UM receiver Jeff Thomas talks about his play
Hurricanes notes on a Wednesday:
Just six weeks ago, UM had just two offensive players committed for next season: receiver Jeremiah Payton and tight end Larry Hodges.
How things have changed since.
The Canes have added their highest-rated quarterback since 2003 (Tate Martell), a left tackle who was being pursued by Oklahoma (Tommy Kennedy), a skilled veteran receiver from Buffalo who should play a lot (K.J. Osborn), a former Mr. Alabama running back via Auburn (Asa Martin) and three freshmen offensive linemen (Jakai Clark, Adam ElGammal and Zion Nelson).
And, oh yes, they also brought back the team’s most dynamic offensive player from a year ago, previously dismissed receiver Jeff Thomas.
Some feedback on the new players:
▪ UM player personnel director Matt Doherty, speaking on WQAM’s Hurricane Hotline on Tuesday, said of Osborn, who’s eligible to play in 2019: “You talk about a guy who has proven himself from a productivity standpoint, he had nearly 900 yards receiving last year and caught seven touchdowns and over 50-plus balls. He is walking in the door with some credibility.
“Also a thing that will strike you about K.J. is the maturity he sets forth. He is a guy that was out here before everybody else. He is constantly in the indoor facility working out in some way, shape or form. He’s already earned the guy’s respect and will be a great example for some of the younger guys.”
▪ Doherty, on welcoming back Thomas: “Another one you can’t overstate the significance of adding a player the caliber of Jeff Thomas here. That is another one that is pretty well documented, everyone knows what he is capable of and we are excited to see what he looks like in this new offense.”
▪ Doherty, on Payton: “A lot of people stopped talking about him because he committed to us so early in the process. He kind of didn’t get the fanfare that I thought he was due, but he left the Under Armour practices in Orlando as maybe the best receiver of the bunch. Haven’t seen him put on pads and run around yet, but we know what we have in him. He is a big-time player.”
▪ New Ohio State coach Ryan Day said in November, when he was offensive coordinator, that even with having a starter in Dwayne Haskins who was perhaps the best quarterback in the country, the reason Ohio State was comfortable using a package for Martell — including first-half red zone appearances in November — is because he started practicing better in October.
“Ball security has been better, decision-making is better,” Day said of Martell in November. “When you practice well, you have a tendency to play well, and that’s what happened [with Martell]. He can beat you with his feet and beat you with his arm, and that’s what makes him a special player.”
But Day reportedly saw Georgia transfer Justin Fields as a better fit for his pass-happy offense than Martell.
Former coach Urban Meyer has called Martell “an elite competitor.”
In Ohio State’s 62-39 win against Michigan in last season’s regular-season finale, Ohio State ran on all four of Martell’s plays in the game — including two carries by Martell — and gained four combined yards.
But Meyer said afterward that Martell wasn’t to blame. “It’s certainly not his doing,” Meyer said. “He’s as competitive as guy as you’ve got. I’m a Tate Martell fan, so I’m pushing it real hard. I want him in the game.”
And Martell did run the ball well against Rutgers (8 carries for 95 yards).
Incidentally, all of Martell’s 28 passing attempts at Ohio State came in games last September: 3 for 4 for 33 yards against Oregon State, 10 for 10 for 121 yards and a TD against Rutgers and 10 for 14 for 115 yards against Tulane.
He appeared in three games after that — against Michigan State, Maryland and Michigan — and only ran the ball (four times for 7 yards).
▪ Doherty on Martin, who has appealed to be eligible to play in 2019: “You are getting a guy that was a top-10 back nationally in 2018. He is prototype in terms of what a NFL back looks like these days. He is 5-11 plus and he walks in the door at over 200 pounds and that will go up with his involvement in our weight room.
“Something that sticks out with him is his vision, balance, run between the tackles. Also yards after contact. He is a tough runner and is going to get us tough yards. He is a three down back and we are going to work with him on his pass protection. … He comes in with a ton of talent and a ton of upside. And he is young. If we don’t have him for this season we will have him for three [seasons regardless].”
▪ Doherty on Kennedy: “Tommy is really athletic. That is the thing that sticks out about him, sold us on him during the recruiting process. He is a really good foot athlete. He moves really well for a big guy. He has a true tackle skill set with his length and ability to pass set. We have to work on getting him stronger in the weight room. He has looked good this past week. We’ll get Jakai Clark, Adam ElGammal and Zion in here right now. It’s all about building depth, not having to thrust Zion into the (fire) right away, have time to develop him.”
▪ Former offensive coordinator Thomas Brown (who’s now the running backs coach at South Carolina) on Hodges, who’s signed but not yet enrolled: “Larry can do so much; he can be an inline tight end, can play off the ball, can move to H back but also flex out wide and do some stuff in the receiving game standpoint. Really good route-runner, really good ball skills. Tough dude.”
Doherty indicated that UM’s success with the transfer portal was a carefully crafted strategy by coach Manny Diaz.
“The approach to transfer acquisitions — one thing that stood out to me about [Diaz] is he’s very keyed in on things that are patterns before they become full-blown trends,” Doherty told Joe Zagacki on Hurricane Hotline. “For years he’s been talking about this transfer landscape in college football is going to explode, become full-blown free agency. Sure enough you’ve seen that happen by the day … the fact we were prepared for that is a testament to coach Diaz.”
▪ Former UCLA five-star defensive end/linebacker Jaelan Phillips (4.5 sacks in 10 college games) was still working with Canes coaches on Wednesday to confirm an upcoming visit to UM. He would be another big addition if Miami can land him. He’s very interested.
▪ Word is Jaquan Johnson has been his typical self in Senior Bowl practices, covering a lot of ground and playing physically. Fellow UM safety Sheldrick Redwine is also at the Senior Bowl and has a chance to be drafted.
▪ UM has sold 500 new season tickets and gotten a bunch of renewals since Diaz was named head coach.