Barry Jackson

This top prep quarterback is considering Hurricanes — expected to visit

Miami Hurricanes wide receiver Jeff Thomas is widely considered the most talented University of Miami player on offense.
Miami Hurricanes wide receiver Jeff Thomas is widely considered the most talented University of Miami player on offense. adiaz@miamiherald.com

A six-pack of UM notes on a Friday:

▪ Four-star Oregon-based quarterback Michael Johnson Jr. told Rivals.com that he will visit Miami, and the Hurricanes are very much in the mix for him.

Johnson, who will be a senior next season, told Rivals’ Adam Gorney that he also will visit Alabama and Mississippi. Johnson also is considering Oregon. His father Mike is an assistant coach with the Ducks under coach Mario Cristobal.

Among the reasons he likes Miami: his relationship with coach Mark Richt and quarterbacks coach Jon Richt.

“My relationship with coach Richt and his son Jon Richt has really grown, and I see myself in their offense,” he told Rivals. “If I go somewhere like that, there’s a whole lot of talent around you at all times so that’s a really big thing. I’m just excited to get down there and see how it is.”

Johnson told Canesport that UM is so serious about him that Jon Richt flew to Eugene on five or six consecutive weeks.

Rivals.com rates the 6-2 Johnson as the fourth-best dual-threat quarterback and the 122nd-best overall prospect in the 2019 class.

▪ The Hurricanes are eager to see their new freshmen receivers, with Brian Hightower and Daquris Wiggins set to participate in spring practice beginning next week and five-star Mark Pope and four-star Marquez Ezzard on the way this summer.

But they’re also interested in seeing the strides made by two very important pieces of last year’s receiver class — Jeff Thomas and Mike Harley Jr.

Thomas caught 17 passes for 374 yards, a 22-yard average, with two touchdowns — but departing Braxton Berrios has said — and coordinator Thomas Brown agrees — that Thomas’ “potential will skyrocket if he becomes an incredible worker.”

Receivers coach Ron Dugans hopes to see a more polished player.

“With Jeff, he’s fast; he can run,” Dugans said. “The thing I had to teach him is to develop mentally. Understanding concepts. Everything can’t be out of control, straight running full speed. “The kid has done a really good job because he’s played multiple positions. He’s got really good hands consistently.”

Dugans said Thomas has increased his weight from 156 pounds a year ago to 180.

Brown said Harley, who caught nine passes for 91 yards as a freshman, is “one of the toughest guys we have.”

Dugans’ take on Harley: “Mike Harley works his tail off — quick, fast kid who [excelled] on bubbles and screens. I look for really good things out of both of those guys” — Harley and Thomas.

With Ahmmon Richards limited this spring off December’s knee surgery, Thomas and Harley will have every chance to make their case for starting jobs, in competition with older returning players Lawrence Cager, Dayall Harris and Darrell Langham and newcomers Hightower (who’s 6-3) and Wiggins (6-2).

▪ UM still has high hopes for Class of 2017 receiver Evidence Njoku, who sustained a season-ending knee injury in a practice last October and redshirted. His participation in spring will include rehab work.

“I just hope he can stay healthy,” Dugans said. “He’s got a lot of upside with his size [6-4], his length, his wingspan. He can jump. I have high expectations for him. He’s really raw. Once I have a chance to work with him on an everyday basis, he has a chance to [thrive].”

▪ Who will be in slot with Berrios graduating?

“It’s possible a guy like Jeff Thomas who has played the slot,” Dugans said. “Dayall Harris has played the slot.”

▪ Rivals.com rates UM’s 2019 class second nationally, behind only Georgia, partly because of volume; Miami’s 12 oral commitments are the most in the country. Only three of those 12 are four-star recruits; none are five stars.

Rivals had its recruiting analysts answer this question:

“Did Miami jump on too many fringe prospects too early? Or will we see a lot of those players move up in the rankings with an impressive offseason leading into their senior years?”

Rob Cassidy answered thusly on Rivals.com: “I know nuance doesn’t play well on the Internet, but it’s probably a mix of both. Some players will rise in the rankings and some won’t. And, if we’re being extremely honest, Miami’s coaching staff could also have a change of heart and pull offers when it comes to some guys. It’s an uncomfortable truth, but it happens. 

“Of course it’s important that Miami locks up South Florida. It’s how the Hurricanes built their top-five class last cycle and they seem to be doing a pretty good job of holding off the other two in-state powers.”

Rivals’ Mike Farrell siad this: “It’s a little risky to fill up that early, but a lot of those guys will end up being ranked higher. We’ve had three true evaluation cycles, and I believe we have four more. We have big ones, too, with the spring and then the football season.

“Right now, it’s sort of a paper class. It’s ranked high because it has a lot of kids in it, but the average star ranking isn’t that great. If I’m a Miami fan, I’m not worried about that. That star ranking will go up.”

▪ After adding two high-end tight ends in this recruiting class, UM is in hot pursuit of Lakeland-based four-star Keon Zipperer. He also has offers from Alabama, Clemson and others but told Canesport that UM is recruiting him the hardest.

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