A 10-pack of offensive and special teams nuggets from UM media day on Monday:
• Biggest surprises of camp?
“I think [freshmen receivers] Jeff Thomas and Mike Harley have been really good,” offensive coordinator Thomas Brown said. “I won’t say they’re surprises. We kind of expected those guys to come in and make an impact just because of their top-end speed and ball skills. I think Lawrence Cager has been pretty good coming back off the ACL injury. I would say Darrell Langham has probably been the biggest surprise. He has phenomenal size , not the top-end speed guy, but should be a physically dominating guy and he’s starting to play a lot bigger, as he should be. If I were that size, I’d be bullying DBs. He’s become more confident over the last year, being in Coach Dugans’ room. He’s probably been the biggest surprise of anyone so far, in my opinion.”
• Receivers coach Ron Dugans, with more on Thomas and Harley:
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“Jeff Thomas, early on you just put the ball in his hands and it was like wow with how fast and how quick he is. A lot of times you will have a really fast guy that will struggle catching the football. He is not one of those guys. With him and Harley, you just want to get the ball in their hands. We tried some things in the scrimmage to get one of those guys the ball just to see what they could do with the ball in their hands. Harley is a good route runner also, not just a reverse or a double screen guy. He has good ball skills also. Jeff came in really raw. Not knowing how to finish, not having to block as much in high school. Also his attention span. There is a lot of stuff he lacks coming out, but right now he hates not being out at practice. The sense of urgency has gotten better with him and I am just trying to teach him how to be a pro.”
• Backup tight end remains a concern. Who’s second-best behind Chris Herndon, among Michael Irvin Jr., Brian Polendy and walk-on Malik Curry?
“I would say no one right now, to be honest with you,” tight ends coach Todd Hartley said. “They’re all about the same. If Michael all had the reps that the rest of them had, I would think Irvin. But I can’t say that. He’s missed so much time right now. Brian has done a good job. Malik has done a good job. I’d say they’re all neck and neck.”
Hartley said Irvin is “very very intelligent, knows exactly what to do on what plays. Good hands, natural pass catcher.” But.. he said his conditioning is a problem and he needs to be able to play more than four or five plays in a row.
“He’s trying to be more consistent,” Brown said of Irvin. “Obviously missing that time, missing those reps affected him physically from being in shape, but also mentally, from always knowing what to do and know how to do it. I think there are some times we’ve had some really bright moments where he’ll make a block or catch a ball, but it’s not consistent. I think that’s the biggest part of missing the time and getting back in that groove. Hopefully he’ll be good for us.”
• Brown, on where the shaky backup running back situation stands:
“I would say Travis Homer has probably made the biggest jump from year one to year two. I think, not having to [play a lot] of running back last year, but being a core special teams player for us has gotten him ready for the game. But I think he’s always been a really, really tough football player. From a fundamental standpoint, he’s getting better, his vision is getting better. I think he’ll be a really good football player for us this year.
“I think Choc [Trayone Gray] is also better than he was before he tore his ACL. He’s still trying to work himself back in the best shape, not to say he’s in bad shape, but we play at a high tempo and I demand a lot of those guys. There’s no hesitation by him. He doesn’t slow down on contact. He’ll stick his foot in the ground with that knee. He’s good. And we’re trying to get Robert Burns to get more reps because I don’t really know who he is yet. I know what he can be, which is phenomenal. But I need to see it day in and day out.”
• There was no love expressed by offensive line coach Stacy Searels to Nick Linder, who caught UM off guard by quitting the team and saying he would play elsewhere next year as a grad transfer.
Asked about Linder, Searels said: “Here’s what I care about. I care about guys who are here, Corey Gaynor, Tyler Gauthier, who are doing a great job.”Did Linder’s departure catch you by surprise: “I’m really glad that Tyler Gauthier is here. Corey Gaynor is here and those kids are really willing to work.”
• UM is comfortable with its starting offensive line: Kc McDermott and Tyree St. Louis at tackle, Gauthier at center, and Trevor Darling and Navaughn Donaldson at guard.
But how much of a dropoff is there to the backups?
“There’s a lot of separation,” Searels said. “There’s a reasons there are ones. We don’t have enough depth. We’ve got to continue to recruit good players. We need more depth so there is more competition.”
• Mark Richt raved about Braxton Berrios today - “he has been phenomenal, a blocker, a [great] route runner in traffic” and his role in the offense is clearly going to expand.
“He leads by example,” receivers coach Ron Dugans said. “He goes out and he works. He is taking more pride in his route detail and just the detail in the offense, period. I think he has become a better blocker on the perimeter. He has also been in the slot more. Last year he was outside because we had Stacy Coley and Njoku in the slot. He told me he wanted to play slot and I was like, do you see who is inside? I think he is taking ownership in that and taking pride in being a really good inside lane guy. He is really taking pride in doing everything right in the offense.”
• Berrios is in line to retain punt return duties. Hartley called Berrios “one of the top returners in the country. He will make the right decision every time.
I need a guy I can trust who’s dependable and ready. He’s a machine.”
• What about kickoff returns? Hartley listed these four as in the mix: Travis Homer, Malek Young, Jeff Thomas and DeeJay Dallas. He said there’s no front-runner and might try different kick returners in the opener against Bethune Cookman but ultimately want to settle on one returner.
Among those, he said: “Thomas got God given explosiveness.Travis is sturdier. Malek can run.” And Dallas is highly athletic.
• Zach Feagles, son of the former UM standout punter, was expected to win the punting job from UF walk-on Jack Spicer, but Hartley said: “You lose one of the best punters in the country in Vogel and bring in Zach Feagles and think it’s Feagles’ job, but that’s what competion does. Jack Spicer has really eleveated his game. Both have had an unbelievable camp.”
Here’s my post today with tons of personnel insight from Manny Diaz about what he’s thinking on defense.