What to watch for in Miami’s spring game

Fourth-year junior wide receiver Xavier Restrepo slides into the endzone for a touchdown in the third quarter of Miami's Pinstripe Bowl Matchup against Rutgers at Yankee Stadium on Dec. 28, 2023. Photo credit: Alexandra Fisher

Spring football has arrived, and Miami will be playing its annual spring game on Saturday. For the first time, the game will be held in Coral Gables at Cobb Stadium.

The Hurricanes have been practicing since March 4, and the team has an opportunity to showcase its skills in its first game-like environment. There are a million questions regarding head coach Mario Cristobal’s third roster at Miami, especially since the ‘Canes had a lot of departures on the defense and gained plenty of newcomers through recruiting and the transfer portal.

Starting with the offense, and then previewing the defense, here is what to watch out for at the spring game.

The quarterback room:

Let’s start with the biggest addition of the Cristobal era up to this point: Cam Ward. The 6-foot-2, 223-pound quarterback had a career year at Washington State last season, throwing for 3,375 yards and 33 total touchdowns. Miami went all in on Ward, and all eyes will be on the transfer quarterback.

Ward has been commended for his deep ball and running stature, and all the tools will be on display Saturday. Be sure to watch which weapons he connects with and if he seems comfortable within offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson’s system.

Albany transfer Reese Poffenbarger will have the chance to showcase his skills for the first time in a Miami uniform. The expected Hurricanes backup was stellar at the FCS level and transferred to Miami this offseason with two years of eligibility left. Poffenbarger has impressive arm talent but struggled a little bit with turning the ball over last season. If Poffenbarger is going to be the backup, decision making and consistency will have to be at the forefront of his game on Saturday.

The weapons:

Elija Lofton, a 6-foot-2, 250-pound freshman tight end, has been catching passes and stiff-arming defenders all throughout spring. Keep your eyes on No. 9 as Lofton, as he will likely be a big-time threat for the Hurricanes in the fall.

The receiving room for Miami has its two returning stars, Jacolby George and Xavier Restrepo, who both ranked in the top three in the ACC in receiving yards last season, but after that, it gets a little uncertain. One aspect Miami does not lack is athletes; watch out for sophomore speedster Nathaniel “Ray Ray” Joseph Jr. as well as freshman Joshisa “JoJo” Trader. Trader has been a showman throughout the spring and will look to bring some newfound electricity to the Hurricanes’ offense. Third-year sophomore Isaiah Horton is also a name to watch.

The Defensive Line:

In recent news, redshirt sophomore pass-rusher Nyjalik Kelly has entered the transfer portal. Despite this, the Miami defensive line has the potential to be a force throughout the fall. Returning ACC Freshman of the Year Rueben Bain Jr. comes back with vengeance, as does Akheem Mesidor, who only played three games last year but produced seven sacks in the season prior. The new guys on the line include transfers Marley Cook and Elijah Alston. Both players have a lot of experience as redshirt seniors and will likely see playing time from the start.

Linebacker room looks to make a leap:

After earning Second Team All-ACC honors last year, Francisco “Kiko” Mauigoa leads the linebacking group and is primed for a big second season at Miami. Malik Bryant did not see tons of action as a freshman, but coming in as a highly touted recruit, the second-year linebacker will likely receive some more playing time. Another linebacker to watch is Wesley Bissainthe. The junior started ten games last year and will be a leader alongside Mauigoa for the group.

Replacements in the secondary:

Miami lost key pieces in safeties Kam Kinchens and James Williams to the NFL Draft this offseason The new-look safety room features Mishael Powell, Jaden Harris and Savion Riley, with Powell being the primary name to watch. The transfer from Washington has championship experience after last season’s run with the Huskies, where he made big time plays.

While not seeing the field a lot as a freshman, Jaden Harris will be called upon early and should showcase his primary secondary skills during the spring game. Savion Riley is another transfer, this time coming from Vanderbilt. Despite missing four games last year, Riley had 48 tackles, most notably 12 tackles in a game against Florida. Now at Miami, the redshirt sophomore has a major opportunity.

The spring game will begin at 4 p.m. on Saturday.