Since I was busy at Doral covering the WGC-CA Championship Saturday, I never got to finsih sharing my thoughts on the first scrimmage of the spring at UM. Here is what else impressed me.
Tight end Dajleon Farr. The 6-5, 248-pound junior had five catches for 62 yards, including a real grab down the sideline on fourth down during two-minute drills to keep a drive going. It was encouraging to see that out of a guy who has four career catches. We all know how important the tight end position has been at UM, what with Jeremy Shockey, Kellen Winslow, Bubba Franks, Kevin Everett and now Greg Olsen who looks like he's going to be a first round pick next month. Thing is, I'm not too sure how important the tight end will be in this offense. I asked UM offensive coordinator Patrick Nix how he planned to use the position in his offense. His answer: "If the tight end gets open, we'll throw him the ball. If he doesn't, we won't." Simple enough. I asked Nix if Farr's good scrimmage Saturday is consistent with what goes on in practice and if Farr is ahead of UM's other tight ends Dedrick Epps and Chris Zellner, who have been working more as H-Backs. His answer: "Nope. All of those guys have been doing about the same. They're all doing well." It didn't seem that way Saturday. But it was after all only the first scrimmage.
As for the kicking game, neither of the two guys kicking field goals looked spectacular. Matt Bosher missed an extra point, then sent a 42-yarder wide left that brought a wise crack from a fan who shouted "this isn't Florida State." Boshed did, however, come back and convert on a 25-yard chip shot. Daren Daly, who was at FSU, was a little better coverting on a 35-yarder and 28-yarder and missing on another from 35 yards. Coach Randy Shannon's take was: "It was their first time. They're freshman. That's what people need to realize. They're not going to be Olindo Mare or Adam Vinatieri. These guys have never kicked before. They made some and they missed some, but they'll work to get better at it, and I think they will." According to Canesport.com, Bosher has been told to concentrate on punting and Daly on kicking. Coming into the spring, most figured it would be the other way around. Either way, it looks like these two have a long way to go.
Defensively, there were a lot of encouraging signs. The big-name future first round guys -- defensive end Calais Campbell, safety Kenny Phillips -- did their thing. Campbell had at least four big plays in the backfield, including a pair of seven-yard losses on Javarris James. Phillips picked off Kyle Wright -- I'm still not sure who he was throwing the ball to -- and made a couple of nice tackles in the open field, including one in which he caught up to Graig Cooper from behind and yanked him down.
The defensive line looked pretty good without departed starters Kareem Brown and Baraka Atkins. I liked what I saw from Antonio Dixon, who still doesn't look like he's in great shape. I even heard a few wise cracks from the crowd, "he doesn't look like he's lost any weight." Still, I think even if Dixon isn't in great shape, his presence alone in the middle will help UM, which in my opinion is still loaded on the defensive line. Eric Moncur played pretty well opposite Campbell. And Richard Gordon is a beast in the making.
The linebacking corps, which I believe is the weakest spot on the defense, played pretty well. I liked the energy I saw. New LB coach Micheal Barrow was on his players butts the entire scrimmage, telling them not to let the offense not score no matter what. He's fun to listen to. As for the players, Colin McCarthy caught my eye. He worked in a lot with the first team unit, which was usually in nickle back situations with safeties Lovon Ponder or Anthony Reddick near the line of scrimmage. I saw Glenn Cook making a lot of nice tackles near the line too.
As for the secondary, the safety position looks loaded. Reddick blew up a few plays with big sticks and looks like he's on his way back nicely after last year's "injury recovery" season. Ponder had an interception and was all over the field. The corners really didn't give up anything downfield except for Leggett's nice catch between Chavez Grant and Ponder for a 45-yard gain.
All in all, I guess the biggest impression made on me is that neither of UM's quarterbacks are great. Both are limited. None of them have really ever showed they can really throw the ball downfield with great accuracy consistently. Every completion Saturday aside from Freeman's one deep pass to Leggett was completed no deeper than 10 yards downfield. Mabry's touchdown was a catch a run of angle pattern in which Tavares Gooden fell behind.
I know one of you pointed out after my last blog how Kirby Freeman telegraphs the run too much. It was a good point. Kyle Wright does hide the ball better and the offense does some to run the ball a bit better when he's in the offense. But I'm still not sold he's the better man overall for the job. Nothing personal against Kyle (And yes, Freeman did throw an interception, but it was waived off because of a flag). But what I saw of the new offense Saturday I think Kirby is the better fit because his play is more geared toward that style of running, pitching and making safe throws while Kyle is more of a drop back passer.
That's not to say this offense can't change. When I asked Nix if Saturday's pro-running offense is what we were going to see this season, his reponse was simply: "This scrimmage was geared that way. But that doesn't necessarily mean thats going to be our offense." Either way, its obviously very early. Things can and will change, especially when the offensive line gets healthy and receivers start to get back. But at least in the early going, it seems to me this offense will be run-heavy with James and Cooper, who are the two best weapons on it. If that's the case, then Freeman is probably the better fit.
OK, I'm done with the scrimmage. In off the field news, I saw Darnell Jenkins Saturday and he told me "everything is fine." Some people may have thought Jenkins was done after he left the team this spring to deal with a family situation. But he gave me the thumbs up when I asked him if he was coming back in the fall.
As for recruiting, I saw a lot of young guys out at Saturday's scrimmage including Booker T. Washington safety Brandon Harris. His brother Tim Harris of course runs track for UM. His dad is the coach at Booker T. I asked dad if Brandon was a done deal to The U, he smiled and said "I know that's where his mama wants him to go. She wants her two babies nearby." Harris, who could end up being The Herald's scholar-athlete of the year next year, has tons of letters and will be a huge get for the Canes if he chooses the U, which I expect him to. In other news, Canesport reported Pahokee defensive tackle Micanor Regis (6-4, 300) and former Edison offensive tackle Brandon Washington (6-4, 312) committed to UM on Saturday. Washington is supposedly headed to Northwestern for his senior season. Washington's former coach Corey Bell is now working at UM.
It's real early and while these guys may end up sticking to their word, I wouldn't bet that its really a done deal for any juniors this early. For the most part, all recruits want to enjoy their five free trips. Don't be surprised if they decide to take them. Either way, there certainly is a lot of excitement surrounding The U again and I think Randy Shannon is going to put together one heck of a Class in '08, especially with Dade and Broward County loaded with some real, real studs.
Ok. I'm done. I have some audio clips from Saturday from Calais Campbell, Dajleon Farr, fullback Jerrell Mabry, Cooper, James, Shannon and Nix I'm hoping I can upload for you to hear in the next day or two. Unfortunately, I won't be here for the next scrimmage at Traz Powell Stadium on Friday. I'll be in Atlanta for the Final Four this week. But in the meantime, feel free to share your thoughts on the first scrimmage, what you thought of the quarterback play and anything you might have liked or disliked from the first scrimmage.
Here are the final stats I tallied. They are not official, just what I took down along with what a few other guys from Canesport.com and Canestime.com were able to piece together. See ya.
Passing: Kyle Wright 15-41, 82 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs; Kirby Freeman 13-24, 189 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs.
Rushing: James 16-38, Cooper 10-34, Wright 5-21, Thomas 5-6, Freeman 1-9, Robinson 1-1, C. Jones 9-(-14).
Receiving: Leggett 7-102 (1 TD), Farr 5-62, J. James 3-17, D. Thomas 2-29, Mabry 2-42, B. McNeil 1-3 (TD), Epps 1-4, C. Jones 2-14, K. Robinson 1-3, K. Jones 1-6, R. Hill 1-6.