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Making Sense of Miami’s Passing Attack After the Spring Game

Despite an Overall Positive Performance Led by Charleston Rambo and Mike Harley Jr., Questions Remain in the Wide Receiving Corps

Heading into the Miami Hurricanes Spring Game, and Spring season in general, there remained a lot of questions as to who would emerge as the next most productive wide receiver after fifth year senoir, Mike Harley Jr., and transfer wideout, Charleston Rambo. And after the Spring Game, that question largely still looms.

Even though D’Eriq King continues his knee rehabilitation program, quarterbacks Tyler Van Dyke and Jake Garcia ran a similar offense to what we saw last year with King on the field under OC, Rhett Lashlee, as there was plenty of uptempo hurry-up in the spread formation. Even more, King had the opportunity to call the offensive plays during the fourth quarter, which consisted of 10 pass plays, 3 run plays, and 2 TDs, both to second-year freshman, Keyshawn Smith.

One of the biggest blemishes was drops - an issue that haunted the unit last season. Unfortunately, the two drops were not from newcomers, but came from veterans. It should be noted that the two receivers did turn it around as the day progressed, but it is hard to ignore the lack of sure hands after last year’s qualms.

In spite of the two drops, and a fumble, the Canes wide receivers turned in an overall strong performance as 13 players caught a pass on 42 cumulative receptions, for roughly 500 yards and 4 TDs.

So what did the Spring Game teach us about the passing attack? As a disclaimer, Miami was without a slew of tight ends, so that component was largely nonexistent (Miami was missing Will Mallory, Elijah Arroyo, and Dominic Mammarelli, as well as Larry Hodges due to a violation of team rules). At wide receiver, Miami was missing Jeremiah Payton, as well as the four true freshmen, Brashard Smith, Romello Brinson, Jacolby George, and tight end, Kahlil Brantley, who are expected to arrive to campus next month.

Lock Starters:

After Saturday’s performance, there are only two receivers who are for sure starters this Fall: Harley and Rambo. This is no surprise as the dynamic duo of Harley and Rambo should not only conjure up some badass nicknames, but also could result in one of the most formidable tandems in college football that will be fun to monitor throughout spring practices.

Rambo led the Canes’ passing attack in both receptions and targets with 7 and 11, respectively, as the Oklahoma transfer was open all day. Rambo showed versatility working on the outside as he came down with a nice contested catch, as well as slants and screen passes. In fact, right after a key Dee Wiggins drop, Rambo hauled in four straight Garcia passes, where Rambo showed a keen ability to work across the middle while holding onto the ball and taking on hits. His ability to work across the middle and potential contested-catch prowess bode well for the group as he collected 7 catches for 74 yards.

Harley, similarly, had a strong start to the Spring Game with two straight catches. Harley mostly worked on slants, including a touchdown to cap off the Rambo-laden drive. He also hauled in a screen, ending the day with 4 catches on 4 targets for 23 yards and a TD.

Next Men Up:

After Rambo and Harley, Miami features immense depth at wide receiver, but, after the Spring Game, it remains unclear who will occupy the third starter role.

The Incumbents:

Mark Pope and Dee Wiggins both turned in strong performances as Pope had 6 receptions for a team-leading 115 yards, and Wiggins turned in 2 receptions for 61 yards. However, and a pretty big however, they both had key drops. Pope dropped a wide open sideline pass from Van Dyke and Wiggins dropped a deep dime from Garcia, that looked like he initially hauled in.

Pope ended up having a clean stat line thereafter that included composure across the middle, as well as hauling in another Garcia deep ball near the end zone. Pope almost hauled in a 50/50 jump ball but there was great coverage by second year freshman Safety, Avantae Williams. Wiggins had an early catch on a curl route and ended the day on a positive note with a 53-yard catch from QB, Peyton Matocha, on the final play of the Spring Game where he beat starting CB, Isaiah Dunson. Regardless of the notable positive plays by each, the drops certainly leave the door ajar for the young guys.

