More questions than answers facing Hurricanes
With spring practices finally all wrapping up around the country, HuskerOnline.com continues our look at where each of Nebraska's 12 opponents in 2015 currently stand coming out of spring ball and heading into the summer. Today, we check in on the Huskers' first road opponent of the season in the Miami Hurricanes, who will host NU on Sept. 19.
To get a feel for where the Hurricanes stand heading into their fifth season under head coach Al Golden, we spoke with Gary Ferman of CaneSport.com to get his thoughts and perspective on the team and what to expect once the season gets underway in a few months.
For a program that has produced 325 all-time NFL draft picks, including 30 since 2010, reloading is nothing new for Miami. Once again, the Hurricanes were tasked with filling some notable holes in their lineup after having seven players selected in the 2015 draft, tied for the fourth most of any school. Five of those came off the board in the first three rounds, including two first round picks.
This past spring was the first step in trying to find replacements for each of those voids. According to Ferman, though, that task is still far from completed. Miami does return standout sophomore quarterback Brad Kaaya, who threw for nearly 3,200 yards and 26 touchdowns last season as a true freshman. But questions remain around him, especially on the offensive line - which lost three starters to the NFL - and replacing graduated star running back Duke Johnson..
Given how much star power Miami lost on offense with the likes of Johnson and first-round pick Phillip Dorsett at wide receiver, the offense will undoubtedly revolve around Kaaya. The running game will likely be handled by the duo of Gus Edwards and Joseph Yearby, while the receiving corps returns Stacy Coley and Rashawn Scott. At tight end, Standish Dobard will replace third-round pick Clive Walford
On the offensive line, guard Daniel Isidora returns, but UM must replace No. 9 overall pick Ereck Flowers at left tackle, fourth-round pick Jon Feliciano at guard, and center Shane McDermott, who signed as an undrafted rookie free agent.
Defense might be as big of an issue as any for Miami coming out of the spring, especially replacing middle linebacker and team captain Denzel Perryman, who was drafted in the second round. Ferman said there are major questions about the starting lineup on defense right now, as the entire defensive line, all three linebacker spots and the majority of the secondary is still very much up for grabs.
Offensive star: QB Brad Kaaya
There's really no question that Kaaya will be the face of Miami football this season. Despite leading the Hurricanes to a disappointing 6-7 finish in 2014, Kaaya got better with every start and came into spring ball looking like a completely different quarterback than he was last fall, Ferman said.
The Hurricanes are banking that with a full year of staring experience now under his belt, Kaaya can take the next step mentally to match his already impressive physical tools. If he can, the concerns Miami has on offense around him should be eased quite a bit.
Defensive star: LB Jermaine Grace
In Ferman's opinion, there really is no defensive "star" on Miami's roster at this point. But if he had to pick one player who might have the most potential to at least come close to that status, it would be junior linebacker Jermaine Grace.
The Miami Gardens, Fla., native played in all 13 games for the Hurricanes last season as a sophomore, recording 60 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks. But his size (6-1, 208) makes it hard to know how well he'll be able to hold up as a starter over the course of an entire season.
Spring surprise: CB Corn Elder
Miami's defense has all sorts of questions still needing to be answered, but the emergence of junior cornerback Corn Elder this spring looks to have at least solved one of the positions on that side of the ball. After seeing time in all 13 games with one start in 2014, Ferman said Elder looks ready to take the next step after his performance this spring.
A former four-star athlete who was also a standout running back in high school, the 5-foot-10, 183-pound Elder should help give the Hurricanes at least some consistency in the secondary going into fall camp.
Best spring position battle: Running back
It certainly won't be easy replacing a player like Duke Johnson, who ended his career tied for first place on Miami's all-time leading rushing list with more than 3,500 yards. But the good news for the Hurricanes is they have two backs that should help carry the load in Edwards and Yearby.
Edwards (6-2, 230) will provide more of the power running, while Yearby has shown big-play potential. Miami will also be adding four-star Mark Walton to the mix this fall, giving the offense plenty of options to work with in the running game this season.
Biggest question: Can Miami get good enough?
Like always, Miami has enough young talent and potential that the major losses from last season might not be as devastating as they would be for some other teams. But that doesn't change the fact that there are so many unknowns surrounding the Hurricanes that it's almost impossible to know if an improvement from 2014 is in the cards.
Kaaya gives them a bonafide star quarterback, and there is plenty of upcoming talent at the skill positions. However, the turnover on the offensive line and the lack of proven players on defense make this an offseason full of unknowns. Ferman thinks the answers to those questions probably won't be found until Nebraska comes to town for UM's first true test of the season.
Early outlook on Miami vs. Nebraska
Ferman: "I think it's going to be a great matchup, because I think they're both very storied programs that should have some decent athletes on their rosters. Maybe not enough of them, but certainly some. They're two programs pretty much in the same spot, the only difference is Nebraska is coming off a coaching change and Miami is wondering whether it's headed towards one. I think it's going to be a great game. I think clearly Nebraska will look at the film from last year and they're going to make Miami stop the running game. Miami's ability to hold up at the line of scrimmage is going dictate very strongly what direction that game goes in."
Overall 2015 win-loss expectations
Ferman: "The expectation is to win the Coastal Division of the ACC. I mean, they have to. If they don't, then the coaching staff is going to be jeopardy, and they'll probably be going through a situation like what Nebraska is going through right now. That's the only expectation that they can have, and they have to find a way to get there. It's not going to be easy. They lost a lot of talent in the draft this year. They were a team that clearly underachieved last year. So it's going to be a really tough challenge. But I don't think anything less than that is going to be acceptable to them or anybody else."
Click Here to view this Link.