Entering Saturday’s final four rounds of the 2019 NFL Draft, one of the more puzzling situations and draft free-falls was Miami defensive tackle Gerald Willis still being on the board.
After watching six defensive tackles fly off the board in round one on Thursday night, everyone anticipated that Willis’ name would be called at some point in the second or the third round on Friday evening in Nashville.
That did not happen.
And, even more discouraging for the former All-ACC defensive tackle is that numerous other defensive tackles were taken instead of him night two, as well.
That included UCF defensive tackle Trysten Hill being taken by the Dallas Cowboys in the second round and then, two more defensive tackles being taken instead of Willis in round three.
Finally, came Saturday afternoon, where round four came and went and still no Willis. Yet another D-tackle came off the board, as Arizona State’s Renell Wren was taken by the Bengals in the middle of the fourth round at #125.
We knew previously that Willis was being called into question by the NFL, when he wasn’t invited to the Scouting Combine in February.
However, because he led all defensive tackles in college football with 18 tackles for loss last season, and he comes from a tradition-rich program that has produced the likes of the late Jerome Brown, Russell Maryland, Warren Sapp, and even, Vince Wilfork back in the early 2000s, you thought he’d get more consideration.
In fact, most mock drafts believed that he would go no later than the 3rd round. Yet, it has become apparent that either the interview process or some injury concern possibly had cropped up about the New Orleans native and his draft status.
Willis had a hand injury at the end of Miami’s season and skipped the playing of the Pinstripe Bowl in the Bronx, New York, against Wisconsin. However there’s no indication that it’s a long-term lingering situation and that the hand would be the reason for the slide.
In the end, Willis incredibly lasted the entire seven rounds without being drafted.
We will await in the coming hours and days the reporting on the “why” that one of the top defensive tackles in a power conference was passed on by everyone this weekend.
Saturday night, media reports had Willis being signed as an undrafted free agent by the Ravens:
— David Wilson (@DBWilson2) April 27, 2019
At the minimum this has cost Williams a couple of million dollars (had he been a late second or early third round pick).
Now, he gets a chance to prove everyone that doubted him wrong.
Or, maybe he’s gonna reinforce that they were right not to draft him.
Hurricanes bungled bringing Alonzo Highsmith to program
These are definitely trying, and in some cases, embarrassing times for the first season being completed by Hurricanes coach Manny Diaz. And, now comes another indication of dysfunction to the forefront late this week.
This, as former Canes running back great Alonzo Highsmith was apparently all set to join Diaz and the football program in some type of administrative / “Chief of Staff” type-role.
However, Highsmith, AD Blake James and Diaz apparently could not come to an agreement on his role, responsibilities and probably biggest of all, compensation for it. So, the latest on Thursday is the reunion will not be happening:
Alonzo Highsmith told me this morning that the door is now closed about him taking job at UM. Won't happen, he said.
— Barry Jackson (@flasportsbuzz) January 9, 2020
Hiring Highsmith to help in such a role is something that is now common over the last few years of college football, to especially relieve some of the day-to-day administrative duties of the head coach and allow him to do more, you know, actual coaching in his program.
Nick Saban has this at Alabama. So, too does Dabo Swinney at Clemson.
And even new USF coach and former Clemson co-offensive coordinator, Jeff Scott will be utilizing his father, Brad (a former FSU offensive coordinator himself) in the same role with the Bulls.
As for Highsmith, he is certainly qualified after having played on Howard Schellenberger’s 1983 title team and then for Jimmy Johnson for two years after. He ran for nearly 2,000 yards and 25 TDS in his career and was put in the Canes Hall of Fame in 1997.
Highsmith played six years in the NFL and after having worked for the Green Bay Packers for almost two decades (above) moving up in their front office, he came to the Cleveland Browns as their Vice President of Football Operations this past year.
However, when Cleveland jettisoned GM John Dorsey earlier this month, that paved the way for Highsmith to potentially come to Miami in a similar role that could help Diaz and the football program try to regain its footing.
Miami ended the regular season horribly, with humiliating losses to FIU and Duke and then, was embarrassingly beaten in a 14 – 0 Independence Bowl loss to Louisiana Tech.
Diaz fired offensive coordinator Dan Enos after just his first season in Coral Gables, and has hired former Auburn and SMU offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee to replace him.
So now, the fact that Highsmith, who has lots of experience with running football operations and obviously a love for the school where he helped win a National Championship, is now not coming, is another bad sign for Diaz at least in the short-term.
Then again, Diaz may have someone else in mind for the role and we may see that announcement soon, but we at F.F.I wouldn’t advise that you hold your breath on that one.
Instead, it’s the latest in a series of missteps around Hurricanes football at a program has spiraled downward over the course of the last 10 – 15 years.
This includes Miami having lost 9 of its last 10 bowl games and no longer being relevant on the national stage year-in and year-out.
Highsmith represented a link to Miami’s great past of the 1980s and not being able to work out for him to help has to discourage those who care the most about the Canes trying to get back.
Will Canes hiring of veteran OC Lashlee save Manny Diaz?
Manny Diaz did not seem prepared for his first season as a college football head coach at Miami. The Hurricanes were often disorganized, and Diaz’s gameday decisions were often misguided. The Hurricanes lost to FIU, Duke, and Louisiana Tech to close their season. Their offense scored 52 points against Louisville, and did very little else in 2019.
And, obviously, Dan Enos was a bust as offensive coordinator.
Diaz had to make changes to such an unacceptable situation. He has reportedly chosen SMU offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee as his new offensive coordinator.
SMU OC Rhett Lashlee is new OC at Miami, sources told @Stadium. Lashlee has been an OC last 9 seasons at Samford (2011), Arkansas State (2012), Auburn (2013-16), UConn (2017) & SMU (2018-19)
— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) January 3, 2020
The move might not work out – no move is guaranteed to bring supreme success; just ask Michigan about Jim Harbaugh or Texas about Tom Herman – but on paper, it looks like a decision which can revitalize Miami’s offense and give the Canes what they have lacked since Ken Dorsey: a reliably dynamic offense.
Yes, recruiting a strong offensive line has to complement what Lashlee brings to the table. Yes, Miami and Diaz have to put together a roster which can carry ideas from the realm of theory into applied practice. A good offensive system doesn’t mean anything unless the players can put it into action. Lashlee’s arrival guarantees nothing. We can all acknowledge that.
However, if one was to look at the offensive coordinator market and identify the various options Manny Diaz was considering, Lashlee is certainly better than most. He spent multiple seasons under Gus Malzahn at Auburn and was by Malzahn’s side when the Tigers reached the 2014 BCS National Championship Game.
The Tigers used RPO (run-pass option) concepts and a diversified running game which attacked defenses with a combination of tempo and varied angles to bedevil SEC defenses. Auburn won that season’s SEC Championship Game over Missouri by scoring 59 points.
That was Lashlee’s best-ever season.
This past year was his second-best season.
Lashlee helped Sonny Dykes guide the SMU Mustangs to a very rare and exhilarating 10-win season, a rapid climb few people in the college football punditocracy anticipated. Lashlee worked beautifully with Texas transfer Shane Buechele to maximize the potential of the SMU offense, which carried the Ponies throughout the season. When SMU lost, it was usually because the defense folded like a house of cards. The SMU offense did very few things wrong in 2019.
This is the man Miami is reported to have named as its next offensive coordinator.
Nothing is guaranteed in life, but if you were to make a quick “good or bad” call on this move, I’d certainly give it a thumbs-up. Only time will tell if Manny Diaz saved his hide and gave Miami a real chance to make a U turn on offense.
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