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Diaz looks to spring game after UM wraps final spring practice

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Stefan Adams

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The Miami Hurricanes completed their last spring practice on Thursday, and head coach Manny Diaz spoke to the media in the aftermath to give a glimpse at what the spring game might hold on Saturday.

"We just walked off Greentree Practice Field for the last time this spring and had a good day today,” Diaz said. “Worked a lot of situation over time - one-minute drills, red zone, third-down type stuff. It's been good. It capped off a good five-week span on Greentree. We're looking forward to getting back at Hard Rock on an ACC Network, national TV audience and show our progress that we made this spring."

Diaz then went through an extensive list of players that will miss the spring game, grouping the players by where they are at in their rehab process and their expected return date.

Diaz said these players are expected back by May/June: S Bubba Bolden (toe), LB Sam Brooks (toe), WR Jeremiah Payton (knee), and OL Cleveland Reed (pectoral).

Players Diaz expects to be cleared in mid-summer: TE Will Mallory (shoulder) Elijah Arroyo (knee), CB Al Blades (stress fracture), CB Marcus Clarke (jaw), CB Te’Cory Couch (neck), DT Nesta Silvera (shoulder), and S Brian Balom (neck).

Players Diaz expects to be cleared before the start of fall camp: OL Michael McLaughlin (patella) and QB D’Eriq King (knee).

Players Diaz expects to be cleared before the season opener: RB Don Chaney (shoulder) and TE Dominic Mammarelli (shoulder).

"That's the group of guys who will not feature on Saturday… There will be a bunch of guys that we do feature that have practiced hard all spring and I look forward to watching them go on Saturday," Diaz said of the injuries.

A key focus of the spring has been bringing back the defensive intensity that the stop unit seemed to lose over the past two years, and Diaz updated how that process has gone thus far.

"I think what the defense has re-discovered is the love for stopping the run,” Diaz said. “We had the stats up for every practice, we treat it like a game in terms of yards per carry and run efficiency and tackles for loss and all that deal. Our front is starting to show signs of looking like a Miami front again in terms of how we set the line of scrimmage and how we limit somebody's running game.

"Defensive football is not complicated. This school, it will never be complicated. We need to stop the run and were going to hit the quarterback and I think we've been able to do both. Obviously, in spring practice, the quarterbacks are non-contact. But in terms of re-establishing our identity, I think we've been able to do that over these five weeks."

In evaluating the QB play over the past month-plus, Diaz expressed his excitement at being able to get a better look at UM’s young quarterbacks this spring with King out, saying Tyler Van Dyke and Jake Garcia seemed mature beyond their years at the position.

“If there has been one silver lining for missing D'Eriq this spring, it's all the reps that all the young quarterbacks can get. There's no substitute for that,” Diaz said. “Even getting into Hard Rock last Friday and being able to get in there again Saturday, seeing the way Tyler looked poised, the way Jake looked at times – [Garcia] made a couple throws and made a couple decisions that were like, 'Woah.' But then he settled down and he made some throws that made everybody re-wind the tape and say, 'That's impressive.'

"The whole team notices. They know, as we found out a year ago, when they believe their quarterback gives them a chance to win, everybody gains confidence from that and I think coach (Rhett) Lashlee and guys on the offensive staff have done a great job of re-engineering our quarterback room in 12 months time and I think everybody's got confidence because of that."

The Canes have also been experimenting with players at different positions recently, including moving Keontra Smith to WILL and Amari Carter to striker.

"I think they've both done a great job at those. I think Keontra at WILL, I think he looks at home there,” Diaz said. "He actually played that position at Chaminade quite a lot. He just feels very comfortable sort of closer to the ball. I think Amari, in terms of his versatility, we have a lot of versatility in our back seven. A lot of versatile guys. We've been able to throw Amari closer to the ball. There's some skill sets that he has.

"(Gilbert) Frierson can do some things. Frierson has a lot of skill at that position. Amari a little different skill set. We can call some different things. So I think when we get all of our guys back in the fall, I think some of our versatility and the different looks we provide an offense will be diverse because of guys like that that can play different positions. Not to mention our sub-packages, nickel, and dime."

Smith was moved to LB in part because of the Hurricanes’ perceived weakness at the position last season, but Diaz said he’s seen progression from the returnees on that unit.

