interior linemen, but that’s a little like saying it needs more game-breaking wide receivers than possession guys (it probably doesn’t, but you get the comparison: every program wants those guys). If Miami enters the year with a six-man rotation of, in some configuration, Kc McDermott, Tyree St. Louis, Tyler Gauthier, Nick Linder, Navaughn Donaldson and Trevor Darling, it should be a solid group. It consists of three seniors, two juniors and one highly regarded freshman, which is probably what you want. The front-line depth is fine. The players behind them are unproven, but O-linemen typically take longer to develop than other positions. Among its 15 scholarship players, UM needs a few underclassmen to show flashes this year, to help ensure the position doesn’t drop off when seniors McDermott, Darling and Linder depart.

Projected depth chart (with the caveat that positions can be flexible):

McDermott (LT), Darling (LG), Gauthier (C), Donaldson (RG), St. Louis (RT)

George Brown (LT), Hayden Mahoney (LG), Linder (C; first off the bench, can also play G); Jahair Jones (RG), Bar Milo (RT)

Tre Johnson (LT),  Kai-Leon Herbert (LG), Corey Gaynor (C), Zach Dykstra (RG), Zalon’tae Hillery (RT)

LINEBACKERS

It’s not easy to recruit a given position when you have young stars-in-the-making there, but Miami will accept that burden. If they continue to build on last year, sophomores Shaq Quarterman, Michael Pinckey and Zach McCloud will be one of the best trios in the ACC, if not the country. What helps the Canes even more: Junior Darrion Owens will be two years removed from a devastating knee injury, and sophomore Jamie Gordinier looks ready to compete after missing last year with a torn ligament in one of his knees. Teammates and coaches were enthusiastic about the spring gains made by Mike Smith, a junior who had knee issues dating to high school. UM’s freshman class — Bradley Jennings Jr., Waynmon Steed and July arrival De’Andre Wilder — won’t be called on early, and that’s a good thing. That’s what you want.

Projected depth chart:

McCloud (Sam), Quarterman (Mike) and Pinckney (Will)

Charles Perry, Smith and Owens/Gordiner

Wilder, Jennings and Steed

QUARTERBACKS

What’s the hackneyed saying, if you have two (or more) quarterbacks, you have none? Well, Miami has four scholarship quarterbacks this fall, which is a reasonable amount. That’s why this group isn’t higher among UM’s worries. The Hurricanes don’t yet know if it has one who’s truly ready to shine as a starter, since only Rosier has game experience (one start, 12 games as a backup). The top contenders are, in order of age, redshirt junior Malik Rosier, redshirt sophomore Evan Shirreffs and true freshman N’Kosi Perry. Like with any team’s quarterback room, if one of these guys can play, depth isn’t much of a concern. If two or more are capable of playing, so much the better. Most programs look to add at least one good quarterback a year, and Miami has a commitment from top-100 prospect Artur Sitkowski, ranked No. 5 among pocket passers by Rivals and 247Sports and No. 8 by ESPN.

Projected depth chart (entering fall camp; don’t @ me):

Rosier

Shirreffs

Perry

Cade Weldon

Walk-on Vincent Testaverde

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