Barry Jackson

Miami Hurricanes players eager to see if “problems of the past are eradicated”

A six-pack of University of Miami notes on a Friday, on the eve of Hurricanes-Gators game in Orlando:

Talent, execution and coaching will largely determine whether the Canes can exceed their over/under of 8.5 wins in 12 major Las Vegas casinos, including the MGM Grand.

But it will be interesting to see whether all of the creative, headline-grabbing ancillary off-field changes made by Manny Diaz have any residual effect. That will be more difficult to gauge.

The changes affecting the on-field product are easier to measure: There’s no doubt many players are in better shape after David Feeley replaced Gus Felder as strength and conditioning coach. The offensive coaching appears improved, based on conversations with various UM people.

But what about some of the other Diaz moves that are more difficult to measure?

Among them: Making everything a competition among the players, rewarding winners of either certain drills or portions of the offseason program and punishing the losers.

Tight end Brevin Jordan believes that will help change the team’s mentality and make this a group that’s more resilient.

“Last week, the winners got crab and steak, and the losers got hot dogs,” he said. “That was over a time period of [judging behavior such as] whether you’re going to class. You can’t be late for dinner, you can’t be late for class. If you’re perfect, you get crab and steak and a whole bag of goodies — cleats, sleeves. You can wear a nice visor. Your [UM clothing is] upgraded at times.”

And that, Jordan said, speaks to accountability. As is the case with the Dolphins, off-field missteps aren’t being allowed to slide as much now.

“You have to be on top of everything,” Jordan said. “That’s what coach Diaz brought, this whole accountability thing. If you’re not going to be accountable, you’re not going to be a champion.

“Last year, we didn’t have a lot of accountability and that led to a lot of losses. We’ve taken a big growth in maturity, holding each other accountable. Those old Miami teams weren’t run by the coach; they were player driven. We’ve learned this team should be player driven. Guys need to be on each other about trash in the locker room, throwing your tape in the trash. We need to hold each other to a higher standard.”

Linebacker Zach McCloud said: “We have a different energy about us. There’s no way to tell if the problems of the past are eradicated just yet because we haven’t played a game. But in practices we see everybody is loving each other. We come out with a different type of love for the game than we have had in the past, and that’s important to being able to play like The New Miami like everybody expects.”

McCloud said Diaz told the team on Aug. 12 that “he’s never seen competition this high on this field. … It’s just The New Miami.”

Will any of this make a difference Saturday and beyond? It will be difficult to judge. But it certainly cannot hurt.

Good to see oft-injured Robert Burns impress in camp. He might be UM’s best option in goal line situations, though Cam’Ron Harris should also thrive in that role.

“Without a doubt [it’s good to be finally healthy],” Burns said recently. “It’s definitely been a journey. I don’t regret anything along the way. Finally having my body to match where my mind is mentally” is rewarding.

Offensive coordinator Dan Enos said freshman quarterback Peyton Matocha led UM on a 99-yard drive in the second scrimmage.

“He’s a developmental guy, will improve and [eventually] put himself in a position to play,” Enos said. “Big guy, can run.”

But if Williams is injured, “those other guys [N’Kosi Perry, Tate Martell] would get first crack,” Enos said.

Shaq Quarterman, determined to be an even better player, spent the offseason studying “my errors, missed opportunities from last year. I could have had a way better year than last year. Not to say my year last year was bad, but those missed opportunities could have been 14 tackles for loss to 18 tackles for loss, one interception to three INTs.

“In the Duke game late in the fourth quarter, I dropped a pick and we ended up losing that game. I believe that play definitely could change the outcome of the game. That’s what I want to be this year, a game changer.”

Not only do Quarterman, Mike PInckney and McCloud keep in touch with UM linebacker greats Jon Beason, DJ Williams and Jonathan Vilma, but Quarterman revealed he also likes to watch their games when they were Hurricanes, hoping to pick things up that could help him.

“Jon Beason is like my mentor,” Quarterman said. “I love the way he plays the game. We’re able to have their game film back when they played; I’ve watched like four of their games. I am not in it for X’s and O’s, but to watch how they played the game.

“They are always there if we need advice, or maybe to break down some film. It’s awesome. I can’t think of another place that [has that]. I’ve watched about four games [of them]. I feel I embody everything Beason has, not to the same degree. I wouldn’t say I’m there yet. That’s what I try to aspire to be. He was fast, physical, smart.”

Diaz can’t wait to see what UM gets from defensive end Trevon Hill, the ACC-tested transfer from Virginia Tech.

“Trevon, first three days, showed he has an elite skill set,” Diaz said. “Now he’s working into the framework of the defense. Nothing he’ll do on Saturday will surprise me. The more he learns, more he’s going to play.”

Quick stuff: Former UM receiver Ahmmon Richards, who had to retire from football last September because of a neck injury, tweeted: “Been saying since I was playing, 15 [Jarren Williams] got the most talent [of the UM QBs]. Just was all mental. I’m happy for him.”...

UM says it won’t prevent former UM safety Derrick Smith Jr. from transferring to UF, if he wants, even though Florida is on Miami’s schedule. That would be a moot point after Saturday’s game, of course. Smith tweeted earlier this week that the Gators are among four schools he’s considering. [UPDATE: Smith announced Friday night he’s transferring to Illinois]...

Former UM receiver Marquez Ezzard, who transferred after last season, was denied his attempt to become immediately eligible to play at Georgia Tech this season. He must sit out this season.

For links to my 10 Hurricanes stories in the past week, please see the links on my Twitter account (@flasportsbuzz).

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