Barry Jackson

Where the UM QB battle stands, and the change everyone in the program is happy about

A six-pack of Hurricanes notes on a Wednesday:

Coach Manny Diaz said the quarterback race among Tate Martell, N’Kosi Perry and Jarren Williams is extremely close entering the summer, and all will essentially begin with an even chance when camp opens July 25.

“We thought they were all, evaluating tape in Orlando [from the spring game], it was three guys on a level playing field,” Diaz said from a Plantation park where UM coaches and players tutored young football players.

To use a track analogy, “we want to set them in the summer, no one behind anybody else, put them all on the line and say go and let them race all summer,” Diaz said. “And last week in July, put them on the line again and let’s go sprint for two weeks and find out in the training part of fall camp what we got. I love it. The best coach is competition.

“I’m excited that I think we have a good decision to make. I wasn’t sure in January we had a good decision to make. Now I think we have a good problem. We had a bad problem. Our bad problem turned into a good problem.”

Diaz asks this about the quarterbacks: “Is somebody going to own it? And the guy that’s going to have it is the guy that has to have it, not the guy that wants to be the quarterback at Miami, but the guy that has to be. He’s compelled in all of his actions. When we get that level of compulsion to want to be that guy, the whole team will benefit from that.”

One UM football staffer reiterated Wednesday that there is no clear-cut leader, though my sense is that N’Kosi Perry and Martell are probably 1 and 1A, with Williams certainly still in it.

The fact that Martell, as a celebrated transfer, isn’t the clear leader is a function of his struggles early in spring ball (he improved considerably) but also a testament to how much Perry has improved.

Two UM players spoke Wednesday of significant changes in Perry.

It’s “maturity,” receiver Mike Harley said. “He’s a leader now. He took guys in a group chat one time in a meeting. You see the maturity with him. He’s a general more. He will speak up more and scan the field more.”

Running back Cam’Ron Harris put it this way about Perry: “He’s becoming a man. He’s a different person. He’s got a different mind-set this year. He wants to win.”

Perry’s accuracy and ability to go to his second and third reads appeared much improved in the spring game.

The players — including the three quarterbacks and May enrollee Peyton Matocha — have been getting together at least three times a week for seven on seven drills.

“We’ll go three receivers with one quarterback,” Harley said. “Everybody gets the same reps. We have the best quarterback coach in the nation [in offensive coordinator Dan Enos].”

The quarterbacks’ passes are very similar, Harley said: “We don’t know the difference.”

Diaz said all of the injured players should be ready for the start of camp except backups linebackers Bradley Jennings, Waymon Steed and De’Andre Wilder.

Diaz said it’s undetermined if Wilder — who has a neck injury — will play again. “We’re still seeking information for him,” Diaz said.

Diaz was uncertain if Jennings (groin injury sustained in an April scrimmage) or Steed (knee) would be ready for the Hurricanes-Gators opener Aug. 24.

Offensive players Brian Hightower, Jeff Thomas, Lorenzo Lingard and Robert Burns — who all have had knee surgeries (Lingard’s by far the most serious, last year) — should all be fully back by the start of camp. Thomas is already “full throttle,” and Hightower is a couple of weeks from football activities, Harley said.

Who has impressed among the freshmen? Several pointed to receiver Jeremiah Payton.

“Jeremiah Peyton is going to be the man this year,” Harris said. “What he did in the spring was amazing. A lot of coaches like him. Everybody likes him.”

Sophomore defensive tackle Nesta Silvera said freshman defensive end/early enrollee Jahfari Harvey “has done a great job of coming along.”

Safety Keontra Smith and corner Te’Cory Couch, the UM freshmen roommates from Hollywood Chaminade-Madonna, also drew praise Wednesday.

And Harley said four-star cornerback Christian Williams, who enrolled last month, reminds him of former Canes cornerback Michael Jackson.

“Smooth type of guy, reminds me of a younger Mike Jack,” Harley said. “Got nice size, nice speed, big body frame guy, man/press guy.”

Smith, incidentally, has received some mentoring from former UM safety Jaquan Johnson, now a Buffalo Bills rookie.

“I’m trying to following in his footsteps and become the next great safety,” Smith said. “I’ve talked to him on Instragram and we text back and forth. He says you’ve got to be on your game and just stay in the playbooks and [that] schoolwork comes first.”

Diaz declined to mention summer standouts, cracking: “We’re way too early into this to start giving out cupcakes now.”

Considering his offensive line is inexperienced and largely unproven, is Diaz uneasy about the prospect of facing a skilled Southeastern Conference front seven in the Gators opener in Orlando?

“No, because I don’t think about it terms of our level of experience,” Diaz said. “I don’t think a lot about our opponent. I just think about us and how good we can get and how good our guys are. Knowing what coach Enos and [offensive line coach Butch] Barry are doing with our guys.

“What I know to be real is we came out of spring making a massive jump and improvement in our offensive line from where we started day 1 to day 15. If we continue to improve on that in summer time and training camp, 24 practices, then I have no uneasiness because all I want to see is guys continue to improve.”

Among several positive changes in the program: Players are working harder in the offseason that they did under Mark Richt.

Diaz, the master of turning a phrase, put it this way: “Our guys are working really, really hard. The downside is so is everybody else. If we think because we’re grinding harder in the summer than we did a year ago that we’re special, I know they’re doing that in all the places we play against.

“At least we got the cover charge for admission. We weren’t even paying the cover charge before. At least we have a fighting chance going into the season.”

Players again heaped lavish praise on strength and conditioning coach David Feeley.

“It’s tough with his workouts but we really need it to get ready for game 1,” Harris said. “I give it all to coach Feeley with his work ethic. You should see the shirt [he wears]: ‘Want [until] you puke.’”

Feeley has helped a bunch of players reshape their bodies, potentially making them more effective.

Among them: Jordan Miller has reshaped his body completely,” Silvera said. “Moves completely better. his mind-set is amazing right now.”

Quick stuff: Defensive lineman Jon Ford has looked good: “Jon has turned his game around, turned on a switch and he hasn’t stopped,” Silvera said … Even after adding junior college offensive lineman Ousman Traore last week (UM coaches can’t discuss him yet), Diaz didn’t rule out adding more transfers: “It’s still fluid. there’s still time so we’ll see…. Diaz and his staff started watching tape of UM’s first two opponents – UF and North Carolina – in January.

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