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College Football Preview 2015-2016: 25. Miami Hurricanes

Brad Kaaya
25. Miami (Florida) Hurricanes

2014-2015 Record: 6-7 (3-5 ACC)
Coach: Al Golden, 5th year (28-22 overall)
Recruiting Rundown
Key Losses: LB Denzel Perryman, RB Duke Johnson
Heisman Hopeful: Brad Kaaya
Breakout Player: DL Chad Thomas

The first year of the post-Stephen Morris era in Coral Gables was a very rocky campaign. Although true freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya did a wonderful job filling the massive shoes of Morris, the immense talent on the Hurricanes' roster just didn't put it all together. The 'Canes would finish 6-7, with an Independence Bowl loss to South Carolina, culminating it all. They did give Florida State quite the challenge and did have some good moments, but overall it only further warmed Al Golden's hot seat. The Hurricanes will once more have a number of NFL defections (including stud linebacker Denzel Perryman, tackle Ereck Flowers and back Duke Johnson), but the talent is still certainly there to make a run in the weak ACC Coastal. With Kaaya a dark horse Heisman threat, a superstar developing at receiver, and last year's great recruiting class ready to jump into starting roles, the 'Canes could be a major surprise in the ACC this season.

Backfield: Miami seemed destined for disaster after the graduation of Morris at quarterback. His likely replacement, Ryan Williams tore his ACL in the spring and that left true freshman Brad Kaaya as the lone option. But, Kaaya was absolutely wonderful in his first season in Coral Gables. Kaaya started all 13 of the Hurricanes' games and threw for 3,198 yards and 26 touchdowns. Even though he threw 12 interceptions and completed a relatively low 58.5 percent of his passes, considering it was his first season against pretty stiff ACC, it was a great start to his career. Kaaya doesn't have the biggest arm in the world and he will continue to work on his deep balls but his feel for the game and composure inside the pocket are truly amazing. Kaaya also is a pretty good runner and will give teams real troubles with his dual threat ability. Although there are still going to be growing pains for the sophomore in 2015, he certainly has the talent to have an even bigger encore. The loss of Randy "Duke" Johnson certainly stings, when healthy the former major recruit was dominant. His loss may put some pressure on Kaaya and the passing game, but one of last year's big time recruits, Joseph Yearby is ready to step up in a big way. The sophomore, straight out of Miami Central High, was solid as a backup, rushing for 509 yards, while averaging nearly six yards per carry. While there is certainly a question whether he has the durability (5'9", 195 pounds), Yearby certainly has the raw talent to fill the major void left by Johnson. Expect true freshman Mark Walton also to get plenty of opportunities as while. Walton isn't very powerful either but he has good burst is also a good receiver out of the backfield. Junior Gus Edwards will also be expected to step up and will most likely be the ball-carrier to get the ball in short yardage situations.

Stacy Coley
Receiver: Gone is stud receiver Phillip Dorsett is off to the NFL along with wonderful tight end Clive Walford, but the Hurricanes still have a number of weapons for Kaaya to throw to. Junior Stacy Coley has already established himself as one of the nation's best returners, but he is still looking to grow as a receiver. Coley is an absolute speedster and there are few defensive backs in the nation and in the ACC that can cover his explosiveness. But, he isn't a great route runner and he doesn't have developed receiving hands yet, but that could still come. Coley doesn't have to be a wonderful receiver but if he could grow into a more natural No. 1 receiver, that would certainly add some bite to the offense. Also back is senior receiver Herb Waters, who was solid throughout the 2014-2015 campaign, despite recording lower numbers than he did in '13. Waters isn't the fastest player on the field, but he has better hands than Coley and is also a better route runner. When he catches the ball, he is somewhat elusive and strong. Waters likely won't put up crazy numbers, but he is a veteran with reliability and Kaaya should certainly lean on him. The Hurricanes will also be banking on sophomore Braxton Berrios to step up. Berrios was very good as a true freshman a year ago, bringing in 21 receptions for 232 yards and three touchdowns. Although he is very small, Berrios is quick and shifty and could play a Wes Welker-like role this year in 2015, just simply moving the chains, a role that Walford played a year ago. The tight end position is certainly a question mark, following the graduation of Walford. Despite the fact Miami has had many great tight ends in their system over the years (Jimmy Graham, Jeremy Shockey, Kellen Winslow), Walford was statistically the most productive 'Canes tight end ever. Al Golden and offensive coordinator James Coley will rely heavily on the incoming services of junior college transfer Jerome Washington. The 6'5" massive target is the top-ranked JUCO tight end in the 2015 class, and is an established pass-catcher, though blocking needs work. He will be very dependable in the red zone, and will certainly get a lot of snaps moving forward.

