No doubt that the loss of exceptional junior receiver Ahmmon Richards to a career-ending neck injury was stunning news to the University of Miami program and fans across the country.
Coach Mark Richt again emphasized on Monday during his usual radio slot with WQAM’s Joe Rose and Zach Krantz that he didn’t want “to get too much into it,” but did reveal that Richards’ neck ailment had been progressing into a serious situation.
Among the other topics Richt covered Monday, as the No. 16 Canes (5-1, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) prepare to travel to Virginia (3-2, 1-1), was another position switch for offensive lineman Navaugn Donaldson in light of a possible new starting right tackle.
Regarding Richards’ neck injury, here’s what Richt said:
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“It was kind of a chronic thing that became to the point where the doctors felt like it wasn’t safe, so that was it,’’ Richt told Rose. “We love Ahmmon. We wanted his health above all else. He’s going to stay with us. He’s going to stay on scholarship and finish, get his degree. He’ll probably help us coach and we’ll help him get a great job.
“Anybody looking for one of the finest kids in America who is a great competitor and knows how to communicate and all that kind of thing? He should have job offers coming left and right because he’s that kind of kid.’’
Richards was a freshman All-American in 2016 with a school freshman record of 934 receiving yards, before sustaining several injuries last season, which included knee surgery late in the season that forced him to miss this year’s spring practice. He only played in the opener this season, injuring his knee after one catch.
According to ESPN, recruiting analyst Todd McShay projected Richards as the No. 9 wide receiver for 2019 in his preseason rankings, and Mel Kiper Jr. had him as the No. 4 receiver among underclassmen.
▪ The Hurricanes’ at-times struggling offensive line contributed to allowing redshirt freshman N’Kosi Perry to be sacked five times in UM’s 28-27 victory over Florida State on Saturday. And the Canes managed only 102 yards rushing.
What to do? Richt appears to be ready to switch 6-6, 340-pound right guard Navaughn Donaldson back to guard, the position he played last season as a true freshman. In his place as the starter at right tackle would be current true freshman DJ Scaife, the 6-3, 300-pound backup to Donaldson.
After the first drive Saturday, Scaife replaced Donaldson at right tackle and Donaldson went to right guard.
“He’s really probably one of the best pass-protecting tackles we’ve got,’’ Richt told WQAM of Scaife. “He’s very athletic. He’s got these long arms. He’s not afraid. He’s a smart kid — he knows what to do. And he’s competing at a high level.
“He had some moments where he looked like a freshman, certainly. But he’s got a lot of ability. So, there’s a chance that’s where he stays out there.”
Richt said Donaldson, a Miami Central High School All-American who started 10 games at right guard last season and was an All-ACC honorable mention, is “probably a more natural guard for us. And that maybe how it goes.
“[O-line] coach [Stacy] Searels and I are still debating that. That’ll be a big part of what we decide today before we start practicing tomorrow.”
Other topics Richt covered with WQAM on Monday:
▪ Slot receiver Jeff Thomas, who had three catches for 76 yards and scored an integral second-half touchdown in UM’s comeback after being yanked so hard by his facemask in a previous play that he limped heavily off the field and appeared to be out of the game.
“I thought he was out for the game and hopefully not for the season,’’ Richt said. “Just imagine if we had Ahmmon and him, along with these tight ends coming along and these backs the way they’re coming along. So, you’re thinking, ‘Man, we don’t have Ahmmon, but now all of a sudden Jeff is gone.’ Those are two electric guys.
“I thought maybe the biggest play of the game was the shot that N’Kosi threw down the middle to him just prior to the [final] Brevin Jordan touchdown. They were playing two deep. It was third-and-10, we’re still down by a touchdown... and Jeff just eases his speed and takes the proper angle manning it inside the safety and Kosi [Perry], with confidence, just rips it down the middle and...set up the touchdown the very next play.”
Thomas now leads the Canes with 16 catches for 396 yards (and three touchdowns) and is second in the country with 24.7 yards per catch.
▪ Receiver Lawrence Cager, who scored two fourth-down touchdowns on three catches Saturday.
“He had his ups and downs,’’ Richt told Krantz. “He dropped two touchdown passes and caught two touchdown passes. But you know what? He’s a guy who can do it. He’s got the ability, he’s got the genetics that you need, the height and the ability to jump and snatch the ball.
“...We’ve just gotta have a guy like him who is a veteran for us to make those plays on a more consistent basis. But we’re not going to score twice – on fourth down he catches touchdown passes. So that’s as clutch as you can get.”
▪ The dozens of recruits who attended the victory.
“It was amazing how many guys. We had 30 guys that were commitments to us from either this year’s class, next year’s class or the one after that plus another 30 or 40 guys that had been offered scholarships. It was a crazy number of great players that were there. And then we had four of them that were on official visits. I didn’t get home until about midnight with that.
We’re grinding man.”
Richt ended his radio interview with a shout out to the Hurricanes fans. There were 65,490 fans at the UM-FSU game, most of them in green and orange.
“I love the fans,’’ Richt said. “They were amazing for us and we just want to thank every single one of them... It was just a great day. I mean, Notre Dame last year was as good as it gets and this one rivaled that one.”