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WEST PALM BEACH (CBS Miami) – The Mark Richt era took another step forward Saturday, with the Canes hosting a controlled scrimmage at West Palm Beach Oxbridge Academy in front of an estimated crowd of 3,000 fans.

The Canes, which hosted a closed scrimmage this past weekend, gave fans their first glimpse of the 2016 version of the team – opening the event to the general public with free admission. Miami will host its official spring game next Saturday (April 16th) at Fort Lauderdale Lockhart Stadium. That event is also free and open to the public.

The team went through controlled game action – going offense against defense – and rotated players in various groupings.

As expected, junior and incumbent starting quarterback Brad Kaaya was impressive throughout. According to the unofficial official stats gave out by the team, Kaaya completed 16 of 21 passes for 232 yards with three touchdown passes. Combining Kaaya’s performances in the past two scrimmages, he’s thrown seven touchdown passes and no interceptions.

Miami’s offense had some bounce during the first half of the scrimmage, but fans got a major scare when senior receiver Stacy Coley stayed down on the ground a lot longer than they would’ve liked.

After making one of the day’s longest catches, Coley went to the ground and began reaching for his hamstring. Coley was helped off the field and was examined on the sideline before being taken off the field.

After the scrimmage, Richt gave a brief update on Coley’s status.

“He tweaked his hamstring,” Richt said. “It doesn’t seem to be serious…but you hate to see that happen to him. He’s worked very hard this spring and has been very coachable.”

Either through Coley’s absence or through good in-scrimmage adjustments, UM’s defense looked stronger as the day went on. The Hurricanes defense registered eight sacks with defensive ends Demetrius Jackson, Chad Thomas and Al-Quadin Muhammad each notching a pair. Defensive back Sheldrick Redwine and defensive tackle RJ McIntosh each had one sack.

Freshman outside linebacker Michael Pinckney led the team with four tackles and redshirt defensive back Robert “Ra-Ra” Knowles had a pair of interceptions – one in the endzone and the other a pick-six – to go along with two tackles.

Click here for full stat sheet

Rapid reactions from the Canes controlled scrimmage:

Overall
On the whole, Miami does look better under Richt and his staff than it did under the previous contingent.

Where the change appears to be the most sudden is defensively. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz and his attacking style scheme fit Miami. It fits the type of mentally most players from South Florida play with in high school and it fits their natural skill set.

Simply the defensive philosophy is: “you see it, you hit it”; everyone can make a play, within doing their job.

Offensively, things are pretty status quo. Kaaya is arguably the best quarterback in the ACC and being able to learn from the Richt’s – head coach Mark and quarterback’s coach Jon – will only take his game to another level.

Watching the team throughout the spring, including Saturday’s scrimmage, the glaring issue is depth. Sure, the Hurricanes have plenty of talented players at most positions.

But what holds this team back from being in that elite class is a lack of difference-making players at key positions. And Coach Richt has spoken to that fact, he’s told the media multiple times throughout the spring that he and his staff must continue to recruit every position.

The offensive line is the group that has the most room for improvement. The O-Line had its share of struggles this past season and they were still up and down in their play Saturday.

UM fans should look at the 2016-17 season with much optimism. The effects of the new coaching staff are already being felt and they will get much more out of the players that are already on the roster because of their collective expertise and attitude (ahem, swag, ahem).

This is just the first year of something special coming over the horizon.

Quarterbacks
• Brad Kaaya continues to impress. He was by far the best quarterback on the day. When he wasn’t ducking and dodging defenders, who weren’t allowed to tackle him – thank God –, he made plenty of nice throws and showed a good control of the offense.

• Evan Sherriffs appears to be the No. 2 quarterback. He was praised earlier in the spring for his footwork and his football smarts and it looks like he’s supplanted Malik Rosier. Sherriffs was just 2-for-8, for 20 yards, but he was the second-best quarterback on the field.

• Rosier did not have a good day Saturday. He didn’t get many passing reps. He finished 0-for-4 and he lost a fumble.

• Early enrollee freshman Jack Allison seems to be progressing well. Given he could still be in high school right now, he was OK with the reps he was given. He went 2-for-4 for 14 yards. On their trajectories based off of Saturday’s scrimmage, it wouldn’t be a surprise if “Captain Jack” pushes Rosier for the No. 3 quarterback spot.

