Only two practices remain after the Miami Hurricanes went through Tuesday’s spring session at Greentree.
UM, which finished the 2016 season on a five-game winning streak – including winning the Russell Athletic Bowl – has had a productive spring both on and off the field.
The Canes have largely kept the injury bug away and the coaching staff has flexed its recruiting muscle as Miami currently has the No. 1 ranked recruiting class for 2018 – recently adding a player regarded as one of the top tight end prospects in the country in Las Vegas Bishop Gorman’s Brevin Jordan.
Following Tuesday’s practice, head coach Mark Richt and a handful of players spoke to the media.
Junior Mark Walton spoke Tuesday, and he sounded a bit perturbed about his workload this spring.
When asked about his numbers – 2 carries for 4 yards – and the team’s rushing performance overall from this past Saturday’s scrimmage, Walton minced his words a bit.
“The running game…I can’t really say too much about it because I’m on a blocking diet,” Walton quipped.
“I’m blocking more than I am running the ball in the scrimmages. When I do get carries I try to do the best I can with them…but I can’t really speak too much about it because I’m doing more blocking, I’m not really running the ball.”
Reporters asked if Walton would confirm that he was implying that he wanted to carry the ball more during practice.
“I would want to, but I gotta take it for what it is,” Walton responded.
Walton took one last jab when asked what his goals were for Saturday’s scrimmage
“I hope I get some carries,” Walton quipped again.
“If not, I hope they use my out the backfield catching the ball or whatever my role is…blocking or whatever I got to do. Even if it is just sparking the younger guys or the team up, I’ll do it. I don’t really think I’m going to play too much. I don’t know.”
Because of Walton’s serious demeanor, reporters asked if he was frustrated.
To add perspective about Walton’s competitiveness, I will offer a personal anecdote from my covering him during his high school playing days.
In 2014, Walton elected to play in the Tournament Of Champions Dade vs. Broward (which is now Dade North vs. Dade South) All-Star game.
All-Star games usually have a mix of players that are either pretty much set in their recruiting and are just enjoying the superlative perks of being an All-Star or players that are still trying to solidify their status as prospects – trying to attract a bigger school or get the attention of any school at all.
In Walton’s case, he was one of the highest recruited kids in the area with his choice of schools, so you’d think he’d just “go through the motions” and enjoy his last high school football game.
He enjoyed it, but his version of enjoying it was to go all out.
On one memorable play, Walton took a handoff spun out of a backfield tackle and leapt over a would-be tackler before rumbling for about a 20-yard gain.
My eyebrows were near the top of my head. Partly because of the athleticism he showed on the play, but more so because he was playing the game like a guy still trying to land his first college offer.
Not knowing – or caring – that I would be covering Walton as a player for the Hurricanes in the coming years, I went over to him on the sideline and made a quick plea for him to – for lack of a better conversation starter – “take it easy”.
But, that’s just how Walton is. He loves football.
>>> Canes head coach Mark Richt wasn’t too concerned with Walton’s comments, probably because he’s heard them already.
Richt was asked if Walton’s limited carries had anything to do with the team’s lack of depth at the running back position – given early enrollee freshman Robert Burns was injured during the spring and Trayone Gray is still trying to work his way back from the season-ending knee injury he sustained in 2016.
“It’s mostly because we wanted to see the quarterbacks during the scrimmages,” Richt responded. “We do some of our run game during the week but we do it in a ‘thud’ format.”
“I have no question in my mind what Mark is capable of doing and what he will do when given the opportunity.”
>>> Jack Allison was a limited participant in practice Tuesday. Richt gave a bit of an injury update on redshirt freshman quarterback.
Allison’s health going forward – especially if he is active in Saturday’s scrimmage – will be a key thing to watch.
“I think he will be in the scrimmage Saturday, that’s my best guess,” Richt said. “If he can throw the ball with enough juice on it – like we know he can – he will play. If he’s less than himself throwing the ball, then we won’t let him do it.”
>>> Digging deeper into the quarterback battle, Richt made some interesting comments Tuesday regarding his thought process and plan of action going forward.
“I’ve told [all the quarterbacks] ‘it may look different at the beginning of fall camp than it does at the end of spring’,” Richt said. “It may look different at the end of fall camp than it does right now…it may look different after game four or five – or game two. It’s a very fluid thing.”
“We may start somebody…it’s not like we have an established guy where he’s got like three games to struggle and we know he’s still the guy,” Richt said. “I’m not saying that we’re going to have a quick trigger, but we are not going to sit here all day or two, three games and just let a guy ‘die on the vine’ if he’s not handling it well.”
It sounds like Richt won’t be opposed to switching things up at quarterback once the season starts.
Granted, the first two games of the season – a September 2 home opener against FCS-level Bethune-Cookman and a September 9 game at Arkansas State – lend themselves to some experimenting.
Still, one would hope that by the time the Hurricanes make their September 16 trip to Tallahassee to face the Seminoles – things have settled.
Potentially having a revolving door at quarterback doesn’t do much for the confidence of your anxiously excited fan base and it’s even worse for the rhythm of your offense.
But Richt’s words lines up with what personal sources have maintained in recent weeks, that the door is wide open for N’Kosi Perry to come in and potentially earn the job of starting quarterback.
“The thing you have to determine is are you not scoring points because the quarterback is struggling or is it because we’re having trouble running the ball or protecting,” Richt said. “So we have to be careful not to yank him for no good reason, but the bottom line is we have to find out who can handle the pressure of this job when the time comes.”
>>> To Perry’s credit, he seems to be working hard to put himself in position to be the starter.
He’s even been working out with an NFL quarterback.
Maybe he’s getting some inside information, too.
Perry is due to be on Miami’s campus in May.
>>> It wouldn’t be a Canes Spring Notebook if early enrollee freshman offensive lineman Navaughn Donaldson wasn’t sprinkled in there.
For most of the spring sessions, the 6-foot-6, 350-pound newcomer has impressed his coaches and his teammates.
On more than one occasion, Richt has singled Donaldson out for doing something head-turning during practice. He doubled down on that after this past Saturday’s scrimmage when he said he’s “getting more confidence” in the former Miami Central lineman and may or may not have included Donaldson in a group of four linemen that he believes are “game ready”.
Tuesday, it was junior defensive tackle R.J. McIntosh that gave his assessment of Donaldson.