It was only last spring that Mark Richt made it clear he was worried about a lack of speed at the wide receiver position, and one injury to Lawrence Cager made Miami fans nervous about a lack of depth, with freshman Ahmmon Richards getting thrusted into the starting spotlight.
But after a 9 win season that saw Richards bring in the most receiving yards of any freshman receiver in the nation, the ‘Canes will no longer be worried about a lack of speed. From Richards to Cager, Miami will bring back a multitude of high school all-america game participants in 2017.
In under a year, not only has the narrative on speed at the position changed, but the role of each receiver in Miami’s passing game has changed as well.
No longer can a veteran quarterback be relied upon, but instead, much of the onus will now be placed on the receivers themselves to carry a first year starter. Redshirt sophomore Lawrence Cager will have as large a role as he has had in his career, and Ahmmon Richards must make the quick transition from freshman difference maker to sophomore leader.
“I have to lead more,” Richards said this Spring. “That’s something I’m not used to so I’m just trying to learn how to lead.”
Beyond leading the team, Richards must set the stage for Miami’s newcomers at the position. Jeff Thomas and Mike Harley are expected to be impact players, but with much of their skillsets thriving in the slot, Richard’s ability to be successful on the outside will be crucial.
Thomas will enter campus this month along with Harley, and will compete right away for playing time with veterans such as Braxton Berrios. Competition at receiver is a benefit Miami has yearned for in recent years, and will suddenly attain come fall practice.
“Those guys [Jeff Thomas and Mike Harley] will be here I think sometime in May,” Ron Dugans, Miami’s wide receivers coach, said after the Spring game. “They’ll come in a lot sooner than Ahmmon came in, Ahmmon came in like June [or] July, so I didn’t have much time with him. These guys are coming in a lot sooner so I’m excited -- heck, Harley is almost at every practice. Jeff stays in touch also, I stay in touch with him, and we talk about some of the football stuff.”
As two receivers known for their speed, Thomas and Harley will bring exactly what Richt wanted last Spring. Once they get on campus the two are even going to race, with Harley bringing major speed and Thomas coming off of being named the fastest man at Nike’s The Opening last summer.
Regardless of who wins the race, Miami is the ultimate winner with both of them in the orange and green. But while that race has no impact on how the ‘Canes will fare at Hard Rock Stadium this September, it does drive home Miami’s movement towards an ultimate goal -- competition within the team.