All Eyes on the O-Line on Day Three
By David Villavicencio
CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Highlight-reel plays catch the eyes of the fans, but football games are won in the trenches.
The University of Miami football team features one of the most experienced offensive lines in the ACC. Returning Hurricane offensive linemen have combined for 86 starts and Miami offensive line coach Stacy Searels values that experience on his first team unit.
“There are six guys who have played, I guess you could say,” Searels said. “Kc [McDermott], Trevor [Darling], Nick Linder, Tyler Gauthier, Navaughn [Donaldson] – well Navaughn hasn’t played, but he is rolling with the first group – and Tyree St. Louis. I like what they’re doing. I think they know how to communicate and work together.”
Thursday’s practice was Miami’s third of fall camp and their first in helmets and shoulder pads. For offensive linemen like St. Louis, that meant more exciting work in practice.
“The first day with shoulder pads is always a fun day,” St. Louis said. “Now we are finally allowed to hit each other. When you go against these guys in jerseys, they can move around and switch around, but with shoulder pads on we can do something now. It’s real football.”
McDermott, who has made 20 starts in his career, believes the offensive line has taken a big leap forward heading into the second year working with Searels. The senior sees a more intelligent and technically sound group than he did a year ago.
“Overall understanding of the playbook,” McDermott said of where the group has improved. “Last year, we understood the playbook and worked it constantly, but with these new summers that we’ve had – where everyone works with the coaches a little bit and have meetings – we have a great understanding of the playbook. We’ve been able to study our opponents much more. We’ve been able to study our defense much more and we have an idea of what’s happening and what’s on the field and we can make our adjustments. I’m very pleased with the ones we’ve been running – we run very smooth and are doing a great job, understanding exactly what’s going on.”
Linder and Gauthier provide some interior line flexibility, with both players having experience at center and guard. Searels sees both linemen helping Miami in 2017, though he is not sure where each will play.
“I think Nick [Linder] has played a lot of ball and Tyler has really come on in the last year or so and played well for us,” Searels said. “Both of them can play center and both of them can play guard and both of them are going to help us win this year.”
Gauthier and Linder have the added task of learning how to work with a new quarterback. While Miami’s centers have snapped primarily to Brad Kaaya over the previous three seasons, 2017 will feature a new signalcaller under center and that is something the offensive line and quarterbacks have been practicing meticulously.
“We do a lot of drills to get used to it,” Gauthier said. “We are snapping with each other after lifts. Basically, to get used to a new quarterback you need to get used to the way he runs things. Once you figure that out, it’s the snap. Once the snap’s done and he’s gelled in with the team, that’s pretty much it.”
Donaldson, Kai-Leon Herbert, Zach Dykstra, Zalon’tae Hillery and Corey Gaynor make up a talented group of freshmen linemen that Searels hopes will be ready to contribute this season.
“We are trying to develop the young guys,” Searels said. “I told them, ‘Do you want me to treat you like a freshman or a Miami Hurricane?’ If we had 10 juniors and seniors, and five freshmen coming in, maybe we could treat them a little different. We’ve got to get them ready to play. The expectations are higher and they’ve got to prepare better and come out to practice mentally ready to go.”
McDermott has liked the approach the young lineman have taken early in their first camp as Hurricanes.
“They have strong attention to detail, want to get better,” McDermott said. “It is easy for a freshman to come in here and say, ‘Oh, I don’t know what to do’ and ‘I don’t want to [put in] effort right now, I’m just trying to get a taste of what college football is like.’ No, they actually get after it and they are asking us questions constantly. They want to get better and I am really happy about that.”
Miami opens the season at home on Sept. 2 against Bethune-Cookman. Kickoff is set for 12:30 p.m., ET. Click here for ticket information.