CORAL GABLES — Miami’s new coaching staff last year showed it wasn’t afraid to play freshmen. Whether from need or pure talent, UM wound up playing 12 true freshmen. Four of them — receiver Ahmmon Richards, linebackers Michael Pinckney and Shaq Quarterman and defensive end Joe Jackson — earned freshman All-American honors.
More of the same this year? Maybe.
Ten first-year players appeared on UM’s first depth chart of the season, and that didn’t include highly touted quarterback N’Kosi Perry, whom UM is still developing, or defensive ends Jonathan Garvin and DJ Johnson, who play in the deepest position group on the team.
A post-camp review of the newcomers:
Ten who will see lots of time
2 – CB Trajan Bandy
Could wind up being UM’s starting nickel, but coaches have no fear about playing the 5-foot-9, 180-pound Miami-Columbus grad outside. Undersized, aggressive PBU-creator who likes contact. He’s listed as co-backup (with Jhavonte Dean) behind Dee Delaney.
5- S Amari Carter
On the depth chart as a backup, but looks like a future starter. Produced eight tackles (one for loss) in UM’s second scrimmage of camp. Looks the part physically (6-2, 197) and thinks the game well. “For a young guy, super intelligent,” safeties coach Ephraim Banda said. “Still figuring things out, but his ability to process information is really unique.” Should be a good special-teamer early.
13 – WR/PR DeeJay Dallas
Thickly built (5-10, 211) with a nose for the end zone, Dallas is starting his career as a slot receiver and punt returner, which will showcase his ability to make contested catches. He could eventually move to defense — he said he thought coaches might move him there in the spring — and may end his career scoring touchdowns in a variety of ways. “Wherever they put me, I’m going to put my all into it,” he said.
As expected, UM’s unofficial 2017 recruiting ambassador is extremely confident in his team. “The Coastal, Playoffs, push comes to shove, a national championship,” he said. “That’s really how I’m feeling. We have just as many, or more, athletes who can play than any other school in the country. With the speed on offense, and the toughness and the mentality our defense has, when it comes together, we can’t be stopped.”
55 – RG Navaughn Donaldson
A Day 1 starter who could move into the left tackle spot next season with senior Kc McDermott graduating. Has nimble feet and enough strength, even as a freshman, to move and stonewall UM’s high-quality defensive linemen. Tough for defenders to get around at 6-6, 350. “Navaughn’s like a truck,” starting right tackle Tyree St. Louis said. “He’s a moving house.”
18 – P Zach Feagles
The son of Jeff Feagles, the only punter in the UM Sports Hall of Fame who played 22 years in the NFL, won the starting job in camp. The 6-2, 215-pound New Jersey native has good size and was consistent enough to hold off a charge from redshirt sophomore Jack Spicer.
96 – DT Jon Ford
A mountain of a man at 6-5, 318, he arrived late in camp and needs to get in condition, learn technique and plays. Expect him to make more of an impact late in the season. He could play a significant role as a sophomore, especially if junior starting tackles Kendrick Norton and RJ McIntosh depart for the NFL. “He could make an impact this year for us,” defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski said. “I don’t know if I’m ready to say right now that he’s going to be the guy, [but] he’s got a very bright future.”
97 – DE Jonathan Garvin
Coaches are excited about the Lake Worth High grad, who set a school season record for sacks (18, in nine games, not including seven in a preseason game). He enrolled in January and opened with some of “the best practices I’ve ever seen from a freshman,” Kuligowski said. He’s still using his physical gifts this fall, and could be a pass-rush demon off the bench. Senior defensive end Chad Thomas said Garvin “can bend all the way down and still run full-speed.” Garvin (6-4, 235) said he felt he “had a long way to go” upon arriving, but now feels he “can do things” at the college level. His Year 1 role? “Dominate,” he said. “Uphold the Cane legacy.”
3 – WR Mike Harley
Camp-scrimmage standout gets the start at the Z (flanker) with rising star Ahmmon Richards “very unlikely” to play, according to coach Mark Richt. Size and durability is a concern (5-9, 160) but he’s sharp mentally and runs crisp routes. He and Jeff Thomas have greatly boosted Miami’s speed at wideout. “If it’s 60 (yards) or better, I’d probably pull away from him,” Harley said of Thomas. “If it’s 0 to 40, a quick burst, he’s got that speed. My footwork and route-running separates. Jeff has the speed, accelleration. He makes guys miss. He has that ‘one-two.’ I don’t have his ‘one-two,’ but I have the ‘go,’ the ‘pass-by.'”
