CORAL GABLES — Todd Hartley has done an excellent job in recruiting.
This season, we’ll see how well he develops talent.
Since Miami has two four-star tight ends committed — Jacksonville-based Will Mallory, who starred at UM’s Paradise Camp last month, and Las Vegas native Brevin Jordan, both of whom appear ready to play early — it’s imperative Michael Irvin and Brian Polendey show coaches something this year.
But both Irvin and Polendey — as well as walk-on Malik Curry — have been far behind senior starter Chris Herndon.
“It’s going,” Hartley said of the unit’s development. “Slow. We missed Michael there for the first little bit. He had some dehydration deals. When you only had three tight ends and that’s a lot of reps for three guys. But it was good for Brian, good for Malik to come along and see what they can do. And now we’ve got Michael back in the fold, so we feel like we’ve got a little more depth now.”
UM will rely heavily on Herndon, who last year caught 28 balls for 334 yards and two touchdowns behind David Njoku. According to regular-season stats kept by Friend of Canes Watch Daniel Gould, had UM’s fourth-most yards-after-catch (211). Ahmmon Richards led the way (352), with Njoku (291) and Stacy Coley (227) next in line.
“Herndon is a machine,” Hartley said. “He’s just consistent rep after rep. Now that Michael’s back, he’s going to get back. Missing that time you get out of shape a little bit. He just has got to get his reps and his breath back. Brian is doing some good things and Malik is doing some good things. But right now Chris is the most dependable obviously out of all 4.”
Hartley said he’s concerned about depth “just based on numbers,” given that he didn’t have to use Irvin, senior Stan Dobard or redshirted-and-since-transferred-freshman Jovani Haskins last season.
“This year you have one that’s played,” he said, referring to Herndon. “And even though he’s played a lot and is very dependable, he can’t play every play, every snap.”
Who’s been second-best?
“I would say no one right now, to be honest with you,” Hartley said. “They’re all about the same. If Michael all had the reps that the rest of them had, I would think Irvin. But I can’t say that. He’s missed so much time right now. Brian has done a good job. Malik has done a good job. I’d say they’re all neck and neck.”
Irvin, Hartley said, is “very intelligent, knows exactly what to do on what plays” and is a “natural pass-catcher.” But he doesn’t have the stamina to play “four, five six plays in a row without tapping the helmet [to come out]. That’s something we’ve told him. Chris can’t go the whole time. Chris can go eight plays in a row but hell, I can’t have him go 10, 12 plays in a row.”
Curry, a “smart kid” in Hartley’s view, is angling for spot on the travel team. Polendey’s blocking has been good, as Hartley expected, but he needs to “improve his route-running fundamentals.” Like many freshmen, he needs a year in the weight room (6-6, 230).
* Hartley, who also coaches special teams, isn’t ready to give the punting job to legacy freshman Zach Feagles, UM’s only punter on scholarship. “You lose one of the best punters in the country in (Justin) Vogel and bring in Zach Feagles and think it’s Feagles’ job, but that’s what competition does. (Walk-on) Jack Spicer has really elevated his game. Both have had an unbelievable camp.”
* Braxton Berrios, Hartley said, is in line to start at punt returner. “One of the top returners in the country. He will make the right decision every time. I need a guy I can trust who’s dependable and ready. He’s a machine.” Jeff Thomas and DeeJay Dallas, as well as tall tree Lawrence Cager, have taken reps there.
* At kickoff return, Hartley doesn’t see a front-runner among Travis Homer — who has had ball-security issues, as evidenced by his fumble in the scrimmage and fumble during one of his seven carries in 2016 — Malek Young, Dallas and Thomas. Early in the season, all four could take reps until Hartley finds one starter.
“Thomas has got God-given explosiveness,” he said. “Travis is sturdier. Malek can run.” Numerous UM assistants — offensively and defensively — have praised Dallas’ versatility and knack for finding the end zone.