Reflections and buzz from inside the program on UM’s first spring under Mark Richt:
Richt and other UM coaches say the roster they inherit doesn’t have enough depth, not enough speed at receiver, not a “superman” at defensive tackle and not enough at cornerback.
An NFL scout who covers the Southeast and was on UM’s campus this offseason said there’s still a clear gap between UM’s talent and the talent of top 20 SEC programs at several positions including offensive and defensive lines and running back (where there’s no Todd Gurley or an Alabama-caliber starting running back, as one UM person said).
“Miami doesn’t get the truly elite defensive linemen anymore,” the scout said, noting Ereck Flowers and Brandon Linder (both in the NFL) were, in his mind, the only recent UM offensive linemen who were genuinely the caliber to be able to start on quality SEC teams.
As Richt told WQAM’s Joe Rose on Friday: “Offensive line, it's one thing to have numbers; it's another thing to have guys you really think you can put in the game and be able to protect your quarterback and provide space for your backs.... I don't think that we have a boatload of them. [But] if we stay healthy, we'll be OK.... We're thin at receiver, defensive back as well."
Under Richt, “Georgia was known for elite athletes at pretty much every position,” NFL Network’s Mike Mayock said Friday, and UM knows there are multiple spots where it lacks Georgia-level talent.
But Richt’s staff is working hard to correct this; Miami’s 2017 class (with 15 oral commitments) is rated third nationally by rivals.com and 247sports.com. And UM emerged from spring feeling very good about several things. Among them:
• UM people who were here last year and watched practice this spring rave about the improvement in Brad Kaaya’s accuracy, in spite of facing a ton of blitzes in practice.
Kaaya, a potential first-round pick in 2017 or 2018, still is in the shotgun some but he’s under center more than last year. Richt told WQAM's Marc Hochman & Co. that he now puts Kaaya in the same tier as other top QBs he has coached: Matt Stafford, Aaron Murray and former Heisman Trophy winners Chris Weinke and Charlie Ward.
“There is no doubt,” Richt said. “All of those guys have different skills sets. Some may move better than Kaaya. Stafford has a stronger arm than anyone I ever coached. [Kaaya] is a super accurate passer. He has plenty of arm to throw any pass you need to throw. He's a student of the game. He gets it. He's a neat kid. I really enjoy him.”
• The staff’s assessment of what they have at linebacker has risen considerably because early enrollees Shaquille Quarterman and Mike Pinckney (and to a lesser extent, Zach McCloud) have been nothing short of revelations. “They have body types to run and strike; real pleased with those guys,” Richt told Rose on Friday.
The more UM people see of Quarterman, the more they like: his physicality, instincts, size and maturity. Multiple players used the word “beast” to describe Quarterman.
He exits spring ball with a good chance to start at middle linebacker, playing alongside Jermaine Grace.
Darrion Owens, still slowed after knee surgery, figures to challenge the freshmen (Pinckney, Quarterman) for the third starting job.
• It will be interesting to see what Richt ultimately does with Mark Walton, who was arrested for DUI on Saturday and then suspended. Though he had a much lower per carry average than Joe Yearby in 2015 (3.5 to 4.9), Walton impressed the new staff this spring, hitting the holes faster than he did last season.
Running backs coach Thomas Brown told WQAM's Hurricane Hotline that he and Walton didn’t agree with Brown’s assessment of him before spring ball. But he did everything right this spring until (allegedly) making an enormous off-field mistake this weekend. Though a teammate speculated on social media that Walton will be suspended three games, UM insists length of suspension has not been determined.
One UM person said Gus Edwards came on strong, but UM wants him to play physically and not dance around defenders.
Richt told WQAM's Rose that running back “will definitely be by committee. I don't know there will be four guys getting carries in a game. Probably two and three most of the time.”
If Walton misses time early in the season (again, this is an if), Trayone Gray's role presumably would increase.
• The staff loves everything about tight end David Njoku – including his willingness and aptitude to block more than he did last year --- and see him being a matchup nightmare as a receiver. They’re determined to maximize tight end Chris Herndon’s receiving skills and versatility.
Receiver Braxton Berrios and guard Danny Isidora raised their games this spring, UM people say.
