[Backup QBs pushing starter Malik Rosier]
[Recruiting: Four new commits for UM, one hoops visit]
[NBA Draft: Dewan Huell turns pro, may return to UM]
[These position battles will shape UM offensive line]
CORAL GABLES — Mark Richt said Tuesday was a “hotly contested” practice with some “extracurricular” activity after plays. The defense won the drills, after the offense won the previous two practice days. The losers had to do push-ups, which is more shameful to players than physically taxing.
“You keep score on something,” Richt said, “everybody gets fired up.”
What gets coaches fired up: depth at every position. Offensive coordinator Thomas Brown sees it all over his two-deep.
“We’re deep enough at the point we can have legitimate competition at every single spot,” he said. “In the past, we had the illusion of competition, but if you don’t have guys behind you that can push you or take your spot, it’s not really true competition.
“Right now from a quarterback standpoint, tailback-wise, up front, tight end-wise — on the way, it’s coming — and even receiver-wise, there are guys that back up our starters who can push them every day to either become better, or beat them out and take their spot. I think it’s going to be great for everybody.”
He and coach Mark Richt are happy with the strides redshirt freshmen N’Kosi Perry and Cade Weldon have made behind starter Malik Rosier, to the point Rosier won’t be the starter unless he improves his accuracy from last year (54 percent completion percentage, 44.9 in the final three games).
At running back, junior starter Travis Homer has been “a staple every day,” but sophomore DeeJay Dallas and five-star freshmen Lorenzo Lingard will get carries. Brown is encouraged by oft-injured redshirt freshman Robert Burns, who has bulked up to (5-foot-10 and) 225 pounds and has remained healthy. That’s a major step forward for a player who missed most of his final two high school seasons with ankle and shoulder injuries, and spent last year dealing with various ailments.
“He has been a ghost since he’s been here,” he said of Burns, “He’s not where I want him to be right now, but he’s been a pleasant surprise this spring. He’s made some plays, he’s broken some tackles. He’s a 225-pound guy who should play that way. He doesn’t always play that way. I’m pleased with the direction he’s going and his mindset.”
Incoming fullback Realus George, who arrives this summer, may be pushed by redshirt senior Trayone Gray, who like Burns has been playing fullback at times. Brown said Gray, listed at 6-2 and 235 pounds, is actually 240. Gray has 36 carries for 211 yards and three touchdowns in three seasons of action.
“He definitely knows what to do at tailback,” Brown said. “Just trying to find a way to get him involved in the game more. He’s the biggest guy I have in my room. … He’s physical enough to play fullback. I think it’s working out well for him this spring. I’m definitley pleased with where he’s at.”
Tyree St. Louis has emerged as a solid left tackle, and center Tyler Gauthier “has really stepped up big” in the leadership department, Brown said.
“We need more leadership, as I’ve said several times,” Brown said. “He’s becoming more of a vocal guy, commanding the huddle, commanding guys around him, which is huge.”
Seniors St. Louis and Brown, and sophomore right tackle Navaughn Donaldson, have the strongest handle on jobs. UM is sorting through options at left guard (redshirt senior Jahair Jones remains ahead) and right tackle (redshirt junior George Brown), but there’s no shortage of contenders.
At receiver, UM is without potential difference-makers Ahmmon Richards (recovering from Nov. knee surgery) and Mark Pope (enrolls this summer), but Lawrence Cager is proving he should start at ‘X’ (outside), and Mike Harley (slot, ‘Y’) and Jeff Thomas (‘Z,’ flanker) are currently the strongest candidates for those positions.
Harley is also training to replace Berrios as a punt returner, Brown said. DeeJay Dallas and Jeff Thomas were previously seen returning punts.
UM coaches haven’t been as pleased with tight ends, where junior Michael Irvin hasn’t developed into a starter-caliber player and sophomore Brian Polendey is behind him. The good news: four-star freshmen Brevin Jordan and Will Mallory arrive this summer, and UM on the whole won’t lack for receiving options.