CORAL GABLES — He’s big, strong, smart and confident, four basic qualities a coach likes in a starting offensive tackle. Midway through a month of spring practices, Tyree St. Louis is making Mark Richt feel secure.
“No one’s locked up anything yet,” Richt said Saturday. “I’d be shocked if Tyree’s not a starter at one (tackle) or the other, and it looks like unless something dramatic happens, he’ll stay at left.”
Miami had stability on the edges last year. As a senior, left tackle Kc McDermott earned an 84.9 grade from Pro Football Focus — 85 and above is considered elite — and was rated as the 29th-best offensive tackle in the country. While his run-blocking must improve, St. Louis made strides as a pass-protector and enters his senior year as perhaps Miami’s most consistent lineman. Giving him McDermott’s job is not a scary proposition.
“The question,” Richt said, “is who’s going to be able to take that right tackle spot.”
Redshirt junior George Brown Jr. is getting the first shot. Redshirt freshman Zalon’tae Hillery is pushing him. Sophomore Kai-Leon Herbert, the backup at left tackle, would seem to be another candidate. Richt also said he’s “not 100 percent sure” where true freshman Delone “DJ” Scaife will play.
“He’s kind of built to be a guard-center, but I think he’s talented enough to protect on the edge,” Richt said of Scaife, who at 6-foot-3 and 315 pounds is stockier than Brown (6-7, 300), Hillery (6-6, 300) and Herbert (6-5, 285). “He could throw his hat in the ring at tackle if we don’t get what we need.”
The Hurricanes are content with senior center Tyler Gauthier (6-5, 305) and sophomore right guard Navaughn Donaldson (6-6, 350), the latter of whom was named a freshman All-American by ESPN. Trevor Darling, who manned left guard last year, is a huge fan.
“There’s a lot of things that separate Navaughn,” Darling said. “He’s a large human being. And he’s strong. Then, at 350, and he’s probably running with me (6-4, 315) if not even faster. I could go down the line. He’s a different kind of animal. Smart, too.”
Donaldson — who could be a tackle in the future — and Gauthier will certainly be among UM’s best five this fall. The other open spot is left guard, where redshirt senior Jahair Jones (6-4, 320) is began spring as a starter. Two backup guards last year, sophomore Corey Gaynor (6-4, 285) and redshirt junior Hayden Mahoney (6-5, 295), and Scaife will be in the mix if Jones falters.
St. Louis likes playing next to him — “Jahair’s my dude,” he said. “We communicate very well” — and he got a vote of confidence from Darling.
“Since I left, in that little time he’s gotten a lot better. It’s his time. It’s all him right now,” said Darling, adding that he has watched spring practice closely and is intrigued by Scaife.
Miami also expects Tennessee transfer Venzell Boulware (6-3, 305) to compete for time at guard once he arrives this summer. He will have two years of eligibility and be able to play this fall, according to reports.
Richt said Mahoney is solid and “doing a good job for us” and that he’s “very encouraged” by Jones, who has seen scant playing time since transferring from junior college in 2015.
“He’s always been able to do it consistently,” Richt said. “Mentally, on a consistent basis, it wasn’t there. Now that he’s sitting there as a starter, I think it’s kind of changing his mindset, or at least it looks like it. He’s had very few missed assignments. He’s playing as physical as we would hope. Maybe a missed assignment here or there, but everybody’s doing that.”
Miami’s offensive line improved last year, ranking seventh in the ACC in sacks per game allowed (2.23) and allowing the fewest tackles for loss (5.0). Malik Rosier’s mobility at quarterback helped move the chain. The run-blocking was inconsistent, but that owed partly to a lack of depth at tight end and fullback, forcing Richt to abandon some of the power-run game he used in 2016. He would like to do more of it this year.
After not landing a fullback last year — and using Gaynor and walk-on Michael Parrott unsuccessfully in the role — he signed Realus George (6-2, 245). Freshman tight end Brevin Jordan (6-3, 250), who has excellent speed for his size, could be used as an H-back. Both players arrive this summer.
If they see the field early, they’ll be playing with St. Louis.
This spring, Richt said, there’s “no competition” between the 6-foot-5, 315-pound Tampa native and Herbert, from Fort Lauderdale.
“I think he’s far ahead of Kai, physically and mentally,” Richt said. “You would expect it mentally. The other day, a certain blitz came and Tyree knew to change the protection at the line, got it where we picked it up and completed a ball without the quarterback being under duress. What would have been a ‘hot’ throw became what we call a ‘protected hot,’ just because he knew what to do and how to do it.”
St. Louis said he added 10 pounds of muscle since the end of the season, which should help shore up his main weakness.
Rarely does an ACC tackle have it easy — last year, the league had the nation’s best corps of defensive lines — but according to Pro Football Focus, St. Louis graded a paltry 43.1 as a run-blocker. He was 85.9 as a pass-protector, which is considered elite, and ranked him 30th among all offensive tackles in pass-protection. He allowed four quarterback hits (two of them sacks) in eight of Miami’s 12 regular season games, PFF said. He said he needs to “keep my hands inside and get my first two steps on the ground” when UM runs the ball.
Affable and cheery in interviews, St. Louis asserts himself to be “a lot more comfortable” at left tackle than right. One reason: that’s where his coaches placed him during his first year of organized football, his freshman year at Tampa Bay Tech.
He has come far since then.
“Now I’m an older guy, the young guys are going to come to me more and the team is going to expect me to say more, especially being a senior left tackle,” he said. “Now it’s not just [about] doing my job and doing everything right, but making sure that other people around me try to encourage younger guys, younger teammates and older teammates to play at the same level and have the same intensity.”