As we continue our series into position competitions for Miami Hurricanes football, today’s focus is on Miami’s wide receiver depth for the 2018 season. It’s looking pretty good! Before we dive into it, let’s remember back at this time a year ago when this group was good and talented, yet the forecast for production was murky at best.
Fast-forward to the present where the Canes have quality depth. With upperclassmen gaining valuable experience a season ago, there’s a healthy contingent of Canes supporters who feel the receiving corp has the talent and potential to be among the best in the conference, if not the nation. With junior WR Ahmmon Richards returning to health after an injury-riddled 2017, the gained experience from outstanding sophomores Jeff Thomas and Mike Harley Jr. and add in the progression of Lawrence Cager and Darrell Langham and you can begin to understand the logic behind the push that makes this position group great.
Which leads to a fun conundrum: what’s the pecking order going forward?
It’s not the biggest concern for the team — check out the previous position battle pieces that address the more pertinent concerns for the team — but the pecking order is one of the more entertaining battles in camp. It’s a competition that should forecast a bright future for the Hurricanes. Wide receiver coach Ron Dugans is running a group that has a surplus of talent in the meeting room with the addition of five freshmen.
To put it frankly, no one is going to leap ahead of Ahmmon Richards when it comes to getting targets and getting open. Despite Richards being a junior, there’s already some serious buzz about his draft stock — but that can wait until after the season. For now, Richards will look to lead a talent-rich group of wideouts by example with outstanding grabs, fluidity coming in and out of his breaks and excellent route running.
Jeff Thomas is always one reception from flipping the field and racking up huge yardage. There were humbling moments of drops and missed connections for the speedster out of East St. Louis High School. Thomas averaged a position-best 22 yards-per-catch as a freshman. The possibility for Thomas to stand by or exceed his totals is well within reach starting in September, given his familiarity with UM’s offense and an established rapport with the Canes’ QB committee.
Outside of Thomas and Richards, the starting scenario becomes a bit murky. Departed from the group are both Braxton “He Really Got Drafted By the Patriots” Berrios and Dayall Harris, who opted to explore the transfer route. Even with these two openings, there’s still not enough meat to go around this piranha tank for receivers to get gameday opportunities.
We alluded to the freshmen who are now in the fold and entering camp. It’s time for those young guys to live up to the hype they received coming out of high school. When fall camp commences, they’ll be forced to showcase not only why they received a scholarship, but why they’re better than some of the holdovers on the roster.
One of those fresh faces is former Southridge High School standout Mark Pope. The man nicknamed “Noodles” arrives at Coral Gables as a tactician when it comes to running the route tree, using that trait to force defenders to hesitate or guess and leaving them in his dust as he whizzes by to create seperation. Pope was not an early enrollee this past spring, so it will be interesting to see if he’s able to acclimate to college life at warp speed in his first season.
A year ago, Mike Harley enjoyed similar buzz as a freshman for the Hurricanes. As a sophomore, Harley is looking to own his position. With Braxton out of the picture, the idea is for the former St. Thomas Aquinas HS alum to step into the starting role of slot receiver. With 91 receiving yards on 9 receptions in 2017, there’s little doubt that the receiver will build upon his totals this year. Yet, with the new additions to the team, Harley will likely be fighting until the end to win the starting job.
One of those new additions would be 6’3”, 210 pound IMG Academy star Brian Hightower. Blessed with both good height and jets to to create separation, the California native will look to make a push up the depth chart in the final month before the season. A participant in spring practices, Hightower does have the advantage of preparation and familiarity with how UM operates during the week.
For Hightower to see the field, he’s going to need to show up Lawrence Cager — which you know, if you’ve seen him in an interview setting, is quite impossible to do. At 6’5, Cager is one of the biggest members of the group, a feature that both coaches and Canes fans wish he would play to his advantage. In his first season returning to the field after suffering a torn ACL in his right knee during an off-season team workout, his year was mix of sweet and sour. Last season, Cager would make a SC Top 10-worthy play and then vanish like half of the Marvel Universe. Cager’s 16 receptions, 237 receiving yards and three touchdowns in ‘17 were a hint at what’s to come now that he’s two years removed from the injury and one of the more dependable contributors on offense for the Canes to start September.
What kind of battle between big men would this be if we didn’t discuss the living legend, Captain Clutch, the phenomenon that is Darrell Langham. How do you top a season where you score a game-winning touchdown through FSU’s best cover-corner? How do you re-create the double grab that put Miami in position to kick the game-winning field goal? It’s simple. You just go out and play. At 6’6” and 235 pounds, the Lantana, Florida, native is the largest Cane receiver on the roster, with only his achievements in 2017 surpassing his physical stature. As great as those moments were last season, the receiver is going to need to step his game up once again to see more snaps this season. However, he’s pretty used to rising to the big moments so we’re glad to have him on the roster.
Who do you think the top three at wide receiver will be? Are they any different from who you’d want it to be in your Hurricane heart-of-hearts? Let us know in the comment section.
IT’S ALWAYS ABOUT THE U!