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Laugh, But Miami’s Search Isn’t Off Base

You’ve seen the signs. Or the sign, rather: the one on Miami’s campus asking any interested student with the right measurements to apply for the Hurricanes’ walk-on program. More specifically, the Hurricanes are looking for a few good offensive linemen. Though yesterday’s post did stress the importance of finding a viable challenger at quarterback to Stephen Morris, the would-be starter, Miami’s issues along the offensive line is clearly a point of major concern for Al Golden and his staff, who were dinged by graduation and early entrants into the N.F.L. Draft after the end of last season.

The question: Why would Miami go to this length — passing out fliers on campus, in a way — in the search for offensive linemen? I can think of several reasons, beginning with the most simple: everyone does it. Think Miami is the only program looking for walk-on linemen? Think again.

Every program in college football wants a certain number of walk-ons, and along the offensive line in particular. In the big picture, a deep and talented group of walk-ons promotes depth throughout the roster: not merely in numbers, but also in the game-situation reps these walk-ons give the difference-makers — the recruited, scholarship student-athletes.

Why is it easier to develop walk-on linemen then, say, walk-on quarterbacks or receivers? Because playing along the line, more so on offense than defense, is as much about technique as an inherent skill set. Does it help if you’re an otherworldly, once-in-a-recruiting-class talent? Of course.

But Miami knows the score: it’s easier to take a walk-on offensive lineman and turn him into a starter than it is to hold open tryouts at quarterback and develop the next Ken Dorsey. All you need is size and the desire to enlist — Miami’s two prerequisites on its campus-wide mailer.

The search for walk-ons is one part of Miami’s larger plan. If not a plan, it’s an approach for dealing with what’s here and what’s coming: Miami is already hurting for numbers after losing nearly 35 players off last year’s roster, and the thin-roster woes may continue if the N.C.A.A. does hand down scholarship reductions as part of the scandal involving a former booster that surfaced last August.

Miami is already playing below the 85-scholarship limit, which does reinforce the idea that Golden has already begun planning for a future without the normal number of scholarships per recruiting cycle. In fact, Golden and Miami might have elected to go forward with fewer scholarships as a way to lessen any blow the N.C.A.A. might deliver in the near future.

Looking merely at 2012, the Hurricanes could use the added bodies up front. The Hurricanes lost three starters off last year’s line: left tackle Brandon Washington, left guard Harland Gunn and center Tyler Horn. Would-be starting guard Jon Feliciano suffered a knee injury last week. As of today, Miami’s starting line features two sophomores and three juniors.

One of those junior, right tackle Seantrel Henderson, has been a significant disappointment. Miami’s 13 linemen have combined for 42 career starts, led by 16 from junior right guard Brandon Linder. Will taking walk-on linemen help this number? No, but accepting walk-ons may add an infusion of younger talent, which Miami lacks.

While the Hurricanes are short on seniors, the roster only lists two freshmen linemen — Ereck Flowers and Hunter Wells, with Wells himself a former walk-on. Can you see why the program may be enticed by the idea of adding another five or six linemen via the walk-on program? It’s depth, most of all, but even if only one pans out, that’s one starter or key reserve who can help build up the current crop of younger linemen.

In the long term, one way Miami can deal with fewer available scholarships is to pick its battles. That means attacking line depth with a walk-on program; fewer scholarships will be felt across the board, but the Hurricanes can continue bringing in skilled star players — quarterbacks, cornerbacks, receivers — while building depth with non-scholarship walk-ons.

Perhaps that’s Golden’s new approach. Let’s say that the Hurricanes either self-impose or have the N.C.A.A. impose 12 scholarship losses over the next three years — not saying either is going to happen, but consider the possibility. That’s four fewer scholarships per cycle. For every walk-on linemen Miami brings in, that may be one more offer it can extend to a five-star cornerback or running back — the next Tracy Howard or Duke Johnson, if Golden gets lucky.

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Comments

  1. Lou says:

    HUNTER WELLS IS SCHOLARSHIP, NOT WALK ON. REDSHIRT LAST SEASON, GREEN SHIRT AT END OF U-TOUGH.

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