"I believe our linebackers have taken a step forward as we have expected they would have. They have taken a big step forward this spring,” Diaz said. “It's just what we said we needed. I've been saying for a long time, Avery Huff just needed at-bats. And getting five weeks of at-bats this spring, Avery he may have made as big of an improvement as anybody on our entire defense. Corey Flagg having his first real, true off-season in our program and making some changes to his body and what his movement skills are reflecting.

"I think getting Keontra Smith in the mix at WILL, continuing for (Waynmon) Steed and (Bradley) Jennings to get further from their injuries. This time last year, we weren't even sure if those two were going to play. I think there's a lot of positive signs from the linebacker room, but we're still going to wait and see what Saturday looks like and then put it all in there and analyze it all together. That's not just for linebackers - that's for the entire football team."

Over at defensive end, Diaz pointed out that the Canes experienced some depth issues this spring due to injuries, but the head coach still sees plenty of upside in the position.

"I think we got a tremendous battle at defensive end,” Diaz said. “Deandre (Johnson), he's very talented. He's been able to show why he's here. Because he's been out, came back a little out of shape for the tempo that we play with. It's just hard to sit out and sort of jump in with as fast as we go, but he's showing every day why he's here and the great thing about him is he's here to learn.

"Cameron Williams has missed some time for similar reasons in the spring. Cam is a guy who missed last spring and his development is so vital, but when he puts it together the way coach (Jess) Simpson shows him, he looks like a big-time guy as well.”

While Diaz admits the Hurricanes lack a high-profile defensive end like they had with Jaelan Phillips or Quincy Roche last season, he envisions a deeper rotation in 2021 that allows UM to keep guys fresh.

"I think what's exciting about us, and we've been this way in the past, we were really probably this way in 2017. You can make the argument for 2018. I think we can go deep this year in our front four,” Diaz said. “Obviously last year, high-profile guy like Jaelan. I'm not saying we don't expect a guy to have a Jaelan-type year.

"We've had a defensive end with at least eight sacks for the last five years, but I think we can come at people with our depth and really go hard and pace ourselves. It was hard last year for Jaelan and Quincy because of how much they had to play because of the inexperience of the defensive ends behind them. I'm pretty fired up. Jahfari Harvey, Chantz Williams, Zach McCloud. Like I said, it was one of those years, either '17 or '18, where we felt like we could go four or five deep at end, and I'm feeling the same thing now."

With the team now putting the finishing touches on spring camp, Diaz was able to reflect on the impact of actually getting a full spring in this season compared to last year’s COVID-shortened camp.

"You can sort of divide the team into two groups,” Diaz said. “You got a lot of experienced guys who have used this spring to really refine some of the finer points of their game. They've been through springs, whether it's our very experienced offensive line. This is still year two of Garin Justice being in this offense. We got a lot of experienced defensive backs, but now they got new position coaches. Now we're challenging them on different techniques and different ways of doing this.

"You got those guys, then you got the younger guys who really are freshman, redshirt freshman, sophomore class that lost a whole off-season of development. It's hard to learn from watching someone else do it. You got to get in there and do it yourself, so I think no matter where you are on the scale, it's been a huge spring. Obviously, mostly everybody who played last year didn't have spring, so it was equal footing, but I think these five weeks, you can see the difference in what it's made for some of our guys."

What will Diaz be looking for in the spring game this weekend?

"I want to see a clean scrimmage,” Diaz said. “I want to see good execution on both sides. Two sides making it difficult on one another. Guys making tough catches in tough coverages and every time the ball is handed off, it's a battle of wills, right? Offense is trying to run the ball better. Defensively, we're trying to stop the run better. But, more than that, no missed assignments, no penalties, great effort and, obviously, I want our guys to stay healthy. We made it big point this spring in Miami not beating [ourselves] and doing those things that we feel like can take us to the next level.

"We don't get an exhibition game and it's hard for us to simulate what we will see in Atlanta the first week of September. I don't even mean by our opponent. I mean getting back in a big stadium, God-willing filled with fans. The more we can try to put our kids in any type of stadium environment and let them go play and get them calm in those types of situations, I think there's great benefits to us."
 

Umbra

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Jesus that list of injuries is rough. They been making these kids run into brick walls or what?
 

Trav

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Not unprecedented. There was a Spring we were literally out of WRs and only had Buck Ortega and walk ons.. Once we were out of TEs and a 3rd string OL (Jimmy Sikora) got most of the snaps and actually has a few nice catches from Dorsey.
 

Mklein13

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Gotta think Dom had shoulder surgery. Was Hodges really the only TE out there this spring?
 
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