College Miami Hurricanes

UM Spring Notebook: Point System Heating Up Canes’ Practices

Sports evokes plenty of emotions. Sure, you can speak fondly of “teamwork”, “spirit of the game” and plenty other borderline cliché ideals.

At its bedrock, sports – specifically football – boils down to competition. One person doing better than another person and keeping score of how many times or by how much better one person is. And in the unsparing world of college football, you better be ready to compete.

Which is probably what drove University of Miami head coach Mark Richt’s decision to implement a point system during spring practice – something that he said Tuesday has revved up the level of competition as the Hurricanes completed their seventh spring practice.

Richt didn’t go into detail with the media about what earns exactly points for either the offense or the defense, but he did describe a play and how it affected how the points were doled out.

“In the position drill, let’s say a guy drops a ball or does something he’s not supposed to do – the coach might have an immediate discipline of 10 pushups,” Richt later explained.

“A dropped ball, that usually happens. If we’re in a drill and the ball gets raked out by a back, any kind of fumble…or if they’re working ball security drills just with offensive players, if the ball comes out, usually that guy will immediately have up-downs. Then after practice, they’ll have to do some long range up-downs and recover fumbles, things like that.”

Different Kind Of Speed

After Richt praised redshirt junior wide receiver Lawrence Cager for a catch he made, Cager gave a colorful explanation when asked about the speed that sophomore receiver Mike Harley Jr. possesses.

Quirky expressions aside, Harley and sophomore Jeff Thomas will be relied upon this coming season to fill the void left by the graduation of Braxton Berrios.

Thomas appeared in all 13 games in 2017 and finished with 17 catches for 374 yards and two touchdowns. Harley played in 11 games and ended up with nine receptions for 91 yards.

While the contrasting pair competes with one another on a daily basis, they’ve built a special bond according to Harley.

Jones Getting Opportunity On O-Line

While everyone has been paying close attention to the quarterback competition, there’s another positional battle taking place this spring that will be just as pivotal as who will be the starting signal caller.

Miami’s offensive line will have at least two new starters this coming season with the graduation of seniors Trevor Darling (guard) and Kc McDermott (tackle).

The three holdovers from the 2017 season – tackle Tyree St. Louis, guard Navaughn Donaldson and center Tyler Gauthier – have been routinely seen during viewing periods working with the No. 1 offensive line this spring.

St. Louis, a senior, received praise from Richt after this past Saturday’s practice – saying that he’s excelled in the left tackle spot and he’s ahead of his teammates.

“There is no competition right now. Tyree [St. Louis] is by far ahead of [freshman] Kai[-Leon Herbert] physically and mentally. You’d expect it mentally. The other day a certain blitz came and Tyree knew to change the protection at the line and got it where we picked it up and completed the ball without a quarterback being under duress. What would have been a hot throw ended up being what we call a ‘protected hot’ just because he knew what to do and how to do it.”

Rounding out Miami’s first group of five this spring has been redshirt junior George Brown (6-foot-7, 300 pounds) and redshirt senior Jahair Jones (6-foot-4, 316 pounds).

The veterans players have been staving off the young linemen so far.

Herbert is behind St. Louis at tackle while sophomore Corey Gaynor – who received a fair amount of playing time as a freshman this past season – and early enrollee freshman Delone “DJ” Scaife have been pushing from the second group.

“I’m still not 100 percent sure on DJ Scaife,” Richt said. “He’s kind of built to be a guard or center, but he’s talented enough to protect on the edge. He could throw his hat in the ring at tackle if we don’t get what we need.”

For Jones, Richt says it has been Jones’ mental maturation that has catapulted him to the No. 1 group.

“Jahair, he’s always been able to do it physically,” Richt said after Saturday’s practice.

“Mentally, on a consistent basis, it wasn’t there. Now that he’s sitting there as a starter, I think it’s kind of changing his mindset or at least it looks like it. He’s had very few missed assignments. He’s playing as physical as we would hope. Maybe a missed assignment here or there, but everybody is doing that. Right now, we are very encouraged by Jahair.”

Jones said Tuesday that he made it a priority to increase his level of focus and attention to detail in what could be his final season in Coral Gables.

Redshirt junior lineman Hayden Mahoney has also received praise for his work this spring. The 6-foot-5, 295-pound interior linemen, who also saw some game action this past season, has impressed coaches with his knowledge of the offense.

“Hayden, he’s a veteran. He knows what to do. He knows the calls. He can play guard. He can play center. He can play either guard, really, and if you threw him at tackle, he’d know what to do, too…we want him to be competing for a starting job and if he’s in the top five, he’ll start. That’s just how it is and he certainly knows what to do and he’s tough and he’s going to help us,” Richt said.

Having more than five offensive linemen that are ready to play is never a bad thing. Quality depth protects against injuries – which will happen – and it breeds competition among the group so that each player continues to strive to be his best because his job is always on the line.

Hall Injured

There was a bit of unfortunate news to come out of this past weekend’s practice.

Early enrollee freshman safety Gurvan Hall injured his knee according to Richt and will miss the rest of the spring.

“He hurt his knee. He won’t be here the rest of spring. He’ll be here; he just won’t practice,” Richt said Saturday. “We don’t believe it’s going to be any kind of surgical thing. You never know for sure but it’s probably four weeks, four to six.”

Losing Hall for the rest of the spring is a “bummer” for the youngster, but it isn’t a detrimental loss for the Canes’ defensive backfield.

The 6-foot, 180-pound Palm Beach Gardens product was going to push fellow safeties Amari Carter (sophomore) and Derrick Smith (sophomore) for perhaps some rotational and special teams reps – especially with seniors Jaquan Johnson and Sheldrick Redwine solidified as the starting safety tandem.

Still, the former four-star prospect was making coaches take notice of his work this spring.

“From day one, [Hall] would be on the left hash and we threw a ball to the right sideline and he tracked it down and got there when the ball landed. I was like, ‘who is that guy?’,” Richt said.

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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