Barry Jackson

Two UM defensive players switch positions and another emerges as training camp surprise

University of Miami defensive tackle Tito Odenigbo (94) sits in an ice tub during the first day of fall training camp at the Greentree Practice Field a week ago. Odenigbo, a transfer from Illinois, has been the surprise of training camp, according to defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.
University of Miami defensive tackle Tito Odenigbo (94) sits in an ice tub during the first day of fall training camp at the Greentree Practice Field a week ago. Odenigbo, a transfer from Illinois, has been the surprise of training camp, according to defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. mocner@miamiherald.com

A six-pack of Canes notes on a Monday:

The Hurricanes, who began the offseason with five highly skilled defensive ends but no scholarship players beyond those five, have moved two linebackers to defensive end, defensive line coach Jess Simpson said Monday.

Simpson said freshman Patrick Joyner Jr. and senior Terry McCray have both shifted to defensive end.

They will provide depth beyond a talented top five of Joe Jackson, Jon Garvin, Demetrius Jackson, Gregory Rousseau and Scott Patchan.

Joyner, a four-star recruit from South Dade High, had 87 tackles and two forced fumbled last season and produced 15 sacks as a junior. He chose UM over offers from FSU, Alabama, Florida and Auburn.

Joyner, who’s list at 6-2 and 220 pounds, “has good get off on the edge, long arms and natural pass rush ability,” Simpson said.

McCray has played in only eight games in his UM career, including one last year. “He has speed and could help us on third down,” Simpson said.

The surprise of training camp so far? Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz points to defensive tackle senior Tito Odenigbo, the grad transfer from Illinois.

“He has jumped in and been outstanding for us,” defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. “We see him as a guy that will contribute early on. We are so thankful that he’s here.

“I can’t say enough about Tito. His presence in the first eight practices has transformed our defense from where it was in the spring. The way he works, his toughness, his ability. What he has put on tape… he has even exceeded our expectations of how well he has played and what he will provide for our defensive line.”

Odenigbo had 29 tackles and four sacks in 10 games for Illinois last season, including four starts.

In the wake of top quarterback target Michael Johnson Jr. committing to Penn State, quarterbacks coach Jon Richt said Monday that the Hurricanes are no longer pursuing any quarterbacks in the 2019 class.

“Right now we’re in a position where we don’t have to (take a QB in the ‘19 class),” Richt said. . “We have two redshirt freshmen and then Jarren (Williams), who is a freshman. And we have Malik (Rosier), who is a senior. I pray none of them leave because I like all of them, think they’re all really good players and are all going to play for us at some point. But if one of these guys decides to bolt then we have to start figuring out what’s going on.

“But right now the plan is we’re OK, in a good position, feeling good. If that changes you’ll see some action happening. Maybe not in the ’19 class, but maybe a graduate transfer or something like that. And in ’20 we can take two.”

Here is Mark Richt’s assessment of the freshmen receivers:

“I’ve got a lot of faith and confidence in [Brian] Hightower that he’s ready. He might not have even caught a ball [Saturday], I don’t even know…I don’t remember. But when I watch him practice every day, I know he knows what to do and I know he’s a physical blocker. He will catch the tough ball in traffic. I feel good about it.

“A guy like [Dee] Wiggins is getting there. Is he there yet? Maybe not. Of course Hightower was here in the spring - that helped him out. When [Marquez] Ezzard figures it out, he’s going to be a really good player. Is he ready today? Probably not. But he’s getting there – that’s why we practice.”

And everybody loves Mark Pope’s speed and how dynamic he has the potential to be.

Offensive coordinator Thomas Brown revealed that Trayone Gray is the No. 3 running back – for the moment – behind Travis Homer and DeeJay Dallas, with Robert Burns, Lorenzo Lingard and Cam Davis competing behind those three.

“The guy who has probably helped himself more than anybody this camp is Trayone Gray, as a fullback and he got some tailback reps, too,” Richt said. “He’s not done playing tailback here for us.”

After catching two touchdown passes in Saturday’s scrimmage, Lawrence Cager has taken a lead over Mark Pope, Brian Hightower and the loser of the Jeff Thomas/Mike Harley slot battle for the boundary receiver job opposite Ahmmon Richards.

“Right now, he’s probably ahead of the other guys, mostly because he knows what to do and made some plays for us in the scrimmage,” receivers coach Ron Dugans said. “Only thing I look for from Lawrence is being consistent. I’m excited. I hope he keeps getting better, which I know he will.”

Receiver Evidence Njoku is fully recovered from last October’s knee surgery and doing everything in practice.

“Evidence struggled this past week, made a couple of plays, had a deep ball that he caught,” Dugans said. “Went up high to go get it. He’s been kind of up and down.”

Njoku said unlike his brother – Cleveland Browns and former UM tight end David Njoku – “I see myself as a receiver, with my body type and long speed.”

Good news: For all of you who have been asking for a sports-only subscription to The Miami Herald ... we have convinced the bosses to give you one. For less than the price of a cup of coffee, you can now read all your Miami sports news. It’s available for only $30 a year or $2.50 a month or 8 cents a day.

Click here to sign up.

Related stories from Miami Herald

  Comments