The Miami RedHawks football team entered spring drills with many open questions. While 15 practices didn’t provide all the answers, they did offer a boatload of experience and a peek at some impressive potential.
Chief among the unanswered questions is . . .
“They both can run and they both are big. If the (defensive) end closes down, they can pull it and take it. They can both do that,” Martin said. “They both have strong arms to push the ball down the field. They are both young, obviously. ... So they have their moments, but this was one of their better days. Their decision-making today was really good.”
Martin was particularly pleased with the absence of turnovers.
“I know they can make those good throws. … It’s when the play isn’t there and they give it to the other team, which we didn’t see at all today.”
As for a decision on who will start at quarterback, that could go deep into fall practices -- or even the regular season, according to Martin.
“I think it could, and I think our non-league schedule could also play into that,” he said. “We’ve got some challenging games early, and they both need experience. I think there is a lot of growth in those games.”
“They are both insanely, insanely gifted - just in a little bit different ways,” Sorenson said. “Both of them are so raw, and that is the crazy part. They are so good right now, and the fact of the matter is they haven’t even reached 25 percent of their capability.”
Spring ball, he noted, provided some scintillating samples of the duo’s potential.
“There were a couple times when A.J. comes running out of the pocket and I thought he was going to run the ball. The next thing you know, he is throwing it 80 yards down the field on the run. He has one of the most insane arms I’ve ever seen. With Jackson, there’s three guys about to tackle him, and he does some type of move and gets out of the pocket.”
As for his own position group, injuries to others kept Sorenson on the move. Fellow receivers Dominique Robinson and Tyler Fleetwood missed extensive time due to injuries.
“We kind of got depleted for spring, and we were a little bit lean at that position already,” Martin noted. “They’ll both be back for the season … (but) it gave some of these other guys opportunities.”
Several freshman receivers impressed Sorenson. Among them was James Maye (5-9, 160). “”I’ve never seen a kid faster in my life. Once he figures out how fast he is and how big of a game changer that can be, he is going to be one of the best receivers in the MAC.”
Meanwhile, Cam Blakely (6-5, 202) grabbed three passes for 25 yards Saturday. “Once he puts a little meat on his bones and gets a little stronger, he can post up anybody and win any jump ball, said Sorenson, adding that Austin Robinson likely figures in the slot -- a position Sorenson held down much of last season.
“We have so much talent that people don’t even know about. It’s going to be really cool over the next couple years.”
“Hopefully, I’ve got three that can really do the job, and we’re developing two younger kids,” Martin said.
Jaylon Bester and Maurice Thomas have the most experience, while Davion Johnson flashed some talent in limited action during 2018.
“Mo was out the whole spring, and Davion missed a bunch,” said Martin, who is entering his sixth season at the Miami helm.
“It was a little bit of a blessing in disguise, because a lot of these young kids got all these reps and they really improved.”
Freshmen Tyree Shelton and Mitchell Burton were among those getting some extra reps. Burton carried 10 times for 25 yards and two TDs Saturday. Shelton carried three times for 22 yards and a score.
Over on the defensive side, Miami hopes to keep things rolling. Martin noted the team played well against the run all year and seemed to turn the corner in pass defense later in the season. If this spring is any indication, pass defense could take another step forward.
“We’ve got way more experience in the back end,” Martin said. “We’ve got starters that are fighting for starting positions, and they are playing better than they did in the fall. We’ve (also) added some talented kids back there. That improves competition.”
Linebacker, meanwhile, is a position that sorely needed spring work. Brad Koenig, a RedHawk stalwart is gone. Martin pointed to Myles Reid and Ryan McWood as likely starters. Reid, a senior, started over the last half of the season and McWood had a big start at Northern Illinois.
“I’m confident with those guys, but who is their backups? A lot of those backup spots are key,” Martin said.
Summarizing the spring, he observed, “I think when we watch the tape, (we’ll see) there were a lot of younger guys that three or four weeks ago couldn’t even function (and) were not understanding and playing football the way it's supposed to be played.
“(There has been) a lot of growth. We lose 18, 19 seniors, and a lot of them were starters. But you forget about the ones that were good backups and played a lot of reps. So there are not only starting positions open, but even more so - backup positions. A lot of those kids have really come a long way in a short time. … There are going to be some freshmen this summer that are going to have a chance to get into that two-deep.”