The first week of spring practice for the Canes is in the books, as Manny Diaz and his team prepare to build off their 8-3 record in 2020. While the media hasn’t been able to view practice first hand due to COVID-19, there are still tidbits of information to observe from Greentree.
So, what did we learn after week one?
- The future of Miami’s QB room looks great
The biggest storyline surrounding Miami’s spring practice is the fact that D’Eriq King is not participating, as he's still recovering from his ACL injury he suffered in the Hurricanes bowl game. Still, it’s giving younger quarterbacks an opportunity to work with the first team offense, and give the team a glimpse into the future.
Canes C Corey Gaynor on QB Tyler Van Dyke: "He's a ball player. He's got a moxie about him. ... Tyler's a very tough dude...he's only going to get better."— Christy Chirinos (@ChristyChirinos) March 15, 2021
Tyler Van Dyke was certainly the most talked about player during the first week, as the second-year QB has taken the majority of reps with the first team. And so far, we’ve heard nothing but great things about the Connecticut native.
Canes WR Mike Harley on QB Tyler Van Dyke: "Tyler's cool, calm and collected, but he's really a competitor. ... He's a solid general. He gets the ball where it needs to be."— Christy Chirinos (@ChristyChirinos) March 15, 2021
Whether it’s his play on the field or the leadership that he’s shown off the field, Van Dyke has made an impression. “People want to follow a leader that does the things the right way and that is what Tyler does,” said Coach Diaz this past week.
Miami has installed a new points accountability system, holding players responsible for going to class, lifts, watching film, extra work, etc.— Josh White (@_JoshRWhite) March 16, 2021
Tyler Van Dyke is at the top of the list this spring.
True freshman Jake Garcia also has his teammates talking. “He’s my guy. We’re both from the west coast. He has an arm. He’s someone to look at in the future,” said wide receiver Keyshawn Smith.
Keyshawn Smith on Canes QB Jake Garcia: "He has an arm. ... He's someone to look out for in the future."— Christy Chirinos (@ChristyChirinos) March 18, 2021
There’s no doubt King is still the starter for the Hurricanes once he returns from his injury, but you have to feel good about the future of Miami’s quarterbacks and the experience they’re gaining this spring.
2. The Keyshawn Smith hype is building
It’s no secret Miami had wide receiver problems in 2020, but many believe that second year Keyshawn Smith may be ready to step into a bigger role for the Hurricanes in 2021. With track speed and impressive ball skills, Smith is the pick of many as a player who will breakout this season.
Keyshawn Smith at Miami spring practice earlier today ( Miami Athletics).— David Furones (@DavidFurones_) March 20, 2021
He was talking the other day about being more than just a deep-ball threat for the Hurricanes: https://t.co/AaCLO8jybv pic.twitter.com/3Hfc8A2i0l
“He has a little bit of that self confidence about him that when the ball is in the air, I’d like to see that scale out over the entire spring, which will give him confidence into the summer and maybe replicate those things this fall,” said Coach Diaz talking about Smith.
It feels pretty telling that Keyshawn Smith is the second wide receiver we're getting to talk to this spring. Te'Cory Couch was also really fired up talking about him. The hype train is alive.— David Wilson (@DBWilson2) March 18, 2021
I’ve said recently I expect Mike Harley and Charleston Rambo to be two of the three starters at WR, and at first I thought Mark Pope would take the other spot, but after this last week, I’m starting to believe Smith could take his place.
It appears former Canes running back Deejay Dallas is also fan of the young wide receiver.
Keyshawn Smith is different....— DeeJay “Double D” Dallas (@DallasDeejay) March 19, 2021
3. The Avantae Williams hype is building as well
One of the biggest commits in Miami’s 2020 recruiting class, Avantae Williams is apparently picking up right where left off. After a medical issue sidelined him for his first season at UM, Williams being cleared for spring practice was incredible news.
