Miami Hurricanes players talk fall camp and next season
The Miami Hurricanes aren’t shy about asking for help. In fact, they believe the ability to get help from former players is one of the great advantages they have.
In the days before fall camp began, Miami sought out help from a group of Hurricane greats to perhaps strengthen a position of uncertainty on the current roster. With just a few days until Miami began preparations for the 2019 season in Coral Gables, the Hurricanes called upon Bryant McKinnie, Vernon Carey and Brett Romberg to work with their offensive line — the engine of the team, in McKinnie’s mind.
“Without the engine you can’t go anywhere, so I feel like the engine was a problem,” McKinnie said in an appearance Monday on WFOR-TV, the CBS affiliate in Miami. “I’m going to go down there and help those guys, and they reached out to me.”
McKinnie, an Outland Trophy winner and former Pro Bowler for the Minnesota Vikings, worked with the tackles. Carey, a former All-American and longtime Miami Dolphin, worked with the guards. Romberg, a former consensus All-American with almost a decade of NFL experience, worked with the centers.
Offensive lineman Corey Gaynor, who projects as the starting center, thinks working with those veterans can only help.
“Everyone says it’s a U family. You’ve got alumni coming back all the time and it’s fantastic for them to come back and take time out of their busy days to come coach the younger generation,” Gaynor said Friday after the Hurricanes’ wrapped up their first practice of 2019 fall camp. “They’re legends, so they instilled a lot of knowledge in us these past couple weeks.”
It was one of several ways the offensive linemen prioritized building chemistry throughout the summer. The spring, in some ways, was a wash for the unit. Gaynor went down with an injury midway through spring practices, which forced the entire line out of whack. Navaughn Donaldson, who finished the 2018 season at guard, moved to center, which made his old guard spot a revolving door, ultimately landing with Cleveland Reed for the spring game.
If Gaynor is healthy, he’s a virtual lock to start at center, so the summer could be spent working with more likely units. For the first fall practice Friday, Miami opened with Zion Nelson at left tackle, Donaldson at left guard, Gaynor at center, DJ Scaife at right guard and Kai-Leon Herbert at right tackle.
The unit could easily change by the time the Hurricanes open the season next month, but they can finally start building some of the chemistry they missed out on in the spring.
“There’s not a sense of urgency,” Gaynor said. “We have all of training camp and we’ve been meeting extra. It’s going to take time. It’s a process, but the final product has not yet to be decided.”
Maybe even more important than the influence of McKinnie, Carey and Romberg will be the influence of Butch Barry. The offensive line coach has now had more than six months to mold his unit and Gaynor is doing his best to channel his position coach, embracing a role as the new leader of the offensive line.
“The message that I’ll get across to my guys on offensive line is just that we’re going to be tough, be smart and we’re going to be dependable, all the things that Coach Barry preaches,” Gaynor said. “I’m just like a junior version of him just instilling that into our guys and that’s what we want to play with. That’s the passion we want to use all season.”
Top wide receiver building chemistry with Tate Martell
The offensive highlight of Day 1 came courtesy of Tate Martell and K.J. Osborn.
Osborn lined up to the quarterbacks left and wheeled toward the sideline. He shot up the field as another wide receiver ran a rub route to get Osborn a jump on striker Gilbert Frierson. Martell floated a deep ball down the left sideline and the wide receiver extended his left hand to make a one-handed grab along the sideline despite Frierson’s tight coverage.
“We’re supposed to catch it with two,” Osborn said after practice Friday, “so I was lucky I caught it because if I dropped it I would’ve got something for it, but I was able to make a good play.”
All three quarterbacks vying for the starting job had their moments Friday and each of them linked up with Osborn, who was the most consistent wide receiver, but Osborn admitted he and Martell have started to build a strong chemistry. The senior, who transferred from the Buffalo Bulls in January, worked with N’Kosi Perry and Jarren Williams in the offseason, too, but there’s just a little bit more comfort with Martell
“Many times I’ve thrown with Tate one-on-one,” Osborn said. “I’ve thrown with all the quarterbacks one-on-one, so I’ve tried to get a kind of chemistry with all of them, and try to learn their styles and stuff like that, but we definitely have put in some extra work. So I guess you could say that we have some chemistry.”
Osborn and Martell both began the day running with the first-team unit. Williams was the next on the field, followed by Perry last among the three quarterbacks seriously contending to start against the Florida Gators next month in Orlando.
All three quarterbacks, however, got chances to run with the first team throughout Friday and will continue to get opportunities with the starter through the early weeks of training camp. The early depth chart is based largely on performances in offseason conditioning and coach Manny Diaz doesn’t plan to have a starting quarterback picked until after Miami’s second scrimmage later in the preseason.
“Everybody took snaps with the ones, which will be the way that it works through the next two and a half weeks,” Diaz said Friday. “It’s easy to try to make an assessment based off of one practice or one drill, or one throw or whatever, and I think they all probably showed that they’re all good enough and I think they all probably made a mistake. You could make a case any way you wanted to after Day 1.”
Miami begins search for backup linebackers
No spot on the Hurricanes’ roster has a more reliable set of starters than linebacker.
No position on the roster, however, has a more unproven group of reserves than linebacker.
Miami lost most of its depth throughout the spring and summer as linebackers Waynmon Steed, Bradley Jennings and Patrick Joyner Jr. all went down with injuries. While no timeline has been indicated for Joyner’s absence, Steed’s and Jennings’ injuries have been referred to as “long-term” concerns. None of the three practiced Friday. Linebacker Shaquille Quarterman can’t even begin to predict who could be some of the reserves’ replacements.
“Considering that this is the first day, I have no idea,” Quarterman said Friday. “We’re all just trying to prove that we belong to be here, so everybody’s working hard. The freshmen are grasping the playbook pretty well, so we’re just planning to build on that every day.”
The Hurricanes’ displayed a bit of creativity to make the numbers work Friday. Quarterman and Michael Pinckney started as the first-team traditional linebackers, but striker Romeo Finley started alongside them rather than linebacker Zach McCloud, who started most of the last three years. McCloud could potentially serve as a starting linebacker at one spot, and the primary backup to both Quarterman and Pinckney at the other two.
If McCloud sticks exclusively to linebacker rather than striker — the position he was listed at for the spring — Miami could leverage their better depth situation at striker to make do. Striker Gilbert Frierson, who moved from cornerback earlier this year, also saw some action with the starters Friday.