University of Miami

A true freshman to be Jarren Williams’ bodyguard vs. Gators. And what about backup QB?

University of Miami head coach Manny Diaz on Zion Nelson: Mature beyond his years

UM head coach Manny Diaz explains how the team will heavily rely on Zion Nelson to compete.
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UM head coach Manny Diaz explains how the team will heavily rely on Zion Nelson to compete.

There is no definitive No. 2 quarterback yet for the unranked University of Miami vs. the No. 8 Florida Gators.

Or, maybe more accurately, there are two No. 2 quarterbacks.

And one of the players vying for the backup job, redshirt sophomore Tate Martell, is not considered a receiver — at least not yet, according to UM coach Manny Diaz.

Diaz revealed the first Hurricanes’ depth chart of the season Monday for the 7 p.m. Saturday opener at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, and what initially stands out is there’s an “or’’ between the names of Martell and N’Kosi Perry at backup quarterback.

“Tate might be our second quarterback,’’ Diaz said, when asked if Martell could potentially play wide receiver, where he practiced last week. “So it’s hard to have him play another position when he may be our next guy in.”

He indicated that should Martell not win the backup job, his playing receiver “would be up to Tate, but we’re going to do whatever we can to get our best personnel on the field the best way to help us win a game.’’

The second thing that stands out on the initial depth chart is how young this offense is, in particular the offensive line and its two starting tackles. Both tackles will be making their first starts Saturday.

Left tackle Zion Nelson, who weighed 235 pounds last year as a high school senior in Sumter, South Carolina, is now officially the man who will be given the formidable task of being the on-field bodyguard for UM starting quarterback Jarren Williams.

Nelson, now a 6-5, 285-pound true freshman, will have opposite him at the other tackle spot John Campbell, a 6-5, 310-pound redshirt freshman who played in four games last season (Savannah State, FIU, Toledo and Pitt). Campbell is out of Orlando Dr. Phillips High, where he was a four-star/three-star prospect.

“John Campbell is a guy that has gotten better and better and and it was probably maybe the second scrimmage where he just took a step up,’’ Diaz said. “...John never looked out of place. We always thought that John is very talented. We have a young offensive line. We have guys we know will be really, really good and John has earned his spot.”

Has offensive coordinator Dan Enos ever had two players at tackle that young and making their first starts?

“I don’t know,’’ Enos replied. “I can’t answer that right off the bat. But both those guys are great players and just like Jarren, these guys are going to play very hard...Those guys are going to play well this week and they are going to continue to improve.’’

Another young offensive lineman is 6-3, 300-pound sophomore DJ Scaife at right guard. But Scaife, a former consensus four-star prospect who graduated from Miami Southridge, played in all 13 games last season and started seven of them.

At center, redshirt sophomore Corey Gaynor has played in 14 games over two seasons, with one start as a true freshman.

Other notable position battles on offense were at receiver, where the order is K.J. Osborn, Brian Hightower and Dee Wiggins at the X spot and Jeff Thomas, followed by Mark Pope at the Z. The starting slot man is Mike Harley.

On defense, Jon Garvin and Scott Patchan will start at the end spots, with Pat Bethel and Jonathan Ford at tackle. Virginia Tech transfer Trevon Hill backs up Patchan and redshirt freshman Greg Rousseau backs up Garvin. Another transfer, Chigozie Nnoruka (formerly of UCLA), is behind Ford and Jordan Miller backs up Bethel.

Another defensive battle that hasn’t been decided is the cornerback opposite Trajan Bandy, where Al Blades and DJ Ivey have an “or’’ between their names.

“We grade every single day,’’ defensive coordinator Blake Baker said Monday. “I think both guys can see reps throughout the game. Competition has made them both better.’’

At safety, where junior Derrick Smith announced recently that he left the team and entered the transfer portal, recently-arrived former USC player Bubba Bolden is behind sophomore starter Gurvan Hall.

“Bubba is very intelligent and he has experience,’’ Diaz said. “He’s picking it up...’’

Baker said the competition for starters also will continue on the defensive line.

Earlier in the day, Diaz spoke to WQAM and spoke about the recent transfer situation of safety Smith and cornerback Nigel Bethel, who also announced he was leaving.

“Well, every situation is different,’’ Diaz said. “No two are the same. You have to treat all these guys as unique because they all are. We said this going in, that we were going to make competition king again here in our facility and on Greentree Field. … So different guys want to leave for different reasons. We wish them well but we move on with who we got.”

When asked if he foresees anyone not traveling to Orlando for the game based on rules violations, Diaz said, “We expect to have everyone there on Saturday.’’

UM was not included in the first AP Top 25 Poll of the season, though the Canes were fourth in the “others receiving votes’’ category, effectively making them No. 29. The Gators are No. 8, their same ranking in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll.

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