Barry Jackson

UM’s Diaz explains what he told Jeff Thomas. And Canes eye these positions for 2020

A six-pack of Canes notes on a Friday:

UM hopes that reinstated receiver Jeff Thomas shows more accountability and selflessness than he exhibited in his final weeks as a Hurricane before he was dismissed from the program Thanksgiving week.

But coach Manny Diaz said he’s not on a short leash, either.

“Jeff and I had a talk and I felt like at least I wanted to explain to him what it’s going to be like down here, how the program will be run, how the culture might be different,” Diaz said.

So will Thomas have a short leash?

“I think it’s unfair to say things like `Short leash,’” Diaz said. “What we told everybody at the first team meeting is `Everything is new.’”

Diaz said he is giving every player a clean slate and that “guys that don’t do right will not enjoy being around here.”

Diaz said he believes Thomas never wanted to leave UM and that he will give UM’s offense “a massive shot in the arm.”

New receivers coach Taylor Stubblefield has concluded this from his interaction with Thomas: “Jeff needs to trust you, and he also needs to trust himself that it’s OK to be great. Sometimes players don’t necessarily know how to handle that part. I’m very anxious to work with Jeff, really work with all my guys.”

In Thomas, Stubblefield sees a player whose “ability is through the roof. We all can see what he has the potential to be on tape. He shows flashes of someone extremely dynamic. He catches the ball clean and easy, puts his foot in the ground, makes sharp cuts. … to be able to catch a slant going on a 45 degree angle, catch it, tuck it and head north within one or two steps, that’s hard to do. Other guys it might be one, two three before they get north. Jeff has the ability to catch it and get north quick. That’s tough to do.

“The measurable of quickness and speed, he’ll test well in that. The flashes are there. We want to make sure he’s a true hurricane, not just a lightning storm.”

Stubblefield mentioned Mark Pope, Dee Wiggins and Brian Hightower among receivers that have “the potential to be great players.”

Stubblefield said Mike Harley “is an inspirational dude, kind of the heartbeat of the group, the pulse. He’s a leader, guys want to follow him. He has some intangible things he has in his back pocket that are pretty good and he has a chance to be dynamic as well.”

Diaz said of receiver K.J. Osborn, the Buffalo transfer: “K.J. has already established with his work ethic on our campus the past month, off-the-charts competitiveness. K.J. is a guy that just sets the tone.”

UM player personnel director Matt Doherty said “linebacker and defensive end will be a major focus” of the 2020 recruiting class.

“It will be defensive intensive,” he said. “I don’t want to say the whole front seven because we kind of hit paydirt in the interior of the defensive line” with defensive tackles Jason Blissett, Jared Hunte and Jalar Holley in this 2019 class.

[UPDATE: Doherty was dismissed by UM on Friday.]

Where does this roster need more? “You can never have enough offensive line or age at any position,” Doherty said.

Are there a bunch of good names left in the transfer portal?

“Definitely,” Doherty said. “I wouldn’t say it’s a vast pool of players that we could scoop any one and instantly be better. It’s a virtual certainty there will be more attractive options between now and every school end period.”

UM was content adding only two linebackers in this class (Avery Huff and Sam Brooks) partly because it likes Waymon Steed, Bradley Jennings Jr. and DeAndre Wilder, who are being groomed behind senior starters Shaquille Quarterman, Mike Pinckney and Zach McCloud.

“Sometimes you pursue targets that you don’t get,” Doherty said. “You have a set idea how many you want to carry at each position. When you go over, you’re robbing from other position groups. As far as the linebacker situation, we really like the young guys we have, like a Steed, like a Jennings. We have fluidity with identity for the linebacker position in the program with the [addition of the] striker [position last year]. We have guys that are really flexible.”

These players appear highly motivated to make an impression on the new staff.

Diaz said 65 players have done optional workouts in the past week, a number that continues to grow.

“We want to create a culture where guys want to be in this building,” he said. “Everyone has a good attitude, is trying to do right.”