Entering his second season as Miami Hurricanes head coach, Mark Richt addressed the media at the ACC Media Days in Charlotte. The expectations are high as the team won five games in a row to close out the season, including their first bowl win in a decade against West Virginia.
Richt, begins by explaining the difference between his first year and his second year:
Well, it is different for sure. Last summer was so critical. We are allowed to meet with our players a couple hours a week, and it was just crucial that we spend a lot of time just installing our offense, installing our defense, with the entire football team. A year later, we’re still going through the installation, but it’s just not as crazy as it was a year ago. There wasn’t that big of a learning curve across the board. Now we have — we have a few guys that weren’t there in the spring, and they’re the ones that really are trying to figure out what’s going on. But when you’ve got 80, 90 percent of your team already knowing and understanding what you’re trying to get accomplished, it’s just a different feeling.
You can tell the comfort level already, which is a great sign for Hurricanes fans. If you paid attention last season, you saw the difference in coaching staffs from the Al Golden regime. After that four game losing streak threatened to make Richt’s inaugural season a nightmare, he and his staff made some serious adjustments and closed out with five straight wins. Now he’s in a much stronger place in year two.
Obviously the biggest question mark surrounding the team is the QB position. In fact the entire conference has seen quite a bit of attrition at QB. Richt talks about replacing Brad Kaaya:
The big thing for me is to — I just need a guy that I know is going to have a great respect for the football. They all have arm talent. They all can move. They all are going to know what to do or they wouldn’t be in the game. But what are you going to do when the protection breaks down? Are you going to throw it up for grabs? Are you going to start running wild and get the ball stripped and they scoop and score? When the drive is over, I want a punt, I want a field goal, or I want an extra point. If you end up in a turnover, it’s usually the quarterback that made a decision that caused that turnover or maybe he didn’t handle the snap right or maybe he didn’t hand the ball off well to the back. Most turnovers are attributed to the quarterback position, and turnovers are deadly to a championship run.
Pretty standard coach speak from Richt. The program has made it clear that the position is an open competition in Fall camp. He did talk about the QBs in competition and mentioned not only N’Kosi Perry but also Cade Weldon who’s also a freshman.
Outside of the QB position, Richt also showed some concern at the TE position. With David Njoku leaving for the NFL, the team lost a major offensive piece. Richt addressed the TE situation:
Well, Chris Herndon, I’ve got a lot of faith in. I think he’s one of the better tight ends I’ve been around. Very physical at the point of attack, good route runner, good ball skills, probably runs a 4.6, at 255 pounds. He’s very smart, and he of all of our players has to adjust more than anybody we have. We’ll call certain plays and formations, and he’s got to know — he’s the guy that moves the most and has to understand where to be because if we want to go at the temp that we want to go at, we don`t want to have to tell him exactly where to line up. He’s got to understand the play. When he hears the play, he’s got to know where to go after he hears the play, and we put a lot of burden on the tight end position to do that, and he does it extremely well. Behind him, we’re young. We’re inexperienced, and I don’t know if we’re ready to play championship football. There’s some time between now and then, where Michael Irvin, Jr. can get there and Polendey is a young freshman coming in. But I’d be very concerned if something happened to Chris, I can tell you that.
Throughout his time on the podium, Richt kept talking about “Championship Football.” Clearly he’s trying to get the players in the mindset that they have a chance to win a conference championship. In order to get there the players will have to be able to play at a certain level. At the TE position, clearly it’s lacking behind Chris Herndon. He simply doesn’t see anyone ready to be worthy of getting playing time. That’s a very interesting dynamic to admit and it will be intriguing to see who if anyone else emerges to give the Canes so depth.
In the end it’s safe to say that Mark Richt is cautiously optimistic about the team this season. Open competition at pretty much every position in Fall camp will be critical in seeing the strengths and weaknesses of this team.