The Challengers:

Two second year freshman, Keyshawn Smith and Xavier Restrepo, had big days as they combined for 8 receptions, 100 yards, and 3 TDs. Most likely, the upper hand is currently to Smith as WR3. This is because Restrepo would occupy a similar slot role to Harley, while Smith could patrol the second outside-WR role and could be primed as a potential deep threat if Wiggins’ qualms carry into the fall. Smith also shows the capability to break plays open not only on deep patterns but on simple screen passes.

In fact, during the Spring Game, Smith’s first TD, which was 11-yards out, came on a dig route where Smith made a nice stutter move and put the secondary on skates as he lunged towards the end zone. On his second TD, Smith showed his deep ball prowess as he came down with a nice 32-yard contested catch from QB, Ryan Rizk (it must be noted this catch was against the practice squad defense).

Restrepo was all over the field working out of the slot. X-man showed sound rapport with both Van Dyke and Garcia as he hauled in a 14-yard fade in the end zone from TVD, and also had a nice catch over the middle on a 4th and long from Garcia. Restrepo also had a carry on a trick play out of the backfield. Even though Restrepo may not be the favorite to earn the starting role, he should see plenty of action as a sparkplug Swiss army knife slot guy.

The other second year freshmen, Daz Worsham and Michael Redding III, did not see much action but may be role contributors in the spread offense this fall. Worsham had three receptions for 25 yards but also had a fumble on a hard hit by Marcus Washington. Redding III, on the other hand, was only targeted once towards the sideline where Garcia missed him high. Redding was out for the remainder of the game as he took a hit to the back on his lone target. There is no update on his health status. The big-bodied receiver could play punisher on undersized corners this season.

Unsung Hero?

Prior to the Spring Game, Justin Dottavio wrote about a potential hero who could rise on Saturday, Robert Prosek. And while Prosek did not have the performance that Dottavio predicted, there was a walk-on who did.

The third leading receiver in Miami’s Spring Game left many players asking “who is #88?” This was a valid question for even the most meticulous roster followers as Dante Johnson is listed as #39 on the active roster, but suited up as employee #88 yesterday.

The question is also valid because Johnson only saw action in six games last season, largely on special teams, and was a member of the practice squad the preceding season. Prior to last season, Johnson was featured on “Last Chance U” during seasons 3 and 4 as he played for Independence Community College and only played in 2 games. After the Spring Game, Rambo referred to the walk-on as “Dez Bryant,” as Johnson hauled in 5 receptions for 59 yards.

Johnson ran the gamut of the route tree with catches on slants, curls, and even a contested catch. The highlight was a 29-yard curl route from Garcia where he evaded a few hits and had 22-yards after the catch where he showed the required individual effort to be a successful walk-on.

Last year, Marshall Few came out of nowhere in the Cheez-It Bowl. Johnson, who is 6-2, 208 lbs may become an unsung hero this season as he shows the grit to work for every yard, a trait that could be key for the passing attack. The odds are certainly stacked against him in a crowded wide receiver room, but he did enough to turn some heads on Saturday.

Rounding out the aerial attack, running back, Jaylan Knighton, hauled in a 4-yard reception early on. After that, it was projected special teams/practice squad players who had receptions as Michael Parrott and Will Huggins each had two receptions, and Connor Byrne, Shane Sawyer (listed as LB), and Isaiah Cashwell all had one target.

Post-Spring Game Projected WR Depth Chart:

Wide Receiver 1: Charleston Rambo | Dee Wiggins | Michael Redding III
Wide Receiver 2: Keyshawn Smith | Mark Pope | Dazalin Worsham | Jeremiah Payton
Slot Receiver: Mike Harley | Xavier Restrepo
Redshirt: Romello Brinson, Jacolby George, Brashard Smith


Beyond Mike Harley and Charleston Rambo, Who Will Emerge As The Hurricanes Next Most Productive Wide Receiver?

This poll is closed

  • 11%
    Mark Pope
    (77 votes)
  • 4%
    Dee Wiggins
    (33 votes)
  • 7%
    Jeremiah Payton
    (51 votes)
  • 43%
    Keyshawn Smith
    (299 votes)
  • 4%
    Michael Redding III
    (33 votes)
  • 21%
    Xavier Restrepo
    (147 votes)
  • 6%
    Dante Johnson
    (45 votes)
  • 0%
    (1 vote)
686 votes total Vote Now