Coral Gables, FL–The Miami Hurricanes are making final preparations as they prepare for their debut during this 2016 football season under first year Hurricane coach Mark Richt. The news earlier this week of the dismissal of two stalwart defensive players, linebacker Jermaine Grace and defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad has cast doubt on the prospects of year’s years team but Mark Richt was very optimistic in his weekly press conference today.
“I’m excited about this week obviously, finally game week. Looking forward to getting one under our belt. I’ve been here almost nine months now, it’s been a lot of work between the first day and today. I like how we’ve prepared, starting with our mat drills, spring balls and camp,” Richt said in his opening statement.
What followed was a carefully tailored message of confidence that was surely conveyed to his players during practice and will be a common theme leading up to this weekend’s game against FCS Florida A&M. The game will be played at newly minted Hard Rock Stadium at 6 PM on Saturday September 3rd.
There’s slightly more intrigue now because the best linebacker and defensive end returning will not be there. They were implicated and dismissed from the program because of their involvement and engagement luxury car rental company that gave them discounts in exchange for future considerations and or stakes in their pro careers.
Richt said his team was disappointed but he challenged them to remain focused.
“It hurts,” he said. ”
“It is what it is, but it’s done. The question is now what are we going to do. My focus is where are we at and what do we have to do now.”
Richt went on to explain his philosophy regarding unexpected things like dismissals or transfers in football.
“You know there are going to be things that happen. I could sit here and mope and cry and get mad…I want to take care of business with things I can control,” Richt told the media Tuesday. “When adversity strikes, how are you going to react to it?” That was the question he asked his players.
Saturday we’ll know for sure.
One position grouping who will need to react well is the linebacking unit which now has no real veteran players. There could be as many as three true freshman who start for Miami on Saturday. Former Hurricane Juwon Young, also implicated in the luxury car rental involvement, was dismissed from the team previously this off-season and is currently playing at Marshall.
Regarding Freshman Linebackers
“All three of those guys will play a lot, Richt says. ” I don’t know if they’re going to start a lot, but they’re all going to play. The big thing is they’ve been here since January.”
Richt is exuding confidence in his young backers because he says they have experienced three installations of the defense since arriving in January. While he admits there are probably going to be some jitters and adjustments, especially given the new stadium and how big it is, he says they should be ready to go.
“I think the freshman were looking around in that stadium more than the older guys.” “That part will be new to them…just wearing that ‘U’ on their helmet for the first time.”
Richt says because of the physical nature of the linebacking position, the game will bring the young freshman contact early and that will help with their adjustment to the speed and reality of playing college football.
The realities of coaching and play calling are going to be something Mark Richt, admittedly, is going to have to adjust to also.
Richt on Calling Plays
“Before the springs scrimmage I was wired, couldn’t sleep. Really my focus is going to be that, calling the game. My focus is going to be on recruiting [Saturday], because there are going to be a bunch of recruits at that game.”
Back up QB position
With Miami looking to put FAMU away pretty early this Saturday, expect Brad Kaaya to be spelled by No. 2 QB Malik Rosier. Richt said today that Rosier had moved clearly ahead of Evan Shirrefs and Vincent Testaverde.
“Malik Rosier is a guy who I feel most comfortable with,” Richt said. “Shirrefs and Testaverde are battling for No. 3.”
“Evan did have an injury on his throwing hand in the middle of camp. It didn’t help his accuracy. Malik, at this point, has begun to figure me out, and do it the way I ask to do it every single snap.”
Defensively the Miami Hurricanes under first year head coach Mark Richt and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz will still be attack style. Losing Grace and Muhammad will call for some adjustments however.
Jermaine Grace, Richt says, was a guy who could be both a SAM backer or nickle cornerback. So now that he’s gone, you’ll see more defined package roles for guys like Jaquan Johnson and whoever mans the Strong side linebacker position.
In short, the base nickle defense will be more defined going forward whereas under Grace, the definition wasn’t as necessary because he could float between backer and corner because of incredible speed and coverage ability.
Richt’s More Confident in Secondary
Another reason why there’s not as much panic in the wake of Grace departing is the emergence of the Hurricane secondary.
“I feel a lot of better about our [defensive backs] than I did in the spring. I was concerned about them tackling in space. There’s been growth there. There might have been more interceptions than I’m used to seeing period. Part of it is working with four guys trying to be second string QB (Rosier, Sherrifs, Testaverde, Allison).
As a tenured head coach, Richt has a healthy respect for his Football Sub Division opponent despite their lack of football prowess.
When I approach any opponent, I watch the film, I look at the scheme that they’re in, I look at our offensive system, we look at our defensive system and we schematically try to figure out what gives us the best chance to win. Then start practicing against those looks, and you start trying to execute,” said Richt.
The new Miami head coach says his message to his players this week is simple; “do your job”. He knows every player will be excited because his team is finally playing someone other than itself.
The team did visit Hard Rock Stadium this weekend, their first time since the renovations done all this off-season.
“I wanted to get over the shock and awe of it,” Richt said. “It’s a privilege and and honor to play in an NFL stadium.”
The Hurricanes also practiced indoors at the Dolphin Facility on Sunday as the area has been hit with several rain storms as a tropical system passes from the Atlantic to the Gulf.
Richt praised Florida A&M head coach Alex Wood, a former of University of Miami assistant coach. Wood “served as running back coach at University of Miami from 1989-93 helping the team to a pair of national championships, including a perfect 12-0 in 1991,” according to his biography listed on the FAMU website.
He also singled out several players. On offense he praised WR No. 7 Brandon Norwood, a 6’1 Junior from Atlanta who had 36 receptions for 516 yards and a score last season. He had a three catch 74 yard game against Miami in 2015.
The 6’3 tight end No. 17 Alonzo Palmer-Hicks also grabbed Richt’s attention. The Sarasota, FL native grabbed 15 receptions a year ago.
No. 15 Montavius Williams also grabbed 45 receptions last season and is a threat along with Norwood to make plays for the Rattlers.
Miami isn’t sure about who the QB will be for Florida A&M but they expect it could be either No. 8 Kenneth Coleman and or south Florida native No. 14 Ryan Stanley who played his high school ball at Pembroke Pines Flanagan High.
Defensively, Miami has their eyes on Jacques Bryant, a defensive back lining up at free safety who is their leading tackler. He is “very physical, head hunter type of guy,” says Richt.
Curtis Alexander, No. 6, an outside linebacker is moving to defensive end according to Richt.
Expect Miami to run the ball a lot Saturday. Several sources report to me that Brad Kaaya missed a few practices recently as his sore arm heals. Look for heavy doses of Mark Walton and Joe Yearby in the run game for Miami this weekend as they welcome in FAMU.
Interesting Note on Braxton Berrios
“I can kind of gauge our entire practice regime by watching Braxton. If Braxton is dragging, then I can say we’re probably doing too much,” Richt said today.
In addition to playing wide out, Berriors returns punts and according to his head coach that heaped high praise upon him, he’s all over the place and is always running and working hard.
“I can promise you that guy runs a bunch of yards every day, when he’s struggling a bit, I know to back off.”
Expect Berrios to line up at every receiver position this season. He can play the Z, Y, X and can probably tell everyone in the receiving core where to line up according to Richt.