Miami Football 2017 Spring Preview

Follow @MiamiRedHawks and @MiamiOHFootball on Twitter

March 7, 2017

Spring ProspectusPurchase Season Tickets | 2017 Football Schedule | Spring Showcase Set for April 22

Miami football begins spring practice on Sunday, March 12 at 3 p.m. will have daily updates following each day, but before practice even begins we took a crack at breaking down each postion. A complete position breakdown can be found below.

2017 Spring Preview:
Have The RedHawks Arrived?
While an argument could me made that the RedHawks are still a year away, it is hard to ignore what happened to close out the 2016 football season. After opening the season with six straight losses, Miami made NCAA football history, winning its final six games. The six-game win streak not only sent Miami to the St. Petersburg Bowl where it went to-to-toe with a member of the SEC, but Miami also claimed a share of the MAC East Division.

Offensively, Miami returns 27 letterwinners and nine starters, including its starting quarterback, four offensive lineman, five of its top six pass catchers and its top three running backs. Miami’s offense finished strong, averaging 35.0 points per game during a four-game stretch late in the season.

Defensively, Miami had one of the top units in the league, finishing first in total defense (334.0) and second in rush defense (125.4) among the 12 MAC teams. They return eight starters, including all three linebackers and three members of the secondary.

Scouting the RedHawks

Lettermen Returning: 2, Lettermen Lost: 1
Starters Returning: 1, Starters Lost: 0
At times last season Miami entered contests with just one healthy quarterback. This season Miami returns two quarterbacks that saw action last year, including Gus Ragland, who went 6-1 as a starter in Miami’s final seven games, throwing for 1,534 yards and 17 touchdowns, while throwing just one interception in 179 pass attempts.

Joining Ragland behind center is Billy Bahl (5 starts), who threw for 1,154 yards and eight touchdowns. Jordan Martin, who was competing for the starting job last fall before suffering a season ending injury, is also expected back to give Miami three capable signal callers.

Gus Ragland missed the first six games of the season with an ACL injury before leading Miami to a 6-1 record the final seven contest
Gus Ragland missed the first six games of the season with an ACL injury before leading Miami to a 6-1 record the final seven contest

Running Backs
Lettermen Returning: 4, Lettermen Lost: 1
Starters Returning: 1, Starters Lost: 0
Coach Martin’s dream of a strong rushing attack has taken shape with the help of three running backs, all productive last season. The best part is that all three running backs will still be just juniors when 2017 begins. Alonzo Smith led the way last year with 709 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Kenny Young averaged 6.3 yards per rush last season, finishing the year with 557 yards and two scores and was also a major factor in the passing game. Miami’s x-factor, Maurice Thomas, added 258 rushing yards for an average of 7.0 yards per carry.

Wide Receivers
Lettermen Returning: 5, Lettermen Lost: 2
Starters Returning: 2, Starters Lost: 1
While Miami will have to find a way to replace Rokeem Williams, the RedHawks return five letterwinners and two starters among its wide receiver group. Tops on that list is James Gardner, who shocked everyone last season with 45 catches for 750 yards and six scores, earning third-team all-MAC honors. Senior-to-be Jared Murphy is second among returners with 43 catches for 552 yards and five touchdowns.

Other wide receivers expected to make noise next season include Sam Martin (7 rec., 134 yards), Luke Mayock (5 rec., 83 yards) and Kyle Row (4 rec., 22 yards).

Tight Ends
Lettermen Returning: 2, Lettermen Lost: 0
Starters Returning: 1, Starters Lost: 0
Tight end should be one of Miami’s strongest positions in 2017. Not only does Miami return Ryan Smith, who had career-bests in catches (31), yards (356) and touchdowns (5) last season, but it also returns Nate Becker. Becker, who was expected to be Miami’s starting tight end last season, suffered a season-ending injury before the season began. Becker and Smith are expected to form one of the best tight end units in the conference.

Add in Alexx Zielinski (2 catches, 18 yards) and Miami is three deep at the position.

Offensive Line
Lettermen Returning: 11, Lettermen Lost: 1
Starters Returning: 4, Starters Lost: 1
Replacing Collin Buchanan at right tackle this off season will be one of Miami’s biggest challenges, but with four returning starters and several others on the brink of cracking the lineup, the Red and White offensive line unit is one of the deepest in the league.

