Barry Jackson

Hurricanes begin spring practice by making changes on offensive side of the ball

UM coach Mark Richt watched quarterbacks and receivers closely during UM’s first spring practice session Tuesday.
UM coach Mark Richt watched quarterbacks and receivers closely during UM’s first spring practice session Tuesday.

A six-pack of UM notes from the first day of spring football on Tuesday:

• UM’s first-team offensive line featured two new starters Monday – and both were players who weren’t much of a factor last season.

Jahair Jones, who played mostly special teams in nine appearances last season, opened at left guard. George Brown, who played in just three games last year, opened with the first group at right tackle.

UM must replace departing starters Kc McDermott at tackle and Trevor Darling at guard.

Tyree St. Louis moved from right tackle to left tackle to begin team drills, with center Tyler Gauthier and right guard Navaughn Donaldson at the same positions they played last year.

Offensive coordinator Thomas Brown said Jones and Brown lining up with the starters was the byproduct of two factors – they have improved as players and they excelled in the team’s grueling offseason matt drills.

“George is a big athletic man,” Brown said. “He's a bit more consistent. He had some really good plays at times, some not so good plays at times. Jahair is one of the strongest guys we have up front. Does a really good job with his hand placement and moving his feet. Just trying to give him a chance to win a job.”

Jones chose UM over Ohio State and Virginia as a three-star recruit out of ASA College in 2015. But he redshirted in 2015 and played in only one game in 2016.

Brown didn’t play as an LSU freshman in 2015, then sat out 2016 after transferring to UM. He didn’t get meaningful playing time last year. Rivals ranked him as the 199th best player in the 2015 class.

Gauthier said Brown "is a lot different kid from the fall… His footwork is really good."

The second team offensive line, from left to right, featured tackle Kai-Leon Herbert, early enrollee/guard Delone Scaife, center Corey Gaynor, guard Hayden Mahoney and redshirt freshman tackle Zalon’tae Hillery.

Richt has said Donaldson will move from guard to tackle only if there’s a pressing need.

Gauthier said Donaldson has "lost weight" and is "moving a little quicker."

• Safeties Derrick Smith and Romeo Finley lined up at SAM linebacker, and linebacker Terry McCray practiced with the defensive ends, but coach Mark Richt said none of the three had switched positions.

Regarding Smith and Finley, “we have what everybody else in America calls nickel,” Richt said. “Nickel is five DBs. They are playing a defensive back position out over the No. 2 receivers or the slot. So if we were in our base defense, they wouldn't be in the game in that position. But in nickel, they play the SAM linebacker.”

• Everyone has been impressed with five-star running back Lorenzo Lingard, an early enrollee.

“You watch his high school highlight tape, he's a pretty good football player,” Brown said.

“He's full of energy. Goes full speed all the time. Got to get him to slow the game down and process a little bit slower and control his body. He can be out of control at times. I would much rather have a guy that goes too hard all the time than a guy who I got to kick in the butt to try to get harder. There's obviously a learning curve right now.

“He's the only new guy in my room right now. I have two more guys coming in the summer time - Realus [George] and Cam [Davis] will be here in the summer time and I look forward to have those guys from a depth standpoint.”

• Rosier cited three early enrollees who have impressed him:

“Lorenzo definitely stands out. You can tell he’s fast, he’s explosive, and once he figures out what he’s doing on every play, he’s going to be a freak.”

Then he mentioned cornerback Gilbert Frierson and safety Gurvan Hall.

“Gilbert’s going to be really good,” Rosier said. “So is Gurvan Hall. Those guys, even in the secondary, just running balls down. There was one play where the guy was open and you see him just, how do you say it, like .. there was a lot of grass and he collapsed that grass and I mean, I think he just dove and knocked the ball away. So I mean, he’s doing a great job and those defensive players are going to be really good."

• Brown gathered his offense before practice and made clear he wants this team "to be more player led. Every single year we've got a lot of talented guys. We've got a lot more depth now. If we're not led from within from a player's standpoint, it will be hard for us” to be what UM wants to be.

• Gerald Willis and Jon Ford opened with the first group at defensive tackle and Gautheir said there’s "not that much of a drop" in talent from Kendrick Norton and Richard McIntosh to the troika of Willis, Ford and Pat Bethel.

"Ford is a big dude that can stuff the middle," Gauthier said.

• Ballyhooed incoming freshmen tight ends Brevin Jordan and Will Mallory, both summer arrivals, can’t get here soon enough.

Michael Irvin Jr. and Brian Polendey, the only two scholarship tight ends participating in spring practice, still have work to do. Polendey dropped multiple passes in the brief period open to the media and Irvin dropped one.

Here’s my Tuesday post with a full report on how each of the quarterbacks did today and introspection/insight from Rosier.

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