College Miami Hurricanes

UM Spring Notebook: Irvin II Hopes To Take Step Forward In 2018

The University of Miami has been called just about every position “U” since the early 1980’s – “Quarterback U”, “Running Back U”, “Linebacker U”, “Defensive Back U” and “Tight End U”.

That is what has made “The U” so great.

It’s debatable which position group has been the best.

But it is easy to say which one has been the most consistent: the tight ends. From Bubba Franks and Jeremy Shockey to Kellen Winslow Jr., Greg Olsen and Jimmy Graham – for large chunks of time, the some of the NFL’s best tight ends came from the University of Miami.

Even in what some might consider are “lean times” for the program, Miami has still sent a strong collective of tight ends to the pro ranks. Clive Walford was a third-round pick in 2015 and is a key cog in the Oakland Raiders’ offense. Two years ago, it was David Njoku who upheld the “Tight End U” standard – using his strong redshirt sophomore year (43 receptions for 698 yards and eight touchdowns) to become the 29th overall pick for the Cleveland Browns in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Last season, Christopher Herndon IV began to thrive and get the attention of pro scouts as Miami’s No. 1 tight end before his senior season was cut short due to a knee injury – which required surgery. Even though he didn’t play in Miami’s final two games, Herndon still finished No. 2 on the team in receptions (40), receiving yards (477) and receiving touchdowns (4) and will very likely hear his name called at some point of the 2018 NFL Draft.

Now, the “Tight End U” mantle falls to junior Michael Irvin II. The 6-foot-3, 248-pound UM legacy (his father being NFL Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin) would be Miami’s starting tight end if the season began this week, but he’d need to have a strong spring session to foster confidence in the coaching staff.

Miami head coach Mark Richt said Irvin has looked better through the first handful of spring sessions.

Since he arrived in Coral Gables in 2016 as a three-star prospect out of Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas (his dad’s high school alma mater), Irvin hasn’t lived up to expectations. He did see action as a true freshman, but it was mostly on special teams since he was behind Njoku and Herndon. His first year ended with him being suspended for Miami’s 2016 Russell Athletic Bowl game.

Instead of earning more playing time as a sophomore, Irvin was moved to the No. 2 tight end spot out of necessity. He found himself in Richt’s “dog house” again this past October – serving another suspension for, as Richt put it, “not doing what he’s supposed to do off the field”.

When Irvin was available, he wasn’t very productive even though he played 12 games – including starting three games while Herndon was injured. Irvin finished the 2017 season with nine catches for 78 yards.

Irvin said that he’s ready to put the first two years of his career behind him and that he’d been using this spring to show the coaches that he’s ready to make positive things happen.

“I gained a lot of experience last year. I saw that I can compete and saw that I was able to step in when [the coaching staff] made me their guy,” Irvin said about his time in the lineup when Herndon went down.

“I feel like finally – maybe – I am ready to [step up],” Irvin II said. “It takes a while as a tight end to learn all the plays…learn everything that you’re responsible for. I’ve worked on being more studious. Learning everything because it’s not just about the physical aspect of it coming out here. I feel like I’m ready to make things happen.”

Competition Coming

Irvin’s status as Miami’s No. 1 tight end has and will go unchallenged through the spring.

He is one of just three tight ends currently on the team’s roster – with sophomore Brian Polendey and walk-on Nicholas Ducheine as the others.

The 6-foot-6, 230-pound Polendey appeared in six games in 2017, almost exclusively on special teams, and played on Miami’s practice squad. A former three-star prospect, Polendey has struggled with dropped passes during the media-viewed portion of practices – drawing the ire of tight ends coach Todd Hartley.

Even with the tiny window of praise Richt had for Irvin II, he still said that his current No. 1 tight end has some work to do.

“No,” Richt said plainly when asked if Irvin was where he wanted him to be. “He is getting better, but he still has some work to do.”

The Canes’ tight end room will get a much-needed infusion of talent this summer when freshmen Brevin Jordan and Will Mallory arrive on campus.

Richt pulled off an impressive coup signing both in-line pass catchers. Jordan (a 6-foot-3, 250-pounder out of Nevada Bishop Gorman High) was rated the nation’s No. 1 tight prospect in the 2017 class while the 6-foot-5, 207-pound Mallory was rated a four-star prospect (No. 8 tight end) out of Jacksonville Providence High.

Irvin knows that his job won’t be as secure once Jordan and Mallory step on campus.

Even if Irvin straightens up and flies right throughout the rest of the spring and into summer workouts, it’s almost unavoidable that Richt will plan on using either or both Jordan and Mallory come the fall because of the talent that they possess.

It may take the incoming freshmen a while to be able to handle a full load of blocking assignments, but there’s no reason to think that Hartley and Richt won’t pare down the offense and get one or both young tight ends on the field on passing downs.

Quick Hits

>>> Sophomore DeeJay Dallas has been impressing coaches this spring. He’s added nearly 20 pounds to his frame but has kept the same elusiveness that made him a coveted prospect coming out of high school.

>>> Running back has become Miami’s deepest position – in terms of quality and quantity.

Travis Homer is gearing up for his junior campaign after taking the reins of being the No. 1 ball carrier this past season, Dallas has shown himself to be a versatile weapon in the backfield, 5-star running back Lorenzo Lingard enrolled early and should push for playing time; Trayone “Choc” Gray and Robert Burns are still in the mix – even though Gray has started working at fullback – and the Canes will add Miami Carol City running back Cam’ron Davis during the summer.

Dallas gave an assessment of what Lingard brings to the table.

>>> Richt said that junior linebacker Zach McCloud will miss the remainder of spring practice with a wrist injury.

J.T. Wilcox
J.T. Wilcox is an award-winning sports journalist who has worked in South Florida for more than a decade. He authors "The Bald Predictions" blog and "The Baldcast" podcast.

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