The Greentree Practice Fields looked drastically different from last year as several new faces, staff members and athletes alike, worked hard under the Miami sun during Hurricanes football’s first spring practice of the year on Saturday morning.
Following practice, head coach Mario Cristobal, linebacker Wesley Bissainthe, offensive lineman Jalen Rivers, safety Kamren Kinchens and quarterback Tyler Van Dyke spoke to the media.
Here are some highlights and takeaways from the first day of spring practice.
New year, new numbers
Several athletes switched numbers from last year. Most notably, defensive lineman Akheem Mesidor is now 3, receiver Colbie Young is 4 and safety Kamren Kinchens is 5, his old jersey number at Miami Northwestern High School.
“It felt like it’s just right to have [number] 5 on,” Kinchens said. “I just always had ; it was always my favorite number. Had it since I was six [years old], so I just feel great having it.”
Additionally, Saturday was a first look at freshmen jersey numbers. Five-star offensive linemen Francis Mauigoa and Samson Okunlola will wear 61 and 63, respectively, while quarterback Emory Williams is 17 and highly anticipated receiver Robby Washington is 12.
First-year coaches are making their mark
Spectators caught a glimpse of Miami’s several new coaching hires in action on Saturday, including offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson and defensive coordinator Lance Guidry.
Dawson was seen working with the quarterbacks, while Guidry led drills with the defensive backs.
“Coach Guidry is an awesome guy,” linebacker Wesley Bissainthe said. “We love the defense, so we just looking forward to executing it and making plays.”
First-year wide receivers coach Kevin Beard, who previously served in the same role for Miami in 2015, stole the show, demonstrating route-running drills and passionately communicating objectives to the receivers.
“Coach Beard, besides being a great player, he was a guy that when he was here … [would be] getting guys together for an extra media time, keeping them after practice to run extra routes,” head coach Mario Cristobal said. “He’s that kind of a guy.”
Culture is improving
Questions swirled around the Hurricanes’ team chemistry last season as Miami failed to live up to its lofty expectations during Cristobal’s first year with the program.
With plenty of new personnel changes over the offseason — including the departures of former coordinators Josh Gattis and Kevin Steele — Miami is hoping to improve its team environment this year, and according to players and staff, that’s already happening.
“With day one in the books, the things that stand out is accountability … certainly energy overall [and] an attempt to improve culture was evident,” Cristobal said.
Bissainthe also agreed there was a noticeable difference in team culture on Saturday.
“This year the focus is more on each other, just the players coming together [and] uniting so we can all play as one when we are going on the field,” he said.
Van Dyke feeling better and adjusting to Dawson’s offense
Starting quarterback Tyler Van Dyke said he felt “90-95%” on Saturday after his 2022 season was marred by injuries.
A new offensive line, with five-star recruits Mauigoa and Okunlola, should protect him better, and Dawson’s new air raid scheme has Van Dyke excited.
“Coach Dawson brings a lot of energy,” Van Dyke said. “We go fast, we huddle up. It’s a well-balanced offense; [we] rip it down the field and also run the ball well.”
Cristobal provided injury updates on several players, including offensive lineman Zion Nelson, who is currently “on the mend.”
Mesidor is doing “limited work with the team” and hopes to return halfway through spring practices, while fellow lineman Leonard Taylor III has a more serious injury that will likely cause him to miss all of the spring.