University of Miami

Hurricanes coach Mark Richt says former five-star recruits might play against Virginia

Miami Hurricanes fans love watching sophomore receiver/return specialist Jeff Thomas do his thing.

And the good news on Thursday is that UM coach Mark Richt said during a teleconference that Thomas has been practicing and “is doing great’’ in light of the left-knee injury he sustained last week against Florida State, when he was yanked down by his facemask.

But as the No. 16 Canes (5-1, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) get ready to travel to Charlottesville, Virginia for a 7 p.m. kickoff (ESPN2) on Saturday against the Virginia Cavaliers (3-2, 1-1), Richt said that two other young Hurricanes might be doing some of the kickoff/punt returns to spell Thomas a bit.

Those Hurricanes: Former five-star recruit Lorenzo Lingard, who has gotten limited work in five games, rushing for 138 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries for an 8-yards-a-carry average; and former five-star receiver Mark Pope, who has played in three games but has yet to make a catch.

Neither has returned a kickoff or punt during a game.

“There’s a possibility that Lorenzo gets in there,’’ Richt said. “I’m not going to make any promises, but Lorenzo would be the first guy in on kickoff returns and then, of course, punt returns.

“You’ve got Jeff, DeeJay Dallas is there and [fellow former five-star receiver Mark] Pope’s been getting reps there, too. I’m not saying [Thomas] won’t take kickoff returns or he won’t take punts, but we’re getting those other guys as ready as possible just in case.”

Thomas leads the Canes with 16 catches for 396 yards and three touchdowns, a 24.8-yard-a-catch average — second best in the nation.

Thomas is 28th nationally with his 24.1-yard-per-kickoff return average.

Last Monday, Richt told WQAM that Thomas “does play big for a guy who’s not tall.”

“Speed, agility, ability to jump, makes tough catches,’’ Richt said. “He blocks his tail off, he’s a great return man. And he’s been returning both punts and kickoffs. We’ve probably got to lighten his load a little bit because we may be putting too much on the guy.”

Also Thursday, Richt said Ahmmon Richards, whose football career has ended because of a disabling neck injury, won’t be traveling this week to Charlottesville. Richt said he needs to look into getting Richards designated as “a coach or something like that’’ so he wouldn’t count against the “72 guys that can go and are team members’’ and wouldn’t prevent “somebody that could play from going.’’

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