Five-star players might be able to step on some campuses and be immediate starters. But that’s not the case at UM, where five-star Lorenzo Lingard and Mark Pope are competing merely to get offensive snaps as freshmen.
Pope remains in a four-way competition to start — he’s an underdog — but starting out of the gate won’t be happening for Lingard, who arrived on campus four months before Pope did.
Lawrence Cager has a slight lead over Pope and fellow freshman Brian Hightower (plus the loser of the Jeff Thomas/Mike Harley slot battle) for the starting boundary receiver job opposite Ahmmon Richards. Pope said Monday he has received no first-team snaps in practice.
But offensive coordinator Thomas Brown said Monday he expects Pope to help on offense this season: “No doubt. Very dynamic guy. From a talent standpoint, no question. Got to learn how to practice every day. He’s taken coaching well.”
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One reason, beyond the blazing speed, why Pope figures to get offensive snaps in September: “His routes are run really smoothly, almost like a Chad Johnson type of guy because of good footwork,” cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph said.
Pope, who attended Miami Southridge High, said he models his game after Atlanta Falcons rookie and former Alabama star Calvin Ridley: “The biggest transition for me has been speed of the game. I would like to play a lot this year.”
As for Lingard — who ran for 1701 yards and 26 touchdowns and averaged 8.2 per carry at University High in Orange Park last year — he’s no better than fifth on the running back depth chart (with freshman Camron Davis) behind starter Travis Homer, DeeJay Dallas, Trayone Gray and Robert Burns.
One problem, Mark Richt said, is that “Lorenzo really struggled early in pass protection - learning who to block, because it’s not that easy, and learning how to do it. He was getting knocked around a bunch, quite frankly. Then I saw him start to pick up a blitz or two. It was physical. He ran the ball with more power and finishing the runs like we finish.
“He did a couple of runs like he probably did in high school — where it didn’t look good and he wanted to spin around and run over there and out-run everybody, and you can’t do that in college. If you stop and spin around, you’re going to get a seven-yard loss. He is starting to learn to stick it in there, drive his feet and those types of things.”
But Lingard suggested Monday that UM doesn’t want him running totally instinctively.
“I’ve been taught to hit the hole full speed,” he said. “Now I have to take a stop, read and pretty much slow things down and for me that’s a big issue, because I’m like a rocket. I want to go 1000 miles an hour but I can’t. Pretty much it is about pacing.”
Can Lingard be patient this year if he doesn’t get much playing time?
“If I need to, yes,” he said. “There are some schools I could have gone to but I feel like Coach Brown was the hammer in the nail. He’s a tough coach, great coach ... We want to be on [Homer’s] level and be consistent.”
Lingard said he would have gone to Ohio State if he hadn’t chosen UM and is pleased he didn’t amid the internal investigation in the Buckeyes program after domestic violence charges against a former assistant coach.
Being a five-star player — the highest grade in Rivals.com’s evaluation system — comes with some level of prestige and pressure initially, but Pope and Lingard say it’s not weighing on them.
They’re only the third and fourth five-star players at UM this decade, following defensive end Chad Thomas (now with the Cleveland Browns) and cornerback Tracy Howard (who was released by the Dolphins this offseason and remains unsigned).
“All this hype around us is great but if we don’t know what to do, it doesn’t add up [to anything],” Lingard said.
Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz cautioned that past UM freshmen who begin the year as modest contributors often become much more than that weeks later, citing Jon Garvin, Malek Young and others.
“If you look at our history of developing freshmen the past few years, you see a lot of guys maybe not in September we’re featuring, but by October, November [they have an impact],” Diaz said. “I remember Ahmmon Richards taking games over in October in November [as a freshman].”
▪ Diaz said “depth at linebacker is better than it’s ever been. Mike Smith has really transformed himself. B.J. Jennings and Waymon Steed are really talented guys who should be able to go in the game and function the way our starters to. Having five or six [reliable] guys really helps us.”
▪ The second team offensive line has been, from left to right, D.J. Scaife, Venzell Boulware, Corey Gaynor, Cleveland Reed and Kai-Leon Herbert.
“We moved Scaife to left tackle, moved Venzell to left guard (from right) and Reed at right guard,” Richt said.
Richt said he thinks Boulware can “push” Jones a little bit for the starting role.
▪ Richt said of safety Jaquan Johnson that “half the time he’s playing in the box, being unblocked into the run game.”
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