Canes Convos: Offense makes a comeback, Willis talk of the team

Canes Convos: Offense makes a comeback, Willis talk of the team

Stefan Adams
The Canes took to the field for their second practice of the fall on Sunday morning. Afterwards, head coach Mark Richt praised the team, saying the intensity was up and the offense turned things around after a slow start yesterday.

“I love the way we practice. We practiced with the right focus and the right intensity and the right competition level. It’s really good,” Richt said. “Defense pretty much stormed the offense yesterday and the offense got their feelings hurt, I think, a little bit. They came back and had a much better day. That’s what makes a great team, is that competition I was talking about for your position but also offense versus defense. I think all the former players would have been proud of today’s practice.”

As many Hurricanes fans know, UM has specifically struggled for consistent play on the offensive line for years now. How well the O-Line comes together will be one of the keys to the team in 2018, but at least for one day, they gave the quarterbacks and receivers enough time to make plays.

“There were some really bright moments today with the one unit [first string], especially, picking up some nice, little nasty blitzes,” Richt said on the O-Line. “We had a couple moments of blitz pick-up that showed everybody that when you do it right, this is what can happen.”

“We had a good day offensively with our skill guys – in one-on-one passing and our seven-on-seven stuff – but sometimes you get in with the line in there, if you don’t get enough time do your thing as a quarterback, it’s tough to make those throws that you can make in seven-on-seven, when you have all that clear vision. But we did protect well a number of times. More times than not, quarterbacks had the time to hold the ball, make their reads and throws. It was impressive. It was fun to watch.”

Right now, Richt likes the combination that Miami’s got going up front and wants to give the starting five time to gel. If there needs to be changes, it will happen after the first scrimmage.

“We’re going to scrimmage [during] practice number seven, and I probably won’t change the lineup until then,” Richt said on the O-Line. “Then, we’ll see if we need to re-rack it after that. We want to keep continuity the best we can before the first scrimmage, with all groups – ones [first string], twos and threes.”

Speaking of keys to the team, DT Gerald Willis III returned to the defense in the spring after taking time off from UM last fall. Willis has always had the talent to be a star, but finally has his head in the right place, something Richt has noticed the past few months.

“I do love them all – I love all these guys – but [Gerald Willis] has a special place right now. I don’t know how to say it, but he has got his life on track in a really positive way,” Richt said. “He was doing things that weren’t the way they were supposed to be, in all areas. He took ownership of it. He did what he had to do to get right. And now, he truly is one of our leaders. You’ve got Coach Simpson coaching him for the first time, and he’s like, ‘This guy is unbelievable. This guy is awesome.’ He knows nothing but the new ‘G.’ I’m just really proud of him.”

“He’s one of the most intense competitors we’ve got. Just like we talked about, he was on scout team all of last year. All last year. He just terrorized everybody every day. He could have moped and pouted because [he] was on the scout team for this or that reason, but he didn’t. He brought it every day. And now he can bring it for real, with his defensive teammates, and he’s just so excited. I’m just super proud of him.”

**Speaking of Willis, he got the opportunity to respond to Richt’s praise of him later on. When the Hurricanes take on #24 LSU to open the season, it’ll be a little bit more personal for Willis than most others on the team.

“It’s been a blessing,” Willis said on his chance to return to the playing field. “I’ve been waiting for this opportunity for a long time now and to be opening up against my home town [LSU]… I’m just ready. I’m just ready to ball and be with my brothers.”

Although he had a promising start at Miami and recorded 5.5 TFL and 1.5 sacks in a back-up role as a sophomore after transferring in from UF, last season, Willis missed his entire junior year to sort out off the field issues. Most 5th year seniors are looked to as leaders on the team, but Willis is able to offer a different perspective on life and football than someone like a Jaquan Johnson or Shaq Quarterman.

“Just don’t give up and don’t take it for granted, because I almost took it for granted. Ball is my life and I told [the young players] this is my ticket,” Willis said on how he leads. “I told them to keep grinding and don’t let the coaches or anybody get down on you. Just keep it going. Life is a blessing. I have friends and family members that are in jail, to this day. But now I’m in a perfect spot. Like coach said, I play for Miami so I’m living right and I’m living good. It’s a blessing to be here.”

In a year’s time, Willis has gone from nearly kicked off the team to the Hurricanes’ best defensive tackle. After spending some of his time away from the field taking care of both his personal life and his body, he’s ready to unleash some pent up aggression against another team’s offensive line.

