Miami Hurricanes football: Ten important storylines for 2017 camp, how to follow camp

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

Year No. 2 of Miami’s Mark Richt era unofficially begins Tuesday, when the Hurricanes return to the practice field after 9 a.m. They’ll run through 23 practice sessions before breaking camp and going into game-week mode, in preparation for the Sept. 2 season-opener against Bethune-Cookman.

Until then, here are 10 major storylines we’ll be following:

Who’s the QB? 

Brad Kaaya is gone after three years, leaving a void. True freshman N’Kosi Perry has plenty of talent — and plenty of fans in and around UM’s football facility. Richt maintains he has no idea if Perry, who arrived in May and did not participate in spring drills, can handle the starting job. He enters camp believing the same thing about returning quarterbacks Malik Rosier — Kaaya’s two-year backup — and Evan Shirreffs, who ended spring a co-No. 1 with Rosier. Richt also plans to let true freshman Cade Weldon show his stuff. By the second scrimmage of camp, Richt hopes he’ll have seen enough to name a starter.

How healthy are the RBs? 

Miami’s success on offense may well depend on the health of Mark Walton, its standout tailback who rushed for 1,117 yards and 14 touchdowns last year. With instability at QB, the Canes need a big year from Walton, but it’s unfair to ask him to do it alone. Sophomore Travis Homer, a special-teams ace last year, is primed for a larger role. UM would love it if junior Trayone Gray (knee) and freshman Robert Burns (shoulder) are healthy enough to contribute, after both missed spring ball with injuries.

Is the O-line better? 

The Hurricanes should be improved up front, after several seasons of sometimes-shoddy play. This fall, Miami returns three seniors and two juniors, and adds at least one true freshman (Navaughn Donaldson) who appears capable of performing at a high level. Arguably the most talented group since 2014, when UM rolled out a starting unit that included 2015 first-round pick Ereck Flowers (LT), fourth-rounder Jon Feliciano (LG), rookie free agent Shane McDermott (C) and 2017 fifth-rounder Danny Isidora (RG), who was then a sophomore. This unit talked about unity and improvement the two previous summers, and the season results rendered that chatter a little cheap. We’re in wait-and-see mode.

Is Miami deep enough at DT? 

This is a question with immediate and down-the-road implications. After redshirt junior and expected key contributor Gerald Willis took a leave of absence, Richt remained confident about depth, though he said injuries could put UM in a bind. Given the fact both starters (Kendrick Norton and R.J. McIntosh) could declare for the NFL after the season and another regular (Anthony Moten) will graduate, the Hurricanes must develop quality replacements this fall.

Which wideouts will earn first-team reps? 

Braxton Berrios has been a good soldier and a standout on special teams, but as a senior, he’d like to add more receptions to his dossier. Lawrence Cager will be raring to go coming off last summer’s season-ending knee injury. Fast freshmen Jeff Thomas and Mike Harley have the type of speed most teams wouldn’t keep on the sideline, and coaches love how classmate DeeJay Dallas seems to find ways to get to the end zone. Ahmmon Richards, of course, would be most teams’ No. 1 option, and he’ll fill that role for the Canes. Can guys like Dayall Harris, Dionte Mullins and Darrell Langham find their way into the mix? Everyone wants to see what big (6-6, 196) wideout Evidence Njoku will do as a freshman, given his brother, first-round Cleveland Browns draft pick David Njoku, was one of the more impressive athletes UM has had in recent memory

How good are the newcomers at corner? 

Miami’s additions in the secondary could do wonders for a unit which, entering spring drills, loomed as the only potential weak spot on its defense. FCS grad transfer Dee Delaney, a rugged NFL prospect, looked good against FBS competition in his time at The Citadel. Coaches are excited about the speed junior college transfer Jhavonte Dean brings. Four-star recruit Trajan Bandy, if he were a few inches taller, could be one of the top cornerbacks in the 2017 class. He still might be.

Can Feagles handle the punting job? 

Three years of Justin Vogel — the latest in a long line of high-level Hurricanes punters — will spoil a fan base. It’s up to freshman Zach Feagles, a UM legacy, to show he’s more than just a familiar name. Miami’s special teams should be solid, with returning kicker Michael Badgley and several enticing options in the return game. Feagles will have help in solving any first-year jitters.

Will young TEs rise to the occasion? 

