The first week of spring football practice has come to a close and here are some of the things our beat writers have learned about the status of Miami football players and coaches.
Corey Flagg ready for increased role
Sophomore linebacker Corey Flagg Jr. is a player destined for a bigger role this season. Flagg Jr. told reporters he was embracing this challenge and he put in work in the offseason to be better prepared for the jump in playing time.
“To play linebacker here, you have to be fast,” Flagg said. “You have to play fast. I want to take my game to another level.”
The sophomore revealed he lost 12 pounds this offseason and reduced his body fat to 13 percent from 20 percent.
“I’ve just been staying active, I’m very good going to sideline to sideline and communicate, just getting faster,” Flagg said.
Quiet and composed, Tyler Van Dyke is next man up
Freshman quarterback Tyler Van Dyke was a topic of positive discussion of almost every player and coach at some point during the week, and was described as quiet but very smart and composed. Van Dyke or “TVD” is in line to become the backup quarterback to D’Eriq King, with competition coming from freshman and early enrollee Jake Garcia.
“I’ve been taking the number one reps, but we are all rotating and getting equal amounts of reps,” Van Dyke said.
The quarterback stressed that he feels much more comfortable running the Miami offense in his second year, after revealing two positive Covid-19 tests disrupted his rhythm and development last year.
His teammates and coaches raved about his progress and talent this spring.
Running back Donald Chaney Jr., when asked about the Connecticut native, said, “He’s a beast man, things come easy to him, he learns things in 5 minutes that would take me a day to learn… it’s only going to get better from here on out for him.”
Canes fans should look for Van Dyke to break out in spring practices and compete for the starting job next year after the departure of King.
Flashy Donald Chaney Jr. embracing competition
Chaney Jr. oozed charisma and excitement when speaking this week and focused on the running back competition this spring. The Canes return lead back Cam’Ron Harris and dazzling Jaylon Knighton along with Chaney Jr.
“Everything is a competition… you have to compete to get what you want… we just going at it,” Chaney Jr. said.
He told reporters he worked most on his footwork and pass blocking this offseason, and added that running backs coach Eric Hickson has been instrumental in his development throughout the offseason.
New defensive staff
Diaz spoke to the media a few times last week and touched on a range of topics. Diaz, who is now the new defensive coordination after the departure of Blake Baker, said he is excited to be back calling the plays.
Diaz also commented on new additions to the staff, Ishamel Aristide, Travaris Robinson and Bob Schoop.
When asked about Aristide and Robinson, he said, “There is certainly a lot of intensity and high energy, good teachers though. It’s hard not to feel a renewed spirit on the defensive side of the ball. Everyone is trying to regain the chip on their shoulder.”
Schoop, who serves in the role of quality control and defensive analyst, was talked about by multiple players and is clearly making an early impact in his first year with Diaz at Miami.
Players standing out
Diaz emphasized that several players have stood out so far during camp, including Flagg Jr., sophomore wideout Keyshawn Smith and defensive ends Jahfari Harvey and Chantz Williams. He also raved about the contributions from two transfers, former Georgia cornerback Tyrique Stevenson and former Tennessee defensive lineman Deandre Johnson.
“Tyrique is a long body, big, strong individual,” Diaz said. “With him, it’s competitive excellence. We had 7-on-7 camps, and the guy was the best player on the field. He has great self-confidence. He teaches the younger guys and that’s being a team guy.”
Regarding Johnson, the head coach raved that “He plays 100 miles an hour, the pedal is pushed down through the floorboard.”
But stressed he, along with the rest of the team, must become more consistent.
“All these guys can do it, it’s just about who can do it consistently… it’s about who can do their job down after down.”
Diaz stressed throughout that it has only been two days of practice, and he along with the rest of the staff will have a better idea of how the team and specific players are progressing as the week continues and helmets are put on during Thursday’s practice.
Defensive backs tighten the screws on interceptions
Having ranked only 12th in the Atlantic Coast Conference when it came to interceptions last year, Miami has remained locked in to battle for more verticals through their spring work thus far. Sophomore cornerback Te’Cory Couch, who blossomed into a starting role late in the season, said this has remained a point of emphasis for new cornerbacks coach DeMarcus Van Dyke.
