Barry Jackson

Here’s one of the particularly difficult decisions facing the Hurricanes’ coaching staff

A six-pack of Canes notes on a Wednesday:

Even with Ahmmon Richards temporarily sidelined by a knee injury, it’s still challenging for receivers coach Ron Dugans and coach Mark Richt to divvy up snaps among a talented group.

Jeff Thomas and Lawrence Cager are assuredly going to play; Thomas has been UM’s most dynamic player through two weeks.

Mike Harley Jr. and Darrell Langham (needed to fill in for Richards) warrant playing time. So does impressive freshman Brian Hightower.

That’s five.

So who then should get any remaining snaps among emerging redshirt freshman Evidence Njoku and talented freshmen Mark Pope, Daquris Wiggins and Marquez Ezzard?

“It is tough,” Dugans said. “… I’ve been in this situation before. It’s a little tougher now because you’ve got those four games where you can throw a kid in [before he loses his redshirt under new NCAA rules]. If you’ve got a kid who has played four games already, and the fifth game, you may need him and it may only be for one rep. You’ve got to make sure you’re not screwing the kid. We talk about it as a staff and make sure we make wise decisions.”

Hightower received significant snaps in the LSU opener and Wiggins received a few. Both of them, Pope and Ezzard all got offensive snaps in the blowout of Savannah State.

So who among Pope, Wiggins and Ezzard most warrants playing time?

“These guys are making it tough because all three of those guys made a play [Tuesday] at practice,” Dugans said. “Wiggins made multiple plays. Ezzard ended practice catching a flag route. He just dove for it. Pope is doing a good job also. I really can’t say which one of those guys will be in.

“I plan on playing all of those guys. I am not going into the rest of the season saying I may redshirt this guy or that guy. In football there’s attrition. You might need them all.”

Even as good as Thomas was last year, people are raving about his improvement this year.

“The biggest thing Jeff got better at is his releases,” quarterback Malik Rosier said. “Sometimes I felt like last year he just tried to run by people and he’s fast enough to do it. When you got guys like Michael Jackson, Trajan Bandy, guys that can run with him, he has to do a good job of releasing. You’ll see him now; he’s creating five, 10, 15 yards separation on our DBs, which I feel is the best area he’s improved on.”

Dugans put it this way: “I couldn’t coach his speed. He’s fast. I told him how to manage his speed and the tempo of the game.”

The other key, Dugans said, “was becoming a student of the game, learning from Braxton Berrios, myself making cut ups of Berrios and [Stacy] Coley and different guys. It was more development in the classroom than on the field.”

Dugans said Langham has done enough to earn more playing time. Even after his enormous late-game plays last year against FSU and Georgia Tech, his snaps sometimes were limited.

“He has done some things to move forward,” Dugans said. “Every now and then he may take a step back. It goes back to the mental part of it. For the most part, he’s done a good job high-pointing the football. He’s got to get more physical in the run game.”

Not only have freshmen tight ends Brevin Jordan and Will Mallory continued to progress on the field, but they came across as poised and mature during interviews in recent days.

“The big thing you see from them is confidence,” Rosier said. “I remember them coming out here the first day of fall camp, they were all frustrated because they were missing plays and making mistakes. I’m like, ‘Bro, you just got here. You’re fine.’ And you see them now.”

Mallory and Jordan have spoken privately about what they want to accomplish at UM.

“It’s a special situation,” Mallory said. “We both committed and started texting each other and then we met in person and it just kind of clicked like that. Every time from then, when we saw each other, we kept getting closer and closer. Now we do everything together. I would say we’re pretty close.... We want to be some of the great tight ends that come through here … We want to leave our mark here.”

So how do they handle competing?

“I think we both look at it as it’s a good opportunity for both of us to push each other and improve,” Mallory said.

Jordan was the first to congratulate Mallory after Mallory’s touchdown reception against Savannah State.

“It was awesome,” Mallory said. “I wouldn’t want anyone else to be the first one to come and celebrate with me.”

Mallory has studied 2016 UM tape of how the Hurricanes used David Njoku. He’s playing a similar role.

“When [tight ends and special teams coach] Todd Hartley started recruiting me, he kind of pitched to me that same thing of [being] a Njoku type,” Mallory said. “Every time I tune in, the person I’m keying on is David Njoku and he just happened to be a first-round [draft pick], too.”

He said he has had only one interaction with Njoku – on Mallory’s recruiting trip to UM.

UM’s DeeJay Dallas, when asked about the excitement in Toledo over Saturday’s game: “We’re built to crush dreams. That’s what we do.”

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