UM offensive coordinator Thomas Brown looks at his offense and sees myriad reasons for optimism — considerable depth and talent at running back and receiver, two ballyhooed freshmen tight ends, an offensive line he believes will be deeper and a quarterback who has worked toward correcting his shortcomings.
In the first part of a four-part series on the Hurricanes’ offensive personnel, Brown assesses where UM stands at running back and tight end heading into Saturday’s first practice of camp:
Travis Homer is the unquestioned starter, a player who repeatedly displayed — after Mark Walton’s season-ending injury — that he’s far more than a specialist or a third-down back.
“When Mark got hurt, there were concerns if Travis could hold up, [but] we didn’t have those concerns inside the building,” Brown said in a phone conversation. “He has been as good if not better than what I thought. My concern was having someone behind him to create that competition.
“Travis has by far separated himself as the number one guy; he does everything from a three-down tailback standpoint, does well in pass protection.”
Brown said DeeJay Dallas has taken hold of the No. 2 job, ahead of Lorenzo Lingard, Robert Burns and summer arrival Camron Davis, with competition ongoing.
He said Trayone Gray will mostly play fullback, where he’s competing with newcomer Realus George.
The goal with Dallas, Brown said, is to get the ball in his hands “12 to 15 times” a game, through rushing attempts, receptions and punt returns. He also will play some receiver, Brown revealed.
“DeeJay is so versatile; we have to find more ways to get the ball in his hands,” Brown said. “Twelve to 15 times a game would be a good number [of touches] in some way. DeeJay and Travis separated themselves [from the others].”
Lingard, one of only two five-star players on the roster (along with freshman receiver Mark Pope), put on weight during the summer and now tops 200 pounds.
“The biggest thing with Lorenzo is learning what to do, knowing how to function in our offense and getting comfortable,” Brown said. “It’s putting it all together and slowing things down and getting out of his own way. Sometimes he tries to over analyze things; he got a lot better throughout summer workouts.”
Brown praised Burns, who did not have a rushing attempt last season and has been hampered by injuries throughout his high school career and first year at UM.
“He was our most improved tailback in the spring; he’s in position to elevate his status,” Brown said. “He is a big physical guy who can do a lot of things. He works his butt off.”
Davis arrived on campus less than a month ago, but Brown said, “I notice his versatility out of the backfield, how well he runs routes and catches the ball. He has great natural ball skills.”
George, considered the nation’s No. 1 fullback in the 2018 class, arrived on campus this summer, and Brown said he will reserve judgment on him until practice begins.
“I won’t know a thing about him until he puts pads on,” Brown said. “Trayone Gray will start camp as our starting fullback; he worked his butt off in spring time. Put on good solid weight. He has super fast straight line speed.”
Brown said the job is open but Michael Irvin Jr. “would be the starter [today] based on playing in a collegiate game.”
Irvin’s play has been uneven (my word, not Brown’s) since arriving at UM.
“It’s been the same thing with Michael since day one — being consistent, being competitive,” Brown said. “At times he shows flashes to be really good, at times he lacks those flashes. Competition lights a fire; he has had a really good offseason for the most part.”
Neither ballyhooed freshman tight end — Will Mallory nor Brevin Jordan — was on campus for spring practice, but Brown likes what he has seen during the limited hours when he’s permitted to watch them during the summer.
“The physical aspect you can’t really tell yet, but from a skill standpoint, running routes and catching ball, they are what we thought they would be,” Brown said. “Both are very confident. Brevin talks more. They got a ton of reps” in informal work with teammates this summer.
Brian Polendey, the fourth tight end on scholarship, remains a work in progress.
“Polendey has made some progress,” Brown said. “He’s a super charged effort guy. It’s about finding a niche for him.”
Blocking was considered his strength coming out of a Texas high school, but coaches have pushed him to be more powerful at the point of attack.