As Brad Kaaya goes, the 2016 Hurricanes will go. He's the most important player on the roster for a number of reasons. 1) He plays quarterback, 2) he's considered one of the nation's most talented players at his position (ESPN's Mel Kiper ranks him the 2nd best NFL prospect among college quarterbacks heading into the season), and 3) the backup situation is far from settled. Kaaya has been solid during his first two seasons at Miami and now a lot of people will be expecting him to take his game to another level. Having a coach who has a proven track record of putting together top notch offenses should make a big difference but a big key here will be how Kaaya handles the pressure of being expected to be one of the best in college football.
Malik Rosier won a wide open backup job during fall camp. He's a dual threat quarterback who isn't expected to offer much in the downfield passing game. It's encouraging to Miami that he played very well in a win over Duke in his only start last season. Evan Shirreffs and Vincent Testaverde will compete for the No. 3 position but it's unlikely either of these guys will see the field much this season. Jack Allison, a former 4-star recruit, is expected to redshirt.
The Canes needed two running backs to effectively replace Duke Johnson following the 2014 season. Joe Yearby got more touches than Mark Walton last season and it's probably because he had the edge in experience heading into the season. By the end of the season many believed Walton was the better back. He carried that momentum into the spring and then again into fall camp. Both players lack game-changing speed and the size to be grinders between the tackles but they're both elusive enough to make things happen and they're both talented pass-catchers. Look for a 60/40 type split in touches this season. Gus Edwards returns after missing last season due to injury. He's the most experienced back on the roster and should resume the role of the team's primary short-yardage back because of his size and physical style of running. Freshman Travis Homer enters the season as the team's fourth back but he's expected to play a role and should get some touches because of his running ability. Trayone Gray will miss the season due to injury but he was not expected to play a big role this fall.
How much a fullback will be on the field remains a question heading into the season but a pair of transfers are competing for that starting spot. Gage Batten transferred in from Auburn before last season and saw some action last season. Marquez Williams, a transfer from Mars Hill, is 280 pounds and considered the better of the two fullbacks. Look for Williams to play a big role in short yardage situations.
Stacy Coley is one of the most talented wide receivers in college football. He has the physical tools that compare to some of the better wide receivers to ever play at Miami. Unfortunately, a variety of things have prevented him from producing like that caliber of players in recent years. Injuries, a case of the drops, and lack of confidence (something he admitted to publicly) are some of those but all of those things seem to be a thing of the past. He'll enter the season as Kaaya's top target and has the ability to put up huge numbers in Richt's offense. Braxton Berrios enters the season as the team's slot receiver, someone the Canes hope can help move the chains in the middle of the field. Lawrence Cager was expected to be the team's top outside receiver this season but he suffered a season-ending knee injury during the summer so that competition was then up for grabs. Junior College transfer Dayall Harris edged out Darrell Langham for that job and enters the season as the team's third starter at receiver.
Malcolm Lewis has lots of game experience and was mentioned by coaches as having a strong fall camp. Hopefully he'll be able to provide quality senior leadership for a young group and be able to log quality minutes. The three true freshmen on the roster are all extremely talented. It's not unrealistic to think they're No. 2-4 in terms of talent at this position heading into the season. Ahmmon Richards is the most likely to play a big role because he could emerge as the primary outside guy. Sam Bruce and Dionte Mullins are both potential game-changers and how quickly they get into the mix will depend largely on how quickly they grasp the new offense.
This most talented and deepest position on Miami's offense, this group of tight ends is loaded with talent and experience. Stan Dobard is a senior and has the most experience in the group. He's expected to play a key role as a blocking tight end, especially in short yardage situations. Chris Herndon is a very talented pass-catcher who is expected to line up at both tight end and H-Back this season. David Njoku is a tremendous athlete who can play in line or flex out as a wide receiver. They're both fresh off productive 2015 seasons and that should continue this fall. The Canes signed a pair of tight ends this past February when they inked Jovani Haskins and Michael Irvin Jr. It seems unlikely they'll play big roles at tight end because of the proven depth ahead of them on the depth chart but look for both players to play roles on special teams.
The Canes return lots of experience across the starting unit. Trevor Darling settled in as the team's left tackle last season and should be ready for a solid season. He might not be Ereck Flowers but he should protect Kaaya fairly well. Kc McDermott has settled in as the team's starting left guard. He has the talent and game experience to put together a strong season. Nick Linder enters the season as one of the league's top centers. Danny Isidora is the most experienced member of this line at right guard. The top competition heading into the season -- and perhaps the biggest question mark as well -- is at right tackle where Sunny Odogwu and Tyree St Louis are competing. The Canes have several players competing for backup spots and most of them have the ability to play guard or tackle. Jahair Jones, Alex Gall, Tyler Gauthier, Hunter Knighton, Brendan Loftus, Tre Johnson, Hayden Mahoney, and Bar Milo will be competing to jump into the regular rotation. Heading into the season it's unclear which of those players are ahead of the rest. We'll know very soon.