Year two of the Mark Richt era commenced Tuesday morning on the University of Miami’s Greentree Field.
But unlike last year, when veteran star Brad Kaaya took center stage, it was first-year quarterback N’Kosi Perry drawing the attention of reporters and photographers granted an unusually long 25 minutes to watch the Hurricanes open 2017 fall camp.
What they saw: a tall, extremely lean – “skinny’’ is the word folks used on social media – 19-year-old who threw some nice passes, fumbled some center exchanges and generally impressed his coach in his college practice debut.
“He’s got very good passing fundamentals, which is what I thought,’’ Richt said of the 6-4, 185-pound Perry, who began practice third in individual-drill rotations, behind redshirt junior Malik Rosier and redshirt sophomore Evan Shirreffs, and ahead of true freshman Cade Weldon and redshirt junior Vincent Testaverde. “I’ve seen him throw in camp and I’ve seen him throw in a seven-on-seven we had over here. But in the context of what we’re asking him to do, he really does have good quarterback passing fundamentals – not a lot of wasted motion, got some nice zip on the ball.
“He does understand touch. He’s a passer. He’s not just a thrower like some guys are. I’d say maybe 50 percent he’s getting right now, which is probably pretty good for the first day, at the pace that we’re going.’’
Rosier and Shirreffs ran with the first team and Perry and Weldon went with second and third-teamers.
“We’ll install at a pace that’s faster than comfortable for him, but he’ll catch up,” Richt added of Perry, who, like the other newcomers, will not be permitted to speak to the media except for media day Aug. 14.
Only one UM player didn’t report for camp, and that was expected. Former Fort Lauderdale Dillard defensive lineman Jon Ford has not yet enrolled.
“He’s still in the running,’’ Richt said. “It’s kind of what we said a year ago on [receiver Dionte] Mullins. We’re still hopeful that he ends up getting here. If he just makes it, qualifies, we’ll be very happy.’’
One player who did make it was freshman running back Robert Burns, an early enrollee who injured his shoulder on the first day of spring contact and had subsequent surgery. Though Burns practiced with a green, noncontact jersey, Richt said he doesn’t think Burns will be ready for the Sept. 2 home opener against Bethune-Cookman.
With Burns out and the tailback position extremely thin behind starter Mark Walton (Travis Homer, then Trayone Gray and walk-on Crispian Atkins), Richt again mentioned that freshman receiver DeeJay Dallas will “get some practice at running back.’’
“We’re going to make sure he knows enough about how to pass protect and how to run,’’ the coach said. “We’re talking about DeeJay slipping in there a little bit at running back. He didn’t do it today… But he made some great plays at wide receiver.’’
The Hurricanes, who finished 2016 with five consecutive wins and a 9-4 record, will enter this season ranked in the top-25 by several outlets. Senior receiver Braxton Berrios, a team leader with a team-high 3.96 grade point average, said the summer “really flew by’’ and that players were excited.
“The energy is really high,’’ Berrios said. “I think we’re well off and well ahead [of] where we were last year at this point.
“…Last year we knew we could be good but now we really see it. We have all the pieces. We have an incredible coaching staff and finally have a full year with that coaching staff. …The veterans are setting the pace, and everybody’s following.’’
Added junior defensive tackle Kendrick Norton: “There is a lot of excitement because we know what we are capable of and we know what a lot of people expect us to do.
“We know the standard down here in South Florida and around the nation. We have a lot of expectations riding on us and we embrace it.’’
▪ Sophomore tight end Michael Irvin II left practice early because of an undisclosed physical ailment. “We’ve got to make sure he’s 100-percent healthy…I’m not going to get into it,’’ Richt said. The coach said freshman linebacker Waynmon Steed and freshman offensive lineman Zalon’tae Hillery were not full go.
▪ Beginning Wednesday, it’s back to five to 10 minutes of media viewing.