improved its win total by one in head coach Chuck Martin's second season, but the RedHawks still have a long ways to go. This is still a relatively young team, but plenty of sophomores and juniors saw significant playing time last season. Will 2015's growing pains produce better results and a few more wins in '16?
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Previewing Miami’s Offense for 2016
Returning a quarterback who started the last seven games of his true freshman season would suggest long-term stability, but coach Chuck Martin considers Billy Bahl and the more-versatile Gus Ragland to be still in competition for the starting job. Bahl is a traditional pocket passer, while Ragland also is a running threat who threw for three touchdowns and no interceptions in 2015. Bahl threw for eight touchdowns with 13 interceptions.
Not that Miami should need the quarterback to run the ball. The five running backs who lettered last season all return, led by sophomore Alonzo Smith, who led the RedHawks with 498 yards and five touchdowns. Miami returns 98.2 percent of its rushing yards from last season.
The wide receiver corps is similarly experienced, with two starters returning, along with 98.3 percent of the receptions and 99.2 percent of the receiving yards. Senior Rokeem Williams was the primary target with 33 catches for 543 yards and two touchdowns.
The tight end tandem of sophomore Nate Becker and junior Ryan Smith also is back. Becker started 11 games, while Smith led Miami with five receiving touchdowns.
Four starters return on the offensive line, and Martin is hoping that a year of maturation will help sophomores such as center Mitch Palmer stay healthy.
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Previewing Miami’s Defense for 2016
Senior end J.T. Jones returns after finishing second in the MAC with 10 sacks. Juniors A.J. Burdine and Ikeem Allen split time at one defensive tackle slot last season, but Allen has staked his claim to the full-time job. Junior Zach Smierciak has big shoes to fill at right defensive end with the graduation of dependable Bryson Albright.
Junior outside linebacker Paul Moses finished third on the team with 71 tackles in his first season on defense after being converted from running back. T.J. Williams is a returning starter at the other outside linebacker slot, which will help make it easier for sophomore Junior McMullen to take over at middle linebacker.
The RedHawks have some answers at cornerback. Heath Harding missed the last seven games of the 2015 season after being named Miami’s Defensive Skill Player of the Year in 2014. Junior Bert Birdsall took over for Harding and will enter the season with hopes of locking down a starting spot. And Tee Shepard, a graduate transfer from Ole Miss, is expected to join the team in the summer. Senior Buchi Okafor’s return at safety will help ease the transition of junior Tony Reid as he takes over for Brison Burris at the other safety slot.
Previewing Miami’s Specialists for 2016
Miami’s kicking game faces a complete overhaul after losing starters at kicker, punter and long-snapper. Sophomore Nick Dowd takes over as the placekicker after making his only kick, a 22-yard field goal, last season. He still has more experience than the new punter, sophomore Justin Martin, whose next punt will be the first of his college career. Maurice Thomas is a budding threat on kickoff returns after averaging 17.3 yards on 27 returns last season.
Martin continues to work on building depth through recruiting so that the RedHawks don’t have to lean so heavily on freshmen whose bodies still are developing, especially on the offensive line. “We’re in a bad cycle,” he says. “The true freshmen aren’t ready and they get hurt. Hopefully, we’ll be able to redshirt some of the freshmen this year and all of them next year. You can’t keep playing true freshmen.”
Miami improved from two wins in Martin’s first season to three last year, including the first on the road since 2012. The experience gained last season should pay off this year, and some of those one-score losses should turn into wins.