University of Miami

Canes’ Diaz talks QB competition, addresses Kiffin’s comments on the portal and more

University of Miami football coach Manny Diaz went into overtime on Monday during an interview with WQAM’s Joe Rose and Zach Krantz.

His usual 13-plus minute conversation about all things UM football extended closer to 19 minutes, and he covered some topics of which Hurricanes fans can’t get enough.

Diaz spoke about recent quarterback transfer Tate Martell and redshirt freshman QB competitor Jarren Williams. He talked about the red-hot NCAA transfer portal and comments that FAU coach Lane Kiffin made in criticism of the portal and how it affects players and scholarship numbers.

Diaz also spoke about receiver Jeff Thomas’ return to the team, fellow receiver Mark Pope and yes, the “Big Cane Drill” and how he threw two quarterbacks into the ring Friday to tough it out. The Big Cane Drill, another name for the popular exercise usually referred to as the Oklahoma Drill, has two players, surrounded by the rest of the team, going at it to see who can out-tough the other. Diaz names the players to compete, the guys take part in a mini wrestling match of sorts, and the rest of the players go nuts cheering and whooping it up.

“You circle the whole team up, call a guy out…’’ Diaz said. “...Someone is trying to knock someone backwards. The other guy is trying to knock the other guy backwards. But the cool thing about it is everybody gets to watch. Because what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to expose the guys that don’t have the toughness to compete for championships at Miami. And it’s not to the coaching staff it’s to the teammate, to the locker room.

“It’s crazy. A lot of times in the course of a season you may not actually have a guy show up one way or another so your toughness is in question. We say if your toughness is ever in question that’s a bad thing. You want to be known throughout the locker room as a tough guy and this gives us an opportunity to do that.”

Did I read that Jarren Williams and [quarterback] N’Kosi Perry met in the middle? Are you nuts? Krantz asked Diaz.

“We had long snappers in that drill,’’ Diaz said. “We had everybody. There’s nothing more important than the toughness of your quarterback. That might arguably be job description No. 1. So to me, what are we going to do, find out in March if we’re tough or find out in October or November?”

Aside: It appeared by the overall reaction of the team, that Williams clearly emerged the winner in the Cane Drill.

Speaking of quarterbacks, Diaz acknowledged to Rose, who asked if Martell is confident and cocky, that “you can definitely tell he’s got some of that demeanor like you’re saying. But I think what Tate has done a nice job of is not wanting to come in and sort of rub everybody the wrong way. He’s coming in right now and just trying to be a good teammate.

“What he’s trying to do is show the team that he’s a hard worker in the offseason program, show the team that he’s a do-right guy off the field, because ultimately the team will respect those things first. And the same thing with his toughness... It’s always a little awkward with all these kids, not just Tate, how they enter the locker room and get absorbed by our guys and our culture and I think he’s walked that line nicely.”

When asked if he was surprised that Williams didn’t get more playing time last year (he only played sparingly in one game), Diaz said this: “It’s really, really, really hard to prepare three quarterbacks. Once you come out of training camp and you’ve got a [No.] 1 and 2 and you sort of set the ship to sail, the third guy is just not getting very many reps...

“Obviously everybody likes the guy that’s not playing, and we think Jarren has all the tools to be the guy, but it probably would have been unfair to throw him in there in that situation...”

Rose asked Diaz about Kiffin’s recent comments regarding the transfer portal and how some transfers just want the attention you get in essentially being “rerecruited.’’

Diaz said he was “curious to see’’ what the numbers will be nationally after spring ball in terms of how many actually transferred.

“Did more kids actually transfer or it is just really a fancy name that got everybody sort of stirred up?’’ Diaz said. “All we’ve done is we just removed needing to ask the school for permission to contact another school. But you could argue that every kid that we got as a transfer we potentially could have gotten through the old rule. So, I’m interested to see where it goes... There’s going to be another side to the portal, which is the kids that entered their names into the portal that didn’t find a home.

“One thing that Coach Kiffin brought up that does need to be addressed is that we have to be able to replace the scholarship numbers. Because if we can only bring in 25 initials, there are over 1,000 some odd names that entered the portal. Well, those kids can all be removed from aid at their school by entering the portal — that was sort of the catch.

“And they don’t all have a place to go... You have all these high school kids that we’re signing trying to find a place. Then you’ve got all these kids in the portal. But we didn’t increase the number.

“You’re not going to increase the total number but you have to increase the initial count that you can bring in. So there is a little bit of a… I guess we’re working it out as we go along.”

As for gifted UM receiver/special teams wiz Thomas, who was disgruntled and dismissed from the team before the end of the season (yet still led the Hurricanes in receiving with 563 yards and three touchdowns), Diaz indicated Thomas is doing well and has been warmly welcomed back.

“The team has a lot of respect for Jeff because they know that Jeff can help us win football games,’’ Diaz said. “He’s just a different guy when the ball is under his arms. When you watch him run routes, watch what he can do after the catch. It’s just different. Some of the issues that we had, that Jeff had in the past were correctable for sure and in some ways preventable.

“He has bought in to the way we’re doing things around here and is doing a good job of walking the line with everybody else and being a good guy.”

Thomas’ younger teammate, rising redshirt freshman Mark Pope, was also discussed by Diaz, who was asked if he has seen growth in Pope. Pope, one of the nation’s top receivers when he came to UM last year out of Miami Southridge, only caught one pass in 2018.

“Yeah. Guys like Mark, he’s not alone,’’ Diaz said. “They go through their normal freshman blues, which happens. They come in with so much expectation and normally that expectation is external. Well intended people on the outside, ‘What’s going on? Why this? Why this?’ puts a lot of pressure on the kid, who in reality, when they all come here they all have to learn how to improve and learn how to get better and how to be the best player that they can be.

“The neat thing with Mark and all our receivers and all our guys on offense is they all have a new starting point. Everybody starts from zero and last year is gone and forgotten and now we’ve got a competition to really find out what we have at wide receiver.”

We’ll have more this afternoon from UM Pro Day, where Miami’s NFL-eligible players will work out in front of NFL coaches and personnel.

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