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Miami Football: Hurricanes' 2022 Spring Preview

Corey Flagg Jr., Miami Hurricanes Football

Figuring out the linebacker rotation alongside Corey Flagg Jr. is just one of the defensive tasks on new Hurricanes head coach Mario Cristobal's to-do list this spring

The start of spring football is here for the Miami Hurricanes.

Miami began spring practices on Monday as it will be a new era with Mario Cristobal back at his alma mater as head coach. Expectations are high for the Hurricanes in just Year 1 for Cristobal as many expect the team to contend in the ACC Coastal.

Related: 3 Reasons for Optimism About the Hurricanes in 2022

Arguably, Miami has the most talented quarterback in the conference in Tyler Van Dyke. The Hurricanes also have enough talented skill position players to not only to contend in the ACC Coastal but also in the entire conference.

With spring football beginning, here are some things to keep an eye on.

5 Storylines to Watch During Miami's Spring Practice

1. Knighton ready for a more prominent role

We know how good Van Dyke is, but he will need help if the Hurricanes are to take the next step and contend for an ACC championship. So some of the younger players need to step up and help the team on both sides of the ball.

One player who could make an immediate impact is Jaylan Knighton. With Cam'Ron Harris entering the NFL draft, Knighton could have a huge season in the Hurricanes' backfield if he remains healthy.

Last season, he rushed 561 yards and eight touchdowns. Knighton also caught 20 passes for 280 yards and three touchdowns.

2. Competition at linebacker

Corey Flagg Jr. will likely be the Hurricanes' starting middle linebacker, but who will surround him?

For the strong-side and weak-side linebacker positions, Wesley Bissainthe, Keontra Smith, Waymon Steed, Chase Smith, Sam Brooks Jr., Gilbert Frierson, Avery Huff, Tirek Austin-Cave, Deshawn Troutman, and Tyler Johnson will all compete for snaps. If Cristobal and co-defensive coordinators Kevin Steele and Charlie Strong Steele are not happy with who is currently on the roster, they could seek options in the transfer portal.

3. Can the defense replace the pass-rushing production lost?

Miami lost two of its best pass rushers in Zach McCloud (5.5 sacks) and Deandre Johnson (4.5) during the offseason. Jacob Lichtenstein, a USC transfer, could help a lot.

Lichtenstein had 28 tackles and four sacks for the Trojans while starting in eight games. Jahfari Harvey (26 tackles, 2.5 sacks) and Chantz Williams (14, 1.5) could also factor as part of a rotation up front.

4. Who stands out at receiver?

After leading receivers Charleston Rambo and Mike Harley departed, the Hurricanes will need some new players to step up this spring. The two players who could potentially fill those shoes are Key'Shawn Smith and Xavier Restrepo.

Last season, Smith caught 26 passes for 332 yards and three touchdowns. Restrepo finished with 24 grabs for 373 yards and two scores.

Clemson transfer Frank Ladson Jr. is another name to keep an eye on. Ladson recorded 31 receptions for 428 yards and six touchdowns across three seasons (20 games) for the Tigers. He struggled with injuries last season, limiting him to just four games. A Miami native, Ladson was a top-40 overall recruit in the 2019 class and is a big (6-3, 205) target.

If he's healthy and fits into the offense, Ladson could add a new element to the Canes' passing attack.

5. Who will be the backup tight end?

Will Mallory is not just the Hurricanes' No. 1 tight end. He's also the team's No. 2 returning receiver from last season, trailing only Smith in receptions (30) and he was the third on the entire team in 2021 with four touchdown catches. Mallory's spot in the pecking order is secure, but who will back him up?

Elijah Arroyo may have the edge as he should get more snaps this spring. He had just five catches for 86 yards and a touchdown as a true freshman, but the Frisco, Texas, native was a consensus 4-star recruit in the 2021 class and the No. 7 tight end, according to the 247Sports Composite. He may be ready to take another big step forward this spring.

Someone else worth watching is incoming freshman Jaleel Skinner. Initially an Alabama commit, Skinner flipped to Miami in December. he enrolled early and offers appealing size (6-5) but he needs to put on a lot of weight if he wants to stick at tight end. But the 4-star IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) product could be tried out at wide receiver in spring practice.

Related: 5 Newcomers to Watch for the Hurricanes

Podcast: Examining Returning Starters and Teams With the Most/Least Talent Returning for the 2022 Season

— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.