On the opening day of fall camp, University of Miami slot receiver Braxton Berrios gazed at a horde of reporters and said unequivocally that this year’s receiving corps was going to be just fine without some of the substantial talent that left for the NFL.
“The good thing is we’ll have two new leading receivers,” Berrios said when asked how the team would compensate for the loss of first-round draft pick Phillip Dorsett (871 yards and 10 touchdowns) and third-round tight end Clive Walford (676 and 7). “You do with what you have, and we have a great group of wide receivers and tight ends.”
Added Berrios: “We’re going to be good. We’re going to be very good.’’
Berrios and company have Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year Brad Kaaya throwing to them — the only true freshman quarterback in the country to pass for more than 3,000 yards, at least 26 touchdowns and fewer than 12 interceptions.
What they don’t have are the three players who combined for 1,968 of 3,249 receiving yards in 2014: Dorsett, now with the Indianapolis Colts; Walford, now with the Oakland Raiders; and third-round Cleveland Brown running back Duke Johnson (421 yards and three touchdowns).
This year’s crop of Miami receivers know they have to make up for those departures to improve last season’s 6-7 finish.
Senior Herb Waters returns with the most receiving yards: 277 and a touchdown in 12 games. Redshirt junior Malcolm Lewis is next with 248 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore Berrios follows with 232 and three touchdowns in 13 games.
Junior Stacy Coley, who had a breakout year in 2013 as a freshman with 591 receiving yards and seven touchdowns (not to mention one touchdown apiece on punt and kick returns), fell into a sophomore slump with no touchdowns and 184 receiving yards.
Coley wasn’t made available Thursday, but fifth-year senior flanker Rashawn Scott insisted Coley is now “a lot” tougher. “We’re a whole different team,” Scott said. “This year I ain’t going to let him drop like that. I’m going to keep pushing him.’’
The top returning tight end? Stan Dobard, who had seven catches for 147 yards and no touchdowns.
“I still had a lot of receiving yards with these guys, too,’’ Kaaya said of his current pass-catchers. “I feel like we can spread the ball out openly and anybody can get open on any play.”
UM coach Al Golden lauded Berrios, “a year-and-a-half removed from his ACL [tear]. He looks so much leaner than a year ago. Herb is 197 pounds. Rashawn is 205. Stacy is in the 190s now. Malcolm looks good. Those guys work their tails off.”
The Canes should benefit in a big way from the return of Scott, a natural talent with soft hands and great leaping ability. He had a strong sophomore year in 2012 (512 receiving yards and three touchdowns), but sat out last year with a severe clavicle injury.
Scott came to UM as a three-star prospect from Melbourne Central High and has spent much of his career hurt — and more than a little of it suspended for violating team rules.
“I miss it every day,” Scott said of being away from the field. “I’ve got a lot of people behind my back — coaches, parents, friends — and nobody ever gave up on me. I’ve got a lot to give back.
“I’m a lot smarter, stronger, faster. I understand [the game] a lot better.”
Waters, a Homestead High graduate, sustained what appeared to be a severe neck injury in last year’s 30-13 loss at Virginia on Nov. 22. He was put on a gurney as the team prayed.
It turned out to be a strain.
“It was very traumatic for everybody,’’ Waters said Thursday, “including myself. But we’re past that point.”
Waters’ expectations, like Kaaya’s and the rest of the Canes, begin with winning the Coastal Division of the ACC, despite what national pundits believe will be a mediocre season.
Berrios was asked if the low expectations of outsiders helped drive him.
“We don’t listen to it,” Berrios said after a quick chuckle. “We’re not worried about them. We know we’re going to be good. That’s all that matters to us.”