Monday notes on every position from UM’s second open practice of training camp, and fourth practice overall:
▪ Quarterbacks: For the first time since April, N’Kosi Perry, Jarren Williams and Tate Martell spoke to reporters today, and colleague Susan Miller Degnan will have a report on that. All got work with the starters on Monday.
Perry was the best of the three QB contenders for much of Monday’s practice before struggling late with a couple errant throws in the face of a heavy pass rush, including one nearly picked by Nigel Bethel. In drills with receivers against defensive backs, Perry lofted beautiful deep balls for completions to Mark Pope (beat Bethel), K.J. Osborn (beat Keontra Smith) and Jeremiah Payton (beat Christian Williams).
Perry opened one extended 11 on 11 period with the starters and led a drive for a field goal, highlighted by a 15-yard pass to Jeff Thomas and 15-yarder to Will Mallory. Perry has particularly good chemistry with Mike Harley Jr.; they hooked up for multiple catches
Martell, in 11-on-11 team drills, was often forced to scramble. When he’s on the run, he generally throws well on short patterns. He overthrew Dee Wiggins but made a terrific throw on the sideline to Mark Pope for 15 and led UM to a field goal (a 55-yarder by Bubba Baxa) on his initial drive. Martell’s accuracy throwing outside the numbers has improved from the spring.
But Martell’s deep ball accuracy was off on a few throws on Monday.
In 1-on-1 drills, Williams threw a terrific deep ball to Brian Hightower and another nice pass to Dee Wiggins. Williams can scramble more effectively than you might think, and when he’s at his best, he throws a really nice spiral. But Williams had two passes batted down and another nearly picked by Derrick Smith.
▪ Running back: DeeJay Dallas opened with the starters but was immediately replaced by Cam’Ron Harris after fumbling his first carry. Harris continues to run the ball authoritatively.
And Robert Burns, whose high school and college careers have been plagued by injuries, looks very good and has emerged as a viable short-yard option.
“Robert Burns showed up in the spring and made some really good runs in the spring that made us think he’s a guy we really haven’t felt like we’ve seen all that he can do,” coach Manny Diaz said Monday. “He gives us a power back, a different dimension than the other guys we have. I’m kind of excited to watch him run. I know our guys on defense notice when 22 has the ball.”
Lorenzo Lingard, back from last season’s knee surgery, “is really progressing,” Diaz said. “He’s been able to do everything other than the team periods. A lot of it is mental, getting confidence in the cuts. You’ll keep seeing guys grow and maybe roles change.”
▪ Tight end: Mallory opened with the starters — with Michael Irvin Jr. in two tight end sets — and continues to impress, making multiple catches.
Brevin Jordan, sidelined by a knee injury, did some work on the side but did some on-field work, too. There was even a Brian Polendey citing; he caught a short pass from Martell.
▪ Receiver: UM will spend the next month trying to decide, among other things, who’s most deserving of the third through fifth spots in the rotation behind Osborn and Jeff Thomas (who left during practice to have his lower leg massaged; it wasn’t anything that appeared serious).
Dee Wiggins opened with the starters in three-receiver sets and dropped a throw from Perry. Among the others competing for a rotation spot, Brian Hightower made a long catch on 1 on 1s and another good catch in team drills but also dropped a Martell pass over the middle.
Pope hauled in the exceptional deep ball from Perry but failed to extend his arms for what should have been a catch on another nice throw from Williams. Harley was reliable Monday, catching several short to intermediate throws, and Payton had the nice catch on the deep ball from Perry.
Evidence Njoku is on the fringes of this race. Receivers coach Taylor Stubblefield coaches these guys hard; when walk-on receiver Jarius Howard failed to make a catch, he told him: “You have more than one arm.”
▪ Offensive line: For the fourth consecutive day, Zion Nelson opened at left tackle and Kai-Leon Herbert at right tackle. Nelson was beaten by Jon Garvin on a couple of would-be sacks, but UM has been encouraged enough by Nelson’s play to leave him with the starters.
D.J. Scaife has remained at guard, not tackle, opposite the other guard, Navaughn Donaldson, with Corey Gaynor at center. Those three assuredly will start.
“Zion, his upside is limitless,” Diaz said. “[But] we don’t know anything yet” about whether this will be UM’s starting line.
The second-team offensive line: John Campbell, Cleveland Reed, Jakai Clark, Tommy Kennedy and Zalon’tae Hillery.
▪ Front seven: The first group remained the same — Garvin and Scott Patchan at end and Jon Ford and Pat Bethel at tackle. Striker Romeo Finley joins Shaquille Quarterman and Mike Pinckney in some formations, with Zach McCloud cycling in and freshman Samuel Brooks flashing. UM is hopeful but still has no clarity on the status of linebacker commitment Avery Huff.
Meanwhile, freshman end Jahfari Harvey continues to impress.
“Jahfari Harvey is a very athletic kid, great get off, great burst, has good instincts,” Diaz said. “He can bend. We’ve got some defensive ends that are a problem and he’s one of them.”
▪ Defensive backs: Though DJ Ivey was UM’s best cornerback this spring aside from Trajan Bandy, Al Blades Jr. has worked ahead of Ivey early in camp as a reward for his exceptional work in the offseason, including the weight room.
When UM goes to nickel packages, Bandy shifts inside and Ivey and Blades play on the boundary. As valuable as he is as a cover guy, Bandy on Monday again showed his value on blitzes.
Gurvan Hall and Amari Carter remained the starting safeties, with Robert Knowles and Smith backing them up. UM is hopeful that USC transfer Bubba Bolden, who’s finishing a class in junior college, will arrive on campus in the next week.
▪ Special teams: Baxa nailed two long field goals, but punter Louis Hedley left early with a leg injury and didn’t return…. Thomas assuredly will be the punt returners.. Harley, Osborn and Dallas are options on kickoff returns.