College Miami Hurricanes

Canes Notebook: Saturday’s Scrimmage Offers Freshmen Big Opportunity To Prove Themselves

The University of Miami’s football team was given a day off from the practice field Friday after going for six straight days to start fall camp, but things will ratchet right back up Saturday as the team will play a scrimmage at Hard Rock Stadium Saturday evening.

The scrimmage is closed to the media and the public, but UM head coach Mark Richt is slated to address reporters following the controlled game.

Thrown Into The Fire

While Saturday’s scrimmage will be the seventh practice of the Hurricanes, it will also serve as the first taste of what college football really is for many of UM’s freshmen.

Albeit a watered down and somewhat scripted version, the players will be in full pads and allowed to make full contact – sans the quarterbacks, of course.

Richt said he doesn’t intend on deviating from the norm for the fall scrimmages.

“One’s versus two’s in the fall, always,” Richt told reporters Thursday. “Threes versus threes. The offense will start, I think. We rotate who starts first.”

“This is the closest thing we have to a game. We’re going to go ahead and do it at night,” Richt added.

“We’re actually going to have our pregame meal like we normally have for a game. We’re going to have our pregame warmup like we do for a game. We’re going to try and make it as much like a game as possible, the night before and even the day of. Just see who’s close enough to say he’s either on the plane, or he’s going to play, or he’s a starter.”

Aside from Richt’s proclamation of redshirt senior Malik Rosier being the starting quarterback for week one’s tilt against SEC power LSU in Arlington, Texas – the rest of the depth chart remains fluid.

There are players – like receiver Ahmmon Richards, safety Jaquan Johnson, cornerback Michael Jackson, linebackers Shaquille Quarterman and Michael Pinckney and defensive tackle Gerald Willis – that have separated themselves as starters based on a combination of past merits and talent, but there is competition at every position.

“As always, you want guys to prove that they’re ready to either start or that they’ve earned playing time,” Richt said Thursday.

“How far have you come? These controlled situations…that’s what they are. They’re situations. It’s first-and-10. It’s third down. It’s red zone. It’s short yardage. It’s a one-minute drill. You don’t know, in the game, how it’s going to happen. So, in the scrimmage, you have to play all situations as they come and we have to find out what kind of ballplayer you are.”

Tight End, Wide Open

Miami was dealt some bad news earlier this week when it found out that junior tight end Michael Irvin II would miss up to four months after having surgery on his MCL.

A four-month absence means that Irvin’s 2018 season would be washed away, barring a supremely successful season that puts the Hurricanes playing in college football’s final four.

Even though Irvin was a bit of a figure for his inability to truly break out and live up to the Miami legacy of his namesake father, he was still the only tight end on Miami’s roster that has ever recorded a snap in a college football game.

And while many foresaw a scenario where Irvin’s playing time would wane this season with the addition of the country’s No. 1 and No. 2 tight end prospects in Brevin Jordan and Will Mallory respectively, the scenario still hinged on the more experienced Irvin being available.

Now, instead, Jordan and Mallory have no obstacle in front of them to compete for playing time. Sophomore Brian Polendey, who’s only played on the practice squad, and walk-on redshirt-sophomore Nick Ducheine are the other tight ends on the roster.

Jordan and Mallory have had bright moments during the earlier practices, but it is early and they are just practices.

Miami tight ends coach Todd Hartley was reticent to heap praise on the youngsters – especially given they weren’t with the team during spring.

“We’ve only been through five [practices], so I don’t want to put anything on them without having a thorough evaluation,” Hartley said.

“But through five practices, they’ve kind of exceeded expectations, to be honest. Brevin, specifically, is a kid that has unbelievable athleticism. You saw that in high school. You come out here and he just has stuff that you can’t coach. He runs routes well. He has a good understanding of how to beat press [coverage], how to understand coverages, reading leverage and getting in and out of breaks. He’s an extremely gifted route-runner, but he’s also, for a young kid, he’s pretty good at the point of attack.”

“We didn’t really know what to expect from Mallory getting out here,” Hartley added. “We knew what kind of role we had for him, but that kid is doing unbelievable. He’s really having a good camp, making a lot of plays and running and catching. The blocking stuff that we’ve put him in there with, he has really done a nice job.”

Implementing Mallory and Jordan as pass catchers would be a breeze compared to having them be every-down tight ends that also line up on the scrimmage and help block.

“Both of them need to just keep doing what they’re doing. They are a long ways away, but they are on track to be where they need to be.”

Crowded Rooms

While Jordan and Mallory have a clear path to the No. 1 spot on the depth chart or at least a consistent role in the offense, other Miami freshmen aren’t so lucky.

The Canes are currently enjoying their biggest glut of talent at wide receiver and running back since the glory days of old.

Miami’s running back room already had a stud in 2017’s leading rusher, Travis Homer returning for his junior season. Along with sophomore athlete DeeJay Dallas, who has seemingly settled into the running back position full-time.

Redshirt freshman Robert Burns and redshirt senior Trayone “Choc” Gray are trying to return to form after dealing with injuries this past season.

Stacked on top of that was freshman Lorenzo Lingard, a five-star recruit who enrolled early and participated in the spring session, and physically gifted true freshman Cam Davis from Miami Carol City.

UM running backs coach and offensive coordinator Thomas Brown said that the younger ball carriers have done some things to stand out up to this point.

“Obviously, Lorenzo [Lingard] has been here already. He continues to work himself into a more prominent role as he’s learning what to do,” Brown said. “He’s always a super ‘try hard’ guy – he gives phenomenal effort every day.”

“Cam Davis has flashes, but he doesn’t get it yet. He’s the newest one to get here,” Brown added. “Just from how we do stuff practice-wise, how we finish stuff, the mindset we have every day – he’s got a long way to go with that. But he has really good ball skills, he runs the ball well.”

They probably had to add a few more chairs to the receiver’s room this year, too.

Aside from Richards, who – when healthy – is one of the most dynamic receivers in the country, the Canes also returned four more receivers who all saw action in 2017.

Slot aces Jeff Thomas and Mike Harley Jr. along with big-bodied pass catchers Lawrence Cager and Darrell Langham all have experience in Richt’s offense and rapport with Rosier.

None of them can rest on their laurels in practice and definitely not in scrimmages because of the mixture of receiver talent Miami has in its freshman class.

Early enrollees Dee Wiggins and Brian Hightower got the jump on their freshmen counterparts – with Hightower using the spring to showcase his skills, including a two-touchdown performance in UM’s spring game.

Pushing Hightower and Wiggins have been Marquez Ezzard (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) and Mark “Noodles” Pope – according to receivers coach Ron Dugans.

“At the ‘Z,’ you’ve got [Mark] Pope. He has done some really good things,” Dugans said. He’s got to learn the plays and trust the coaching. He has done a really good job…shown some flashes. [Brian] Hightower has shown some flashes also.”

“But the biggest thing with all those guys is being consistent – because you’re not just ball-catchers. You have to be able to block on the perimeter also. If they’re not blocking, they’re not going to play.”

As talented as they are and as much potential as they have, the Canes are trying to hasten the maturation process.

“Every single last one of them that we signed can do some different things for us,” Brown said.

“I’m really excited about those guys. We just have to grow up in a hurry. We have to mature fast.”

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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