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2023 Miami RedHawks Positional Previews: Offensive Line

Two key transfers exit, but the RedHawks are loaded with experience on the offensive line in the form of 60 combined starts.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 21 Miami OH at Ohio State Photo by Adam Lacy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The opportunity for Miami (OH) to return all five starters on the offensive line was in the works. And it could have happened if the transfer portal didn’t get in the way.

Starting center Rusty Feth departed to Iowa this offseason, while starting left guard Caleb Shaffer ended up at Oklahoma. Shaffer is a projected starter for the Sooners and Feth was Miami’s lone All-MAC lineman selection in 2022 as a Second Team honoree, so it’s clear both losses were fairly significant to the RedHawks.

Still, there’s plenty of experience remaining on the line, including two players who were on the 2019 MAC championship roster. So who’s back this fall?

First off, James Patton enters his third year as Miami’s offensive line coach. There is no shortage of continuity on Chuck Martin’s coaching staff, so the RedHawks should practice familiar techniques and implement similar blocking schemes from prior seasons with Patton retaining his spot on staff.

From a player personnel perspective, Miami suffered a massive loss in last year’s opener at Kentucky — not only did starting quarterback Brett Gabbert go down for the majority of the season, but the team also lost starting left tackle Sam Vaughan that evening. The 6’7”, 297 pound redshirt junior started all 13 games in Miami’s successful, bowl-winning 2021 campaign and he is expected to revert to his role with a full slate of health.

On the opposite side of Vaughan is Reid Holskey at right tackle. Holskey has started each of the RedHawks’ 25 games over the last two seasons, and if health allows, he can extend that streak to 37 and beyond as a redshirt junior.

The final returning starter is the only one remaining on the interior. In his first year operating with the first team offense, Kolby Borders manned the right guard position for nine contests and is expected to retain that spot for 2023. But another possibility exists, as he could shift to center in the absence of Feth — as Feth made a similar transition from guard to center during his time at Miami. Vaughan, Holskey, and Borders occupy 60 percent of the front five which leaves two vacancies to be fulfilled.

A premier candidate to occupy one of these voids is Miami’s lone incoming FBS transfer on the offensive line. John Young played 25 games at Kentucky in 2021 and 2022 as a reserve lineman and his transfer likely coincides with the opportunity for an increased role. Young, who stands 6’6” and weighs 317 pounds, has played both guard and tackle in his football career, so a starting guard spot is certainly on the table for the former Wildcat.

If Young occupies a starting role, that leaves one spot on the interior remaining. However, Miami has two additional returning players who were inserted into starting lineups in 2022. Will Jados filled in at left tackle following Vaughan’s injury and recorded 10 starts last year. Although Vaughan and Holskey remain on the roster, the 6’8” Jados could compete for a starting spot in fall camp. But Miami has other options as well, which include shifting one of the three tackles to guard.

Another option is Ben Jackson, who has been a valuable part of the offensive line rotation since 2020. The 6’7” Kentucky native first suited up for Miami in 2019, but he logged his first two starts as a RedHawk last fall. Jackson is one of the most versatile members of the position group, working the left tackle spot in the Bahamas Bowl but also checking in at right guard throughout the season. Given Miami’s logjam at the tackle positions, Jackson is an ideal fit on the interior and could land a full-time starting gig for his fifth season in Oxford, OH.

As demonstrated by Vaughan’s instant injury last year, offensive line depth may be a determining factor in how far Miami’s offense goes in 2023. Charlie Nank and Caleb Siech were both rotation pieces and special teams contributors in 2022, making a combined 17 appearances. While still seeking his first collegiate start, Nank has been a staple of the unit for three years and counting, and his résumé features 21 games of action dating back to the shortened 2020 campaign.

Gavin Rohrs is another reserve lineman looking to carve out an amplified role in 2023. He was limited to four games of action last season in order to preserve his redshirt, but could become a key rotation piece this year. Eric Smith, Drew Terrill, and Brandon Lawhorn Moore are among the other roster members holding redshirt freshman status, but unlike Rohrs, they did not play any snaps in 2022. Rounding out the incumbents are redshirt sophomore reserves aiming for more playing time in 2023 — Luke Kirin and Marcus White.

The true freshmen on the roster aren’t expected to receive significant playing time, and some may subject to redshirts. Miami’s true freshmen on the o-line from the 2023 recruiting class include Andrew Lowry, Michael Popov, Gregory Smith Jr., and Ben Decker.

Miami is renowned for having the most size on the offensive line among MAC squads. Of the 18 linemen on the roster, exactly half are listed at 6’6”. Sam Vaughan and Ben Jackson exceed that threshold, standing at 6’7”, while Will Jados and true freshman Andrew Lowry tower over the rest of the team at 6’8”. To put that in perspective, only two of Miami’s current basketball players are taller than the sky-scraping duo of Jados and Lowry. In addition to impressive heights, the RedHawks also assert more weight than most MAC offensive lines, wielding four players of at least 320 pounds.

While Miami returns ample depth, there is still improvement to be desired in pass protection, as the unit surrendered 2.92 sacks per game last year — falling in the bottom 25 of the FBS. Additionally, the RedHawks aim to improve upon their 3.8 yards per rush in 2023, but they have a good foundation to build around, trotting out considerable experience. That experience can be quantified as the depth chart features 60 total starts, all accumulated in a Miami uniform.

Miami’s 2023 offensive line first tests its mettle against the defense of Miami (FL) in the Sunshine State on Friday, Sept. 1. A projected starting five on that date could take form of the following, from left to right: Vaughan, Young, Borders, Jackson, and Holskey.