Offensive Line: The early NFL defection of Ereck Flowers certainly hurts Miami, but what hurts more is the graduation of interior linemen Shane McDermott, a steady veteran and anchor of the unit. Flowers is obviously super talented (hence his name being called 9th in the 2015 NFL Draft), but he struggled with consistency. McDermott's brother, Kc McDermott will be counted on to anchor the unit as a sophomore. Unlike Shane, who was a center in his time in Coral Gables, Kc is a talented tackle who was the No. 4 rated offensive tackle in the 2014 class. The sophomore has decent athleticism, but has a wide, steady frame and undeniable strength. Another player sure to step up after seeing some time in his true freshman year is Nick Linder, who will carry the load in the middle of the offensive line. Originally recruited as a center, Linder has the versatility to play both guard spots as well. Linder isn't absolutely massive, but he is hard-working and a gritty player who will provide some stability in the interior. Returning at the opposite guard spot will be junior Danny Isidora. Isidora is another gritty linemen, but has more size than Linder, weighing in at around 330 pounds. Both Isidora and Linder have some nice experience, and should help lead the ground game throughout 2015. Golden and staff did a great job bringing in reinforcements throughout their offensive line, beginning with their top prospect in the 2015 class, tackle Tyree St. Louis. Widely viewed as a four-star recruit and a Top 10 tackle, St. Louis was a big pickup from Bradenton, Florida and the powerful tackle could see snaps right away. Miami also snagged tackle Bar Milo all the way over on the West Coast, and picked up a solid guard in Kendrick Norton, from Jacksonville.

Defensive Line: He didn't always play pretty, but defensive linemen Anthony Chickillo had a superb career while with the Hurricanes. Chickillo could play at either tackle or end and showed impressive range and quickness despite his wide body. He was drafted in the sixth round by Pittsburgh, and could certainly see some action with them on Sundays. While his loss only contributes to the loss of leadership, yet another prospect from the 2014 recruiting class could be in store for a huge year. Chad Thomas was viewed across the land as a Top 10, perhaps even Top 5 defensive end in the 2014 recruiting cycle. Despite seeing some action, Thomas finished with very modest stats of seven tackles and one sack last season. Though, many people see Thomas as a star ready to breakout entering 2015 and he certainly has the tools. He stands at 6'5", 250+ pounds and has impressive athleticism. Thomas possesses an average first step, but his strength, power and ferocity allow him to eventually get to quarterbacks. Thomas is more natural at defensive end, but he has bulked up quite about, to possibly play tackle and who knows, Miami might give him looks standing up at outside linebacker. At the other defensive end spot, Miami is getting major help with the return of senior Tyriq McCord, who will also get looks at outside linebacker. A polished pass rusher, McCord recorded 6.5 tackles for loss and three sacks last season. Up the middle, another veteran is returning with senior Calvin Heurtelou is huge for the Hurricanes. Although he isn't a great pass rusher, Heurtelou will occupy blockers and open up lanes for Thomas, McCord and more. He is also a major help in run support, using his 315-pound frame to clog up lanes and openings. Depth should not be much of a concern for the unit either especially with a number of impact recruits ready to come in. That includes true freshman Scott Patchan, who will move up and along the line, along with three-star defensive tackle Ryan Fines.

