Miami Hurricanes spring practice goal finding returners

Dec 29, 2020; Orlando, FL, USA; Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 29, 2020; Orlando, FL, USA; Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports /

The Miami Hurricanes had one of the worst return units in college football in 2020. Miami finished 123rd averaging 2.2 yards per punt return and 59th averaging 20.55 yards per kickoff return. The Hurricanes have not had a kickoff return for a touchdown since the eight lateral Miracle in Durham in 2015.

Wide receiver Mark Pope led the Miami Hurricanes in kickoff returns averaging 22.2 yards in 2020 and averaging 5.3 yards per punt return. Pope struggled with holding on to the ball with two muffs last season that ultimately led Miami to replace him for a short period of time with freshman Xavier Restrepo.

Restrepo had three punt returns for nine yards. Mike Harley led Miami in kickoff return yardage with 10 for 213 and returned three punts for 15 yards. Miami used to be a feared team on punt and kickoff returns. Over the past few seasons, the Miami returners have often played it safe particularly on punt returns.

Opponents punted 54 times against Miami in 2020 and the Hurricanes only had 15 returns. Finding a reliable and explosive return man in 2021 can help the Miami offense. Head coach Manny Diaz spoke about what Miami did in their first spring scrimmage on Saturday to find return men.

"“We an three different punt groups through there today and three different kickoff return groups. Obviously, we’re trying to find a punt returner [and] a kickoff returner. We have all those jobs open so today is a situation where we can put people around them and make them catch balls under pressure."

Running back Jaylan Knighton is a player to watch for Miami in the search to find return men. Knighton had six kickoff returns for 118 yards in 2020. Miami signed three freshmen WRs in the Class of 2021. Brashard Smith will be a player watch as a potential returner for Miami in training camp in August.

Next. Miami WR Xavier Restrepo has breakout scrimmage. dark

Smith was not an early enrollee at Miami and therefore is not participating in spring practice. Smith had a 98-yard kickoff return for a TD as a junior with Palmetto in 2019. There are multiple options on the Miami roster for players to become reliable and potentially dangerous return men.