What’s the perfect remedy for a basketball run that ended prematurely and a lackluster baseball season? A spring football game and opportunity to see what type of squad the University of Miami will field when the Hurricanes get back to business this fall.

Lots of promise in 2017 as UM jumped out to a 10-0 start—thrilling comeback wins against Florida State and Georgia Tech, coupled with convincing home performances against Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, getting the fan base believing again.

Cold water and a reality check came in the form of a Friday-after-Thanksgiving loss at Pittsburgh, getting rocked by Clemson in the ACC Championship and an Orange Bowl loss to Wisconsin—but it’s hard to complain about a Coastal Division crown and double-digit win season based on the depths to which this program plunged over the past decade-plus.

Miami suffered some key off-season losses; some avoidable, others not so much.

Losing key senior leadership and production from guys like receiver Braxton Berrios, tight end Chris Herndon or kicker Michael Badgley—it’s part of the game. Kids bailing the program early without having proper depth; another hinderance in the road to recovery.

The departure of running back Mark Walton isn’t the end of the world when the Canes have Travis Homer returning, as well as a welcomed next-level addition in Lorenzo Lingard and Cam Davis. The Canes also return the versatile DeeJay Dallas at a position that looks to be in pretty good hands.

Defensive line early-exits are a bigger concern with RJ McIntosh and Kendrick Norton both declaring early, despite being pegged as third- and fifth-rounders, respectively. Despite being advised that a return would up their stock, both cited being ready for the next-level—leaving the Canes’ defensive line with some depth challenges going into the new season.

The defensive back position remains in good hands with Jaquan Johnson and Michael Jackson returning, though the unit was rattled when learning Malek Young would have to hang it up early, due to a career-ending neck injury suffered last fall.

Depth is something that gets lost in the shuffle when folks focus on the “shiny new toys” that are the early enrollees—as well as what returns first string-wise.

For those who watched last season’s national championship game and Alabama’s comeback against Georgia; they witnessed the Crimson Tide rolling in a 5-star true freshman, top-ranked dual threat quarterback in the nation—on the game’s biggest stage—leading his team to a thrilling overtime victory; absolutely taking over the second half and showing ice in his veins with a game-winning touchdown pass.

That moment was less about Tuo Tagovailoa and more about the machine Nick Saban has constructed in Tuscaloosa; shady-style, or not. Alabama’s bottom forty could beat a lot of teams top 40; which is mind-boggling considering the parity in today’s game.

Depth breeds success and success creates a winning culture that keeps guys around, as they’re playing for something more meaningful that divisional titles and at-large berths. While Miami bid adieu to McIntosh and Norton, conference rival Clemson saw a bonafide high first-round pick Christian Wilkins return to bolster a Tigers’ defensive line that has some unfinished business after getting ousted from the College Football Playoffs early last season.

As Miami closes another spring session, here’s hoping players grow and improve on their own between now and fall ball.

Thinking back to the turn of the millennium, footage emerged where Hurricanes offensive linemen were pushing trucks in the off-season, while upperclassmen on both offense and defense led players-only practices. Miami was chasing national championships annually in that era; and much like Wilkins’ return to Clemson—sure-fire first rounders like safety Ed Reed and offensive lineman Bryant McKinnie returned for their seniors seasons in 2001; helping lead UM to it’s fifth national championship.

The Canes’ current offensive line made the wrong kind of headlines this past weekend; the first string struggling against Miami’s second-string defense. The good news? The defense looked good—which wasn’t the case in years passed—especially the Al Golden era, where his 3-4 scheme left the Canes looking like a shell of their former selves.

Malik Rosier had little time to work under center due to line play, but still out-performed N’Kosi Perry and Jarren Williams. Rosier was 9-of-14 for 105 yards with no touchdowns Saturday afternoon at HardRock. Head coach Mark Richt was quick to point out that the pedestrian afternoon by his quarterback was less about Rosier and most-likely due to defensive pressure and offensive line breakdowns.

“It’s hard to say until I watch the film, but to me, I was standing back there and whoever the No. 1 quarterback was tonight was going to have a hard time. I can’t sit there and downgrade Malik for a lot of things that happened because there wasn’t an opportunity a lot of times to show what he could do,” Richt told reporters Saturday afternoon.

Personnel changes on the line added to the miscues as Saturday’s spring game was only the second time Tyree St. Louis lined up at left tackle, Jahair Jones at left guard, Tyler Gauthier at center, Hayden Mahoney at right guard and Navaughan Donaldson at right tackle. Mahoney is also a newcomer to this group, getting promoted from second string after last week’s scrimmage issues.

Richt acknowledged the musical chairs dynamic, but the veteran coach will keep tinkering until he gets the right group together.

“Do we have any true tackles out there right now? I don’t know. Is Tyree a true left tackle? He’s there now and he gives us our best shot right now and I think he can and I think he is,” Richt said.

“Is Navaughn going to be? I think so. … He’s energized to play that position. … I think he’ll end up being just fine. If we run into guys we’re just struggling protecting, we’ll find ways to help them out, but I really don’t like doing that in the spring because I just want to see what those guys can do without the help. … We’ve just got to make sure we get the right five, work them all this summer and in fall camp, we’ve got to go do it.”

First-string offensive struggles aside, true freshman wide receiver Brian Hightower—an early-enrollee—had four grabs for a game-high 100 yards and two touchdowns; one from Perry and the other from Williams. Hightower’s haul-in from Williams had some style points as he spun and caught the pass behind cornerback Jhavonte Dean.

Newbie defensive back Gilbert Frierson also made his presence felt with with two tackles and an interception that earned him his first “Turnover Chain” moment. DJ Ivey—also a Miami native, like Frierson—will look to help bolster a secondary in need of more bodies

True freshman defensive end Greg Rousseau had also shone with a game-high 5.5 tackles and three sacks; welcomed news considering the losses of McIntosh and Norton this off-season.

On the ground Travis Homer ran seven times for 29 yards, while true freshmen Lorenzo Lingard and Robert Burns combined for 11 carries and 26 yards with the second team. Both will help a position that was thin most of last season after Mark Walton was lost due to injury. DeeJay Dallas had four carries for two yards, but will obviously be a factor come fall.

Biggest takeaway from the game; no injuries—something that can’t ever be taken for granted due to the brutal nature of the sport and freakish injuries that are prone to happen. Saturday’s final score was 17-0; “Team Soffer” topping “Team Carol”—the squads named after Carol Soffer and the Soffer family, who generously donated $14 million towards University of Miami’s new indoor practice facility.

Things will go quiet on the Canes football front with summer approaching, but as we’ve learned—fall will be here in a blink. Miami opens the season on September 2nd in Dallas against LSU.

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