Linebackers: While the loss of Chickillo along the line will be tough to swallow, perhaps even tougher for Miami and Al Golden will be the absence of middle linebacker Denzel Perryman. Perryman was the heart and soul of the Hurricanes' defense; he was a hard-hitter with incredible instincts and no fear. Clearly his playmaking abilities will be tough to replace, but luckily there are players inside the linebacker corps. That includes Jermaine Grace, who will most likely be the face of the defense and will have to step up and fill the leadership void. Second on the team in tackles a year ago, Grace picked up 60, and also showcased his strong pass rushing abilities with three sacks. He will start at one outside linebacker position, with the other one likely manned by senior Raphael Kirby. Kirby brought 54 tackles to the equation in 2014-2015, and also proved to be a strong coverage 'backer, with two interceptions. Not the most athletic player on the field, Kirby relies on his instincts and smarts and is certainly a great player. The likely replacement for Perryman at middle linebacker will be sophomore Juwon Young, though the position battle will be intriguing to watch into fall camp. Young is a good athlete who has superb burst and ferocity and there are similarities in his game when compared to Perryman's game. Though, Perryman recorded 110 tackles a season ago while compared to four from Young, so quite clearly, there will be some severe growing pains. Sophomore Darrion Owens will add depth, likely pushing for playing time at either outside linebacker slot. Owens could breakout this season after showing flashes in his first year with Miami. Charles Perry is a four-star recruit in most scouting services, and the outside linebacker will certainly add much needed depth. A talent out of Royal Palm Beach, Florida, Perry is a solid prospect who is a great run defender.

Secondary: Unlike the defensive line and linebacker corps, the secondary is devoid of any major losses. In fact, with many veterans back, it could not just be the strength of the Miami defense but also possibly the team. Junior Artie Burns returns at the cornerback position, likely as the No. 1 cornerback entering this season. Burns had 40 tackles last season, also showing his versatility by picking up two sacks and recording six pass deflections. Burns is not the biggest guy on the field, but he is quick and smart and could be shutdown in 2015. Tracy Howard was a stud his sophomore year at Coral Gables but was invisible at times last season. Howard ended up starting in the Independence Bowl against South Carolina and was very good. Now back for his final year, Howard should see starting snaps, as he certainly has all the talent to do so. The senior is a tremendous athlete but is prone to mistakes and just dumb plays. Now older, expect Miami to lean heavily on the veteran. Junior Corn Elder is a likely candidate to also see serious snaps following the departure of Ladarius Gunter (who went undrafted). Elder had 4 pass deflections and was solid despite not seeing a ton of snaps a year ago. Both safety positions are in good hands, with seniors back at both free safety and strong safety. Deon Bush returns and can contribute in a variety of different ways, a great wrap-up tackler who is disciplined and a player who also showcased clear ball hawking abilities while picking off two passes in 2014. Joining the veteran-led unit will be Dallas Crawford, another player that was solid last season. Crawford recorded 35 tackles and while he has less range than Bush, he is still a great athlete who is also a hard hitter. Golden and staff also supplemented the unit with a number of freshman ready to step in and contribute. A Top 20 Athlete in the Class of 2015 and a four-star recruit, Jaquan Johnson could help Miami in a number of ways. But, most likely the team will push him into a role somewhere in the defensive backfield and he will find ways to make an impact. Much like Johnson and clearly a lot of this class, safety prospect Robert Knowles is also a local Miami kid. A four-star recruit as well, Knowles might not see a ton of snaps this year with the experience at safety, but certainly will be a key piece moving forward.

Special Teams: The return of Stacy Coley will reassert Miami as a team with wonderful special teams. Coley is always a threat to run one deep, and will field punts and kicks as the team's primary returner at both spots. Kicker is a relative question moving forward for Miami, as incumbent sophomore Michael Badgley had a 2014 full of ups and downs. Junior Justin Vogel is a solid returner at punter.

This will be a make or break season for the Miami program, especially under the heavily scrutinized Golden. Although they have had some of the ACC's best recruiting classes and better teams (they had four players drafted within the first three rounds in the 2015 NFL Draft) , Miami hasn't produced many tangible results, and 6-7 won't cut it in Coral Gables. Still, the talent on this team is clear, from quarterback to defensive line and the ACC is clearly in a rebuild, opening up doors for the Hurricanes to sneak into conference title contention. Perhaps double-digit wins might be ambitious this year for the 'Canes, but the program certainly has to prove it is moving forward, and with Kaaya and a bunch of others ready to step up, they just might do it.

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