Wide Receivers ‘Wowing’ on Greentree
By David Villavicencio
CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Speed at the wide receiver position is a dangerous weapon for any offense and the Miami Hurricanes have shown a major influx of that attribute so far during fall camp.
While the Hurricanes bring back standouts Ahmmon Richards and Braxton Berrios, Miami added several explosive receivers in the 2017 recruiting class that add more speed to the position group.
“The young guys, like you see Jeff [Thomas] run and you see Mike [Harley] run and it’s like ‘wow,'” wide receivers coach Ron Dugans said. “And then you see some of the older guys, they look and see how fast those guys are going and it’s like, ‘I want to run that fast, too.’ So, they’re out there trying to compete and run, as well. Different guys have shown flashes of how fast they can run, and I think we’ve got the fast in that group and I’m excited to see these guys because I know the first day, and there were no pads on so I try not to get too excited with no pads on, but they looked really good.”
Richards was a breakout star as a freshman a year ago, smashing the school record for receiving yards that was previously held by Hall of Famer Michael Irvin. His 934 receiving yards and 19.06 yards per reception both led all freshmen in FBS last year, but they also put a target on his back for opponents to key on heading into his sophomore season.
“Ahmmon, he’s learning how to be a pro, and that’s a thing that I see in him,” Dugans said. “I told him all offseason, ‘hey, the honeymoon is over.’ He’s not the unknown guy anymore. Now you’ve got a target on your back. He’s had a really good offseason. Started off a little bit slow, but now it’s been all mental focus. Just offense, special teams, he’s been giving out demand, so I’m excited to see him go out and work and compete and try to push guys.”
Dugans is excited about the mix of returners and newcomers he has at the wide receiver position and he believes each freshman brings a different dynamic to the group.
“The thing that Jeff [Thomas] has to work on is getting the assignments down,” Dugans said. “He knows he’s getting a feel of what he’s doing, but now it’s just the details in the assignment because he could have, ‘Hey I got a curl route or a post route, but what’s my landmark, what’s my aiming point, and where’s my high point for the quarterback?’ So, it’s getting the detail down, and he’s starting to get it. He’s learning from his mistakes. I think he’ll be a really good player for us.”
“Mike Harley, he’s about the same [as Jeff Thomas],” Dugans said. “I mean, both of those guys are showing flashes. The thing about those two guys, they want to learn, they want to get better. They work hard, they compete, they try to finish and Harley, he’s done a really good job for us. And the same thing, him just being consistent. He caught a few really good catches out here today in a pass skeleton, and he’s doing good.”
“DeeJay Dallas has gotten better since the spring,” Dugans said. “He’s progressed, he’s a better route runner now. He runs with a really good pad level, and he’s understanding the game now. I’ve got him in a few different positions. That’s why it goes back to teaching by concepts. Now he can learn, whether it’s a slot, a wide, a 3-by-1, a 2-by-2, so DeeJay’s doing a really good job. He’s made some contesting catches for us in some drills.”
“And Evidence [Njoku], early on he’s really raw, like really raw, and he came out today and he grew up,” Dugans said. “He grew up today, so I look for some good things for him. The quarterback is throwing the ball and you think the ball is going out of bounds, it’s like his long arms come from out of nowhere man and he catches it. So I like the upside on the kid, I just got to teach him and coach him up and give him the knowledge of the game and bring him along slowly.”
Cornerback Malek Young has faced off against most of Miami’s receivers in the opening week of camp and he has come away impressed with their skill set.
“Jeff Thomas, he’s quick, he’s fast,” Young said. “Mike Harley, he can get separation. But they’re still learning the instincts and the installs right now, so sometimes they’re kind of off, but I can see greatness evident. [Evidence] Njoku, he’s long. He has to get more physical, but that’s what he’s working on. It’s all getting better, and as you can see over there at the practice, they’re getting better and better.”
Like any new player, the new arrivals at wide receiver need to learn the Hurricanes’ system if they hope to contribute. Miami is trying a new and extended form of play installation that head coach Mark Richt believes will be beneficial to newcomers and veterans.
“I think it’s helping everybody – even the veterans,” Richt said. “If you go at breakneck speed…we used to do ‘Install 1’ in the morning and ‘Install 2’ in the afternoon. ‘3’, ‘4’, ‘5’ – I’m talking back in the two-a-day days, within five days, we’d have everything installed. We’d have 10 different installs, including short yardage, goal line, red zone. It was crazy how fast we used to go. It was crazy. Part of this tempo I think has been helpful. The other thing is, when you install pass concepts, you really have to do that in 7-on-7 time. When we installed first, we had one skeleton or 7-on-7 early in the practice and one later in the practice. To get it all planned. Now that we’ve split it in half, I only have to do one 7-on-7 a day instead of two a day, which is helping these guys on the volume of routes they’re running, and the [defensive backs] chasing them. I think it was a real smart thing that we did there. I’d like to say it was my idea, but it was a good idea.”
In addition to the four freshmen, Miami also welcomed back redshirt sophomore Lawrence Cager. The 6-foot-5 wideout missed all of 2016 with a knee injury, but he has returned to action and is excited to help the Canes in 2017.
“The sky is the limit,” Cager said. “We haven’t even scratched the surface and we are already looking good. We come out here competing to be great.”
Miami opens the season at home on Sept. 2 against Bethune-Cookman. Kickoff is set for 12:30 p.m., ET. Click HERE for ticket information.