A THURSDAY UPDATE FROM AL GOLDEN'S BRIEFING WITH REPORTERS
Ray-Ray Armstrong “got the message”; Brandon McGee isn’t where UM wants him; and defensive end (opposite Anthony Chickillo) looms as a major question. Those are some of the defensive headlines creating a buzz as UM prepares to open spring practice Saturday.
“Ray Ray had arguably the best offseason of anybody,” coach Al Golden said Thursday of the ballyhooed safety. “He got the message. Gave up his winter vacation and made a lot of progress. He’s leading by example.
“Last year, he made too many mistakes. Great safeties defend the deep ball well, get their team lined up and tackle well in the open field. We all know he gave up too many deep balls, didn’t get us lined up all the time like he needed to do and didn’t make enough open field tackles.”
But that, Golden said, “is all in the past. I expect him to have a real productive spring. I’d be shocked if he’s not playing a lot faster, tackling better in the open field.”
### McGee and Thomas Finnie are UM’s only returning cornerbacks who have played much, but McGee enters spring on the third team because he fell short in the offseason program. Finnie and early arrival Larry Hope, from American High, are the current first-teamers.
McGee “should be better than he is,” Golden said. “No excuse. That’s it, end of story.”
McGee gave up running track “and wanted to focus on football and didn’t work as hard as other guys in those [conditioning] areas,” Golden said. “And now he’s got his hands full. If I was in his shoes, I’d want to lock it up before six guys show up in August. He didn’t do that in Phase 1. He has a chance to do that in Phase 2.”
### At defensive end, here’s the unproven group on campus that’s trying to earn the spot opposite Chickillo and replace the departed contingent of Olivier Vernon, Marcus Robinson, Andrew Smith and Adewale Ojomo: Shayon Green (seven tackles in four games last season), Ricardo Williams (a three-star defensive end who is Homestead’s all-time sack leader but redshirted last season), Junior Alexis (a two-star recruit who joined UM last September after originally committing to Hawaii) and early arrival Dwayne Hoilett (a three-star recruit who had 52 tackles and 6.5 sacks at Vero Beach High but must bulk up from 230).
Green, who is first on the depth chart at the end spot opposite first-teamer Chickillo, “is stronger than he ever has been,” Golden said. “Very strong, explosive kid. Ricardo has developed nicely for us. Hoilett has a shot for us there. We’re bringing in several guys. We should be good there.”
Several well-regarded freshmen arrive this summer: Tyriq McCord, Jelani Hamilton and Jake O’Donnell.
### Golden is excited about tight end Asante Cleveland, who had only one catch last season and never regained his edge after shoulder surgery. Now he’s first on the depth chart, ahead of Clive Walford.
“Other than Ray Ray, Asante Cleveland has had the best offseason,” Golden said. “He’s almost 270 pounds [up from 240 two years ago], running well. We missed that at tight end – a big physical guy who can do it all. His body looks different.”
Said Cleveland: “Last year was frustrating because it was the first year I wasn’t playing.”
### Don’t overstate the significance of the depth chart, which is “based on the offseason program in general – on weight room and how they perform on the field,” Golden said. “There’s no message. We all coached a 6-6 team. That’s not good enough for anybody.”
### Golden, on the quarterback battle this spring with Stephen Morris sidelined after back surgery: “It’s going to be like a play-in game. Somebody will be competing with Stephen in the summer.” With Morris out, Ryan Williams, Gray Crow and Preston Dewey comprise the depth chart in that order. (Our Robbie Levin will have a story on Williams posted later on the web site.) Golden said he doesn't know how Morris got injured; he had surgery earlier this week and should be fine for August.
### Early arrival Ereck Flowers, the former Norland High standout, is listed behind Malcolm Bunche at left tackle and “has blown us away” in the offseason program, Golden said.
### Philip Dorsett is listed as the first team punt and kickoff returner, but UM wants to give Dallas Crawford a look in both roles.
“He came in a little out of shape [last year], got hurt, wasn’t in the mix,” Golden said. “But he’s lost 18, 19 pounds and is 190. He’s quicker than he is fast and tough as nails and competitive. We’re trying to find spots for him to help us in addition to running back.”
### Golden said Eduardo Clements “is going to be a really good player. He just kind of figures it out. At the end of last year, he was the guy we wanted on the field on third down and in short yardage. We have two talented guys coming in.”
### Golden’s goal this spring? “That we become a fundamentally sound team, not a team that beats itself. You start to sense it’s a little different already because of the offseason program. We’re trying to build something that’s going to last. The guys have a much more mature, results-oriented approach.”
### Receivers coach George McDonald also will assume the new role of passing game coordinator, to assist offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch.