An immense deal of expectation and excitement lies around Miami football as it closes its third week of spring practice. Multiple leftover storylines from last season have carried into the program’s offseason, given how the Hurricanes plan to reshape their defense and continue to establish more consistency on the offensive side.
With a new coaching staff implementing a new framework to guide the Hurricanes to improved standards, here are five questions around the team with the season five months away.
1. Will the run game become a much heavier option for the Hurricanes this season?
Miami emerged as more of a passing offense last season. The Hurricanes ran the ball on 43.3% of plays last season, and this number may change with new coaching this year. With Michigan in 2021, offensive coordinator Josh Gattis had his team run the ball on 57.8% of plays. Head coach Mario Cristobal’s Oregon teams were traditionally built on the run, as well, even up to last year when the Ducks ran for over 200 yards per game. More than likely, the Hurricanes may stick to the ground more often in the coming season, though nothing is certain.
“We are going to build [the offense] around what our players do best. This spring is going to give us a good evaluation to figure out what they do best. We’re installing the offense this spring, but what we look like in the fall could be completely different,” Gattis said after the second practice of the spring.
2. Will Tyler Van Dyke adapt to a new offense?
When D’Eriq King was sidelined last season, it was hard to say there was any clarity at the quarterback position considering Van Dyke was only a freshman. Nevertheless, Van Dyke finished as the ACC Rookie of the Year. The freshman quarterback’s progress seemed directly related to his comfort in the offensive system as the season continued. After throwing for three interceptions and only one touchdown in a loss at North Carolina, Van Dyke went through the rest of the schedule with a 20 to three touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Just as Van Dyke has caught the attention of the country as a possible star in the making, he will now have to adapt to a new offensive system, a challenge for any quarterback. While there is reason to be optimistic on his ability to excel, it is arguable some of Van Dyke’s success could be attributed to the open playbook and pass–happy offense of last season.
Ultimately, the Canes will need to create the appropriate pass-to-rush play calling this Spring to utilize the quarterback play of Van Dyke while instilling the run schematics of Cristobal’s offense.
3. Can the defensive side of the ball turn around in just one year under the new staff?
Last season, Miami’s defense was prominently ineffective at wrapping up and it showed on the scoreboard if nothing else. Miami surrendered 28.4 points per game and finished ninth in the ACC in defense.
From all available indications, the current Miami coaching staff understands the need for recruiting to turn the tide on the defense.
“Recruiting is all about relationships. When you have a staff and everyone right now is locked in and a part of the recruiting process it makes it a lot easier,” said Charlie Strong, the Hurricanes’ co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach.
Though recruiting will be important, Miami should still be looking to build on what it has on the roster already. The coaching staff on the defensive side comes in with a collectively deep resume, and it should be a reasonable expectation to see the team rise to at least the top half of the ACC on that side of the ball.
4. Which players on the offensive side can break out in the spring?
Spring football is a time for development of individual players as much as anything, and the Hurricanes have players looking to take the next step. Xavier Restrepo, a four-star prospect, could be one of the players to take a big leap this spring and moving forward. Restrepo caught 24 passes last season for 373 yards and a couple of touchdowns. Restrepo enters his third year with the Hurricanes and second with Van Dyke under center as the starter which has helped build their chemistry together. Moreover, many witnessing the spring practices that have occurred thus far have mentioned that Van Dyke and Restrepo seem to be working together in stride. All in all, it won’t be entirely surprising if Restrepo becomes a comfortable target of Van Dyke come the regular season in the fall.
5. Who will be the Canes’ best on defense moving forward?
Safety Avantae Williams was named the No. 2 safety in the class of 2020 by 247Sports andcomes into his third season after playing six games last year. Sophomore linebacker Corey Flagg Jr. led the Hurricanes in solo tackles last season with 34. Safety James Williams, a true freshman last season, made seven starts in his first year and earned an All-ACC honorable mention. Any of these names could step in to be the premier talent of the defense and could see large development under the new defensive staff.