1- DE DJ Johnson
Listed at 6-5, 240 but arrived in July some 25 pounds heavier, the Sacramento product impressed teammates and coaches with his closing speed as a pass-rusher. He could be used as a third-down rusher early in his career, and eventually move into the strong-side end role. “He’s got to get used to the college game, but he’s going to be nice,” Thomas said.
4- WR Jeff Thomas
Impressive ability to downshift or make a lateral cut — “the one-two,” as Harley calls it — and burst past a defender. Groomed as the slot replacement for senior Braxton Berrios. Though the 5-10, 175-pound Illinois native has struggled with muscle soreness in camp, he’s likely to push for targets early. His elusiveness could make him a very good return specialist; the earlier he proves trustworthy in that aspect, the better for the Hurricanes.
The wild card
5 – QB N’Kosi Perry
Didn’t win the starting job, and coaches have been quiet about his potential role. Richt has said he’s still deciding whether he’ll play him; the former four-star recruit is the third-stringer behind starter Malik Rosier and backup Evan Shirreffs, but is considered the most talented quarterback on the roster.
“He’ll have bright moments, and then he’ll do things that’ll get you beat,” Richt said. “He’s still trying to get there.”
22 – RB Robert Burns
In the mix to be Miami’s No. 3 back, if he can get healthy. Burns missed extended time in camp after a labrum tear in his shoulder in the spring, and the last two years of his high school career were hampered by bone spurs in his ankle. “A lot of rehab,” said Burns, a Florida City native with a sunny, plain-spoken personality. “[Pain] is a friend.” At 5-11 and 220 pounds, Burns could help take pressure off starter Mark Walton and backup Travis Homer. He said early in camp he was targeting a Week 2 or 3 game debut, but Richt said he “looked pretty good” in his scrimmage debut last week.
65 – C/G Corey Gaynor
Nasty interior lineman with a proclivity for pancake blocks. Junior defensive tackle Kendrick Norton called him “tenacious.” The surprising mid-camp transfer of veteran Nick Linder transfer earned Gaynor (6-4, 285) a role as a second stringer. He and redshirt sophomore Hayden Mahoney are UM’s top interior reserves. Richt, still searching for a fullback, could try him there as well. That’d be fun to watch.
57 – OL Kai-Leon Herbert
Currently a reserve tackle who could play tackle or guard down the road. Has good size at 6-5, 285. “He struggled” early in camp, starting left tackle Kc McDermott said, “but he picked it up. We can throw him in there if need be.”
44 – LB Bradley Jennings Jr.
Stout (6-1, 230) middle linebacker who appeared on UM’s depth chart as a co-backup. Starter Shaq Quarterman praised his mental game and ability to hold up against the run.
25 – S Derrick Smith
Learning how to play safety but likely to be a special-teamer as a freshman, with size (6-2, 200) and physicality. Underrated ball skills, owing to his two-way high school career.
11 – LB De’Andre Wilder
Opened eyes with his wheels at strong-side linebacker, a role in UM’s defense which values speed and pass-coverage. Used his length (6-3, 202) and mobility to challenge junior Charles Perry for the backup role behind starter Zach McCloud. “Had a good camp,” defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. “We’re impressed with him.”
67 – OL Zach Dykstra
Has good size at 6-6, 300, but may not see much action until he’s an upperclassman.
75 – OL Zalon’tae Hillery
Foot/ankle injury held him back this fall. Another large (6-6, 287), long-term project.
83 – WR Evidence Njoku
A hyperextended knee and bone bruise sidelined him for most of camp. The 6-6, 215-pound brother of first-round pick David Njoku has an immense catch radius and good speed.
88 – TE Brian Polendey
Willing and capable blocker, but needs to put on weight (6-6, 230) and perfect his pass-catching craft.
17 – LB Waynmon Steed
Knee surgery kept 5-11, 223-pound Miami Central grad out of spring action and much of camp.
17 – QB Cade Weldon
A capable passer and good athlete (6-2, 203), he’s still learning. Richt said Perry and Weldon “have to got to own it a while, and know what to do, before they’re ready to compete at a high level at that position.”