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Hurricanes coaches give outlook at key position where Canes need more dominant players

Hurricanes coaches give outlook at key position where Canes need more dominant players

A six-pack of Miami Hurricanes notes on a Wednesday:

The great UM teams had dominant offensive tackle play, something this group has lacked.

Right tackle Jarrid Williams has been generally competent, and left tackle Zion Nelson (who has shared playing time with John Campbell) played well against Virginia. But the triumvirate of Williams, Nelson and Campbell isn’t going to remind anyone of Bryant McKinnie.

There remain too many quarterback pressures on quarterback D’Eriq King (the blame is shared across the offense for that) and not enough holes created in the running game.

But there are reasons for hope, according to UM coaches.

Manny Diaz and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee raved about freshman offensive tackle Jalen Rivers this week. And tackle Issiah Walker, who transferred to UM after spending three months as a Gator, is highly-regarded.

“Jalen got a couple of snaps in our heavy package on Saturday; we’re excited about Jalen’s development as a tackle which is pretty unique for a guy his size,” Diaz said. “Issiah Walker has come in and done some things, showed his skill set, helping us out with those scout team guys.”

Rivers hasn’t challenged for a starting job, and Walker hasn’t been available to play because of a combination of an undisclosed injury issue and NCAA transfer rules.

“For a freshman Rivers is a guy that if he had to play we feel he could and would get better each week,” Lashlee said. “He’s definitely in the top six, seven, eight guys on that offensive line. … He doesn’t act like a freshman.”

What’s the general outlook at tackle?

“We think Zion Nelson has really developed and played well,” Diaz said. “John Campbell has been able to take some snaps. Jarrid Williams has calmed some things down at the tackle position. You feel you have even more than two tackles that can compete. It has been better this year.

“We didn’t play great on the right side this Saturday [Williams and guard D.J. Scaife], but that’s been sort of the outlier this season. And just recruiting, we have to recruit, recruit, recruit, every year try to stack recruiting classes and improve our roster.”

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The guard play — Jakai Clark and DJ Scaife — has been pretty average. But Navaughn Donaldson isn’t ready to return from a 2019 knee injury.

“Navaughn is not cleared yet,” Lashlee said. “He’s really improving and doing some really good things. Maybe later this year, for sure next year [he can play].”

UM has three 2021 offensive line commitments: center Ryan Rodriguez, tackle Michael McLaughlin and guard Laurence Seymore. All are highly-regarded. But then again, so were several UM recruits who haven’t panned out, including guard Cleveland Reed (now a seldom-used backup) and tackle Kai-Leon Herbert (who opted out of playing this season).

One of the encouraging signs from Saturday: King’s improved touch on the deep ball and the receivers’ ability to make those receptions, including on contested throws.

On passes thrown at least 20 yards in the air, King completed 6 of 7 for 187 yards and a touchdown, per Miami Herald metrics correspondent Daniel Gould. King entered the game 8 for 33 on passes that traveled at least 20 yards in the air.

King, as usual, was under pressure because of deficient pass blocking. Per Pro Football Focus, King was pressured on 16 of his 41 drop-backs. He was able to scramble on five of those 16 pressure situations, gaining 52 yards on the ground.

“I think we’re a little bit more on the page, which gives him more confidence to give those guys more opportunities, even when it’s maybe not wide open,” Lashlee said. “He did a nice job of giving them chances, even when it wasn’t there. He’s throwing with confidence. He threw the ball really well the last two games.”

We’re told that more UM football players have gone into quarantine — for reasons related to COVID-19 — beyond the six freshmen who were not available for Saturday’s game against Virginia.

But athletic director Blake James said “based on our current situation, we will practice and be ready to play [North Carolina State] next Friday” on Nov. 6.

Six freshmen — receivers Xavier Restrepo and Michael Redding, linebacker Corey Flagg, quarterback Tyler Van Dyke, defensive lineman Elijah Roberts and safety Brian Balom — missed the Virginia game because they tested positive for COVID-19 or were in close contact with someone who was, according to a source.

Those players spent time around each other, off the field, on Friday, according to the source.

The players in quarantine are staying either in a local hotel or the dorm, at UM’s expense. UM says that non-athletes in quarantine also are quarantined at either a local hotel or dorm.

What does UM have in its two freshmen defensive ends named Williams (no relation)?

Defensive coordinator Blake Baker said Chantz Williams is “very very technique sound. You can tell he was extremely well coached in high school. He’s bigger than I anticipated him being at such a young age — 260 pounds and can run like a deer.”

He said Williams has “an opportunity to press for playing time as we move forward.” Cameron Williams and Jahfari Harvey have been UM’s third and fourth ends, in no particular order.

Baker said of Quentin Williams: “We’ve worked him inside and outside. You can see how physical he is. Extremely heavy handed.”

UM coaches appreciated that striker Gilbert Frierson offered to play safety against Virginia after Amari Carter was ejected for targeting early in the game. UM took him up on the offer.

“Gilbert, man he’s just a student of the game,” Baker said. “He sits at meeting and is obviously playing attention to everything. How prepared were we as a staff to put him there? He’s played absolutely zero snaps at safety for us. He came up to us at halftime and said `Coach, I can do it.’ He’s smart, knows everybody on the defense, what their job is supposed to be. It’s impressive.”

UM basketball coach Jim Larranaga said senior point guard Chris Lykes “had the best preseason since he’s been here. I’ve enjoyed how hard he has worked and how focused he is to lead this team. He’s practicing very hard.”

Lykes — who has shot the ball well in practice — averaged 15.4 points and 2.4 assists last season but missed five games, struggling through a groin injury and then breaking his nose after catching an elbow to the face, requiring him to wear a protective mask.

Though he will always be at somewhat of a defensive deficit at 5-7, UM believes his defense has improved and he has averaged 1.1 steals per game in his career.

About the author


Erin Clark

Erin is a sports enthusiast who loves indulging in occasional football matches. She is a passionate journalist who flaunts a perfect hold over the English language. She currently caters her skills for the sports and health section of Report Door.

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