Jordan Rigg (LT), Jordan Diamond (LG), Danny Godlevske (C) and Sam McCollum (RG) started a combined 50 games last season and are all back for 2017. Sam Murrer, Ian Leever, Ryan Mullen, Matt Skibinski, Randy Heideman and Mitch Palmer also saw limited action last season.

Two players, Zach Hovey and Zach Swarts, were expected to have roles last season but were lost due to injury. Depth on the offensive line will not be an issue for the Red and White next year.

Jordan Diamond received a sixth-year of eligibility last month
Jordan Diamond received a sixth-year of eligibility last month

Defensive Line
Lettermen Returning: 8, Lettermen Lost: 2
Starters Returning: 2, Starters Lost: 2
Miami returns a large number of defensive lineman from last season’s squad, but the major question facing this unit will be, “who will rush the passer?” Gone are both starting defensive ends in Austin Gearing and JT Jones. The only remaining defensive ends on the roster that saw action last season are Paul Moses (20 tackles, 1.0 TFL), Quinn Calcagno (14 tackles, 1.0 TFL), Brad Earnest (11 tackles, 1 sack) and Dean Lemon (4 tackles, 1.5 TFL).

Inside is where Miami will have to turn to. Nate Trawick (35 tackles, 2.5 TFL) and Ikeem Allen (27 tackles, 3.5 TFL) each started 13 games last season and they are not alone. Doug Costin (19 tackles, 1.5 TFL), AJ Burdine (16 tackles) and Mack Duffin (6 tackles, 1.0 TFL) also saw action at defensive tackle last season.

Lettermen Returning: 4, Lettermen Lost: 1
Starters Returning: 3, Starters Lost: 0
Other positions on Miami’s team may have more depth, but no position returns as much talent as Miami does at linebacker this year. With Miami returning all three starters, the RedHawks return 228 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, four sacks and five interceptions. Junior McMullen (90 tackles, 6.0 TFL) and De’Andre Montgomery (65 tackles, four INTs) both earned All-MAC honors last season and Brad Koenig, a former walk-on, had 73 tackles and 8.5 tackles for loss.

McMullen, a first-year starter was named MAC East Defensive Player of the Week after recording 14 tackles at Cincinnati and Montgomery earned several National Defensive Player of the Week awards after scoring two touchdowns in a win at Buffalo.

Defensive Backs
Lettermen Returning: 10, Lettermen Lost: 2
Starters Returning: 3, Starters Lost: 1
Miami had one of the best pass defenses in the nation last season and it was easy to see why. At cornerback, Miami features arguably the best duo in the Mid-American Conference in Heath Harding and Deondre Daniels. Harding, a first-team All-MAC award winner last season, had 67 tackles, four interceptions and a team-high 11 pass breakups. Daniels had 28 tackles, one INT and six pass breakups.

Other cornerbacks that saw action last season include Cedric Asseh (7 tackles), Allan Koikoi (4 tackles) and Travion Banks (2 tackles).

Miami is deep at the safety position as well with the return of Tony Reid. Reid led all RedHawks with 98 tackles and added one interception and four pass breakups. Expect him to be joined by Josh Allen, who started six games last season and recorded 39 tackles and three pass breakups.

Expect Daryus Thompson, Kobe Burse and Matt Merimee to also contribute from the safety position.

Tony Reid led Miami with 98 tackles last season
Tony Reid led Miami with 98 tackles last season

Special Teams
Lettermen Returning: 4, Lettermen Lost: 0
Starters Returning: 3, Starters Lost: 0
The RedHawks return all prongs of its special teams units as Nick Dowd, Sam Sloman, Kyle Kramer, Evan Crabtree and Maurice Thomas return. Dowd connected on 10 of 13 field goals and 30 of 35 extra points last season, while Sloman, serving as the team’s kickoff specialist, averaged 57.4 yards per kick.

Kyle Kramer, who became Miami’s punter midway through the season, averaged 41.7 yards per punt and downed 14 of his 28 punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line last season.

At kick returner, they don’t get much more dynamic than Maurice Thomas. Thomas averaged 24.2 yards per return, including a 94-yard return versus Cincinnati, to earn third-team All-MAC honors as a returner last season.