Football Media Day in Miami

By David Villavicencio

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Head coach Mark Richt, assistant coaches and players welcomed members of the media to the University of Miami’s Schwartz Center for Athletic Excellence on Monday, as the Hurricanes held their annual Media Day.
After spending the morning getting better on the football field, the Hurricanes shifted gears and spent time with members of the national and local media. Richt kicked off the afternoon with a press conference, stating that he hoped the Hurricanes would be mentally strong as they began the third week of training camp.
“I’ve mentioned it before, and it’s so true – every time we practice, the guys that know what they’re doing, they do it better,” Richt said. “The guys that have been through it, they fight through it better. I told the players at the end [of practice], ‘the more mature you are, the more you’ll have your mind tell your body what to do. The less mature you are, the more your body wants to tell your mind what to do.’ You have to be physically tough. You have to be mentally tough to play the game. You have to know what to do to play the game. Usually young, talented guys, if they don’t play much, it’s because they don’t know what to do, or they don’t know how to push, or they don’t know how to recover from a bad play. That takes reps. That takes experience. That takes maturity. A lot of those guys are learning that.
“I see a lot of flashes from young guys that are like, ‘wow, that guy can really play.’ But if you have one missed assignment out of every four plays, it’s going to be tough to play a lot. It’s going to be tough to get you in the game. If we’re ‘no huddling’ and trying to go fast on offense, same thing with other people going fast on defense, we can’t sit here and say, ‘here’s the play, run that play and then come back.’ Like in the old days, when you huddled, you might say, ‘hey, you go in for this play and then you come back out.’ Things are happening too fast to do that. But overall, it has been an excellent camp. We’re just trying to make every day perfect. That’s what we’re striving for.”
Following Richt’s press conference, every assistant coach and player on the 2017 roster was available for interviews and there were lots of storylines to follow. The most popular one surrounded Miami’s quarterbacks. After three years with Brad Kaaya under center, the Canes are looking for a new signal caller to lead the offense and that has led to a competition for the starting job.
“The road map is to compete and compete with as many guys as you think have a realistic shot at winning the job. In this case, it’s four guys,” Richt said of entering camp with a quarterback position battle. “When you rep that many guys, it’s hard to get the continuity you want. On the other hand, we’re trying to learn as much as we can. Sometimes, if you’re with the one unit [first string], and you might have better protection, then I can see how you react when things are going good. Then if you get with the two unit, against the number one defense, and the protection might not be holding out as good as with the ones, I got to see how you’re going to react to that. I got to see how you react. If a guy misses a block, what are you going to? Are you going to secure the ball and get what you can get? Find somebody and run out of bounds or run down the field and slide – how are you going to react? How are you going to react if you throw a pick – what are you going to do after that? How are you going to react if you have a rough day overall – can you recover and be mature enough to go back and compete? The goal is to try to be as equal as I can with the reps with the one unit and two unit, and even the three unit sometimes. Then you learn a lot. Kids think, ‘I can only show what I can do behind the [first-string] offensive line.’ No, you’re showing me what to do behind the [second-string] line. I want to see how you’re going to react to a little bit of adversity.”
Malik Rosier and Evan Shirreffs are joined by N’Kosi Perry and Cade Weldon in the quarterback battle, and Richt is looking to see what each player brings as he narrows the group down to one starter.
“I need to see from all the quarterbacks, the two young guys in particular, to show they know what to do,” Richt said. “I always say, ‘they went to the right guy for the right reason.’ Sometimes you might throw to the right guy and I ask you, on film [review], ‘why did you do what you did?’, and they can’t tell me why. They just got lucky. Sometimes they get lucky. I want them to tell me, ‘I did it because I knew it was a one-high coverage and the mic [linebacker] went this way so I went that way with the ball.’ I want them to do the right thing and I want them to know why he did the right thing…what happens is, when you get into a game and everything starts flying a little faster – and with a rookie it’ll go faster in the beginning, with a veteran it tends to go slower because they’re confident in what they’re doing – I’m trying to get them to create habits that will carry them when they’re a little bit nervous, or carry them when they’re a little bit tired, or carry them when they get hit in the mouth and have to go back and drop back in the pocket again, and trust protection and trust the process of how we teach them to read coverages and things like that.”
Monday marked the first time freshmen were available to speak to the media and Perry was quick to state that the quarterback competition is among friends that are all pushing each other to succeed.
“I think the competition is really good,” Perry said. “Before I came in, I didn’t know how friendly the guys would be, whether they would accept me or not. But once I got here, they were very, very accepting. I feel like we are all brothers, so whoever wins the spot, we would all be proud, whoever it was.”
Braxton Berrios sees Miami’s offense in position to do great things in 2017, regardless of who is under center. The senior believes the Hurricanes have four strong options battling for the starting quarterback job.
“We can see how far we can go and how good we can be,” Berrios said. “It’s just the quarterback fitting in. Which one is it going to be? They all have talent and they’re all special players and all going to be great quarterbacks for us. The thing is finding out who is going to be the one starting this year. Our offense has great potential.”
Ahmmon Richards, who was a breakout star and earned Freshman All-America honors a year ago, believes Miami’s offense is going to be a major threat for explosive plays.
“When I think of our offense, I think of speed in the receivers’ position,” Richards said. “I feel like we are faster than last year, like we have a lot more depth, guys who can play…I feel like we will scare a lot of people.”
Miami’s defense could be one of the best in the ACC and the nation in 2017. After an impressive debut performance under defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, the Hurricanes are looking to be even better in their encore.
“I think we are close to getting over the hump,” linebacker Shaquille Quarterman said. “We are really focused on the little things, not just with the starters, but with everyone because it’s the standard. If everyone keeps that standard then we’ll be right back on top where we are supposed to be.”
Defensive lineman Joe Jackson, who led the Canes with 8.5 sacks and earned Freshman All-America honors in 2016, knows the impact an elite defense can have on a team’s success.
“If our opponent doesn’t score, that’s the easiest way to win,” Jackson said. “We know we are being held to a higher standard and we have to bust our tails every game to get that done.”
For newcomers like freshman defensive back Trajan Bandy, there is a lot of excitement about joining such a talented defense. But Bandy and his fellow freshmen teammates know the standard at Miami is high and they will need to work to exceed it.
“Our expectations are to win,” Bandy said. “We want to create turnovers, not allow many touchdowns and really want to step it up this year just by making a lot of plays.”
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.