Canes to fill positions after loss of valuable players

Linemen warm up before Tuesday's Spring football practice on Greentree Practice Fields. Josh White // Staff Photographer
Linemen warm up before Tuesday’s Spring football practice on Greentree Practice Fields. Josh White // Staff Photographer

Although the University of Miami won’t play between the hash marks of the Hard Rock Stadium until the fall, the third week of spring practice has begun at Greentree Practice Fields with hopes of answering some of the biggest questions surrounding the Hurricanes’ offense.

The most pressing question is who will replace Miami’s all-time passing leader Brad Kaaya. Even though Coach Mark Richt has not yet provided a definitive answer, he has decided on an interesting approach as the Hurricanes get set to scrimmage Saturday.

“My plan right now, which is a little bit different, is to let the quarterbacks have a normal jersey and play ball,” Richt said after practice April 4. “Is it a sack? Is it not a sack? In a normal scrimmage, we don’t know. This scrimmage, if I don’t chicken out, we’ll know if it’s a sack or not. It’ll look more like a true game on those snaps because we’re going to let the quarterbacks ball.”

Richt hasn’t ruled out any of the quarterbacks jockeying to be the Canes’ first-string signal caller. The five potentials on campus are redshirt junior Malik Rosier, sophomore Evan Shirreffs, redshirt freshman Jack Allison, redshirt junior Vincent Testaverde and early enrollee Cade Weldon. Dual-threat N’Kosi Perry is set to arrive on campus May 22, bringing a sixth quarterback into the mix.

Rosier is the only one who has started a game in his Miami career. While the others have had less action, Richt is open to seeing how the competitors perform under pressure.

“How are you going to react when you get hit in the mouth and you have to go on the next play?” Richt said. “How are you going to react? Can you stand in there and throw a strike, and somebody hits you? That’s part of being a pocket passer.”

Another concern for the Canes’ coaching staff is how the offense changes after the departure of projected first-round pick tight end David Njoku and wide receiver Stacy Coley.

UM will try to utilize senior tight end Christopher Herndon IV in a variety of ways, including as a conventional tight end and in the backfield as a fullback.

“Chris Herndon is an unbelievable football player just because he’s so versatile in what he can do,” said Todd Hartley, special teams coordinator and tight end coach. “You’re talking about a kid who can line up and play in the slot, and be really good in the slot. [He is] a guy that can line up as a traditional tight end and be the best tight end in the country, and you can put him at fullback and he can hold his own at fullback. A guy like that gives you a lot of options on offense.”

Herndon, who split starts with Njoku last season, hauled in 334 yards and two touchdowns — numbers that are sure to increase in 2017.

Sophomore Michael Irvin II and redshirt freshman Jovani Haskins are likely to see action as secondary tight ends, given that the Hurricanes often employed two tight-end sets last year with Njoku and Herndon.

Miami also has question marks in the backfield.

Behind workhorse and All-ACC third-team running back Mark Walton, the Canes backfield lacks depth with the departure of Gus Edwards and Joseph Yearby, a result of transferring and entering the 2017 NFL Draft, respectively.

Freshman running back Robert Burns, who was expected to compete for the number-two spot, has been sidelined with an undisclosed injury, leaving Miami with just one back behind Walton — sophomore Travis Homer.

“We don’t want anyone getting hurt, obviously, but there’s certain positions that if you had one or two [injuries], you’re like ‘I have no earthly idea what we’ll do,’” Richt said.

Senior offensive linemen Nick Linder and Sunny Odogwu, who both missed the final stretch of last season because of injuries, stretched on Tuesday and will continue to do light work throughout the spring.

With the continuation of spring practice and summer workouts on the horizon, Richt and his staff will continue to try fill holes left by the former Hurricanes who are moving to the next level.