How do you replace your all-time leading rusher and a group of NFL-caliber skilled players? Well, of course, the answer is, you don’t. But a solid offensive line can oftentimes mask certain deficiencies.
Miami relied heavily last year on an offense that scored 30-or-more points in half of its games while its defense faltered late, yielding 30-or-more points in three final regular season games. But gone from that team are Duke Johnson, the most prolific running back in the program’s storied history, along with skilled players Phillip Dorsett and Clive Wolford. Oh, and three offensive linemen, including standout Ereck Flowers.
And that’s where the biggest question mark looms in a Canes’ offense, which is spearheaded by quarterback Brad Kaaya, who threw for 3,198 yards and 26 touchdowns as a freshman last season. The U enters the 2015 season with a very inexperienced offensive line, which between them has combined for just 22 starts.
That can’t make Kaaya feel too warm and fuzzy about standing in the pocket against defenses the caliber of Clemson, Virginia Tech, Virginia or Pittsburgh. But that’s the dilemma he faces as the Canes break in a relatively new group in the trenches.
How quickly that line jells will very likely determine Miami’s fate under embattled head coach Al Golden.
But that’s not to say that this revamped line is void of talent. Redshirt junior right guard Danny Isidora is the lone returning full-time starter and the 6-4, 322-pounder is a good one to build from. He started all 13 games a year ago.
Canes offensive line coach Art Kehoe announced the starting lineup for the Sept. 5 season opener against Bethune Cookman on Monday’s Joe Rose Show on WQAM.
Along with Isidora, Kehoe named sophomore Trevor Darling (6-5, 315), who started five games last season at right tackle, to start at left tackle, and Alex Gall (6-5, 318) at left guard.
Sophomores Nick Linder (6-3, 300-pound center), who started four games last season at left guard, and Sunny Odogwu (6-8, 320-pound right tackle), who played in 10 games last season, round out the new look.
Kehoe was also quick to point out that 6-6, 310-pound sophomore Kc McDermott would see plenty of playing time, and that Hunter Knighton (6-6, 300-pound sophomore), Joe Brown (6-4, 320-pound redshirt freshman), and Hunter Wells (6-6, 316-pound senior) have also been impressive during fall camp.
And that’s perhaps the light at the end of the tunnel. Depth has returned to The U.
“Our numbers are so much better from where we’ve come with probation,” Kehoe said Monday. “Four or five years ago we might have had 23, 24 guys (linemen, both offense and defense). Now we have closer to 40. We’ve built some strong depth there, and at a lot of positions. That’s why we feel so good about our team.”
Kaaya said he likes what he’s seen so far from his five protectors.
“It’s getting set, there are still guys switching around, but as of now, the offensive line looks pretty set,” Kaaya said. “Overall, the offensive line is really coming together well.”
Offensive coordinator James Coley made similar comments following Saturday’s scrimmage.
“I thought the ones played very well,” Coley said. “They’re going against that one defense – that one defense is good. They got really good players up front.”
The reworked O line will be “soft” tested in season openers with Bethune Cookman and FAU, before Nebraska comes calling on Sept. 19.