The Hurricanes have four rookie receivers or cornerbacks in NFL training camps – and three of them were drafted (Stacy Coley, Corn Elder, Adrian Colbert).
But UM actually appears stronger at receiver and corner than a year ago. And that’s saying something.
Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz talks about how dramatically different – and thus more difficult to defend – UM’s offense will be with its infusion of speed at receiver.
“I agree with that 100 percent,” quarterback Malik Rosier said. “We had speed before, but I don't think we had this much speed. Coach [Mark] Richt is very big on stretching the field, making the defense cover the whole field and not just portions of the field.”
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That speed infusion starts with freshmen Jeff Thomas and Mike Harley.
Thomas, playing mostly in the slot, “reminds me of a shiftier Phillip Dorsett,” Rosier said. “Whenever you see him run, he’s blowing by guys. There was one time this camp where he caught a quick pass, made two guys miss, headed down the sidelines and scored and you're like, ‘Wow, that guy's fast.’ It was a 55-yard touchdown run. Me and coach Richt were like: 'This kid is going to be good.'
Thomas calls NFL star Odell Beckham Jr. “a big role model for me. I look up to him. I try to play like him, like Kobe Bryant did with Michael Jordan.”
Harley, who patterns himself after Antonio Brown and Travis Benjamin, runs a 4.38 in the 40 and has thrived beating cornerbacks on the boundary.
“Harley is going to give the ACC headaches,” cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph told WQAM on Tuesday.
And here’s the thing, Rosier notes: With elusive Braxton Berrios, Harley, Thomas and returning star Ahmmon Richards, expect those four to catch “short slants and short balls” and turn them into long gains, Rosier said.
Receivers coach Ron Dugans marvels at the possibilities.
“You are like, ‘OK, we got faster.’ and then you see it in person and it is like, ‘Dang,’” he said. “You see them run and it is like, ‘Whoa.’ With Thomas 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. A lot of times you will have a really fast guy that will struggle catching the football. Thomas is not one of those guys.”
Throw in DeeJay Dallas (“Mike and Jeff are burners,” he said. “I'm not as fast as those guys. I have decent speed. I'm not the fastest, but if it's up in the air, I'm going to go get it”).
Then add Dayall Harris, Dionte Mullins and Darrell Langham (his offensive coordinator says he’s the offense’s most improved player), and the upshot is “you will see a lot of receivers rolling in and out” to wear out other teams, Rosier said. “You are going to have fresh legs coming in that can run.”
The obvious key is finding a quarterback able to get them the ball. But any of UM’s QB competitors should be able to do that on short throws, at the very least.
At corner, Rosier said there’s no dropoff at all from Elder/Colbert, because Dee Delaney has been looking like a top-12 cornerback NFL prospect (as CBS has projected), and newcomers Trajan Bandy, Jhavonte Dean and improved Malek Young and Michael Jackson have impressed.
“The story in the secondary right now has been the development of Dee Delaney,” Diaz said.
Rosier notes how “Trajan is technically sound. Malek Young is fast, great ball skills. You watch Dean run, he looks like a gazelle. His stride is so long. And he doesn't get tired.”
But with Dean, cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph said he’s “just waiting on his physicality. He’s picking things up pretty good. Everything’s starting to slow down for him. But I just haven’t seen him make that big hit yet, or show he can get a guy on the ground. That’s where he needs to graduate to. If you know the Hurricanes defense, you know we’re going to tackle. He’s getting close, but he’s not there yet.”
It’s unclear if there will be a dropoff at safety, where UM lost draft picks Rayshawn Jenkins and Jamal Carter.
Rosier insists there won’t be; Jaquan Johnson and Sheldrick Redwine are running with the starters and Rosier said Redwine is UM’s most improved defensive player.
“Sheldrick is the one who gives us our most trouble out of all of them,” Rosier said. “He's very good disguising.”
• Most improved player on offense? Freshman right guard Navaughn Donaldson, Rosier said.
“His growth from the spring to now is ridiculous,” Rosier said.
“In spring, they were telling him where to go. Now he's telling them where to go.”
He dropped his weight from 386 to 342 since January.
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