Miami spring football preview: Diaz aims to reinvent Hurricanes

Without question, Miami had one of the most disappointing seasons of any team in 2018, dropping from its preseason top-10 perch and eventually suffering a disastrous loss to Wisconsin in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl to close at 7-6. A few days later, coach Mark Richt delivered a stunner: He was stepping down as Miami coach, three seasons after he arrived with fanfare and optimism. Miami brought back Manny Diaz after a brief 18-day stint at Temple to replace Richt. So what does The U face this spring as its new head coach tries to reinvent the Hurricanes?

2018 record: 7-6 (4-4 ACC)

Spring practice starts: March 19

Spring game: TBD

Spring storyline to watch: Quarterbacks

Miami has not gotten this position quite right since Ken Dorsey led the Hurricanes in the early 2000s. Though Brad Kaaya brought a measure of respectability to the quarterback job several years ago, Miami has not developed an elite signal-caller in decades.

So it comes as no surprise that Diaz made offensive coordinator and quarterbacks his twin priorities when he took over. He hired Dan Enos away from Alabama and got Tate Martell to transfer in from Ohio State. Martell has filed a waiver for immediate eligibility and is already on campus. So his participation in the spring can do nothing but help the group returning: N’Kosi Perry, who struggled in his first year playing in 2018, along with Jarren Williams and Cade Weldon. Miami has to get this position right if it wants to return to prominence.

Strength heading into spring: Linebackers

The Hurricanes are losing several terrific players from their defense, including linemen Gerald Willis and Joe Jackson and super safety Jaquan Johnson. But Diaz got some much-needed good news when Shaq Quarterman announced he would return to school, joining Zach McCloud and Michael Pinckney as the starting linebacker trio once again. The three have started since their true freshman seasons, growing along with Diaz, and return as the most veteran linebacker group in the ACC.

Biggest question mark heading into spring: Miami is a team filled with question marks, starting most obviously at quarterback. But perhaps even above quarterback, there are two big ones: How will Enos reshape the offense, and how much does Diaz’s influence change the culture at Miami?

Enos brings with him loads of experience and a résumé that shows he knows how to get the most out of his quarterbacks, and that goes beyond Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts at Alabama.

As for Diaz, his main goal when he took over was for his players to feel like they were transferring to the new University of Miami, one with a greater sense of passion, purpose and, yes, swag. He revamped the strength and conditioning, too, hoping for better results. How quickly those results come will go a long way toward determining the mood around the program.

Instant-impact addition: You could make the argument that Diaz has worked the NCAA transfer portal better than any coach across the country, picking up additions at key spots. If Martell gains immediate eligibility, then he would have the biggest impact. But if he has to sit out, you could argue that receiver could benefit the most, and in a pretty unique way.

Leading receiver Jeff Thomas announced in December he was transferring to Illinois. But when Diaz took over for Richt, he talked to Thomas and convinced him to return to Miami. Having Thomas, plus the addition of Buffalo transfer receiver K.J. Osborn (892 yards, seven TDs in 2018), should help immensely.

2019 game to get excited about now: vs. Florida, Aug. 31, in Orlando

As Miami regressed last season, Florida put together a 10-3 season under first-year coach Dan Mullen, perhaps shifting the power in the state back to Gainesville. Not only did Florida end the season with a better ranking and record, it also reclaimed its spot as the best recruiting team in the state. Florida and Miami don’t play often, but when they do, we can see the intensity in what used to be an annual rivalry. This season’s opener will provide an excellent measuring stick for the Hurricanes, but it could also be huge for future recruiting prospects as well.

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