University of Miami

‘Baby steps’ and tough love getting talented UM receivers better

Miami Hurricanes wide receiver Lawrence Cager (18) makes a catch against Georgia Tech at Sun Life Stadium on Saturday, November 21, 2015.
Miami Hurricanes wide receiver Lawrence Cager (18) makes a catch against Georgia Tech at Sun Life Stadium on Saturday, November 21, 2015.

Here’s a positive sign for the University of Miami football program: receiver Lawrence Cager appears to be making substantial progress after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament of his right knee during seven-on-sevens last July.

Coach Mark Richt and the medical staff are doing what they can to ensure that Cager gets even stronger by preventing him from contact during the spring.

The 6-5, 218-pound redshirt sophomore from Towson, Maryland, was a four-star recruit and U.S. Army All-American when he signed with UM in 2015. He played in 11 games, starting one, and had eight catches for 70 yards and a touchdown as a freshman.

“Cager looks good,’’ Richt said Tuesday after the fourth day of spring football practice. “The thing about Cager is when he’s running routes and he’s making adjustments on the balls that aren’t perfect, he looks like he has no fear back there at all. He hates his brace but he needs to wear his brace. Sometimes guys look very tentative, and he doesn’t look tentative.

“He has been running full-speed and he has been changing direction, but we don’t want contact right now. We’re just trying to be careful. I doubt [he’ll have contact] this spring. There may be a time somewhere down the line where [athletic trainer] Vinny [Scavo] and the doctors look at him again, but I don’t think we will.”

Another highly anticipated four-star receiver, sophomore Dionte Mullins out of Gulliver Prep, is working hard this spring to get on the field after arriving in Coral Gables late last fall and playing sparingly in three games.

“Mullins is improving,’’ receiver coach Ron Dugans said Tuesday. “The thing with him, he’s just got to be consistent. That’s what I look for in him. One minute, the first play, [it’s] ‘Ooh! We’ve got a guy.’ And the next play he’s tired.

“So, just learning how to play with fatigue, learning to be disciplined on every play, finishing routes, finishing blocks. That’s the biggest thing, teaching him [that] if you go in the first group, you’ve got to be a guy that’s got to finish everything and do everything right.”

One player who “has shown he’s got some ball skills,’’ Dugans said, is early enrollee Deejay Dallas, another four-star standout from Brunswick (Georgia) Glynn Academy, where he rushed for 1,129 yards and 13 touchdowns his junior high school season and added 678 passing yards and seven touchdowns.

Dugans is trying to ease Dallas into his relatively new role.

“He’s done a good job – a kid that’s just about played quarterback his entire life and not a ton of receiver,’’ Dugans said of Dallas. “Silently he’s surprised me a little bit by some of the things he can do. Route running, it’s not great but it’s getting there.

“He’s got a lot to think about, so I’m just trying to take it slow with him. Baby steps. I know sometimes he may think I don’t like him,’’ Dugans said, chuckling, “but he’s taking the coaching.”

More Dugans:

▪ On 6-3, 195-pound redshirt junior Dayall Harris, who came to UM as a junior college transfer last year via Ole Miss: “Kind of moving him around a little bit. Tried him out a little bit in the slot to see what he can do. …In Saturday’s practice he did a really good job of blocking on the perimeter. That’s what I want to see out of him, blocking on the perimeter [and] being consistent catching the football. He’s still got some improving to do.’’

▪ On 6-4, 220-pound redshirt junior Darrell Langham, out of Lantana Santaluces High and yet to get playing time: “He’s probably the guy that stands out the most. He’s shown some improvement. The thing that he’s done a better job of is playing with his big body – using that as a strength.”

Richt said he was pleased with how his players fought through the hottest day of spring practice Tuesday, with temperatures in the 80s.

“When guys get tired, they tend to not go quite as hard, because they’re fatigued, and they don’t think quite as well,’’ Richt said. “That’s the whole key to football: Can you think when you’re tired? Can you think when you get knocked around a little bit? Can you think and perform when you go down 17 points in the first half? That’s overcoming adversity when people talk about adversity.

“When we’re talking football adversity, we’re definitely not ready for that. Not offensively, anyway.”

Mark Richt talks to reporters after Day 4 of UM spring football practice on March 28, 2017

Related stories from Miami Herald