Avantae Williams in his new No. 15 at his first spring practice after getting cleared. Miami defenders to wear that number the last couple of seasons have been pretty good.— David Furones (@DavidFurones_) March 15, 2021
( Tim Brogdon / Miami Athletics) pic.twitter.com/hQBtVSMh1N
Through the first week of camp, Williams is reminding everyone why he was perhaps the best safety in the country coming out of high school. He’s also drawing some impressive comparisons.
Manny Diaz on Avantae Williams: "It's really early for Avantae, but you see he plays 100 miles per hour... He plays full speed. He may not always be going in the right direction at full speed," but adds that it's on the coaches to now get him going the right way.— David Furones (@DavidFurones_) March 16, 2021
When talking to the media, Coach Diaz compared Avantae to how Jaelan Phillips looked during last years spring practice. Phillips, like Williams, didn’t play his first season at Miami, but when he was able to work with the team and be on the practice field for the first time last spring, UM coaches were impressed with what they saw. They were right too, as Phillips became one of the top DE’s in college football, before declaring early for the NFL Draft.
Manny Diaz said S Avantae Williams is showing Jaelan Phillips type growth when he goes hard and full speed. Not trying to put pressure on the kid, but it's that kind of a similar feeling in terms of initial impression once Phillips was cleared to participate after a year off.— Manny Navarro (@Manny_Navarro) March 16, 2021
Now, are they saying Williams is going to have a similar season and breakout as a star in 2021? No. But.....it was definitely an eye-raiser when coach Diaz said it, and it should have Canes fans excited.
Canes safety Amari Carter said freshman Avantae Williams was “all over the place today” at UM’s opening day of spring practice.— Susan Miller Degnan (@smillerdegnan) March 15, 2021
4. Corey Flagg Jr. is the future leader of this defense
Even though Miami’s linebackers struggled mightily at times during the 2020 season, one bright spot was the play of first year LB Corey Flagg Jr. Towards the end of the year, Flagg looked like the most polished linebacker that Miami had, with an impressive football IQ and quick instincts.
Corey Flagg at today’s third spring practice for the Miami Hurricanes ( Miami Athletics) pic.twitter.com/ZDhub88CiX— David Furones (@DavidFurones_) March 20, 2021
Now in his second season, Flagg is ready to establish himself as the full-time starter at middle linebacker for the Hurricanes.
Manny Diaz on young guys excelling early in spring: "Corey Flagg has had two really good first days at linebacker... Keyshawn Smith is really making strides at WR." He mentioned Jahfari Harvey, Chantz Williams and Cameron Williams at DE.— David Furones (@DavidFurones_) March 16, 2021
“I think Corey Flagg has had a really good first two days at linebacker. I think he is in better shape in the fall and is redefining his body a little bit and that is helping, Diaz said regarding Flagg.
Corey Flagg, Jr. says he wants to improve his quickness.— Josh White (@_JoshRWhite) March 16, 2021
"To play linebacker here, you have to be fast. You have to play fast...I want to take my game to another level."
5. It’s a fresh start for the Canes defense
Blaker Baker is gone to LSU, which has now brought Manny Diaz back as Miami’s defensive coordinator, a position he held for three seasons before becoming head coach. After a rough end to 2020 on that side of the ball, it’s clear that Diaz isn’t taking the role DC lightly, and intends on making Miami a dominating team on defense again.
Asked how it feels to be calling plays again for the defense, Manny Diaz says "it's fun to get out there and compete again."— Christy Chirinos (@ChristyChirinos) March 16, 2021
But he stresses the key is how players execute those plays.
“He is the head-honcho of this defense and of this team. Last year he was observing and would teach here and there, but this year he is hands on and all in,” said safety Bubba Bolden.
Manny Diaz says there’s a lot of intensity and energy with the new defensive coaches. “Renewed energy on defense.”— Marsh (@hurricanesmarsh) March 16, 2021
“He is very serious about what he wants and he keeps it simple. He is everywhere that he needs to be. I like how it is all working out. Practices have been really good, smooth, and efficient,” said Corey Flagg Jr.