Miami’s new coaching staff hasn’t pulled any punches this spring when talking about where the program is and where they want it to head.
Head coach Mark Richt has said – on multiple occasions – that he thinks the team needs more speed.
Offensive line coach Stacy Searels sent out an Uncle Sam-like decree saying: “You tell every tackle in America, if he wants to play, come to Miami. We need more tackles.”
Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has said that they have to bring in players that are “good enough to play here”.
Those things being said, Miami fans should feel very good about the level of accountability that the new coaching staff is holding players to and should be optimistic as the team enters year one of “Richt’s Reclamation”.
The team returned to the practice field Tuesday, having two days to digest what went on during the team’s controlled scrimmage at West Palm Beach’s Oxbridge Academy and it was the Canes defense – specifically the defensive backfield – that got the constructive criticism.
“I thought were less tentative and less timid in the second scrimmage than we were in the first,” Diaz said. “I thought we saw a bit more of our disruption – some more disruptive plays.”
The defense did get credited with eight sacks in the scrimmage.
“But the biggest disappointment – really the thing we made the biggest deal about this spring is leveraging the football and tackling it. I thought that on the back end we were very poor in tackling; [granted] we have some offensive guys that are hard to tackle.”
“But the way that we’re trying to teach it – it’s obvious we’re not ready for the prime time yet and we have to continue to improve on that,” Diaz added. “We’ve told [the defense], ‘those who tackle, will play’.”
Redshirt freshman defensive back Robert “Ra-Ra” Knowles did get two interceptions off of redshirt sophomore Vincent Testaverde – one in the endzone, the other returned for a touchdown – but the defensive backfield as whole did struggle at times.
Corn Elder is the elder statesmen among the cornerbacks and most would pencil him in as a starting boundary defender. The starting job on the opposite side of the field is still a bit up for grabs, though.
Sophomore Sheldrick Redwine has looked good in spots during the spring, but prior to Knowles’ breakout in the scrimmage, no other cornerback was making a big splash.
Coach Diaz thinks everyone still has work to do.
“Very honest, it would be hard to say who our best corner[back] is right now, let alone second and third,” Diaz said. “That position has got to continue to really improve and all those guys know it. It would be a disservice to all of them if we told any of them about a depth chart.”
“Corn knows he has the most experience, but he’s got to play at a much higher level for us to have any chance to slow anybody down,” Diaz added.
Perhaps an improved pass rush will help the secondary. Collapsing the pocket and putting pressure on quarterbacks will throw off any offense and make the job of the corners and safeties a lot easier.
Still, Diaz wants his defensive backfield to improve.
“This defense is predicated on two things: making negative yardage plays and not allowing big plays,” Diaz explained. “I thought we succeeded at one and I thought we failed spectacularly at the other.”
Running Back Competition
Miami’s deepest and most talented position is running back.
The depth of the position is evident when Joe Yearby, who led UM in rushing this past season with 1,002 yards, is in a major position battle with sophomore Mark Walton to be the team’s official No. 1 ball carrier.
During the controlled scrimmage this past Saturday, it appeared that Walton worked mostly with the No. 1 offense. But it was Yearby who got the most carries (10) and ran for the most yards (63).
Still, Walton’s versatility is what makes it hard to keep him off the field. He was second in rushing and fifth in receiving for the Canes as a freshman and seems to have picked up right where he left off at this past weekend’s scrimmage – totaling 40 rushing yards and catching five passes, including a nifty one-handed touchdown grab.
Yearby said that he’s seen maturation in Walton this spring and it’s pushing him to keep up with the sophomore.
“Things are slowing down for him,” Yearby said of Walton. “Mentally and physically he’s grown and now he’s seeing the holes and running lanes a lot better this year. He’s pushing me the most.”
The healthy return of bruising 6-foot-2, 240-pound back Gus Edwards – who had five carries for 42 yards and a touchdown during the controlled scrimmage – only makes it tougher to get a slice of the action.
“The competition level is very high amongst the running backs,” Yearby said. “We set the standard high for each other. If I go out and do something big, then when I come out, I’m going to expect Mark or Gus to go out and do something big too.”
Having a stable of talented running backs battling for carries isn’t foreign to Miami’s program nor is it to Richt.
During his time at Georgia, Richt’s Bulldogs amazed many with how they were able to trot out talented back – Musa Smith, Knowshon Moreno, Todd Gurley, Nick Chubb – after talented back one after the other.
The outlier seems to be junior running back Trayone “Choc” Gray. Because of his size (6-foot-2, 212 pounds) and the speed (in the 4.5 range), Gray seems like a perfect back for an offense that favors a ground attack. Yet, Gray finds himself mostly working with the No. 3 offense.
Yearby said that there’s only one way to get a ticket onto the field, though.
“Hard work,” Yearby began. “Coach Richt told us that if we want to be champions, we have to work hard. Work hard in everything you do, even when the coaches aren’t around.”
Coley Status Uncertain
Canes fans did not like seeing No. 1 receiver and senior Stacy Coley down on the ground after making a long catch downfield this past Saturday at the controlled scrimmage.
Coley, the team’s second-leading receiver from 2015, “tweaked his right hamstring” on the play according to Richt and was tended to on the sideline before being taken off the field before the scrimmage ended.
After the scrimmage, Richt said he hated to see Coley go down but didn’t think it was too serious of an injury.
Richt didn’t speak to whether Coley was a participant – limited or otherwise – in Tuesday’s practice but did say that he’s been participating in team workouts.
“He was trying to see how it felt…I don’t think it was a real severe pull,” Richt said. “It was actually to the point that he did some things yesterday in the weight room that would make you think he has a chance to get back by the [spring] game. But we’re not going to push him unless he feels great.”
Spring Game Format
Miami will host its annual spring game – CanesFest – this coming Saturday at Fort Lauderdale Lockhart Stadium (1350 NW 55th Street, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33309).
The game, which will be streamed live on ESPN3, is set to kickoff at 2 p.m. The event is free to the public and fans are welcomed to tailgate in the stadium’s parking lot. Also, fans will be able to take part in an autograph session with players on the field from noon to 1 p.m.
Richt laid out how things will go for his first spring game as UM’s head football honcho.
“We’ll have two sides…I don’t know if it’ll be orange and green – maybe it will be orange and green as a matter of fact,” Richt said as he appeared to make a decision on the fly. “It’ll be the first team offense with the second and third team defense and the first team defense with the second and third-team offense. We’ll split the coaches up on both sidelines and we’ll play a game.”
Richt said that there won’t be any live kickoffs or punts; offenses will most likely start drives on the 25-yard line and the teams’ will punter will kick the ball but it won’t be rushed nor will the ball be returned. He also said that field goals and extra points will be live.
Be sure to tune into Miami Sports Radio 560 WQAM – the official home of the University of Miami Hurricanes – on Saturday for full radio coverage of the Canes’ spring game. Beginning with a Hurricanes Spring Preview Show starting at 1 p.m., followed by live game coverage with Don Bailey Jr. and Joe Zagaki and an hour-long post game show at the conclusion of the game.