At their best, they are UM’s most dynamic players on each side of the ball. But the Ahmmon Richards and Shaquille Quarterman that Canes fans will see in 2018 will be better, different incarnations, they say.
Richards is finally healthy after assorted injuries, including a December meniscus tear, tarnished his sophomore year and limited him to seven games (24 receptions for 339 yards, three touchdowns).
Quarterman, meantime, believes he will be faster after shedding 17 pounds.
NFL decisions await both in December, but there is much to accomplish before.
“It always crosses my mind,” Quarterman said of possibly turning pro. “Fellow students to people working around campus ask. But I don’t think about it that often. I haven’t played my best ball yet. I don’t think I am at a place where I can say I’m out next year. I’m definitely not in a place to do that. I want to play as best as I can this year [and] if I play the way I know I can, there will be interest at the end of this year.”
Quarterman said he and fellow junior linebackers Mike Pinckney and Zach McCloud will talk after the season before making any decision on the NFL. None, at this point, has been rated a potential first-round draft pick by multiple draftniks and scouting services.
“We’re all the same mindset when it comes to are we going to leave this year,” Quarterman said. “We know there is no sense in trying to make a pre-determined decision when we haven’t put in enough work in yet.”
UM has challenged Quarterman to become more of a factor on third downs, and shedding weight should make him more fleet-footed when he’s covering running backs or tight ends.
“I’m 233 now and lighter; I will be way better,” he said this past week. “I was getting lighter last season before dealing with the disaster of the hurricane. I will still have the same pop I’m known for, but now I’m more precise. That will make a big difference. At the end of last year, I was back to 250. I knew I couldn’t play like that.
“Last year, I started the year at 240 but once those nine days of the hurricane came, where you had to eat whatever you had at the house, I came back at 245. And through the season you always add a couple pounds traveling and all that stuff.”
Since the end of last season, “I started eating smaller portions, stopped eating as much white bread. More vegetables.”
Quarterman and Richards both have had some pretty big names in their ears this offseason.
Quarterman – along with Pinckney and McCloud – continue to get regular input from former UM and NFL linebackers Jonathan Vilma, Jon Beason and D.J. Williams.
“Jon Vilma and Jon Beason are real sticklers on me and I love it,” Quarterman said. “They are always helping me out, always getting me better.
“I couldn’t even measure [the value of that]. When you’re dealing with people like that, legends to take time out of their day, to help you out, to give you words of encouragement, even if it is a five-minute conversation, it’s crazy. It’s because they see something in us, and I would never take that for granted.”
Richards, meanwhile, has cultivated a relationship with Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown, working out with his this summer. And Brown came up with an amusing nickname for him.
“Hamstring,” Richards said smiling.
“It’s funny, he was like, ‘You’re number 82,’” Richards said of their conversation. “He called me ‘hamstring’ because he heard about my injuries. We were doing hamstring stretching and exercises and that helped. He said, ‘Keep working, your time will come, you are a great player, just stay on top of your hamstring and the rest will take care of itself.’ That was nice coming from Antonio Brown.”
Richards also worked with Saints Pro Bowl receiver Mike Thomas in Hollywood and tried to observe nuances of how both Brown and Thomas play the position.
He said last year’s injuries, including a hamstring problems that limited his snaps, were “frustrating. It was lingering and I was trying to rush back from it. My family talked to me every day, saying my time is coming, trying to keep me encouraged.”
Richards believes it sells him short for people to merely expect him to get back to his elite freshman level (49 catches, 934 yards, 19.1 average).
“I wouldn’t say [you’ll see] the same Ahmmon as two years ago. I have a better understanding college football. I’m bigger, faster, stronger.”
NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein lists Richards eighth among 10 draft-eligible receivers to watch this season, adding: “When it comes to the traits and measurables that NFL scouts look for from a primary receiver, Richards certainly is not lacking. After bursting onto the scene with an explosive freshman season that With his size (6-1, 205, per school measurements), speed and experience, Richards is an intriguing [No. 1 receiver] type talent who might be flying under the radar just a bit.”
He could emerge as a first-round pick if he has a big year.
▪ Malik Rosier played well in Saturday night’s scrimmage, as Robert Knowles told Canesport’s Matt Shodell at a UM community service event on Sunday. “He’s way better, great - he’s looking safeties off, executing well, throwing the ball excellent with good accuracy,” Knowles said. “He’s way better from last year.”
Travis Homer, DeeJay Dallas, Lawrence Cager, Jeff Thomas and Jhavonte Dean (two interceptions) were among others who played well. Bubba Baxa made all three of his field goals.
UM has released no stats from the scrimmage.
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