Legendary former University of Miami coach Jimmy Johnson watched practice Wednesday, addressed players afterward and emerged encouraged by what he saw.
“I’ve been so impressed with what Manny has done with the program,” Johnson said inside UM’s indoor practice facility. “It’s energized. Not only the recruiting but also bringing in quality assistant coaches. Just the organization. I told him, watching practice, there’s not a lot of dead time. It’s very organized.
“Regardless of what’s going to happen here early, I think this team is going to get better and better and better. It’s something we’re all going to be very proud of. I’m very impressed. I’m impressed with the way they practiced and impressed with the talent.”
Johnson chatted with starting quarterback Jarren Williams afterward, spoke to him for a bit, and said afterward that he was “very impressed” with Williams in practice.
Williams said of Johnson: “He’s a great guy. I love him. He just said to me, ‘Protect the ball.’ He said, ‘I like the way you spin the ball.’ He said some nice things and really he just said to take it one step, one play at a time. Don’t let the moment get too big.”
Williams said Johnson’s speech “fired me up. His speech he gave to us fired me up, I’ll tell you that. I know I’ve got to stay here — not too high, not too low. I’m going to just stay right in the middle and just take it one play, one call at a time.”
Among his messages to the players: “The main thing I said is, ‘be a smart football team.’ I know they’re going to be thoroughly prepared because I know the coaching staff. I know they’re in great condition. They ran 16 110s and 33 110s, and I know how they practice in this heat. They’re going to be in condition. They’re going to be prepared. Now they just have to play smart football. There are a lot of momentum swings in a game and they’ve got to be able to handle those momentum swings.”
Coach Manny Diaz took his staff to Johnson’s home in the Florida Keys this past spring to spend time with Johnson and soak up knowledge. He declined to divulge takeaways from their conversations but said Johnson “wanted to speak to the team [Wednesday], wanted to come watch them practice.
“He was great. Ironically, his message was really on point with what our messaging has been throughout training camp, which has been fantastic. He drove home the point of what it means to play for the Miami Hurricanes and how to be mentally prepared for that kind of setting [against the Gators in an opening game]. We’re all like kids in a candy store. Guy won a national championship [at UM] and two Super Bowls [with the Dallas Cowboys]. He shared a story in the past and we all ate it up.”
Did Johnson give Diaz words of wisdom? “Manny has had plenty of words of wisdom from a lot of people,” Johnson said. “He didn’t need any more from me.”
Johnson said: “I love the University of Miami. I would do anything in the world to help the University of Miami and the people in the program. Very rarely do I go somewhere [to talk to people who want to meet with him]. Normally if they want to talk they come to the Keys. Anything I can do for miami, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Tate Martell worked some at quarterback Wednesday but also continues to spend some time with receivers and was with that position group when practice ended.
Diaz said a decision on the backup quarterback would be made shortly, and the winner of the N’Kosi Perry/Martell backup battle would take the majority of second-team snaps in Thursday’s practice.
Diaz said Martell has expressed willingness to help at another position (besides quarterback).
Asked if Martell is equipped to play receiver if that’s how it unfolds, linebacker Shaq Quarterman said: “He’s definitely athletic. I know he’s still competing at quarterback and doing a heck of job at that. I don’t think the competition at quarterback is over. [But] I have seen him [at receiver]. He’s very athletic.”
▪ Diaz said nobody has been moved to cornerback since Nigel Bethel announced he was leaving the program Friday. UM has only five cornerbacks on scholarship.
▪ Though defensive coordinator Blake Baker said last week that UM was considering moving two players to linebacker, Miami apparently decided against that, with Diaz saying there are no new players at the position.
At this point, freshman Sam Brooks and Darian Stevenson are the top backups behind Quarterman, Mike Pinckney and Zach McCloud.
“Sam Brooks plays middle linebacker behind me and I try to do as much as I can to help him understand the defense,” Quarterman said. “As a freshman, it’s hard to make those calls. He’s doing a great job. He’s 6-2, long very athletic. he can definitely get the job done.”