Barry Jackson

One intangible that Canes prioritize in recruiting. And 5-star player nears 2019 debut

A six-pack of University of Miami Hurricanes notes on a Friday:

As was the case in the past regime, coach Manny Diaz wants players who are tough, intelligent, skilled, physical, fast and coachable.

But a few other things are also being prioritized. One local high school coach said this staff is more inclined to stay away from players with questionable character or off-field issues.

And Diaz shared an anecdote that displays how competitiveness and passion to win are being prioritized more.

Speaking to Joe Zagacki and Don Bailey Jr. on WQAM’s Hurricane Hotline this week, Diaz spoke of an unidentified “future Hurricane” player who recently was visiting campus.

He stopped in the locker-room to use the pop-a-shot machine (a mini-basketball set-up). He was told the record for consecutive makes by a UM player (Diaz didn’t share that number with the listeners), and when he kept barely falling short of the record, the player kept starting over and over on the pop-a-shot.

He stood there for 45 minutes trying to break the record, with Diaz noting his parents were ready to leave 30 minutes earlier.

“We looked at each other and said that’s our guy,” Diaz said. “Whether he’s playing football or tiddlywinks, he wants to win. That’s in our recruiting profile. If you get a locker room with a bunch of winners, you end up winning often.”

UM players Saturday will see their former offensive line coach, Stacey Searels, and he’s the only coach dismissed by Diaz whose approach has been publicly criticized.

This past spring, Diaz made the point — regarding his offensive linemen — that if they’re repeatedly told they aren’t good enough, they’ll start believing it. That was Searel’s approach, apparently.

Diaz hired Butch Barry, hoping not only for a technician but one who would be more positive while also being demanding.

Searels is now North Carolina’s offensive line coach.

“For me personally, it doesn’t matter,” center Corey Gaynor said of the two approaches. “But what I see from the guys, they definitely have more confidence playing football with a more uplifting coach. [Barry] is fantastic. I love playing for him.”

Diaz has vigorously defended his offensive line, because it’s clear that his linemen were responsible for only some of the 10 sacks allowed against Florida.

“To me, they’re just improving, but, again, the dynamic of how have they responded to what exactly? To the narrative that they gave up 10 sacks? To the narrative that we actually out-rushed Florida? Do you understand my point?” Diaz said.

“The greater question would be how has everyone on offense, from the schematics of it to all 11 people out there, how have they all responded? We have to push back from the idea of, ‘Well, let’s just say that this was a problem’ because, again, there’s not a position group, there’s not anybody that had a U on their chest, coaches and players alike, that doesn’t have a chance to improve from our performance in Orlando.”

Per UM, among FBS teams, Zion Nelson was one of only three true freshmen to start at left tackle in his team’s opener.

The only two five-star recruits on UM’s roster — running back Lorenzo Lingard and receiver Mark Pope — combined for two offensive snaps against UF, but that could change soon.

Lingard, who didn’t play at all against UF despite being in uniform, is rounding into form after last fall’s knee injury.

“Lorenzo’s a guy that could have a chance to get in the game in some capacity,” Diaz said this week. “Still working him up to speed, but he’s now just kind of getting into the mix of being with the team.”

UM hopes that Evidence Njoku’s move from wide receiver to tight end could pay dividends. It was unlikely he would play anytime soon at receiver. At tight end, he can compete with Brian Polendey and Larry Hodges for fourth on the depth chart — which likely wouldn’t mean work beyond special teams.

“I think he’ll do well,” receiver KJ Osborn said of Njoku. “He’s got a big body. He’ll be a fast tight end. I’m not sure if they want to put weight on him or anything. But I think he’ll do well.”

UM notices that it tends to get some disadvantageous things with the ACC schedule, including having to play on the road the day after Thanksgiving multiple times in recent years and a lot of road night games, often the home opener for the ACC team it’s playing, like North Carolina this weekend.

The schedule makers “are sending you there to lose,” Diaz told WQAM. “It will be our job to disappoint them.”

The ACC allows teams to take only 72 players to road games, meaning a dozen or so players on scholarship will be left home by Miami this weekend.

The Canes, as in past years, will not be announcing what players are left home. “You pick players who have a chance to get in the game,” Diaz told Zagacki and Bailey. “It’s almost two and a spare at every position.”...

UM figures to try to challenge North Carolina’s secondary deep. In UNC’s 24-20 win last Saturday, “South Carolina did such a poor job of challenging them down the field,” Diaz said.

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