The hype machine is full steam ahead like a stock car headed 190 MPH down a straight away at Daytona. But a few key ingredients have to be examined now that fall camp is finally here
2022 fall camp is here for the Miami Hurricanes. The ‘Canes are hard at work practicing at Greentree in Coral Gables, FL. With the start of the Hurricanes season just four weeks away, many storylines will be played out in camp but also through the fall.
Let’s take a look at the six main storylines that should permeate throughout Mario Cristobal’s inaugural season as the head coach at The U.
1- Will an unexpected loss derail the season?
While the head coach of the Oregon Ducks, Mario Cristobal won the Pac 12 two times (2019, 2020) in four seasons. In ‘21, Cristobal “Mario’d” the game against unranked Stanford. The 4-0 Ducks lost to the Cardinal 31-24 in overtime. In ‘20, Oregon lost to two unranked teams in Cal and Oregon State. In ‘19, it was a slip up at unranked Arizona State that cost Oregon their shot at the College Football Playoff.
In 2018, Cristobal lost to two unranked opponents once again, this time on the road against Arizona and on the road against Utah. Utah was a regular nemesis to Cristobal throughout his time in Eugene. The Utes managed a 3-2 record against the Ducks during the Cristobal Era, when the Ducks bully ball met the Utes bull ball- Mario had a losing record.
For Miami in ‘22, those losses could come against UVA on the road on Halloween weekend, before facing rival Florida State at home the following Saturday. Or potentially, the big let down will come against Pitt over Thanksgiving weekend after a road test against the Clemson Tigers. Beat Clemson and you have the hangover effect, lose to Clemson and you can have a different type of hangover.
2- Will the egos stay in check?
This is a three-pronged storyline for Miami in ‘22. There are two potentially contentious relationship dynamics on staff and a third ‘situation’ that might seem a little less obvious.
A- How well/long will Coach Cristobal and OC Josh Gattis co-exist?
Cristobal will surely want to infuse his “gorilla ball” mentality on the Miami coaching staff. Even without the massive offensive line it takes to run the mid-2000’s Alabama offense, Cristobal seems to want to hammer the football. Coach Gattis comes to Miami from Michigan where Jim Harbaugh infused the same ‘old school’ multiple tight ends and ground and pound approach with the Wolverines.
Will this turn into the arguing between Harbaugh and Gattis in 2020? Or will two very well thought of coaches be able to co-exist and create an offense that takes advantage of what Miami has on the roster today?
B- How long will co-DC Kevin Steele and co-DC Charlie Strong co-exist?
Cristobal is a dominant personality and a “no BS” type of guy. However, he’s going to have a lot of staff juggling to do regarding egos when it comes to the amount of big name coaches on campus. Gattis is just one award winner, he’s also got to deal with the “co-DC” labels on Kevin Steele who tried to start a coup at Auburn and Tennessee, and former Louisville, Texas and USF head coach Charlie Strong. Strong is known around coaching as an all-around nice guy, but egos are egos when it comes to American Football.
C- How will the massive egos on staff all co-exist, including the hangers on and peripheral folks involved in the program.
Alonzo Highsmith, Ed Reed, Ed Orgeron, Jason Taylor, Aaron Feld… this reads more like a Nike Coach of the Year presenters roster than a coaching staff. Will Cristobal be able to manage all of these varying personalities and egos while also managing a team of transfer portal players and holdovers from the loosely ran days of Manny Diaz?
Then you add into big money boosters like John Ruiz around every corner. It’s a lot to take on, even for a guy like Cristobal.
3- Will the injuries pile up at Miami like they did at Oregon?
Schedules and egos aside, will Cristobal and Aaron Feld keep the players healthier down at Miami than they did in the PNW at Oregon? One of the biggest roadblocks to success the Ducks faced over the past four seasons was the injury ‘bug.’
Injuries aren’t a luck thing, they’re a mixture of load management and athletic preparation. Miami doesn’t have the depth to replace a starting inside linebacker like Justin Flowe and not see a massive drop off.
The ‘Canes don’t have let alone couldn’t replace a star defensive lineman like Kayvon Thibodeaux, nor can Miami lose a pair of running backs, either. Under Manny Diaz and David Feeley, Miami had to push through injuries to Cam’Ron Harris, D’Eriq King, Don Chaney, Will Mallory, Jalen Rivers, Bubba Bolden, Corey Gaynor… the list goes on.
If an S&C coach’s job is to 1- do no harm and 2- to keep players on the field and playing; you can judge the prior staff’s abilities for yourself.
4- How long will left tackle Zion Nelson be out?
Speaking of injuries, left tackle Zion Nelson having pre-camp knee surgery isn’t a good sign for the ‘Canes offensive line. An already shallow group that has underperformed for some time. In ‘21, the crew gave up 2.5 sacks per game, which put them in the bottom half of FBS in sacks allowed (meaning, they didn’t protect the QB very well) and 110th in the country in yards per carry (3.3 yards per carry as a team).
John Campbell has been penciled in to replace Nelson at left tackle, for now, and he’s yet to reach his potential. Luckily, Alex Mirabal is more than likely the best offensive line coach in college football- so I would expect to see players swinging above their ability under his guidance.
5- Can a squad of transfer portal defenders gel in time for TAMU?
Manny Diaz meet Transfer Portal
Transfer Portal meet Manny Diaz pic.twitter.com/suNlES6jjU
— Josh White (@_JoshRWhite) January 16, 2019
Miami has a few returning players that should be expected to see playing time this fall. Defensive tackle Leonard Taylor, hybrid-backer Gil Frierson, cornerback Tyrique Stevenson, and the safety trio of Kam Kinchens, Avantae Williams and James Williams should all have a large role in the ‘Canes defense in ‘22.
But in order to run the Coach Steele odd front, Miami had to bring in a ton of 3-4 style defensive tackles and a nose tackle in order to make the scheme work. Miami brought in tackles, a nose, stand up ends, an inside linebacker, and a cornerback among others to push competition and add depth.
With this many new players learning each other, and the new defensive system, will Miami’s defense be ready for Jimbo Fisher and Texas A&M? What about the noise and intensity of playing in front of the 12th man in a hostile environment in College Station, TX?
The real question:
Can the team stay focused all season while becoming a program?
Miami has a star studded coaching staff led by Mario Cristobal and flanked by Gattis, Steele, Strong, Mirabal and others. The U also has an interesting schedule that has lowly Southern Miss, Bethune Cookman, and Middle Tennessee State as sure fire wins, and Duke and Georgia Tech as obvious wins. Virginia Tech is in a rebuilding mode as well.
UNC has a new DC and starting QB, UVA has a new head coach, Florida State is struggling mightily to get going under Mike Norvell, and Pitt is replacing their star QB, wide receiver, and OC Mark Whipple. Outside of road trips to Texas A&M, Clemson and UVA, Miami’s schedule is rather favorable.
The talent is also there as Miami has the blue chip ratio to make the College Football Playoff. Now the question is whether or not this team can stay focused while they turn into a program, or if they’ll let a Pitt Panthers or a UNC Tar Heels come in and grab the remote control, and change the channel once again like under the last half dozen coaches at The U.