Barry Jackson

The Hurricane who’s among nation’s leaders and the one whose playing time has plummeted

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

DeeJay Dallas came into this summer without any assurance he would be the starting running back over Cam’Ron Harris, who came on strong to close last season.

Three games in, Dallas not only has clearly established himself as Miami’s best back but ranks among the nation’s leaders in a key category for running backs.

Among backs with at least 35 carries this season, Dallas’ 8.4 per carry average is third-best in FBS. Among all running backs, he’s 17th. Among all players, he’s 20th.

“DeeJay is sneaky fast or something,” offensive coordinator Dan Enos said Monday. “He doesn’t look that fast but continues to run for long runs. He’s got good wiggle. Has really good vision and can make his cuts when he’s still moving forward. He gets to long speed a little quicker [than most]. He’s a very good pass catcher, good in protection.”

Dallas already has 309 yards rushing on 38 carries and four touchdowns in three games. Last season, sharing time with Travis Homer and Harris late in the year, he had 617 rushing yards and six touchdowns and averaged 5.7 per carry.

Harris has been pretty good too, rushing 28 times for 166 yards, a 5.9 clip.

Robert Burns, whom the staff talked about all offseason, got his first carries of the season Saturday against Bethune Cookman and had 5 carries for 32 yards.

“Burns has done a good job; maybe didn’t have quite as good of a camp as Cam and DeeJay,” Enos said. “We felt there was separation. He’s an A plus as a person and a very good player. If you keep running like that, you will earn more carries. We would love to get him” in more.

Receiving 21 total defensive snaps through his first three games couldn’t have been what senior linebacker Zach McCloud expected.

But Manny Diaz said Monday he will not redshirt McCloud to preserve a year of eligibility to protect UM next season when Shaq Quarterman and Mike Pinckney move on to the NFL.

“Zach is too important to our team [to redshirt him],” Diaz said. “He’s a guy we’re counting on this year. There can be games he can transition to a SAM linebacker. His role is too crucial to be a [redshirt] guy. He’s not a luxury to us. He’s a necessity.”

UM has primarily played two linebackers this season as a way to counter pass-heavy offenses. McCloud’s playing time figures to increase when UM plays run-heavy teams.

He’s still playing a lot on special teams.

“He hadn’t played inside linebacker until this year,” defensive coordinator Blake Baker said.

Here’s why Enos believes Tate Martell can become an effective slot receiver: “He’s a natural ball catcher, good short area quickness. He’s tough and competitive. Those are traits for a lot of guys I’ve had in the past. He’s going to be a good player.”

Incidentally, Diaz and Enos said Jeff Thomas’ dramatic drop in yards per reception [16.1 last season, 8.6 this season] is no reflection of the way Miami is using him.

“There have been so many plays Jeff is on the back of a milk carton wide open for an explosive play [and not thrown the ball],” Diaz said. “We know Jeff is a guy that can blow the top off a defense. I would file [his drop in big plays] under small sample size.”

Three freshmen who have impressed: left tackle Zion Nelson, whose play has improved considerably since the opener; guard Jakai Clark (graded out well in both of his starts) and tight end/H-back Larry Hodges, who had two touchdown receptions Saturday and has surpassed Realus George for playing time.

Hodges “has got tremendous ball skills,” Enos said. “That’s one thing he showed, an ability to catch the football and run routes. We have very good tight ends so we’re trying to expand Larry’s role. He’s going to be that h-back, line up on the line of scrimmage, line up off. His role will continue to increase.”

Defensive end Jon Garvin has no sacks and only one tackle for loss in three games — compared with 5.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss in 13 games last year — and appears to be getting more attention now that UM opponents no longer must deal with Dallas Cowboys rookie Joe Jackson.

But Diaz and Baker insisted Garvin is playing very well. Baker said “by far, he’s been our best defensive end from a consistency standpoint. He’s been a bright spot at that position this fall.”

Diaz noted that opponents are throwing “the ball very quickly against our defense. They will try to stay out of negative plays. The effect of our pressure will not always be measured in sacks.”

Why has Scott Patchan played substantially more snaps that defensive ends Trevon Hill and Greg Rousseau? Diaz suggested Patchan’s excellent work against the run is a major factor in that.

“That’s fluid,” Diaz said. “Something we’re always looking at. Trevon is getting more comfortable. Rousseau is getting better every game. It wouldn’t be surprising to see those guys play more as they get more comfortable with what we do.”

With Bubba Bolden cleared by the NCAA to play beginning in Miami’s fifth game of the season Oct. 5 against Virginia Tech, Baker didn’t rule out using one of his four top safeties (Amari Carter, Rob Knowles, Gurvan Hall and Bolden) at another position.

“We will always try to get he best 11 on the field,” Baker said. “Bubba is still learning the defense. Our striker and safety are very similar from a body and speed standpoint.”

Knowles started ahead of Hall on Saturday because Knowles played better in the North Carolina game and kept that up at practice last week. Practice each week will determine starters among Knowles, Carter and Hall, according to Baker.

Related stories from Miami Herald