University of Miami

UM’s first spring scrimmage is Saturday. Will the quarterbacks be sacked?

Quarterback Cade Weldon looks to pass during drills at the first day of University of Miami spring practice on Tuesday, March 21, 2017.
Quarterback Cade Weldon looks to pass during drills at the first day of University of Miami spring practice on Tuesday, March 21, 2017. adiaz@miamiherald.com

The first University of Miami spring scrimmage is gearing up for Saturday morning at Greentree Field on campus in Coral Gables. It is closed to the general public and media.

The big question going into the scrimmage: Will the defense be allowed to tackle the quarterbacks vying to replace Brad Kaaya? Or will coach Mark Richt “chicken out?’’ – the words he used on Tuesday that might initiate a change of heart from his early leaning to let the quarterbacks take the physical heat.”

Normally, quarterbacks are not allowed to be touched in UM scrimmages.

“My plan right now,’’ Richt said, “which is a little bit different, is to let the quarterbacks have a normal jersey and play ball. Is it a sack? Is it not a sack? In a normal scrimmage, we don’t know. This scrimmage, if I don’t chicken out, we’ll know if it’s a sack or not. We’ll know if a guy makes a move and gets 5 yards, or if he gets tackled and he fumbles the ball or secures the ball, or whatever it may be. It’ll look more like a true game on those snaps, because we’re going to let the quarterbacks play ball.”

UM defensive coordinator Manny Diaz and offensive coordinator Thomas Brown spoke to the media Thursday, the day that Richt does not address reporters.

Diaz was asked how he would feel about letting his players be permitted to hit the quarterbacks, particularly in light of knowing what type of defensive line he coaches (a dominant one).

“Well, I don’t know what kind of defense we have,’’ Diaz replied. “I know if we were playing two below the waist, like we have been the last three weeks, then we could be OK. But that is what we find out, too, because what happens in practice invariably is that you touch the quarterback, and you say he is down and guys feel good about themselves. But in a game, he is not down.

“Those quarterbacks, when they know that they don’t have the force field around them, they behave differently. So I think it is a good reality check for everybody. And not to mention it adds the element of the quarterback run game. So, it forces guys to stay disciplined in their assignments. And that is a challenge, because to defeat the people we have to defeat in our league, we have got to be sound in the quarterback run game.’’

UM's Diaz says "It's a good reality check" for defense and offense should the defense be allowed to hit the quarterbacks in Saturday spring scrimmage.

Diaz was asked if the scrimmage would be the normal variety at this point of spring, a controlled, situational scrimmage in which coaches put the ball at various places on the field – say, the 35-yard line or in the red zone – and let players start the series.

“That would be my guess,’’ Diaz said. “We’ll talk about it in the meeting [Thursday] afternoon.”

As for Brown, he said on Thursday that coaches might “experiment’’ with letting the quarterbacks go live “a little bit and see what happens.

“There has been some conversation about it, and obviously, at some point you want to see those guys go live to see if they can take some hits. And we have a couple plays built in where the quarterback has some option on some run plays to pull it. So we will find out between now and Saturday.’’

Thus, Brown acknowledged that there could be contact of quarterbacks for some plays, and not for others. He did say that if one quarterback is allowed to be hit, then all of them — including true freshman Cade Weldon —will be allowed to take contact.

“They’ll all be live or none will be live,’’ Brown said. “We won’t just do, ‘These two guys are live and this guy is not going to be live.’ It’s just too confusing for us on offense. Those guys on defense might just say, ‘Hey, I forgot, Coach,’ and go hit somebody in the mouth.”

When asked if the reasoning behind making the quarterbacks open for tackling is to see how they perform under pressure, Richt said: “Absolutely. How are you going to react when you get hit in the mouth and you have to go to the next play? How are you going to react? Can you stand in there and throw a strike and then somebody hits you? That’s part of being a pocket passer. We’ll throw out of the pocket.”

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