Canes Open Spring on Greentree

Canes Open Spring on Greentree

by Christy Cabrera Chirinos

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – For weeks, they’ve been getting to know their new teammates, working their way through off-season conditioning sessions, and getting stronger in the weight room.

And on Monday, the Hurricanes took another big step forward in their preparation for the season that awaits when they returned to Greentree and held their first of 15 spring practices.

Needless to say, there was plenty of excitement – for both the coaches and players involved.

“As you could probably tell, a lot of energy, a lot of juice, like you would expect,” said head coach Mario Cristobal, now in his third year at the helm of his alma mater’s program. “Spring has to be challenging. It has to be demanding. It has to create opportunities and I think we did that with day one. … Systematically, just making sure that we are exploring every mechanism, every process just to make ourselves better as coaches, as players, [and] as an organization.”

Said linebacker Wesley Bissainthe, “Last night I started to feel it. It’s very exciting, man. Just to come out here and go to work, making plays with your teammates. There’s nothing like it.”

One group that found itself in the spotlight Monday – and will likely remain there throughout the spring? Miami’s quarterbacks, who welcomed three new signal-callers this offseason.

Washington State transfer Cam Ward, Albany transfer Reese Poffenbarger and freshman Judd Anderson all had opportunities to make plays Monday, along with returning quarterbacks Jacurri Brown and Emory Williams, who was back in action after suffering a season-ending arm injury last November at Florida State.

“Really impressive about Emory. He’s been out for a long time, hasn’t taken many reps and he jumped out there today and it seemed like he never missed,” Cristobal said. “He’s that kind of a guy, though. We’ve talked about it before. He is that over-the-top, dedicated guy that just reminds you of maybe some of those old-school quarterbacks that played here that just devotes a ton of time to his craft. Time with the coordinator, time coming in and meeting with different players. He went out there, he had a great day.

“Cam had a great day. Reese had a great day. Jacurri did as well. Those guys … We’ve got a really good quarterback room right now. Judd got a few reps today. Judd, he’s hard to miss, all of 6-[foot]-7. And he’s just an awesome human being. He understands that there’s going to be some time, where he may not get all the reps. But he’s going to develop into a great player. Pleased with the first day with that quarterback room.”

While Monday was clearly a big day for Miami’s 26 newcomers, quarterbacks included, it was also a memorable day for players like Elijah Arroyo, who have battled through injury to get back on the field.

Arroyo appeared in just five games last season and only four games in 2022 after getting hurt during his sophomore campaign.

But on Monday, Arroyo said he was starting to feel more and more like the tight end who appeared in all 12 games during his freshman campaign back in 2021.

“It was definitely frustrating,” Arroyo said of the fact he wasn’t able to come back last season as quickly as he’d hoped. “I gave myself a day to be mad about, you know? But after that, there’s nothing I [could] do. Just got to keep my head down, work, and control what I can control. … I feel great [now]. I feel like Elijah Arroyo.”

The key for the Hurricanes now is to keep that energy level high through the rest of the spring.

After going 5-7 in 2022, Miami earned a bowl berth and finished last season with a 7-6 mark. Continuing to improve remains the primary focus and that improvement should continue, not just because of the influx of talent the Hurricanes welcomed this offseason, but because of consistency on the sideline.

Offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson and defensive coordinator Lance Guidry are both back, and this spring, instead of focusing on installing their respective systems, the approach can be on growth and progress.

That, Cristobal noted, will make a difference for Miami moving forward.

“Familiarity with language, with verbiage, with systems, with processes is always at a premium in college football with the ever-changing landscape, with the turnover that you always have,” Cristobal said. “It’s been a while since we’ve been able to have that [consistency] anywhere I’ve been, so it’s really refreshing, and it feels good.”

Said offensive lineman Jalen Rivers, “I’ve had an offensive coordinator change like almost every year, so this is a good opportunity for me to come in my second year with Coach Dawson and already know the offense. … It’s great to just know the offense so I can teach the guys behind me and be that leader. I already know my stuff, so I’ve got to help the guys behind me. I’ve got to help the whole offense and make us all better.”

Johnson returns

As has become Miami tradition, more than a few former Hurricane standouts were at Monday’s practice, taking in the action on Greentree.

Former quarterbacks Gino Torretta and Jacory Harris were both in attendance, as was former Miami running back Duke Johnson.

Johnson, though, did more than just watch practice. He participated.

Cristobal noted that Johnson –Miami’s all-time leading rusher – will serve as a student assistant this season while taking classes at the University.

Johnson rushed for 3,519 yards during his three seasons at Miami.

“It’s important. You know how it is. These guys are recognized as players for what they’ve done here at Miami and what they’ve done in the NFL,” Cristobal said. “We want to have them around a bunch. Duke is in school, so he will be a student assistant. He will be around all the time. And Jacory, anytime you get a chance to see one of your guys around, it’s awesome. It really is. So, guys know him, they respect him. Great to see alumni.”

Trying something new

Defensive lineman Rueben Bain, Jr. was back on more familiar footing Monday when the Hurricanes returned to Greentree.

Bain, the ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year, had the opportunity to throw out a ceremonial first-pitch this weekend during Miami’s three-game baseball series against rival Florida.

It was an experience Bain said he appreciated – even if he did have to step out of his comfort zone a bit.

“It was a little different than I thought it was going to go,” Bain said with a laugh. “It was definitely a great experience, something I look forward to again, but it was eye-opening. … That was my first pitch. That’s why I looked like that.”