Berrios has fully regained his quickness after knee injuries the past two years; he feels 100 percent healthy for the first time and caught the ball cleanly, with a large volume of catches, all spring. He's poised to have a big year, as should Stacy Coley, if Coley can stay healthy.
• On the defensive line, UM made a smart move shifting RJ McIntosh to tackle; he and Kendrick Norton finished the spring as starters. New defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski said moving McIntosh from defensive end was pretty obvious because he looks like a 4-3 tackle.
Tackle Gerald Willis came on strong late (he still needs to polish his technique) and there was clear improvement from ends Al-Quadin Muhammad, Demetrius Jackson (“he has some really good talents as a pass-rusher,” Kuligowski said) and Chad Thomas, the only five-star kid left on the roster. Kuligowski is determined to get Thomas to another level.
• The view internally is Sheldrick Redwine has the tools to be an effective No. 2 corner, but a No. 3 corner needs to emerge behind Corn Elder and Redwine (nobody clearly did this spring). Otherwise, safety Jaquan Johnson might need to shift to corner or at least play in the slot in nickel packages. Cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph cracked he has lobbied to get Johnson at corner.
The staff loves cornerback Malek Young, who arrives this summer. But Michael Jackson and Ryan Mayes didn’t make a big jump this spring; Terrence Henley had some good moments.
• Manny Navarro will have more on this later, but Hassan Whiteside sat out Heat practice on Sunday with a bruised right thigh but said he believes he can play in Game 4 on Monday.
• Amar’e Stoudemire said his play for the Heat this season has convinced him he can play another three seasons: “This season has been awesome for me, being able to step into a starting position and showing the rest of the league I'm capable of starting in this league.” Stoudemire would love to re-sign… Dorell Wright said the Heat has given him no indication if he will be brought back next season. But he has impressed the staff with his work ethic, and he can still shoot effectively from distance.
• How much do Heat players appreciate what Beno Udrih did, sacrificing $90,000 to keep the Heat under the tax and allowing the Heat to sign Joe Johnson without having to pay a tax? Dwyane Wade texted and “told him how big that was of him.”
Though Udrih isn’t even on the roster, players say he’s around the facility getting treatment ---“like Chris [Bosh], he's one of our teammates, just not in uniform,” Wade said. “The biggest thing is getting back healthy so he can be back playing basketball, hopefully here next year.”
• The Dolphins have spent quite a bit of time through this draft process with Mississippi defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche, a highly talented player with issues swirling around him, including a marijuana arrest after he fell out of a window last December in Atlanta. We're not sure if he's on Miami's draft board, or how high, but the Dolphins have certainly done their due diligence on a player who had seven tackles for loss and three sacks last season....
Among other defensive tackles, the Dolphins also have shown interest in Maryland's Quinton Jefferson; he had a private workout for Miami and met with defensive coordinator Vance Joseph.
• A few others names the Dolphins have shown interest in: Arizona guard/tackle Lene Maiava (late-round pick or UFA), BYU defensive end Bronson Kaufusi (Dolphins sent a coach to see him; potential second-day pick) and Ohio State tight end Nick Vannett (Dolphins sent a coach to see him; potential mid-round pick).
• When asked how Barry Bonds has done as hitting coach, Don Mattingly offered an eye-opening response:
“Him getting used to the coaching part of it is a work in progress from a standpoint of the amount of time and the preparation," Mattingly said. "You see [assistant hitting coach Frankie [Menichino] still doing a lot of the prep work. Barry is still getting into the routine of the ugly side of coaching — being here at 1, and studying video, and studying on the plane and you don't get a chance to watch movies, and things like that.
“"It just depends how good you want to be as a coach. If you want to be a really good coach, you've got to do the work."
• The 0.25 regular-season average TV rating for Panthers games (one-quarter of one percent of Miami-Fort Lauderdale TV households) is, well, not good.
But they have risen in the playoffs, to a 1.9, 1.3, 2.5 and 2.0 for the first four games. That’s less than a quarter of what Heat playoff games generate and well below the 4.9 for the UM-Villanova Sweet 16 game (which was on free TV, unlike all Panthers games to this point).