Young team gets opportunities in first spring scrimmage

Freshman quarterback Gray Crow scrambles out of the pocket during the first spring scrimmage. Zach Beeker//The Miami Hurricane

The 2012 season may still be roughly six months away, but the Miami Hurricanes football team completed its first day of live action in an inter-squad scrimmage at Ted Hendricks field in Hialeah, Fla.

“It was a start,” said head coach Al Golden, just moments after watching his team finish wind sprints at the conclusion of the scrimmage. “We have a long way to go, we’ve learned about a lot of guys and a lot of guys came to play. It’s hard to go scrimmage after six practices, so we put them to the test and we’ve got to improve this week.”

Golden was without next season’s presumed starting quarterback, as Stephen Morris continues to sit out spring practices after back surgery. There has been no timetable set for his return, but by his own accounts any major setback has been avoided, clearing his return for the summer.

Instead of wearing a helmet and shoulder pads, Morris spent the scrimmage as he has every other practice since his surgery: with a whistle around his neck, standing alongside offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch, watching the other quarterbacks and the rest of his team develop.

“The whole point of this practice is just to get the feel of a game-like experience,” said Morris. “[Coach Golden] is very particular about the mental aspects of the game, mental toughness. As a team, we have to understand that and get better.”

Defensive end Anthony Chickillo, a rising sophomore and one of the few returning starters for the Canes, sat out the scrimmage with a reported back injury. Golden referred to his situation as a muscle pull, simply requiring rest and not surgery.

With two of his biggest expected contributors sitting out the scrimmage, Golden shifted his focus to the very young team that was fielded. Ryan Williams, the 6-foot-6 transfer from Memphis who sat out all of last year due to NCAA restrictions, started at quarterback with two freshmen – Gray Crow and Preston Dewey – backing him up just months out of high school.

“Ryan Williams operated pretty well for the first time,” Golden said. “For such a big guy to get out of the pocket and throw it as accurately as he did, he looked like he had been through it before.”

The format of the scrimmage itself was a series of situational drills, pitting the offense in goal-line situations and two-minute drills rather than playing out a conventional game. For a team that struggled so mightily last season with redzone efficiency, ranking 54th in the country and losing late to both Kansas State and Virginia Tech due to such scenarios, the emphasis on correcting those issues was useful. Now, it’s just a matter of finding out what players can solve it.

“[Clive Walford], I think he can give us a lot more than a goal-line threat, I just need him to be more consistent,” Fisch said of the sophomore tight end. “We keep talking about him having amazing size, height, weight, all that stuff; we need consistency, we need the same plays over and over. We’re going to hold him to a very high standard because of what he can bring us if he reaches his potential.”

What was essentially a glorified practice ended without any shocking breakthrough or disastrous calamity, so it seemed to be a productive day for the Hurricanes. The evolution from talented underachievers to consistent performers won’t come in March or April, though Golden’s staff has the foundation in place.

“We want guys at the NFL combine every year, we just also want to be championship teams,” Golden said. “Clearly there were points in the scrimmage where we got sloppy, and we’ve got to get past that. We want both, teams that produce NFL talent but also compete for championships.”