Speaking of famous fathers, the son of The Playmaker — that’s Michael Irvin II — has a prime opportunity to become UM’s backup tight end, and he’ll be needed more now that fellow 2016 signee Jovani Haskins left the team. Irvin and 2017 signee Brian Polendey, a three-star recruit from Denton, Texas, must show the coaching staff they’re capable of earning reps behind valuable senior Chris Herndon. With a top-tier duo of tight ends coming in 2018 (Brevin Jordan and Will Mallory, both national-level recruits), it’s time for Irvin and Polendey to make an impact.

What’s the ceiling for the DEs? 

They haven’t garnered preseason accolades like some of the other supremely talented ACC defensive ends, but Chad Thomas and Joe Jackson are an excellent starting pair. Demetrius Jackson, Trent Harris and Scott Patchan (returning from injury) should contribute plenty. In the spring, coaches were high on Jonathan Garvin, the freshman from Lake Worth High. Sacramento product D.J. Johnson, who reportedly had more scholarship offers — 100 — than any 2017 recruit, will be in the spotlight when he dons his No. 1 jersey.

What’s new at The U? 

In addition to scoping the ongoing construction of Miami’s new indoor practice facility — a major reason CanesFest is being held at Hard Rock Stadium — we’ll want to see what the newly renovated Hecht Center looks like. Of greater interest: have Richt and his staff changed their way of doing things, with a year under their belt? Has he altered his approach to calling plays, game-planning, and deploying his talent? We might have to wait until Sept. 16 at Florida State to see.

How to follow the action

As usual, we’ll be all over the Canes this fall. Be sure to check the blog daily for news, analysis, photos and videos. For links to all coverage and more exclusive, unique and compelling UM content, follow me on Twitter (@mattyports), Facebook (Post on Miami Hurricanes), Instagram (mattyports) and Snapchat (msp8888).

What to know:

Miami opens camp Tuesday morning. It plans to hold 23 practices, Monday through Saturday, until breaking camp Aug. 28. That’s when it starts game-week prep for the Sept. 2 season opener against Bethune-Cookman.

Practices are scheduled for approximately 9 to 11:10 a.m.

The media gets to watch a brief segment of practice, usually at the start of the session, and speak to players and coaches afterward. Expect your timelines to be flooded with content by noon.

UM will hold three Saturday scrimmages — Aug. 12, Aug. 19 and Aug. 26 — which are closed to the public and media. Other events to know: CanesFest is Aug. 12, and UM’s media day, when freshmen and other newcomers are permitted to speak, is Aug. 14.

Richt will address the media on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays (and on Tuesday, the opening day of camp). Manny Diaz (Tuesdays) and Thomas Brown (Wednesdays) also have regular speaking duty (next week, pushed back a day). Players and other coaches are available to speak to us by request, at UM’s discretion.

In-depth position previews
Running backs
Wide receivers 
Tight ends

Offensive line 
Defensive line

Defensive backs

Special teams

Offseason features, news
A sit-down with Richt, Parts I-IV
Miami gearing up for QB battle
Perry learning, adjusting, impressing
UM’s offense will depend on Walton
Quarterman leading Miami’s defense
LBs motivated by UM’s ‘ghosts of greatness’
Richards hoping to be All-American
Berrios tired of hype
‘The Playmaker’ high on Richards
Winston: Perry’s going to be ‘really good’
Cager angling for a comeback
Richt on swag | Says ‘The U is back’
Richt has really strong sandwich takes
Willis takes leave | Gone: Mayes | Odogwu | Haskins

Depth analysis
Strongest areas | Weakest areas | Scholarship count

Meet the 2017 signing class
2018 UM commits at The Opening
Lorenzo Lingard interview
Recent ’18 commits: Blades | Campbell | Baxa
Links to latest Miami recruiting stories

Other fun stuff
CanesFest set for Aug. 12
Analyzing the 2017 schedule
The Guide to Watching Miami Football
A visual history of Miami football stadiums
Exclusive look at UM’s new alternate jerseys
UM jersey numbers have meaning
The Glossary of Canes player nicknames
Thomas produces music for DJ Khaled
Fun facts from the 2017 media guide
Projecting Miami’s 2018 draft class
Miami’s over-under: 9 wins
UM picked to win the Coastal
Porter’s preseason All-ACC ballot, predictions


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