University of Miami

Five things we learned from the Miami Hurricanes’ first open spring scrimmage at Traz

The Miami Hurricanes just wrapped up their first open spring scrimmage at Nathaniel “Traz” Powell Stadium in Miami. Here are five things we learned from our first chance to see substantial action this spring:

Jarren Williams impresses; N’Kosi Perry looks solid

Redshirt sophomore N’Kosi Perry started the day as the first-team quarterback and for the most part, until he overthrew two receivers in the end zone at the end of the first half, he looked good. It didn’t help that at one point the offensive line center was Tommy Kennedy and not usual starter Corey Gaynor, who is injured.

The biggest reason for hope is redshirt freshman Jarren Wlliams, who not only has played well when we’ve seen him during media viewing in practice, but looked really sharp Saturday. Williams, playing against the second-team defense twice and first-team defense once going into the fourth quarter, led the offense to two touchdowns and a field goal before a 45-yard touchdown pass to Jeremiah Payton to close the scrimmage. But that final touchdown pass could have easily been an interception as it deflected off the hands of striker Colvin Alford. His passes seemed most accurate of the three.

Tate Martell not so much

It was a rough public debut for Tate Martell. His first pass was a wobbler for Miami’s first three-and-out of the game. His first series against the Hurricanes’ first-team defense ended with an interception by defensive back DJ Ivey, when the quarterback threw into heavy traffic. One fan tried to start an “Overrated” chant for the highly touted transfer from the Ohio State Buckeyes, but no one followed,

Even in the second half when Miami let Martell run its second-team offense against the third-team defense, the redshirt junior struggled to move the ball. On his first drive of the third quarter, Martell began with a throw behind a receiver, tripped while going back for a play-action pass, then threw a third-down pass about 10 yards short of his target. Maybe the ball was tipped on a couple of those wobbly throws, but that’s an issue, too, for the 5-foot-11 quarterback.

“We need to get a little bit better,” coach Manny Diaz said, “and we really need to get a lot better by the time August rolls around.”

The offensive line is a major work in progress

With Gaynor out, Miami really had to scramble with its offensive line combination. Gaynor is entrenched as the Hurricanes’ starting center and right now Miami clearly has no true backup at the position. Offensive lineman Navaughn Donaldson, on track to start at left guard, played center with the first team. Kennedy, a left tackle for the FCS Butler Bulldogs last year, was the second-team center.

The Hurricanes have mixed and matched offensive linemen all spring and for the first open spring scrimmage their first team lined up with DJ Scaife at left tackle, Zalon’tae Hillery at left guard, Donaldson at center, John Campbell at right guard and Kai-Leon Herbert at right tackle.

Linebacker depth is obviously an issue

Miami went into its spring scrimmage already missing linebacker Waynmon Steed (knee surgery) and striker Zach McCloud. In the second quarter of their first open scrimmage, the Hurricanes took another hit at linebacker when Bradley Jennings suffered an apparent groin injury, according Diaz, lay on the ground for a good amount of time, and left the game.

McCloud should be back for the fall after a long-time wrist injury, but Jennings’ injury underscored a major issue for Miami’s defense: The Hurricanes are really thin at linebacker. St. Thomas Aquinas’ Avery Huff, a four-star outside linebacker in the composite rankings, will need to be ready to chip in immediately as a freshman when he gets on campus later this year.

“Obviously, we’re very thin right now, and Jennings is a guy that’s really stepped up and had an outstanding spring,” Diaz said. “Hopefully we’ll get him back this week, but if not we’ll make do and obviously we’ll get Zach McCloud back — obviously we’re without Zach in all the contact stuff — so I still feel like we’ve got a lot of high level players to handle our inside linebacker spots for when we come in the fall, but we’re as thin as we can be right now.”

The running game is a major strength

No player consistently made more highlight-reel plays than Cam’Ron Harris, who recently changed his name from Cam’Ron Davis. The running back came on strong at the end of his freshman season in 2018 and has continued to progress this spring. Size will always be a limiting factor for the sophomore, but he ripped off one 30-yard run with a pretty spin move and isn’t afraid to run between the tackles.

DeeJay Dallas was as good as expected, too. The running back ran for two touchdowns in the first half and rarely was dropped behind the line of scrimmage. Fellow running back Lorenzo Lingard also appears to be making serious progress in return from knee surgery. The former five-star prospect was dressed, although he didn’t get any actual game action.

“The running game was really what we needed right now,” Harris said, “and it’s going to work during the season.

Notable stats

Diaz started his post-scrimmage interview by listing off some stats from Saturday. It should be noted, however, that plays were very rarely whistled dead on would-be sacks, so passing stats were inflated a bit and defensive stats were dampened:

N’Kosi Perry: 9 of 15, 78 yards

Jarren Williams: 7 of 12, 79 yards, one touchdown

Tate Martell: 4 of 11, 78 yards, one interception

Carson Proctor: 1 of 1, 23 yards

DeeJay Dallas: 13 carries, 108 yards, three touchdowns; one catch, 11 yards

Cam’Ron Harris: 10 carries, 61 yards

KJ Osborn: six catches, 67 yards

Jeremiah Payton: three catches, 60 yards, one touchdown

Will Mallory: three catches, 39 yards

Mark Pope: two catches, 34 yards; one carry, 52 yards

Evidence Njoku: two carries, 28 yards

DJ Ivey: two tackles, one interception

Michael Pinckney: five tackles, one sack

Nigel Bethel: five tackles

Al Blades Jr.: five tackles

Shaquille Quarterman: four tackles

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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.