Just one glance at Brad Kaaya throwing passes Tuesday after the University of Miami’s first spring football practice of 2017 pretty much told anyone observing at Greentree Field that this would be a different type of spring.
And one glance at the quarterbacks he left behind was equally telling.
A new cast of characters emerged at several positions as spring practice commenced in Coral Gables, but none as crucial as the five candidates vying to take over for Kaaya, who left after his junior season for the NFL Draft.
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“They did pretty good today,” said Chris Herndon, the top tight end after NFL-bound David Njoku departed two years early. “There are a couple of new guys,” Herndon said about freshman early-enrollee Cade Weldon and walk-on freshman Augie DiBiase, the latter not in the heart of the quarterback competition. “They messed up a few times but they didn’t get too down. They just had a next-play mentality and kept pushing through each workout.”
Coach Mark Richt began with his usual weather synopsis, describing the opening day as “beautiful,” beginning “a little bit cool” and getting “warm at the end.”
Richt said he wishes the players had gone directly into spring practice from the intense, indoor matt drills the weeks before spring break. “I don’t know if they’re quite in the condition they were in when they left us. A couple guys struggled — mostly young guys. Like I told the team after practice, you can tell who the veterans are. …We’re going at a pretty good clip.”
The five spring quarterbacks battling for Kaaya’s vacated starting position, in the order they threw Tuesday: 6-1, 216-pound redshirt junior Malik Rosier; 6-5, 216-pound redshirt sophomore Evan Shirreffs; 6-5, 200-pound redshirt freshman Jack Allison; 6-2, 205-pound redshirt junior Vincent Testaverde; and 6-3, 212-pound Weldon.
Arriving in May will be 6-4, 185-pound N’Kosi Perry, a four-star, dual-threat prospect from Ocala.
“Weldon being brand new, Augie DiBiase being brand new, their heads are swimming a little bit,” Richt said. “I think Cade did pretty well. He got a good many reps in our pass skeleton, our seven-on-seven stuff and our team stuff with the [No.] 3 units.
“Some guys, Day One, it’s too much for them. … We’re no-huddling, we’ve got code names, we’re going tempo, we’re changing personnel groups. We’re doing a lot. We’re going at a veteran pace and he’s not a veteran. He held up pretty decent.
“I kept Weldon with the [No. 3 group] until he can handle the more mature group and not slow everybody down.”
Richt also praised Allison, saying he “threw it really well. I was impressed with how he threw it.”
The coach said the quarterback decision, as expected, will come during fall camp.
“I’ll have a pecking order in my mind when it’s over, but I really think it’ll go into camp… probably by the second scrimmage, maybe the third scrimmage of the fall. It may go that deep into it. We’ve got one more guy that’s going to come and compete. I’m not saying anything other than I want to see what he can do, too.”
In other opening-day news, early enrollee Navaughn Donaldson, a 6-6, 350-pound true freshman man-child out of Miami Central, started drills as the first-team right offensive tackle, with Kc McDermott next to him at right guard, Tyler Gauthier at center, Trevor Darling at left guard and Tyree St. Louis at left tackle.
“Isn’t he big?” Richt said of Donaldson. “We put him some with the 1s just to get him a veteran next to him to help him.”
The second-team O-line, left to right, was LSU transfer George Brown Jr., Hayden Mahoney, Bar Milo, Jahair Jones and true freshmen Zach Dykstra/Tre Johnson.
Senior McDermott, full of energy, seemed as if he thoroughly enjoyed himself Tuesday.
“It has been a while,” he said, “but as you guys know, this isn’t the only time of the year that we’re working. Obviously, we had a great winter workout session this year with the matt drills. Everyone is taking a bigger role trying to make this as much of a player-run team as possible. We’ve been doing a great job this offseason taking care of our bodies.’’
When asked about his expectations, McDermott said it was important to “to focus on one thing at a time,” but added that “the general goal is always there, and the general goal is always a national championship. That is a standard that has been set here, and nothing below the standard is ever expected of us.”
▪ Sheldrick Redwine, formerly a cornerback, is being converted to safety.
▪ Players who did not participate during the 25 minutes of media viewing, though Richt did not specify, were running back Trayone Gray and receiver Lawrence Cager (knee surgeries) tackle Sunny Odogwu (leg), center Nick Linder (shoulder) and defensive tackle Gerald Willis, who was suspended for the Russell Athletic Bowl and whose status was not revealed.
Practice, closed to the public, continues Thursday.