Expectations on the rise in Miami, but questions linger as spring practice opens

Mark Richt brought optimism to Miami after going 9-4 in his first season with the Hurricanes. Alan Diaz/AP Photo

Expectations in Miami are rising as Mark Richt enters Year 2 with the Hurricanes. But there are plenty of questions that must be answered this spring before truly knowing whether they are College Football Playoff contenders. Here are three positions to watch as Miami opens practice Tuesday:

Quarterbacks: Brad Kaaya is gone, meaning Miami will have a new starting quarterback for the first time since 2013. Richt has maintained the Hurricanes will have an open competition through the fall, with five players in the mix this spring before freshman N'Kosi Perry arrives in the summer. The two to watch, at least in the early going, remain veteran Malik Rosier and redshirt freshman Jack Allison. Rosier served as Kaaya’s backup and is the only quarterback on the roster with game experience; Allison took a redshirt a year ago after coming in as an ESPN300 prospect and the top player Richt signed in his first class. There is no clear front-runner at this point. But whomever wins the job takes over a team that returns its best receiver and best running back and has potential across the roster.

Offensive line: Miami hasn’t had much stability on the offensive line going back the last several seasons, but there is reason for optimism this spring. Why? Because Miami returns veterans with plenty of game experience, plus adds in players with potential to contribute right away in ESPN300 lineman Navaughn Donaldson and LSU transfer George Brown. Donaldson (6-foot-6, 350 pounds) has drawn comparisons to former Miami All-American Bryant McKinnie. Both he and fellow freshman Zach Dykstra are in for spring and will get much needed early reps.

Defensive back: Miami returns every starter on its front seven, a big reason why expectations have increased for the Hurricanes. But the secondary remains a work in progress, especially with four seniors gone, including shutdown cornerback Corn Elder. Miami will be young here in the spring, and the questions might not even be answered until fall practice, with several players coming this summer (including FCS All-American Dee Delaney and four-stars Jhavonte Dean and Trajan Bandy). To help with some of the questions back here, defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said they will cross-train most players at safety and cornerback.