Like almost everything else in life, spring football practices at the University of Miami have flown by, with a closed scrimmage remaining Friday, before open practices Tuesday (April 8) and Thursday (April 10) precede the April 12th spring game at Sun Life Stadium.
After Saturday's closed scrimmage, some new men in black graced Greentree Field on Tuesday morning, with some of the customary black-garbed Hurricanes wearing green.
Same for a few in orange – and white.
Black and orange jerseys during practice signify excellence. There can be fewer than 11 defensive players and 11 offensive players wearing those colors on any given day.
The players who wear neither orange nor white, black nor green, during practices: quarterbacks. And senior Ryan Williams still has the decided edge in this position, according to his coaches, with redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen continuing to improve.
I talked to both today.
"I think we definitely edged them for the most part,'' said Williams of the scrimmage. "But they had some big plays on third downs that ended some of our drives.
There were six touchdowns in the scrimmage, including a bomb to Phillip Dorsett by Williams. Among the receivers Williams utilized were Stacy Coley, Rashawn Scott and D'Mauri Jones and tight end Standish Dobard.
"I think we're definitely more balanced,'' Williams said. "Last year I thought a lot of the pressure was put on Allen [Hurns] because he was a senior and he was so consistent and he was definitely a big playmaker -- plus the loss of Duke and Phillip late in the season. All these guys have grown up. Stacy is not a freshman anymore, Herb [Waters] is now an upperclassmen, Rashawn is coming back. We have a good corps of playmakers coming back.''
Williams said he wants to be smarter and more efficient in the next scrimmage. "Just being smart, just [having] efficient route runners, making sure they get their right depths, making sure they're taking their time and not trying to rush, and eliminating negative plays. We had a few sacks that we can't have.''
He said the interception by Artie Burns was the result of a route called for Stacy Coley to "kind of break across [Burns'] face and he was really confused because it wasn't really a play we worked a lot. I talked to him right after the play and made sure he knew what happened."
Williams said the offense has "to be more efficient on drives. We had some penalties that hurt us."
He said he is "stepping out" of his "shell" in trying to be more of a vocal leader.
Olsen said Tuesday he thought he really threw the ball well in the scrimmage. "I got a couple chances to throw the ball deep and I connected on those,'' he said. "That's always big having those deep balls, those home runs as we call them, deep shots. I had a good grasp of the offense. I ran it good. I got us into our checks and our alerts depending on what the defense threw, and I think it was overall pretty good -- ones and twos."
Olsen connected with Rashawn Scott for a touchdown "maybe 50 yards,'' he said, and a long, "maybe just a little bit less than 50-yard" sideline pass to D'Mauri Jones. "It was maybe a little breakdown on the coverage and they ran good routes and went up and got the ball for me.''
Olsen said "from Day One out here in the spring I felt pretty comfortable about what I was doing and what my knowledge of the game was and getting everybody else in the right plays. I think I'm getting really good at that and I'm going to keep working on that every day.
"The scrimmages are exciting. We're in our game stuff. There are referees. They were calling plays. There are no scripts, no periods. We're playing like a real game. It was really fun for me."
Olsen didn't throw any interceptions in the scrimmage, though he threw one Tuesday, nabbed by linebacker Raphael Kirby.
"I tried to get it over his head,'' he said with a grin, "but it died on me a little."
Olsen said he is trying to be more vocal and wants his teammates to know they can count on him. "I'm not going to screw up. I'm not going to get them into bad plays when they're in good ones -- just getting the guys to trust me and think that, 'OK, yeah, he can do it.'''
The offensive players wearing the coveted orange jerseys Tuesday were tackles Ereck Flowers and Taylor Gadbois, receivers Scott, D’Mauri Jones and Coley and tight end Dobard.
Dobard was lauded by both James Coley and coach Al Golden, and Golden has repeatedly said that the young Coley, who led the team with 1,461 all-purpose yards last season, is setting the standard in just about every way for receivers.
Losing their orange jerseys on Tuesday were tailback Gus Edwards, and guards Jon Feliciano and Danny Isidora.
James Coley said Edwards is “being challenged’’ by Walter Tucker, and had “a couple of plays’’ during the scrimmage in which he could have given better effort.
