Updates on Zion Nelson, Leonard Taylor, Elijah Arroyo and more on eve of Miami fall camp

It was only supposed to be a minor surgery — at least as minor as knee surgery can be — for Zion Nelson, the type of procedure expected to knock him out of commission for maybe two or three months.
At first, the Miami Hurricanes set Week 1 of the 2022 college football as the goal for his return, then they just wanted to get him back on the field at some point last year and then the hope was just to have him back in action for spring practice.
More than a year after surgeons went into the star tackle’s left knee to clean out some loose cartilage, Nelson has played in just one game and only for a few dozen snaps, and now there’s another new timeline in place. Miami is just hoping for 6-foot-5, 316-pound redshirt junior to be ready for Week 1 of the 2023 season.
“It’s a little longer than I expected,” Nelson said. “I was expecting to be back probably in the spring, but, obviously, that hasn’t happened.”
The absence all stems from a surgery he had last offseason and a series of complications resulting from it. At multiple times in the last year, swelling became a problem for the offensive lineman and he was never able to strengthen the knee to where it needed to be. He ballooned up to 339 pounds at one point, he said, and is now back down to about 320 and feeling good about the immediate future.
Still, he’s right now primarily “working on getting it stronger, and just nice and stable.” He won’t be a full participant when training camp begins Tuesday and the Hurricanes are now hoping he’ll be ready for Game 1 in September.
“As far as where we’re looking, we’re on a good track, but not set time so far,” Nelson said. “We’re kind of basing things on how I’m feeling.”
If Nelson can get back to the player he was in 2021, Miami’s offensive line has a chance to be one of the best in the country. He was an All-Atlantic Coast Conference honorable mention in 2021 and still has a chance to be one of the top prospects for the 2024 NFL Draft, if he can get healthy.
Nelson is one of several injured Hurricanes hoping to work their way back in time for the start of the regular season, including tight end Elijah Arroyo.
Now a junior, Arroyo played in just five games last year before sustaining a season-ending knee injury. If he’s healthy, Arroyo is probably the favorite to start, and said he’s “ahead of schedule” and “trying to be ready for Game 1.”
“If I told him that, Hey, we’re playing a game tomorrow, he would strap up,” new tight ends coach Cody Woodiel said. “I have no doubt in my mind he would go and be ready to play.”
At running back, Donald Chaney Jr. is healthy after tearing an anterior cruciate ligament in 2021 and then dislocating his hip in the preseason last year. TreVonte’ Citizen, however, is still working his way back after tearing an ACL last preseason.
“I”m on a good track to be able to play this season,” the redshirt freshman said.
Defensive linemen Jahfari Harvey and Leonard Taylor III are also ready for fall camp after dealing with injuries earlier this year. Both Taylor and Harvey had surgery to repair the glenoid labrums in their shoulders, with Harvey actually having surgery on both.
Miami Hurricanes safety Brian Balom (27) works out during football practice at the University of Miami campus in Coral Gables, Florida, Tuesday, April 4, 2023.
Miami Hurricanes safety Brian Balom (27) works out during football practice at the University of Miami campus in Coral Gables, Florida, Tuesday, April 4, 2023. SAM NAVARRO Special for the Miami Herald
For about a week last year, Brian Balom was ready to leave Coral Gables. A conversation with coach Mario Cristobal and secondary coach Jahmile Addae, as well as his passion for Miami, brought him back.
Balom entered the transfer portal in the offseason and then, less than a week later, he withdrew.
“Sometimes hearing outside noise can get in your ear and saying, Go here, go there,” the safety said, “but the thing that really brought me back was the love I have for Miami.”
Now a redshirt sophomore, Balom played in 11 games last year, but has only recorded one tackle since he had 10 during a promising freshman campaign in 2020. He was discouraged a bit by his shrinking role — he didn’t play at all in 2020 while recovering from an offseason surgery — and yet ultimately stepped back and decided to come back.
Cristobal and Addae helped clarify Balom’s place within the program. He could be No. 3 in the pecking order at safety this year, behind only fellow safeties Kamren Kinchens and James Williams.
“They were saying, I thought everything was good? What’s the point in leaving,” Balom said. “[Cristobal] was saying, We want you here, basically saying the need for me here and that they trust my ability as a player, and just give it another shot, don’t make a permanent decision of temporary emotions.”
Miami Hurricanes safety James William (20) returns after off-season shoulder surgery to football practice at the University of Miami campus in Coral Gables, Florida, Tuesday, April 4, 2023.
Miami Hurricanes safety James William (20) returns after off-season shoulder surgery to football practice at the University of Miami campus in Coral Gables, Florida, Tuesday, April 4, 2023. SAM NAVARRO Special for the Miami Herald
▪ Running back Christopher Johnson, who was a six-time state champion in track and field at Dillard, plans to compete in indoor track and field at Miami. Football, however, remains his top priority, so he won’t take part in the outdoor season to instead take part in future spring practices.
▪ Offensive lineman Jalen Rivers will start training camp at left tackle with Nelson ailing, but remains open to playing multiple spots along the offensive line in 2023. “I’ve been doing it my whole time here,” the redshirt sophomore said. “Of course, I’d rather have [one spot], but I’d rather not be comfortable and show everybody my versatility, so I can have that value.”
▪ Kinchens kicked off the Williams hype train Tuesday when he said he thinks his fellow safety can also be All-American next season. New defensive coordinator Lance Guidry’s defense, which asks the safeties to be more aggressive and blitz more frequently, is “just perfect” for Williams, Kinchens said. “He’s already accepted that he’s our Swiss Army knife,” the junior said. “He can play every position and we’ve known that since he came out of high school, so he was just trying to polish his safety spot and then he learned the defense so well, kind of getting in extra with Coach Guidry to learn every spot, so he can be able to play every spot because he’s athletic enough to do that.”

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