Ten things we’re hearing on UM’s offense entering Saturday’s opener against Bethune Cookman at Hard Rock Stadium (12:30 p.m., Fox Sports Florida):
• Mike Harley and Jeff Thomas are poised to play a lot, and UM is expecting big things from the speedy freshmen receivers. And I mean big things.
The speed of those two freshmen is going to make an enormous difference, UM people predict privately and players say publicly.
Both have shown an ability not only to make catches on fly patterns but catch short passes and make defenders miss for long gains. One UM person called them exhilarating in their yards after catch ability. Look for UM to play them together at times.
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Harley was named first-team Z receiver on the first depth chart; Thomas and DeeJay Dallas are either/or second team in the slot behind Braxton Berrios.
• Lawrence Cager, a likely starter Saturday if Ahmmon Richards’ hamstring injury sidelines him as expected, has impressed everyone with his diligence since returning from last summer’s major knee injury. Cager came back determined not only to work as hard as UM doctors and trainers would allow him but to improve his skills, also.
In closed practices, he has demonstrated an ability to make catches across the middle, grab balls in traffic and make himself a productive red zone target.
• What about Dionte Mullins? One UM official said he might have the best hands but worst concentration among the receivers. Talent isn’t a question but the hands aren’t reliable. He was great early in spring ball, then tailed off, and has been OK this fall.
• Hands also remain an issue, at times, for Darrell Langham, who nevertheless is much improved and caught a beautiful 60-yard deep ball from Malik Rosier earlier in camp.
Langham, at 6-4, has great size, but has a tendency to tip balls in the air – creating opportunities for interceptions – if he doesn’t make a clean catch.
• Throughout camp, Braxton Berrios has fully justified UM’s plans to expand his role on offense. One UM official said he can break tackles and pinball off defenders to turn short catches into first downs.
And DeeJay Dallas has continued to make plays at receiver, showing a knack for outjumping defenders. Dallas told me earlier this month that he is getting only about 12 percent of his work at running back.
• Starter Mark Walton had a good camp and remains the focal point of UM’s offense. As for his backups...
Travis Homer, No. 2 on the depth chart, is faster than Joe Yearby (who inexplicably left school early and is still unemployed) but doesn’t have the same instincts. Homer has speed and toughness but runs with too high a pad level at times and sometimes doesn’t make the best decisions in terms of taking the proper cut or angle, as one UM person put it.
• That UM person believes Robert Burns will clearly emerge as UM’s third-best back, if not second, once he’s fully cleared for game action after a summer of shoulder issues. Trayone Gray has size and speed but can’t seem to put it all together and generate much production.
• Despite tight end coach Todd Hartley’s public praise, one UM official remained skeptical of No. 2 tight end Michael Irvin Jr., saying he must show the conditioning and toughness that have been lacking during part of his UM tenure. At his best, he has the ability to catch passes across the middle.
UM coaches realized that positive reinforcement works better with Irvin than dress-downs.
• UM feels very good about starting tight end Chris Herndon (can do everything and doesn’t do much of anything if anything wrong, as one UM official said) as well as its starting offensive line: KC McDermott and Tyree St. Louis at tackle, Tyler Gauthier at center and Navaughn Donaldson and Trevor Darling at guard.
Darling has been much improved this month after performing inconsistently in spring ball. Gauthier has overcome the snapping issues that plagued him this past spring.
• UM is very high on this freshman class of offensive linemen. One UM official said Donaldson is even better than advertised, is polished, highly coachable and gives max effort on every play. Corey Gaynor could emerge as UM’s starting center in two years and backup left tackle Kai-Leon Herbert is going to be very good, that UM person said.
We got a lot of feedback on starting quarterback Malik Rosier that we’ll share in a column later this week. We’ll share 10 defensive nuggets on Tuesday. So please check back every day for UM content.
Here’s my story today on a candid Charles Harris discussing his lack of statistical production for the Dolphins so far. Here’s my updated story with what the Dolphins are telling Jarvis Landry and whether they’re making an offer.