Spring sprung in the midst of winter Monday at the University of Miami, and with it the expectations of a much brighter football season than last year’s 6-7 head coaching debut for Manny Diaz.
There was a marked difference from practices during the latter part of last season, as UM’s new, up-tempo, spread offense — albeit in its infancy — began to take shape at Greentree Field. The energized environment at some points resembled a choreographed dance of receivers criss-crossing routes as all five quarterbacks vying for the starting spot fired footballs simultaneously.
But the eyes of almost everyone in attendance during a 25-minute media viewing period centered on one quarterback in particular: former Houston graduate transfer D’Eriq King, a nationally accomplished, high-profile signal-caller who took the first-team reps in 7-on-7 drills while the media was escorted out of practice. King practiced for the first time as a Hurricane only two days after the Saturday funeral for his 48-year-old father, Eric.
“He’s been strong,’’ senior receiver Mike Harley said of King in regard to his recent emotional turmoil. “Me and a couple of guys, receivers in the offense, were shooting texts back and forth. ‘Stay strong, brother.’ He just told me that his pops wanted him to take this step and take advantage of it and win a championship, so that’s what he’s gonna do for his pops.’’
Added Harley of King: “He’s just being that leader, setting a tone for the offense. “When he gets the 1s reps, he’s just going on from there.”
Harley, who has 816 receiving yards and three touchdowns in three seasons, was asked what he learned from watching King, who passed for 50 touchdowns with only 10 interceptions, and ran for another 28 touchdowns in 35 games at Houston.
“What I learned from him today: He was like a very fast-paced type of guy, like an option guy,’’ Harley said. “You’ve got to stay on point because you’ll never know if he’ll hand it off, he’ll pull it and run or he’ll throw the ball. He keeps the defense on its toes and also keeps the offense on its toes. He’s very unpredictable.’’
UM star defensive end Greg Rousseau also got a look at King on Monday: “He’s a great player,’’ Rousseau said. “His skill set is so huge. He’s like a running back/receiver/quarterback. He can do it all. He’s an extreme athlete — another workaholic.”
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Diaz said in a news conference after practice Monday that every quarterback in his eyes is starting from scratch in the competition, despite the pretty much universal perception that it’s King’s job to lose.
“What I know is he’s been phenomenal when he’s been in this building as a worker throughout the entire time he’s been here,’’ Diaz said of King. “The big thing, and being around him the last couple of weeks, we just want him to know — not just him but his entire family — that our whole program is with him and we hurt with him and that he feels our love, which is important.
“In terms of the quarterback situation, it’s not all that different from what I talked about a year ago. When we know, we want to announce. Last year, that was after our second scrimmage in the fall. This year I can’t predict when that would be. But we want to have a starting quarterback at the University of Miami.’’
▪ Redshirt junior N’Kosi Perry actually took the first snap (followed by King, redshirt junior Tate Martell, redshirt freshman Peyton Matocha and true freshman Tyler Van Dyke) early in practice when the quarterbacks were by the sideline throwing short passes to individual players.
▪ Included in the offense with King when he became the first quarterback to face the defense: running back Cam Harris, receivers Mark Pope, Harley and Dee Wiggins and tight end Will Mallory. True freshman/early enrollee Dazalin Worsham was mixed in there after a play or two.
▪ The Canes received a commitment Monday from Parkland Stoneman Douglas offensive lineman Michael McLaughlin, the top-ranked tackle prospect in South Florida.
▪ Harley on the newest receivers: “Keyshawn [Smith], I call him DaBaby, because he looks like the rapper. He’s fast. He reminds me of me coming in. Dazalin, he’s quick on his feet, got nice routes. X [Xavier Restrepo], he’s playing the slot. He reminds me of [Braxton] Berrios. He’s really tough, his hands. He’s getting extra work in. He’s a grinder. I’m taking all three of them guys under my wing...’’
Redding at practice
▪ Early enrollee receiver Michael Redding III, who wore a blue vest and had a cast or covering on his right wrist, “was getting mental reps,’’ Harley confirmed. “As you can see, he wasn’t catching a ball, but he was actually in the offense with the threes, with the twos, running a route. Not leaving him out. He’ll be ready by fall camp.”
▪ Diaz previously listed a substantial group of Hurricanes who will miss spring because they are rehabbing from injuries or surgery. On Monday, redshirt senior tight end Michael Irvin II also was not at practice. Diaz already had said that starting tight end Brevin Jordan was out for spring. The Hurricanes will resume spring practice on Tuesday.
This story was originally published March 2, 2020 4:18 PM.