University of Miami

Mixed reviews at QB, but young Miami Hurricanes give hope for formerly stagnant offense

Coach Manny Diaz comments on UM Scrimmage

Miami Hurricanes head coach Manny Diaz comments on the Miami Hurricanes Spring scrimmage at Traz Powell Stadium on Saturday, April 13, 2019.
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Miami Hurricanes head coach Manny Diaz comments on the Miami Hurricanes Spring scrimmage at Traz Powell Stadium on Saturday, April 13, 2019.

All eyes were on the quarterbacks Saturday at Traz Powell Stadium, but it wasn’t always the signal-callers drawing the attention of the few thousand in attendance for the University of Miami’s first open spring scrimmage.

Although redshirt freshman quarterback Jarren Williams looked extremely promising in front of a crowd that had barely seen him before, and returning part-time starter N’Kosi Perry for the most part delivered, it was players on the rise such as sophomore running back Cam’Ron Harris, sophomore receiver Mark Pope, freshman receiver Jeremiah Payton and sophomore tight end Will Mallory who drew double takes.

“Hey, just wait for August, man,’’ said standout junior tailback DeeJay Dallas, who was his usual sturdy self on an 85-degree Saturday, with 108 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 13 carries. “They came a long way [from last year]. I know Cam played a lot last year. Best one-two punch in the country,’’ he added of himself and Harris. “Watch.’’

Tate Martell, the high-profile Ohio State transfer who fans couldn’t wait to see, was clearly the loser in the quarterback race Saturday. He started the day as the No. 3 quarterback, and UM’s post-game stats had him completing four of 11 passes — with one ball that was thrown in heavy traffic and intercepted by cornerback DJ Ivey. Martell’s first pass against the first-team defense was a wobbler. He took off for a run in that series that officials counted after it appeared he was tagged for a sack by defensive end Scott Patchan.

In the second half, when Martell ran the second-team offense against the third-team defense, he began with a throw behind a receiver, then tripped while going back for a play-action pass. The third-down pass was way short of his target.

The Canes combined for at least seven sacks (Team, Greg Rousseau, Michael Pinckney, Romeo Finley, Shawn Walker and at least two by Patchan), but most of those plays weren’t blown dead.

Williams (7 of 12 for 79 yards and a touchdown) led his units to a 29-yard field goal by walk-on Camden Price and three touchdowns, including a 45-yard pass that was deflected and landed in Payton’s arms (three catches for 60 yards) to end the scrimmage. During that drive, linebacker Pinckney dropped one of Williams’ passes that should have been an interception.

“Jarren did well,’’ Harris said. “He’s a little sick right now but he’s getting up there. He’s getting to the next level. All the quarterbacks are doing great.’’

At one point while Williams was under center, Pope took an end-around and sprinted 52 yards. Pope also had two catches for 34 yards.

Mallory, 6-5 and 230 pounds, turned what should have been a takedown by cornerback Al Blades into an 18-yard gain when he spun away from Blades, who had him in his grasp, and ran down the left sideline.

“You can see why we recruited those guys,’’ said coach Manny Diaz of Harris (10 carries for 61 yards) and Pope. “And they’re just two. There’s a bunch of other guys that we could talk about. This should be their time.’’

Perry (9 of 15 for 78 yards), who played the first series because “he had just nosed in front’’ after Thursday’s practice, Diaz said, looked good until he overthrew two receivers in the end zone at the end of the first half. It didn’t help to have graduate transfer center Tommy Kennedy subbing at times behind Navaughn Donaldson for usual starter Corey Gaynor, who wore a bandage over his left knee and sat out.

One old-timer who is a new face in the receivers room, graduate transfer KJ Osborn, led all players with six catches for 67 yards. Osborn clearly appears to be ready to fly in his final collegiate season after amassing 892 receiving yards and seven touchdowns last season for Buffalo.

“Much better, much more competitive,’’ Diaz said, when asked how Saturday’s scrimmage compared to the first closed one last week at Columbus High. “We analyzed what we didn’t like about last Saturday and what we talked about today is coming out here with a competitive spirit, playing with some passion. There were a bazillion execution errors still evident, a lot of penalties, a lot of pre-snap things that would have called, but we just kind of let it play today — let it rip.’’

Diaz said the Canes were just “a little bit better’’ than a week ago, and that he expects them to improve a whole lot more, including at the spring game next Saturday at Camping World Stadium in Orlando.

“Like I told them,’’ the coach said, ‘We’re better than we were a Saturday ago, but if we let anything that happened — good, bad or indifferent— make us feel like we’ve arrived, or that all our problems are solved, we’re fooling ourselves.’”

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Miami Herald sports writer Susan Miller Degnan has been the Miami Hurricanes football beat writer since 2000, the season before the Canes won it all. She has won several APSE national writing awards and has covered everything from Canes baseball to the College Football Playoff to major marathons to the Olympics.