“Interceptions are big not even for our room, but mostly for the defensive team in general though because turnovers win games,” Couch said. “What we’re doing that proves is getting turnovers in practice. That’s where it starts out on Greentree.”
Tyrique Stevenson, a Miami native, has boosted the defense’s confidence to challenge some of the tougher wideouts the conference has to offer.
“Tyrique is a very smart defensive back,” Couch said. “What he brings to the table, like length, speed, strategy, he lines up already having a plan, so just having that guy in the room just helps you out. He makes you understand you gotta have a plan when you line up against different types of receivers.”
Keyshawn Smith is steadily improving
Having added approximately 15 pounds since committing to UM at the start of 2020, freshman wide receiver Keyshawn Smith is set to make a bigger impact in 2021. Standing at 6-foot-1 and 184 pounds, the San Diego, California native competed in eight of 11 games last season, though only caught for 58 yards without a receiving touchdown.
“The plays that I’ve been impacting on are the deep balls,” Smith said. “I’d honestly say I’m a deep-ball threat. I love to outrun people, I’m pretty fast, so deep balls are my theme ever since high school.”
The buck doesn’t stop there for the receiver who seeks a bigger role this fall, however.
“My strength,” Smith said on what he feels he has to exhibit most for such role. “I need to get stronger. I’ve gotten stronger but there are other dudes way bigger than me, so I gotta get bigger, too, so I could be able to block and help my teammates out. I’ve been working on my short routes as well. My releases got better since last year and that was the first thing I was working on, and now it’s my short route running and more of my hand movements for my releases. I’ve improved on the top of my routes, staying low. Coach Likens is always on us on that during pat-and-goes, so staying low and not giving our route up at the top of the route is what I’ve improved on, too.”
Plenty of competition on the offensive line
While many have gotten their fair share of starting experience in pass protection last season, that has equally opened up the door for added competition for similar roles this spring. Miami’s veteran offensive tackles have had to demonstrate continuous improvement from the get-go, having allowed 30 total sacks — vividly manifested on the road at Clemson on Oct. 10 — last season.
“I feel like for the most part, the biggest thing was for us to all be together,” offensive lineman Zion Nelson said. “Two years ago, we weren’t really there yet, we’ve gotten closer, but I still feel like we could be better. I’ve had Jalen Rivers and I’ve also had Jakai Clark next to me, like I said the competition this year is really high, so we’re really switching that out.”
Nelson said that he had recently benched 375 pounds, increasing his frame to 315 pounds from 244 since his arrival on campus, and has slimmed down to approximately 16 percent body fat.
The rising junior remains content with his physical progression, though acknowledged how he has a long way to go from a dominance standpoint on the field.
Offensive line coach Garin Justice has given Nelson and the rest of the offensive line a spark to keep on building off last year’s momentum.
“Last year, I feel like we started off with the little things,” said Nelson on the team’s immense shift in offensive approach. “There were a lot of smaller things that we needed to fix before we could move onto the next step.”
Change is sometimes good, even on defense
Miami has been forced to adjust defensively with former defensive ends Quincy Roche and Jaelan Phillips having left for the NFL Draft. Those departures, while almost devastating, have not resulted in hopelessness for Diaz, who will likely harp on Johnson, another Miami native, as well as Jahfari Harvey.
Harvey was another Miami player who revealed he got into much better shape in the offseason. The sophomore revealed he gained 6.5 pounds of muscle while trimming his body fat to an impressive 4 percent.
“They play differently but they’re still very good,” Nelson said. “We got Jahfari, he’s very quick, very fast off the edge. I haven’t really played a lot against Deandre.”
“We all got to be on the same page, and we all got to work together and move together,” redshirt senior striker Gilbert Frierson said. “We got the young guys, they’re working, got a lot to improve on. The third practice out there, they’re getting along with the program, getting used to how our practice is going, and it’s a good thing all the linebackers came back. Everybody’s experienced, everybody’s been out there in big games, so it should be a wide awakening.”
The Canes will pick back up with practice on Tuesday, March 23.
Nicholas Marino and Wyatt Kopelman reported this story.