Al-Quadin Muhammad injured his ankle (right) early in the scrimmage “and fought through it,’’ defensive coordinatgor Mark D’Onofrio said. He wore a red (non-contact) jersey in practice. Defensive tackle Olsen Pierre (concussion) is still out. Also in red: tailbacks Duke Johnson and Joseph Yearby, cornerback Ladarius Gunter, safety Rayshawn Jenkins, center Shane McDermott and receiver/all-purpose freshman Braxton Berrios.
D'Onofrio was asked right away Tuesday about the players wearing black jerseys.
“We’ve had nothing but practices, and we had a scrimmage, which was the first time we were able to go live and really move the field consistently – a situational scrimmage, but we were moving the football and seeing how guys play the game,’’ D’Onofrio said after UM’s first open practice since Saturday’s closed scrimmage. “The black jerseys indicate when the lights came on who played to the level that we can win championships with.”
MEN IN BLACK
The new black-jersey wearers: sophomore linebacker Jermaine Grace, sophomore cornerback Artie Burns, junior safety Dallas Crawford and junior nose tackle Earl Moore. They joined senior linebacker Denzel Perryman and junior linebacker Kirby, also in black.
“Jermaine made a lot of plays, and he didn’t make a lot of mental errors,’’ D’Onofrio said. “He probably made eight tackles so he was really productive. He’s gained eight pounds so I’m excited about where he’s headed.
“Dallas did what I knew he would do once the lights come on. He’s a physical guy and has a great feel for playing the game. For what he’s done in a 10-day period coming over to our side of the ball has been really remarkable.’’
“Earl has been steady. He has gotten better. Probably the last three or four practices have been really consistent for him. The light went on.”
D’Onofrio said Burns “really rebounded’’ this spring after missing the first four practices because of track. “He was playing catch-up with everybody else and he really bounced back. He mastered all the techniques we were asking him to do. He played really good when he was pressed.
“…Bottom line is those guys who got the black are doing what we’re asking them to do. They’re playing hard and doing their job.’’
HOWARD, FIG IN GREEN
Off the “it’’ list, at least on Tuesday, was junior cornerback Tracy Howard and sophomore linebacker Alex Figueroa – both of whom will no doubt play major roles next season.
“Just not up to the standard in the scrimmage maybe that they’ve been all along and that’s all we can go by,'' D'Onofrio said. "At the end of the day, there’s something noticeably different about a scrimmage than a practice. It’s the closest we can get to a game situation. We don’t have preseason games. We get three scrimmages in the spring and we get three in the fall. We get six opportunities to get a feel for what it looks like.
“I’m looking at the individuals. Right now we’re mixing and matching. There’s not cohesion out there. There are injuries. I’m just worried about that. I’m worried about, how do the individuals grade out? How does each individual play within that and what do they do when the lights come on?”
When I asked if Howard and Fig not wearing black was for motivational purposes, D'Onofrio said it's just about "being consistent. There’s no motivation [factor]. He’s [Howard] been in black every day. We just grade the players. We love Tracy. We love what he’s doing for us. We want it to be something special. We want there to be a standard. How the guys graded in the scrimmage is based on where they’re at today. He’s going to be motivated by pride.’’
Kirby played in the middle and outside in the scrimmage. “He’s another guy that showed up,’’ D’Onofrio said. “He made plays. He played fast. He did the little things. Sometimes you have to give yourself up so somebody else can make a play. Sometimes you’re on the front side of a play that goes out there fast and as the [middle] linebacker or the [weakside] linebacker you’ve got to go run up there and hit it and blow it up so somebody can run over the top and make a play. He did all those sorts of things – not only made the plays when he had the opportunity but did the unselfish things.
“I’m proud of what he’s done.’’
D'Onofrio said tackles Corey King, Ufomba Kamalu and Jelani Hamilton continue to improve...He said he looks forward to tackle Michael Wyche, tackle Courtel Jenkins, tackle Anthony Moten, end Chad Thomas and rush end Demetrious Jackson arriving in the fall to make the defensive line stronger.
SUSAN MILLER DEGNAN