“I got my body right and got it to where I wanted it to be. I got my relationships right with my family. I’m a better person, like I said. I’m just ready to ball and play football,” Willis said on his time off. “I think two years ago my body fat percentage was at 30, and now I’m at 20 or 22. It has been a big improvement and Kyle [Bellamy, team nutritionist] has really helped me out with that. I gained weight. Last year I was at 285 [pounds] with 30 percent body fat and now I’m 300 and 22 [percent body fat].”

**Junior receiver Lawrence Cager has been an early starter on the outside for UM so far in fall camp and he says a lot of that has to do with how detail-oriented coach Mark Richt and the rest of the staff is.

“That’s what you want in a coach, to be on you every single detail,” Cager said. “Especially the competition we play, it’s going to matter - the defensive backs we’re going to play in the ACC and starting the [season] off in the SEC. It’s great to have a coach like that and we’re thankful for it.”

Last season, Cager took a little while to get going, but saved his best performance for last, leading the team with career-high totals of four receptions and 76 yards, along with career-long 38-yard touchdown reception, in the Orange Bowl against Wisconsin. Cager said he, along with starting QB Malik Rosier, is ready to take things to new heights in 2018, and that Rosier feels like he has something to prove.

“He wants to prove that he is a good quarterback and he’s worthy of the starting quarterback job and he was given it for a reason,” Cager said on Rosier. “[He’s shown] more leadership and more consistency. That’s all you can ask for in a quarterback.”

**In his second season as the full-time starting center, one of Tyler Gauthier’s main jobs is to make all the calls and get everyone organized and on the same page. Gauthier echoed Richt’s earlier praise of the offensive line’s performance out at practice today and saw the improvement he was looking for.

“First day, we were kind of knocking some rust off and today we came out with a little more effort and attitude, so that’s always good,” Gauthier said.

Gauthier now has an entire playing season worth of experience working with Rosier under center and their connection has only grown in the off-season.

“It’s amazing. Even if I have a mishap on a mic call or something like that, Malik is instantly there to tell me – or vice-versa, if something happens with him, I’m easily there to do it,” Gauthier said. “Being able to work with Malik for the past couple of years, we’re on the same page. We go out there and want the same thing and we strive for the same thing.”

Facing off against UM’s interior line talent every day, Gauthier knows he’s ready for anything that’s thrown at him during the season. In particular, DT Gerald Willis III has been the early talk of fall camp, and Gauthier outlined just how tough it is to go up against him in practice every day.

“G’ is an incredible player. He comes out every day and he does what he does,” Gauthier said on Willis. “He’s quick, he’s fast, he’s strong…he can beat you with an ****nal of moves. If you beat him on his first move, he’s got a second move, a third move and a fourth move. It’s amazing to have ‘G’ back and I can’t wait to see what he does this year.”

**Junior LB Michael Pinckney said after UM’s second practice that the team has been working for the past three seasons to bring the standard back up to what Miami football is used to traditionally on Greentree.

“When Coach Richt came in, the old guys set the standards. We had to get back the Miami tradition,” Pinckney said. “We’re trying to uphold that standard. I feel like, offense and defense, we’ve been going back and forth and competing and making each other better. We’ve got enough players to make each other around us, make everybody great.”

If the depth chart holds as it is now, this will be Pinckney’s third season starting alongside Shaq Quarterman and Zach McCloud at linebacker. McCloud returned to the field from a wrist injury that cost him the majority of spring ball, and Pinckney says he’s fit right back into the lineup.

“Zach’s good, hasn’t missed a beat, is trying to transition back in,” Pinckney said. “He missed the whole of spring, is looking good.”

Comments (52)

"Last year I was at 285 [pounds] with 30 percent body fat and now I’m 300 and 22 [percent body fat].”"

Well, that's impressive.

And people questioned the Gus hire. We are going into year 3 and will really start to see the difference in what Richt has brought into our S&C program along with the nutrition. We are starting to have the “look” of a top tier program.
St. Louis, Donaldson & Gauthier are NFL caliber lineman, I guarantee St. Louis & Gauthier will be drafted in 2019.

All we have to do is figure out the Guards, we got Boulware, Mahoney, Jones, Reed, Scaife, Gaynor (backup Center but can play Guard) & could possibly put Hillery at a backup Guard spot if necessary (even though I think he's a future RT).

This sh*t ain't nuclear cold fusion Searels, get it done.
St. Louis, Donaldson & Gauthier are NFL caliber lineman, I guarantee St. Louis & Gauthier will be drafted in 2019.

All we have to do is figure out the Guards, we got Boulware, Mahoney, Jones, Reed, Scaife, Gaynor (backup Center but can play Guard) & could possibly put Hillery at a backup Guard spot if necessary (even though I think he's a future RT).

This sh*t ain't nuclear cold fusion Searels, get it done.

Boulware probably starts eventually