Brown gives a look at the QB competition and his RB stable
As a former running back himself, running backs coach Thomas Brown knows the traits he’s looking for in a ball carrier out on the fields of Greentree like the back of his hand. But, in his second season as doubling as the Canes’ offensive coordinator, he is now a man that wears many hats, including evaluating his stable of inexperienced QB’s and picking a new starter.
“I think the competition is still going on strong, those guys are competing well, competing hard,” Brown said. “I think (the QB position) is a different position to evaluate because there’s so much that goes into it - limiting turnovers, make sure we get into the right calls. So far it’s been pretty good.”
Another priority for coach Brown this season is keeping starting running back Mark Walton healthy. It is no secret that the Canes don’t have much depth at RB behind Walton and an injury to him could have disastrous consequences for UM’s season; for his part, Walton came out of the first scrimmage a bit nicked up. Despite that, Brown says he will still play in the rest of the scrimmages, but could have his reps managed.
“He’ll definitely get reps,” said Brown regarding Walton’s use in future scrimmages. “We’ll manage his reps depending on how many plays we go,” Brown said. “I feel confident about what Mark can do, but he’ll still get reps.”
Brown was not shy when asked if Travis Homer was the number 2 back.
“Right now he is, no question... He’s made a huge improvement from year 1 to year 2. He was good enough to play last year, we just had a little more depth,” Brown said. “He’s going to make a huge impact. He’s gotten bigger, stronger and faster and he’s a tough kid, so I’m excited about what he’s going to do this year.”
Brown stopped short in his effusive praise of Homer though when asked about his fumbling issues.
“Anytime you put the ball on the ground it’s an issue... If you can’t take care of the football you’re not going to play.”
Trayone Gray has returned to the field full-go this fall after missing last season and spring with a torn ACL and Brown gave some thoughts on his progress.
“He looks better now than he did before he got injured,” Brown said. “He still has a hip mobility issue at times, being able to bend and get low - he’s obviously the biggest guy in my room, the tallest, weighs the most. Getting behind his pads sometimes is a struggle for him, but he’s definitely healthy enough. He’s confident enough.”
In terms of how big or small his rotation will be, Brown said he will play “as many backs as I need to... The more guys that can help us, the more we can stay fresh. It depends how well those (other) guys can help us win football games.”
Brown was also asked to compare his number 1 and number 2 backs, Walton and Homer: if they could complement each other and bring something different to the table that their counterpart does not.
“I think they’re different players. I think Mark has more wiggle to him, also has some straight line speed as well. Travis is more of a one-cut guy who plays and runs bigger than his size. Eludes too, but he’s definitely not going to shy away from contact. There’s no softness in his heart at all.”
Homer ready to take on increased role
RB Travis Homer mainly played on special teams a year ago and was a standout gunner on kickoffs and punt coverage, a role he enjoyed and says helped him adjust to the speed of the game.
“I like doing it. I get to just go out and run. It definitely helped getting a visual of how fast everyone would be moving, how quick everyone can go,” Homer said.
With Joe Yearby off to the NFL and Gus Edwards transferring to Rutgers though, there is thin depth behind established starter Mark Walton. Besides Homer, there is only Trayone Gray and Robert Burns, both of whom are coming off injuries. That means there is plenty of running back reps to be had by Homer and he is ready to be a bigger part of the team.
“Just my mindset is I have to come in here every day and do what I can to take on that increased role, do what I can for the team... I’m just ready to take on whatever I need to.”
Homer has stepped up to the challenge so far; by all accounts Homer is progressing nicely and having a solid fall camp. He was named the number 2 back by coach Thomas Brown earlier today and is also coming off a nice first fall scrimmage of 2017; he had 8 carries for 55 yards spelling Walton.
“I think I did alright, but there’s always room to get better,” Homer said regarding his performance. “I had a long run, could have gone longer, I slipped,” Homer said.
That’s not to say Homer’s fall camp has been perfect, however. Homer has had some issues with ball security in the past; you may remember Homer fumbling in his first game as a Cane last year. He fumbled again during live action at the first fall scrimmage. Homer tries not to get frustrated by it and believes it is a mental issue that will be easily remedied with more reps.
“The fumble was a big mistake,” Homer said. “Of course a fumble is going to bother anyone, but I just need to keep my mind clear and tighten it up... (Walton) always reminds me to keep the ball tight and stay low”.
Another area of focus for Homer has been pass protection, a part of his game that coach Brown said back in spring has been lagging behind. But Homer says its been one of his biggest areas of improvement this fall.
“I’m definitely more comfortable reading the defense, picking up blitzes,” Homer said.
Mullins more comfortable in first full fall camp
This is sophomore WR Dionte Mullins’ first full fall camp; he was a late qualifier as a freshman last season and missed more than half of fall practices as a result.
Now that he’s had a full year of Mark Richt’s version of Miami?
“Things are coming along very well. My second year in the system, I’m getting better. It’s not like last year when I was kind of lost. I know where I’m at now. It’s pretty good,” Mullins said.
Wide receiver has seen an influx of talent the past 2 recruiting classes, and the competition for reps on gameday has been fierce.
“Jeff Thomas, he’s fast,” Mullins said. “Mike Harley, he’s a great wide receiver also. We’re all great receivers, so it’s competition every day.”
Despite the increased competition, Mullins insists his role, ultimately, is to help the team any way he can to win games.
“My role? Just being a great player for my team, not being selfish,” Mullins said.
When asked which DB was the toughest to go against so far this fall, Mullins said all the DB’s were great and that every day was a challenge, but the first name that came to mind?
“Malek Young,” said Mullins.