The battle to become UM’s starting left guard has become a three-horse race between freshman Nick Linder (6-3, 285), sophomore Alex Gall (6-5, 306) and junior Hunter Wells (6-6, 312), and coach Al Golden said Wednesday he's going to let it play out over the next 24-48 hours.
Last Saturday against Duke, it was Linder who replaced fifth-year senior Jonathan Feliciano at left guard when he was moved over to right tackle to fill-in for injured starter Taylor Gadbois in the fourth quarter.
Gall, who hasn't played since the Arkansas State game because of a back injury, finally practiced as a full participant on Wednesday, Golden said. Wells, meanwhile, is back with the team this week after serving a one-game suspension against Duke for a failed drug test.
"Obviously, Alex was kind of the front-runner before the injury," Golden said. "I'm interested to see as I go in and watch [practice film] how he did and how his conditioning is and all that. We'll see how it shakes out in the next 48 hours."
Golden said Linder, the younger brother of former Hurricane longtime starter Brandon Linder, is big enough and strong enough to physically handle the starting job even though he's the youngest of the three fighting for it.
"He's gained weight since he's gotten here," said Golden, who estimates Linder weighs between 298 and 300 pounds now -- significantly more than his listed weight. "His 225-pound [bench press] test [score] is really good. His lower back and hip flexability is really good, his knee bend, and he's smart. He's on the right guys.
"I'm going to let it play out. You guys have known me long enough. I want to see it on the field. Whoever practices the best starts the game. Whoever plays the best finishes the game. We're going to look at that pretty intently here the next two hours."
For most of the season, UM's starting offensive line has taken the bulk of the snaps -- especially in big games. When backups have come in, it usually has been as part of the second unit in Miami's lopsided wins over Florida A&M and Arkansas State. Golden said Wednesday that will probably begin to change as the team starts to rotate backups with the first team more often. The left guard spot will probably see a high volume of rotation in particular Saturday at Georgia Tech, Golden said.
"I think I said to you before the last game we were getting ready for the rotation," Golden said. "I felt that way with [Anothny] Moten, Chad [Thomas] and [Michael] Wyche too and I felt that way about Kc [McDermott on the offensive line]. Obviously, Gall would have been in the rotation the whole time. Same then with Nick and [Wells].
"We're ready. [The backups have taken] a lot of reps. [Against] Florida A&M and Arkansas State they took a lot of reps there. I've rotated them with the ones for the last two months. It is what it is. We need some guys to rally and step up. It's a part of football."
> After "protecting" Duke Johnson's sprained right ankle in Tuesday's practice, Golden said his star tailback "was great [Wednesday], 100 percent, ready to go."
> Who is the best receiver at creating yards after catch for the Hurricanes?
"I don't know. That's a good question," Golden said. "Obviously Duke would be in there. I think Herb [Waters] has done a good job with his yards after catch to be honest with you. And Stacy [Coley] should be. We need Stacy to do that for us. That's one of the challenges to him this week, getting back to doing that, having the confidence to do that -- all of those guys. I think Clive [Walford] has been pretty good at it too because he's so big. Joe Yearby has been good so far."
> Senior Phillip Dorsett was held without a catch against Duke, but Golden is hoping he'll bounce back this week with a big game against the Yellow Jackets. Dorsett has a history of scorching Georgia Tech. He had his best game last year (four catches, 66 yards, 1 TD) against them and exploded against the Yellow Jackets (nine catches, 184 yards, 1 TD) the last time Miami was in Atlanta.
"We didn't get him the ball enough last week, but he impacted the game by taking the top off and really being unselfish and blocking," Golden said. "But yes, we'd like to get him the ball more this week. Phillip is just one of a number of guys we have to get the ball to. Brad [Kaaya] is doing a great job distributing it, which we have to continue to do that. Hopefully, Phillip will be a big part of that."
> Golden said we can expect senior safety Nantambu Fentress to once again play an important role against Georgia Tech's triple option attack. Last year, Fentress had three tackles against the Yellow Jackets. "He plays linebacker for us in those situations and he does a really good job," Golden said.
> It might feel like to the rest of us senior safety Dallas Crawford (17 tackles, 1 pass breakup) has been quiet this year, but Golden disagrees.
"I think he's doing pretty darn good," Golden said. "Dallas has been playing a lot of football for us and has been physical. He's made a lot of big plays, certainly in the first two games. He's in the rotation right now. Deon [Bush] is a little bit ahead of him. [Dallas is] rotating with Jamal [Carter] and Fentress at the other spot. But no, he practices hard, he brings it on gameday. He's doing a good job on special. He's exactly what we want."
> Golden said the Hurricanes "are right around" 77 scholarships for the year, but "still working through it." Miami was docked nine scholarships over three years by the NCAA for the Nevin Shapiro scandal. It's likely Miami will opt to take its penalty as seven scholarships this year and one more each in 2015 and 2016.