• Vincent Testaverde threw a pair of interceptions Saturday. Worse yet, both of them were two of the absolutely worst kinds of INT’s – an errant pass picked off in the endzone and a hanging ball along the sideline that was returned for a touchdown.

Running Backs
• Mark Walton is easily the best overall back in this group. He picked up essentially where he left off this past season – being a versatile weapon as a ball carrier and a pass catcher. He carried the ball three times for 40 yards – including converting a third and 26 with a nifty run – and caught five passes for 12 yards and a touchdown.

• Yearby ran hard. It looks like he’s trimmed down and has just a bit more burst when making those patented little “Yearby cuts”. “Novacane” finished with a game-high 63 yards on 10 carries. He’s still going to get his share of carries this fall.

• It was good to see Gus Edwards back in action. He had a couple of nice runs and finished with 42 yards on five carries.

• Trayone “Choc” Gray continues to be the enigma of the running back group. On paper, “Choc” has the physical tools to be the No. 1 ball carrier but something is holding him back. He did drop a touchdown pass and appeared to have some issues with his cleats early, but finished with 46 yards.

Wide Receiver/Tight Ends
• The story here is Stacy Coley’s injury. Prior to leaving the game, he had two catches for 87 yards – which shows just how explosive he can be when going at full strength. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Coley is shut down for the rest of the spring.

• Coley is clearly the No. 1 receiver, but if he is to miss any time – someone else has to emerge as a legit and consistent option.

• Braxton Berrios had a couple of positive plays and big-bodied receivers Lawrence Cager and Darrell Langham finished with 34 and 53 receiving yards respectively.

• David Njoku had a very good day; hauling in four passes for 67 yards – and excited the crowd when he caught a pass in the middle of the field, evaded tacklers and rumbled in for a touchdown.

• Next to the running backs, Miami’s tight ends might be the next best group overall.

Offensive Line
• This group needs a lot of work. Offensive line coach Stacy Searels definitely has his work cut out for him.

• Giving up eight sacks in a spring game isn’t good. It’s not catastrophic, but it certainly isn’t good.

Defensive Line
• The defensive line is firing off the ball. They are playing a lot faster at the point of attack and it looks like they are responding to Diaz and defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski.

• Defensive ends Trent Harris, Thomas and AQM all looked good. It was also good to see Demetrius Jackson step up and make plays too. He’s one of the best people in Miami’s program – and his success should make everyone smile.

• Courtel Jenkins had a nice play from the tackle position. Also, Kendrick Norton got a good push up front.

• Coach Diaz has said that he’s going to rotate the defensive linemen a lot. You almost have to have two full sets of defensive linemen to keep up with the high-tempo offenses.

Linebackers
• It’s so easy to get excited about the three young backers: Zach McCloud, Shaq Quarterman and Michael Pinckney. It looks like Quarterman and Pinckney have put themselves in position to be starters this season.

• Pinckney finished with a team-high four tackles; Quarterman made one of the best defensive plays of the day when he knocked down a screen pass, which was nearly picked off by one of his teammates.

• Jermaine Grace is the elder statesman of the group and he’s leading by example. Fans should expect him to flourish in Diaz’s scheme that allows for speed and tenacity to shine through.

Defensive Backs
• Robert “Ra-Ra” Knowles stole the show, at least for me. The Miami Edison product made plays all over the field. Granted, it was mostly against the No. 2 and No. 3 offense, still playmaking is playmaking. Knowles’ development shows what happens when a redshirt is used correctly.

• Corn Elder was solid. He got off to a bit of a rough start, but he stayed locked in and began to play better as the scrimmage went on.

• Jamal Carter and Rayshawn Jenkins mostly worked as the safeties with the No. 1 defense. It looks like Jaquan Johnson will rotate in, unless he shows coaches enough to unseat one of the two.

• Speaking of Johnson, I wouldn’t mind seeing him move over to cornerback. He looks a bit shorter than the 5-foot-11 that he’s listed as and his athleticism would work well on the outside. Cornerback’s coach Mike Rumph has said during the spring that he would love to have the former Killian all-star working with the corners.

• Sheldrick Redwine got a sack and he should the physical play that fans have come to expect from him. It’s my expectation that he starts opposite of Elder from the opening game.

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