Barry Jackson

A change for two of UM’s super sophomores. And Canes notes

Miami Hurricanes receiver Jeff Thomas (4) tries to catch a pass as Pitt Panthers cornerback Daniel Jackson (11) defends him in a game last November. Thomas has drawn raves this offseason.
Miami Hurricanes receiver Jeff Thomas (4) tries to catch a pass as Pitt Panthers cornerback Daniel Jackson (11) defends him in a game last November. Thomas has drawn raves this offseason. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

A six-pack of Hurricanes notes on a Friday, as we approach the opener against LSU (7:30 p.m, ABC):

Everyone at UM knew last year that sophomore Jeff Thomas had the talent to become an elite receiver.

The question that players and coaches had was whether he would embrace the preparation and the work needed to become an elite receiver.

“I said Jeff would be great coming in,” departing receiver Braxton Berrios said last winter. “His potential will skyrocket if he becomes an incredible worker.”

Offensive coordinator Thomas Brown told me last December that Thomas had a “ways to go” in that regard.

Thomas took all of that heart and clearly has made progress. He said he has become a diligent studier of film and he believes that will help him all season.

“As a route runner, I am 10 times better at it now,” he said. “I get to my depth [in sync with] with the quarterback’s timing. Studying helped me get to where I am.”

He credits Berrios for helping him cultivate a work ethic.

“Braxton taught me everything,” Thomas said. “In away games, we would hang together and he would help me out. Braxton is a big role model.”

Thomas, as a freshman, caught 17 passes for 374 yards, a 22-yard average and two touchdowns — but UM wants much more.

“Some of the issues sometimes is guys have been able to get away with certain things in high school, and I’m not knocking his high school program, but certain guys have to understand how to work at a certain level,” Brown said. “He has all the physical skills to be a great player, has got great speed, great change of direction, great ball skills.”

And Brown and UM coaches have seen an improved maturity and work ethic. He should be one of the Canes’ three most dangerous weapons on offense and is expected to start against LSU.

Both left tackle Tyree St. Louis and sophomore right tackle Navaughn Donaldson have been studying tape of the same player: Dallas Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith.

“I’ve looked at Tyron Smith and even when the Dolphins play, I look at their tackles,” said Donaldson, who shifted from guard to tackle in March.

“When an NFL game is on, I’m focusing on the right tackle, what type of steps he’s taking, just looking at everything.”

Donaldson said he’s content at right tackle but would have been happy to stay at guard, too.

“I’m learning every day,” he said.

UM receiver Ahmmon Richards, on how he’s handling UM’s recruitment of his brother, uncommitted four-star running back Marc Antony Richards:

“Of course I want him to come here,” Ahmmon Richards said. “But when I was going through the process, no one forced me to go anywhere. I will be happy if he comes. I will nag him a little bit and then back off because it’s a fine line. I’ve told him to just enjoy the process, because it’s once in a lifetime.”

FYI: One thing Richards has noticed with Malik Rosier: “He’s fed up with people talking about him. He has a lot to prove. He’s more demanding. Whether it’s in the weight room, he may say, ‘Get on the gripper,’ little things like that. Wasn’t stuff I had seen him do before.”

Not only does UM appreciate sophomore DeeJay Dallas’ speed, versatility and unique skill set, but the Canes also appreciate his ability to adjust to the position yo-yo they had him on during his freshman season.

He arrived as a 210-pound running back early in 2017 and was told to drop weight when the Canes moved him to receiver because of depleted depth. So he dropped to 195 “by game three and we said we changed our mind and decided to play you at running,” Mark Richt relayed on WQAM’s Hurricane Hotline this week.

Dallas said “Ok, coach. I will start eating cheeseburgers.”

Dallas finished last season at 205 pounds and is now 220.

“He’s a bigger back, got great balance, good ball skills,” Richt said. “Versatile guy. Trayone Gray right now would be the next guy in the game [after starter Travis Homer and Dallas].”

Fox’s Robert Smith, the former Ohio State standout, offers this warning about the Hurricanes: They were “plus 13 in turnover ratio [fifth-best in the country last year]. That’s really hard to reproduce. We saw what happened when they didn’t win the turnover ratio the last three games last year and they lost all three games.”

It has been a quiet preseason statistically for several Hurricanes rookies: Cincinnati’s Mark Walton (just 21 yards on 22 carries), New England’s Berrios (one catch, three yards), Carolina’s Kendrick Norton (three tackles in four games) .

Chris Herndon didn’t have a catch in preseason for the Jets but reportedly might start at tight end for them. The Giants’ R.J. McIntosh has missed time after a medical procedure.

Most teams haven’t cut to 53 players yet, but two Canes were released Friday: Ladarius Gunter by Carolina and Kacy Rodgers II by the Jets, where his father is defensive coordinator.

Hurricanes freshman wideout Jeff Thomas talks about his 78-yard touchdown and 101-yard day against UNC on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017.

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