Diaz: Our team isn’t far from competing for championships
A six-pack of Hurricanes notes on a Thursday:
▪ One concern heading into the summer, expressed by a couple of veteran Canes players, is the offensive line, where unproven players are in line to start at every position except Navaughn Donaldson.
We won’t know until the UM-UF opener whether this line can stand up to a skilled Southeastern Conference defensive front. But there is some worry internally, with one player expressing serious concerns to close associates.
One positive: Some UM people believe offensive line coach Butch Barry is going to get more out of this unit than Stacey Searels, who was dismissed and has resurfaced at North Carolina.
One reason: A UM staffer said Searels was too negative with his players and they felt beaten down by criticism. Barry is taking a different approach, an approach that coach Manny Diaz endorses after dismissing Searels.
Two guards on last year’s roster who had remaining eligibility — but left the program — could have helped: Hayden Mahoney (who decided to leave for Boston College even though he wasn’t pushed out) and Venzell Boulware (who turned pro early).
Boulware said he needed to turn pro for personal reasons but his pro career lasted two days — a rookie tryout with Denver after which he wasn’t signed.
Even though he had a bachelor’s degree, he would have been better off returning to UM, having the school pay for a master’s degree and potentially starting as a senior at one guard spot this season.
John Campbell said Wednesday that he’s competing with Zion Nelson for the left tackle job. But D.J. Scaife — who can play guard or tackle — remains a factor, likely to start at either tackle or guard. So does right tackle Kai Leon Herbert, with George Brown a less likely option.
Nelson said he was surprised he moved up quickly to first team left tackle late in spring ball. UM coaches love him.
Scaife or Cleveland Reed or Zalon’tae Hillery figures to start at guard opposite Donaldson. Corey Gaynor can handle center. A graduate transfer remains a possibility if the right one surfaces.
▪ At a recent Hurricane Club event in Jacksonville, Diaz said he thought the quarterback position was a real negative on Jan. 1 but now believes it’s a positive, because of the addition of offensive coordinator Dan Enos and Tate Martell and improvements made by N’Kosi Perry and Jarren Williams.
He reiterated that point in his Jacksonville radio interview with former Canes standout Leon Searcy.
“Our quarterback future, which I was thought was a weakness, I feel can be a strength of ours,” Diaz said. “We’ve got three guys that can win games at the University of Miami. It’s going to be a major battle this summer.”
▪ Diaz revealed at that Jacksonville event that even though Enos was his offensive coordinator choice all along, Enos actually called Diaz after Alabama’s playoff run to express interest in the UM job. Enos had offers from a half dozen schools.
▪ Diaz also said at that Jacksonville event that DJ Ivey was UM’s second-best cornerback this spring after Trajan Bandy. This should be an interesting competition this summer with Ivey, Al Blades Jr., Nigel Bethel and two players who enrolled last week – Christian Williams and Te’Cory Couch. Williams might be the best of the bunch.
▪ One UM official listed these among the positive changes that Gino DiMare has brought to the baseball program:
1. He’s more demanding and forceful than Jim Morris was in his later years and there’s more accountability in the program. And that’s no shot at Morris, who was a wonderful coach here for many years.
2. The efforts to become a better-hitting team — which included eye exercises and exams for players — has made dividends and there’s a mentality now of being more aggressive early in the count.
UM’s 422 runs are 22nd in the country, compared with 219th last season. The Hurricanes’ 75 home runs are tied for 14th in the nation. Keep in mind that the Canes hit only 23 homers all of last season.
UM opens NCAA tournament play at 8 p.m. Friday against Central Michigan in the Starkville, Mississippi, regional, on ESPN3 and 790 The Ticket.
▪ Quick stuff: CBS Sports Network (CBS’ sports cable channel) announced it will televise the UM-FIU football game at 7 p.m. Nov. 23 from Marlins Park.… During his final spring meeting with players, Diaz told his players to be prepared for their toughest summer ever….With the ACC expanding to a 20-game conference basketball schedule, all teams are playing a conference game Nov. 5 or 6. UM’s will be Nov. 5, at home against Louisville, on ACC Network, which launches Aug. 22.