UM football begins spring practice with key absences and new coaches

Freshman quarterback Tyler Van Dyke throws a pass during the first day of spring football practice on Monday, March 15.
Freshman quarterback Tyler Van Dyke throws a pass during the first day of spring football practice on Monday, March 15. Photo credit: Tim Brogdon/Miami Athletics

In 173 days, the Miami Hurricanes will be facing the most daunting of challenges. A season-opening matchup with the Alabama Crimson Tide at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia.

On Monday, the Hurricanes began spring practice on Greentree Practice Field. There are 15 practices that will run over the next five weeks. Although practices are closed to all media, different players and coaches will speak to the media over Zoom after every practice. Here’s what you need to know about spring football:

D’Eriq King is crushing his rehab

In speaking to the media last Friday, Miami head coach Manny Diaz said graduate quarterback D’Eriq King, who tore his ACL in Miami’s loss to Oklahoma St. in the Cheez-It Bowl on Dec. 29, is positively crushing his rehab and is making large strides to returning to full health.

“D’Eriq is just doing D’Eriq King things in the training room with his rehab. He’s smashing every benchmark and every goal they put in front of him to the point that you almost have to slow him down,” Diaz said. “But it’s been fun to see him back moving around with our guys. There’s almost steam coming off the [exercise bike] wheels because he’s riding the thing so hard. In a sort of stationary way, he can stand there and throw a short pass, so I think now going forward it should be the functional movements. We’re still only two months and change from the surgery, so it’s that point where you’re starting to feel good and you actually have to slow down, be more careful than you were those first eight weeks.’’

Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee had similar praises and believes that King will be ready to go for the start of fall camp.

“D’Eriq is doing exactly what anybody knows D’Eriq in the last year would do,’’ Lashlee said. “He’s doing a phenomenal job with his rehab. Everything is on track. He’s probably exceeding expectations in a lot of areas. And that’s not a shock to anybody here. When it happened, I almost in a joking way was, like, ‘What’s the record for the fastest guy coming back from an ACL? Because whatever that is he’s going to beat it.’

Key absences will create room for other guys

Not having King participating in spring practices will give the younger guys – Tyler Van Dyke, Peyton Matocha and Jake Garcia – the opportunity to step up and stand out at the quarterback position. Garcia, an early enrollee, will be limited the first couple of practices because of minor injury to his foot he sustained during his Georgia state championship winning high school season.

Van Dyke has been impressive in workouts and Diaz spoke highly of him.

“The way he works, the way he does everything right. We split our teams into these sort of accountability groups where everything in our program is a competition. You want Tyler on your team.’’

Lashlee said that Van Dyke will be getting most of the reps in the spring.

Other key players who will not be participating in spring ball because of injuries are tight end Will Mallory and defensive tackle Nesta Jade Silvera. With former UM tight end Brevin Jordan set to be picked in the 2021 NFL Draft, the tight ends behind Mallory, Larry Hodges, Dominic Mammarelli and Elijah Arroyo, will have the opportunity to earn a large role in the offense.

Avantae Williams is healthy and cleared to play

Freshman safety Avantae Williams participated in his first day of spring practice after missing all of last season with an undisclosed medical condition.
Freshman safety Avantae Williams participated in his first day of spring practice after missing all of last season with an undisclosed medical condition. Photo credit: Tim Brogdon/Miami Athletics

Perhaps the biggest piece of news to come out of the first day of spring practice is that freshman safety Avantae Williams is healthy and cleared to play. Williams, a four-star recruit and the No. 1 safety in the class of 2020, was out for all of last season with an undisclosed medical condition.

“The joy on his face and in his voice when he found out that he’s going to go through spring was really, really emotional,” Diaz said. “It was fun to hear.”

“Avantae, he was all over the place today,’’ senior safety Amari Carter said on Monday. “He did a great job today pushing himself. He’s just one of those players that he’s going to be wherever the ball is.”

Manny Diaz is the “head honcho”

When asked about how Diaz’s role has changed during practice now that he is the defensive coordinator, redshirt junior safety Bubba Bolden called him the “head honcho.”

“He’s the play caller. He’s out there calling the plays. He’s the head honcho of this defense, of this team. Last year he was over there observing and he would come and teach here and there, but he’s more of an observer last year but now he’s hands on, all in, calling the plays. That’s what we are here for.”

Bolden also spoke about new defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson, known as T-Rob, and how excited he is to have him as a coach.

“I’m super excited for him to be my coach and just learn everything from him. He has a lot of experience, especially at the safety position, he’s put a lot of guys in the NFL, so I’m excited,” Bolden said.

Although Alabama is a long way away, it’s always on everyone’s mind.

“Obviously focusing on the task at hand right now, learning the new plays, spring ball, but at the end of the day always in the back of your head think Alabama,” Bolden said. “That’s the first game, that’s prime time right there. That’s what we all want, that’s why we came here. I stress that to the guys every day, whenever things get tough, think Bama”