University of Miami

Tight ends (more season-ending surgery) scarce at The U, but receiver Jeff Thomas is everywhere

Jeff Thomas of the Miami Hurricanes runs for a second-quarter touchdown against the Savannah State Sept. 8.
Jeff Thomas of the Miami Hurricanes runs for a second-quarter touchdown against the Savannah State Sept. 8. Getty Images

The Miami Hurricanes are running low on tight ends.

But their receivers — notably sophomore speedster Jeff Thomas — are everywhere.

On the day it was announced that sophomore tight end Brian Polendey will undergo surgery for a season-ending right knee injury, Thomas — the nation’s leader in yards per catch, No. 6 nationally in all-purpose yards and No. 10 in combined kick returns — assured, as did fellow wideout Lawrence Cager, that everything will work out fine.

Thomas agreed that there would be more multireceiver sets in light of only two healthy scholarship tight ends left on the roster.

“I’m really happy how the season has gone so far,’’ Thomas said.

He should be.

Thomas, a wiry 5-10, 178-pound former East St. Louis High Under Armour All-American who said he was timed at 4.37 seconds in the 40-yard dash this year, is reminiscent of Hurricanes great Santana Moss — UM’s do-it-all career receiving yards leader with 2,546 from 1997 to 2000 for a 17.8-yard-per-catch average.

Thomas averages an astounding 27.6 yards a catch (and 101 receiving yards a game). Last season he averaged a team-high 22 yards on 17 catches.

He has two touchdowns and 536 all-purpose yards that include 304 in catches, 90 on two punt returns, 123 on five kickoff returns and a 19-yard reverse that led to UM’s first touchdown in the victory at Toledo. He said he practices for his acrobatic catches by repeatedly throwing a tennis ball over his head and catching it, a technique he said he learned by watching former Cane Phillip Dorsett.

“If we keep that up for the whole season that’s a whale of a season for a guy,’’ said Hurricanes coach Mark Richt, who noted he does not intend to convert another player to tight end to compensate for Polendey.

True freshman Brevin Jordan, considered the No. 1 tight end in the nation as a recent recruit, already plays nearly the entire game and has seven catches for 52 yards and two touchdowns. His roommate, 6-5, 230-pound true freshman Will Mallory, was rated the No. 3 tight end recruit and has one catch for a 2-yard touchdown.

UM offensive coordinator Thomas Brown discusses the loss of tight end Brian Polendey to season-ending surgery.

Though Polendey played sparingly and had one catch for 14 yards this season, UM cannot afford to continue playing Jordan and Mallory in two-tight-end sets nearly as much, as one will be needed to spell the other now and then. “I would see those guys sharing the load a little more,’’ Richt said Tuesday.

Said Cager of Jordan and Mallory: “They kill it.”

Cager, who dazzled at Toledo with a 41-yard catch, 30-yard catch on third-and-9, and 5-yard touchdown grab, agreed that the lack of tight end depth will give more responsibility to the receiver corps, and a gifted one at that. “It will help the young guys get in,’’ he said, “because it creates more rotation.

“It’s good for the whole offense.’’

Seven wide receivers are among 13 Hurricanes who have caught at least one pass this season. That includes star Ahmmon Richards, who had only one catch in the LSU opener before hurting his knee. He missed the past two games and likely won’t return for FIU at 3:30 p.m Saturday.

But you can be sure that Thomas will be all over the field Saturday, provided the younger receivers don’t get most of the playing time against an opponent over which UM is favored by 26 1/2 points.

“It was just a matter of his opportunity,’’ Cager said of Thomas’ growth since last season, which has come, according to coaches, from studying more, working harder on and off the practice field, and tending more to his academics. “You’re only going to play so much when [former UM standout receiver] Braxton [Berrios] is in front of you. Once he got his opportunity he seized the moment. That’s all [tight ends] coach Todd Hartley says: ‘Seize the moment when your opportunity comes.’

“He always preaches that every day and that’s what he’s been doing. We all saw it coming.

“It fires us up..’’

Offensive tackle Tyree St. Louis said Tuesday that Thomas is, well, “ridiculous.’’

“I’m running downfield looking at some of the catches and thinking, ‘There is no way he’s about to catch that,’ St. Louis said. “I’m running, hoping — not really doubting — he catches it.

“Every time he makes a big catch I’m in awe.’’

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