Miami Beat: A Look at the Freshmen

On the heels of today’s look at the conference’s top freshmen, it only seems logical to expand upon that topic when looking at the ACC’s youngest team. Head coach Al Golden told Joe Rose on WQAM in Miami that 15 first year players would likely see action against Boston College in the season opener, and as many as 18 were candidates to play at some point during the season.  The ‘Canes released a post-scrimmage depth chart late Monday night, and while it has some surprises, I’m personally not buying most of what I see. Golden is selling this new depth chart for its face value, and I’ll give him credit for doing so. But I also expect the third version to show just as many shake ups. All in all, it’s just different players getting reps with different units.

Guessing the names of the 15-18 rookies who could see action seems like splitting hairs, and we could probably bend the rules a bit too, to include redshirt freshmen and junior college players. But this should be a fun exercise, and I can’t think of a topic fans want to read about more than “who are the new guys I need to know,” so, here goes nothing!

Immediate Impact Freshmen

Miami freshman RB Randy “Duke” Johnson (photo courtesy of InsideTheU.com)

Duke Johnson, RB — Duh, I just highlighted him. I also penned that paragraph before Sunday’s scrimmage, which saw Johnson house a 37 yard screen pass that caused a stir amongst teammates. He also scored three times on his nine carries, which totaled 44 yards. He’s got star potential. He’s fourth on the current depth chart, but I’ll simply tell you to watch the season opener in Chestnut Hill and see if he’s the fourth back on the field. He won’t be.

Ereck Flowers, OT — The strange saga of former five-star recruit Seantrel Henderson took another turn today, when Golden noted Henderson will be returning to Minnesota for a “family” funeral. This on the tail of missing most of last week attending the funeral of a friend, and suffering a concussion while driving back to campus. And the staff seems none too concerned, because Flowers has shown well in camp. If the season started today, Flowers would be your starting right tackle. He’s 6-foot-6, 314 pounds, and is going to be a mainstay in the trenches for some time. There’ll be some growing pains, but Flowers has a veteran group around him that can help hide some of his early mistakes.

Tracy Howard, CB — Arguably a bigger recruit than Johnson, Howard surprised some when he announced he’d attend Miami. What’s not surprising is how quickly he’s turned into a starter. Howard had moved to the first unit prior to Sunday’s scrimmage, where the entire defense struggled. For now, Brandon McGee has leaped Howard, but we’re splitting hairs. Howard’s got solid ball skills, and some play making ability, which the ‘Canes have severely lacked in their secondary. He looks like a three year starter before a possible early departure.

Malcolm Lewis, WR — Lewis led all of his teammates not named Duke in receiving during Sunday’s scrimmage, and looks like he’s the most likely of five incoming receivers to play early and often. Lewis notes he’s turned a lot of baby fat into muscle this summer, and with the help of sophomore Philip Dorsett, he’s immersed himself in the playbook. His understanding of the offense has given him a jump start during the first week of camp, and provided his work ethic remains high, he’ll remain in the receiving rotation. Again, pay no attention to the above linked depth chart.

Likely to see (somewhat) meaningful snaps

Daniel Isidora, OL — Isidora is working behind Brandon Linder at right guard, and should see plenty of action throughout the season.

Taylor Gadbois, OL — Gadbois is a mammoth of a man (6-foot-8, 310 pounds,) and has been on and off the two deep. He’ll add depth, and should trot out often with the above mentioned Isidora.

Robert Lockhart, WR — Lockhart has been highlighted often in practice reports, but was noticeably absent from Sunday’s scrimmage stats, and doesn’t appear on the new depth chart. This is one instance I’m actually buying. Coaches have raved about his ability to “go up and get” balls at their highest point, but he’s struggled to learn the playbook. Until he does, he’s likely to only see a series or two, if that.

Herb Waters, WR — Prior to Lockhart’s implied demotion, I was confused on Waters. He’s clearly in the mix for playing time, but he seemed to be third amongst the rookie crop, which puts him way down the overall wideout pecking order. He may need an injury to make a significant impact early.

Raphael Kirby, LB — Kirby enrolled early, and was listed as the backup to Denzel Perryman until last night. News is circulating now that Kirby was “banged up” during the scrimmage, but the exact nature of his injury is unknown. Assuming he’s healthy, expect Kirby to see ample time.

Rayshawn Jenkins, DB — A quick look at the next six, yes six, players tells you all you need to know about Miami’s secondary.  Jenkins will see time at safety.

Larry Hope, DB — Right now, Hope is more of a depth guy at corner, but should see some time whether it’s in dime situations, or with the second team.

Vernon Davis, DB — Davis is getting some work as the nickel corner, and has been singled out for his playmaking ability early. He’s doesn’t appear on the two-deep.

Deon Bush, DB — Bush is no higher than third on the safety depth chart, and isn’t having a standout camp. He’s a high level recruit, who should see more meaningful action as the season progresses.

Antonio Crawford, DB — Crawford has been the surprise of camp for me, as he’s routinely being mentioned as a practice standout.  Behind Howard and Gunter, he’s become the most likely to play often.

Ladarius Gunter, DB (JUCO) — Gunter offers tremendous size for a corner (6-foot-2) and is currently penciled in to start opposite Brandon McGee or Tracy Howard.

Wow, I got to 15 without hesitation, and could have gone on. Linebacker Jawand Blue has a shot to play early, even if it’s just on special teams, while Gabe Terry is bouncing around between end and ‘backer. He’ll see some pass rushing snaps. And the team is desperate for some additional depth on the defensive line. Defensive tackle Dequan Ivery is suddenly listed as a starter, which seems to suggest coaches want him to seize his opportunity.   DTs Earl Moore and Jacoby Briscoe aren’t separating themselves, but the rest of the team’s tackles aren’t showing leadership either. Someone has to play. End Tyriq McCord is the highest ranked prospect along the line, and though small, he could see some time as a situational pass rusher.  Jake O’Donell and Jelani Hamilton all could be worked into the rotation.

Redshirt freshman Dallas Crawford has found a home at running back after spending 2011 as a defensive back. He’s likely to see some time in the backfield, as well on return duties.  Fellow redshirts, defensive lineman Ricardo Williams and linebacker Eddie Johnson, will provide some defensive depth.

The only somewhat obvious redshirt candidates for this season appear to be wide receivers D’Mauri Jones and Jontavious Carter, who both need a little extra weight and are at a position of (unproven) depth. Two of the three incoming quarterbacks figure to sit out as well, with Gray Crow looking to be the one who could see some garbage minutes late in games. Running back Danny Dillard likely won’t be called on this year either.

Guess what — I didn’t name every freshman on this roster! The sheer volume of names is enough to illustrate just how young this team is, and why expectations are as low as they are. I’ll just say — teams playing Miami in the first four to six weeks of the season are lucky. This figures to be a different squad come Halloween.

 

Chris Bennett currently covers the ACC for Rotowire, and previously for College Fantasy Football Insider. Though a graduate of South Carolina, he had his allegiances well formed, and didn’t deviate despite spending four years in Columbia. Though completely against social media, he’s starting to warm up to Twitter as a reasonable reporting source, and thus will have a handle to follow sooner than later. Is it even called a handle?

Follow Inside the ACC on Twitter at @InsideTheACC.  Get your ACC links at ITA’s NewsLink Twitter feed at @ITA_NewsLink.

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