At the start of fall camp, junior LB Zach McCloud returned to Greentree practice field after sitting out this past spring with a wrist injury. McCloud actually injured it during UM’s regular season finale against Pitt last season and played through the pain to finish out the post-season against Clemson and Wisconsin.
“They had to wrap it up so tight that I couldn’t feel my hand by the end of the first quarter [against Pitt],” McCloud said.
Even though McCloud is back on the field and playing full-go, he still has protective padding around the wrist as a precaution. The third year veteran says he doesn’t plan on holding anything back, though.
“Well, they trust me enough to have me out here on the field and let me bang with it,” McCloud said. “I feel comfortable enough to play in it. I haven’t had any issues playing so far. And I have really gone the furthest I can, really, to test it out. So I guess Saturday will be the real test. But until then, I’ll be hitting and striking just the same way I have been doing since I’ve been here.”
McCloud has returned to a bit of a different role with the team for the 2018 season. McCloud started at SAM linebacker the past two seasons but, after the linebackers struggled in coverage last season, defensive coordinator Manny Diaz instituted a “Striker” package, in which a hybrid safety/linebacker is inserted for the SAM to (ideally) cover a slot receiver, while also being able to shed blocks and make plays at the line. What should we call McCloud?
“Call me linebacker, call me a striker. I am doing both,” McCloud said.
Converted safeties Derrick Smith and Romeo Finley have seen most of the reps in the striker role, but McCloud says there’s really only one major difference between the spots.
“The biggest difference is there’s man coverage on slot receivers,” McCloud said. “But for the most part the other assignments we do are pretty much the same. It’s nothing difficult to catch up on. We’re all learning, if you take me back to high school they never had me do anything like this. This is my first time getting into doing it with receivers, I’ve been doing it with tight ends. It’s all about technique.”
For his part, McCloud welcomes the new role, and says it wouldn't be out of the question for him to play some defensive end and chase quarterbacks if the coaches asked him to.
"I love to do new things. If they told me to put my hand in the dirt, and rush the passer like that, you know, I would be excited for that,” McCloud said. “I actually have been bugging them, kind of, to let me do something like that. But I am excited to do whatever I can to help the team. I know that is kind of like a really generic answer, but I really mean it when I say it."
**Sophomore DeeJay Dallas came into the UM program last season playing wide receiver, but ended up switching positions to running back when Mark Walton went down with an injury to help out with depth. After racking up 217 rushing yards and 92 receiving yards out of the backfield last season, while also seeing time as a wildcat QB, it’s safe to say Dallas is a true athlete capable of playing many different positions.
“I try not to box myself into that label as just a running back,” Dallas said. “I’m an athlete before anything. I can play anything on the field. Whatever Coach Richt needs me to play, I’ll play it.”
Dallas also reported that’s he’s up to 220 pounds now and that he ran a 4.5-second time over the summer.
“I feel stronger, faster and I feel like I’m playing physical,” Dallas said. “I feel like I’m getting into peak performance.”
Like last season, Dallas has been working as the number 2 back behind starter Travis Homer. Dallas feels like Homer has been a role model to him thus far as he continues to become more comfortable at the position.
“Travis is my guy. I look up to Travis,” Dallas said. “I try to model my game and my tenacity after Travis because Travis is a physical dude. He’s physical, he’s fast, he’s everything you want in a back and that’s what I want to be.”
On freshman RB Cam Davis, who did not go through spring ball and enrolled later in this summer: “Cam has all the tools. He just has to get accustomed to the culture. He came in kind of late. He just has to get accustomed to the [Thomas Brown] culture because Coach Brown is hard on us, but that’s what makes us great. He’s going to be alright.”
**Senior WR Darrell Langham has spent the beginning of fall camp working behind Miami’s number 1 receiver.
“Right now, I’ve been behind Ahmmon [Richards], but you never know the rotation,” Langham said. “We can always switch it up. It can be anything.”
After he barely saw the field during his first two seasons at UM, Langham broke free of the bench a bit in 2017 to record 11 catches for 209 yards and 2 TD’s, the more memorable of which came in the final seconds to break Miami’s seven game losing streak vs. FSU. What many forget about that play though, is that it was only his second snap of the game. That theme of limited snaps continued through much of last season, and is why he’s looking for a little more playing time in his senior season.
“I am hoping for a little more snaps this year, but I do know it’s a team effort,” Langham said. “Everyone’s going to get on the field and everyone’s going to put the work in when they play.”
WR coach Ron Dugans loves to rotate his players and said earlier today he can see himself having up to 8 receivers in his rotation on game day this year. What has coach Dugans said to Langham about what he needs to do to get more playing time?
“He said he wants me to use my body more physically, like push people around and knock them on their way and use my frame as an advantage,” Langham said.
**Senior LB Mike Smith spent most of last season working as the backup MIKE behind Shaq Quarterman. While he still opens practice in that role, Smith has been seeing reps at all three linebacker spots in drills in an effort to get the defense more multiple.
“Just working out, trying to learn all the positions to be versatile at any position,” Smith said. “I think it is coming along with me just with development, understanding all the plays at all the positions understanding my reads, my keys, at each position and trying to help everybody else.”
Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has spent the last two plus years trying to change the culture at UM get the stop-unit to play with a “smack you in the mouth” mentality. Smith says he’s starting to really see the team buy-in during Diaz’s third season.
“Our defensive identity is to always be physical first and foremost,” Smith said. “Overall, I feel like we are playing hard. Playing tough. Very physical. Very physical camp. Everybody is flying to the ball, everybody is hitting. So that is a good sign.”
I read it as I want to help the team. Seems like the “team first” attitude has been embraced by the players. I hope Zach has a great season. Love to see some more hits like the one he laid on James Conner from Pitt a couple of years ago.