It’s never a good thing when a player goes down injured. Not for that player, their family, or for the program. I don’t care if it’s the last walk-on on the end of the bench or the starting QB. Injuries can be devastating for people, whether an athlete or not. Any time someone can’t do what they normally can it completely sends the mind and body off kilter.
I’m a firm believer in the wellness wheel pictured above. If your ‘physical’ wellness is off, it will have a drastic impact on the other aspects of your wheel. As fans sometimes we get carried away and the worst of our ilk celebrates the injury of an opposing player or from our most hated rival. I shouldn’t have to tell you that it’s wrong to celebrate an injury and that’s not what I’m about to do here, either.
However, from my coach mentality, I have to find the ‘next man up’ and ‘chicken salad’ moment here. The silver lining. Can there be some positive from a massive negative? As a coach or leader of any kind you have to practice finding it in order to keep the morale of the team where it needs to be.
Everyone knows what D’Eriq King can and can’t do. King, who is barely clocking in at five-foot-nine, isn’t going to grow over night and become a ‘pro sized QB.’ However, he was looking at one more season to continue his graduate education, push Miami into a New Year’s Six Bowl, and prove he’s a winner. With his knee having to be repaired coming off of an ACL injury, King is hopeful to be back in time for Miami’s season opener against the formidable Alabama Crimson Tide.
So what will a spring football ‘season’ without King do for the Miami Hurricanes?
1- New leaders
With the starting QB, and the obvious leader of the Hurricanes, on the sideline this will force other players to grow their leadership. I’m sure you’ve heard the sports cliche that good teams are coach led but great teams are player led. This is exactly the scenario where that situation grows. The ‘Canes need to find more leaders than just D’Eriq King.
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With King out, he can patrol the sidelines and meeting rooms and teach the other players what he knows about leadership. Some of what King has is an intangible ‘it’ factor, but there’s much to learn from a player like King, too. One can only hope that King is working closely with Matocha, Garcia, and Van Dyke on leadership skills. The kind of things that N’Kosi Perry and Jarren Williams were lacking that King possesses- grit, intrinsic motivation, and personal discipline.
2- Future QB’s working with present stars
With the starting QB out, the other QB’s will all bump up a level. Van Dyke can now work with the 1st team offense. But that also slides guys like Matocha and Garcia (once healthy) up a level, too. They’ll now work with the 2nd team offense getting more quality, college-level reps from college level players.
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This leaves walk-ons working with walk-ons as opposed to having a four-star QB like Garcia working with guys that don’t have the quickness, speed, or ability. A guy like Garcia throwing to less-than receivers from a less-than receiving corps (so these guys are like and F or D grade) will throw off his timing and confidence. Now he’ll at least bump up to either highly touted freshmen or experienced veterans.
3- Force Lashlee to adjust his play calling
Rhett Lashlee and the offensive line were saved time and again by King and his ability to scramble and his elusiveness and power. King is also someone that can change the play at the line and make some chicken salad out of chicken poop of his own.
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Offensive Coordinator Rhett Lashlee will now be forced to adjust his play calling to less experienced, less mobile, and less heady of players. Much like in the realm of leadership, King has an ‘it’ factor when he’s behind center, too. King has done everything on offense which makes him a different caliber of player than Van Dyke, Matocha, or Garcia. King has been a wide receiver, quarterback, running threat, and kick and punt returner. That’s a ton of real-time college football experience at a variety of positions using his versatile toolkit.
The young QB’s don’t have that experience in neither depth or breadth which will impact Lashlee’s call sheet with them back there as opposed to King. Progressions will have to happen quicker, protection schemes will need to be adjusted, and the inside zone read game will need less pull-read and more RPO throw reads.
The offensive line will also be tested and that will be on Lashlee to put them in a good position to succeed. Dan Enos set the O-Line up to fail, Lashlee did a better job of keeping them ahead of their talent, but it was King that saved the line with his ability to run under pressure. With less mobile QB’s behind them, Garin Justice’s group had better show drastic improvement against Manny Diaz’s aggressive style.
4- Spotlight is on the defense
Speaking of Coach Diaz and the defense, the defense should always always always beat the offense in a spring scrimmage or ‘game.’ Defense is more natural, read and react, and takes less time to gel than offense does. You can put the base in and let athletes run to the football. Most programs stay fairly vanilla in the spring allowing their defenders to learn their alignment, assignment and clean up their finish (pursuit and tackling or pass break ups).
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With King on the sideline the defense has no excuse. They’re a veteran bunch with Zach McCloud, Brad Jennings, Amari Carter, Al Blades Jr, DJ Ivey, Gurvan Hall, Bubba Bolden, Jon Ford, Gil Frierson and others have played a ton of college football games. They have experience. They have young talent, too, in Avantae Williams, Sam Brooks Jr, Jordan Miller, Jared Harrison-Hunte, and others.
Now it’s time to see if that group can stop a Miami offense that doesn’t have its best player. If the unit, now coordinated by head coach Manny Diaz continues to struggle, that’s a bad sign of things to come against Alabama in September.
5- Prepare the program for life after King
D’Eriq King has played a hell of a lot of college football. King started playing college football before: TikTok hit the American market, Bob Stoops retired from Oklahoma, Donald J. Trump won the 2016 Presidential Election, COVID, and Urban Meyer retired only to un-retire once again.
King started at Houston as a wide receiver back in 2016. The college football landscape has seen a ton of change since then and King is a veteran leader only rivaled by a BYU quarterback, Chris Weinke or Paul Blake. The ‘Canes program will have to begin to prepare for life after the star QB who will be a Scott Patchanesque 24 years old by the time Miami faces the Crimson Tide in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
So in 2022, who will be the starting QB? I truly hope that Miami begins to get Van Dyke, Matocha, and Garcia reps in real game situations. Something plaguing the ‘Canes since the dawn of time has been the lack of real game reps for back up QB’s. Mark Richt failed to adequately prepare a back up to Malik Rosier, Enos dabbled between Perry and Williams, but Lashlee has since not given the back up QB ample reps. That’s a trend that I hope ends now after seeing the importance of having a back up QB ready.
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Again, it’s a horrible situation to see a player get injured from any program in any way. The mental, emotional and physical health and future of the young people who play the game of football is too important to want to see someone be injured. But when injuries do happen, Miami has to get back to that ‘next man up’ mentality it had in the 80’s, early 90’s and early 2000’s.
Ken Dorsey got his big break when Kenny Kelly went down with an injury in 1999. Malik Rosier lit up Duke while Kaaya was out in 2015. Gino Torretta got some vital work in 1989 when Craig Erickson was injured, even if he suffered an ugly loss to FSU. Getting time behind center is extremely important. Clemson made sure Trevor Lawrence got reps as a freshman, Alabama did the same with Tua Tagovailoa, and Ohio State has always managed to get young QB’s reps in real game situations.
With King out we’ll not only see how good of an OC Lashlee is but also how good of a DC Diaz is. The spring scrimmages should be fun in 2021, and let’s all hope the spring game is televised, finally, for The U. Put the pressure on the staff and players to perform on national TV. Let’s hope the fans see a professional product run through the tunnel.