James Heywood, an English playwright from a couple centuries back, is known for poems, proverbs, plays and also the ability “hit the mark” with some insightful phrases of his own or others. Among the many that he employed was: “Rome was not built in a day.”
Many successful people have added: “but they were laying bricks every day.”
Such is the case in sports, and such is the mantra of spring football. One of the Miami RedHawk football players, in fact, alluded to the brick-building process recently when he talked about a goal of getting at least one percent better each day.
Miami coach Chuck Martin might be cleverly disguised, but he spends a lot of time and effort building. Ironically, physical buildings have coincided with the personnel and talent building that he and his staff have undertaken. However, it is . . .
This will be Martin’s third year at the helm. The first year wasn’t even building from ground level. The RedHawks – MAC champions just three years earlier had fallen into the abyss. That was especially true of the offense. which had ranked among the most futile in several FBS offensive categories.
Former Notre Dame quarterback Andrew Hendrix joined his former offensive coordinator, Martin, for the 2013 season. While they still couldn’t mount a good running attack, the RedHawks managed to resurrect the previously dormant passing game and were competitive in a number of games. Ultimately, they won two games, which was two more than the previous season.
Hendrix had just one year of eligibility left, so MU took its lumps through much of 2015 with R-Fr Gus Ragland and true freshman Billy Bahl at quarterback. Turnovers, in particular, stymied the RedHawks.
Things improved down the stretch, however, and Miami won two of its last three games to finish 3-9. Couple that late-season success with improvements to date, and Martin feels the RedHawks are poised for better times in 2016.
“I think next fall, everybody will see a much, much better football (team with) noticeable differences (in) speed, size, strength and competence,” Martin said after one of the recent practices. “Spring has gone great. We have a good nucleus of kids. … It’s been a lot of fun so far this spring.”
One of the keys for Martin’s optimism is quarterback play. Bahl and Ragland had a tough baptism in 2015. “Last year, they were … definitely drinking through a fire hose,” Martin said. They were “learning every week, but it was hard.”
At the same time, he noted, “They got to play last yar. They (now) understand the difference between being a high school quarterback and a college quarterback. … They also learned the speed of the game.”
Bahl’s play has improved through spring activities and he has been dialing in on a nice crop of receivers in recent practices. Ragland was also improving before a recent injury. Just how serious the injury might be was yet to be determined as of midweek.
Aside from quarterback play, however, Miami may be ready to turn the corner with a more productive run game.
“I think it is going to be significantly better,” Martin said. “We’re already better than we were at the end of last year.”
Miami, which had struggled mightily running the football in recent years, enjoyed a measure of success down the stretch and totaled 291 yards on the ground in a win over Eastern Michigan.
As with quarterback, MU will once again be young at running back and along the line of scrimmage, but things are on the upswing, according to Martin, who has been eager to bring balance to the offense.
“It makes everybody’s job easier,” he said. “That’s not the final piece of the puzzle, but that’s one of the big final pieces when you can start to win the battles of the line of scrimmage and (are) not just holding down the fort, but are knocking people around. We showed some signs (of that) late in the year.”
Spring practice has also allowed Martin to see the RedHawks’ speed, size and talent on defense, which got off to a strong start.
Both offense and defense will be on display April 23 when Miami completes its spring activities with a Spring Showcase. Former Miami lineman Brandon Brooks, who was with the NFL Houston Texans before recently signing with Philadelphia, will be on hand for a presentation at 12:30 p.m. Football activities (11-on-11 competition and various drills) will commence at 1 p.m. Admission is free.