If the Miami RedHawks final spring practice of 2017 lacked some of the pizzazz MU fans are expecting this fall, there was a pretty good reason – HEALTH!!
Although the spring ‘Hawks have generally avoided the kind of catastrophic injury that took out quarterback Gus Ragland for half of 2016-17, “nicked up” players dotted the sideline Saturday as MU took its Spring Showcase inside. Chilly, windy and damp weather prevailed outside, so it was decided earlier in the week to move the event to adjacent Dauch Indoor Sports Complex.
Both Ragland and . . .
“We didn’t play our top three wideouts, our top three O-linemen and most of our good defensive players,” Martin said as a crowd drifted out into the elements. “We finally have some proven players here that I didn’t want to see get hurt.”
On paper, the RedHawks have some quality depth at running back. However, Martin is keen on having all his weapons available, because each can bring something special to the mix. “I was trying to figure out how I can have a lot of scrimmage without my tailbacks getting tackled,” quipped Martin.
Limiting some frontliners also provided some experience for backups and younger players. Although last year’s bowl game appearance provided some “extra” practice time that was particularly valuable for those players, Martin noted Saturday was a chance to get them in front of a crowd.
“All of a sudden they’re doing stuff that is not even close to what they did Thursday when we had a good practice.”
Evaluating the RedHawks spring overall, Martin called it “fantastic.”
That, he hopes, will keep momentum going from last year’s strong finish toward a dangerous team coming out of the gate this fall.
Asked about higher fan expectations coming into 2017, Martin noted his team has worked hard to earn the higher expectations. To deliver, the RedHawks will need to remember the lessons of last season.
“We know the fine line between winning and losing,” he said. “We lost some games early in the year that we though we were good enough to win, but we didn’t make enough plays to win.”
“We won some games late that were dog-fight games that we figured out how to fight through adversity and find out how to make some plays when it counts. Having that experience is critical for this group, ;because they really hadn’t been through it before.”
● After some place-kicking issues late in the season and at the bowl game, MU worked on the specialty this offseason, according to Martin. He noted Samuel Sloman showed excellent elevation and a very strong leg, but Nick Dowd proved more accurate in last year's preseason competition. Sloman handled kickoff duties during the season, while Dowd went on to hit 10 of 13 field goals and 30 of 35 extra points in 2016. A field goal try to win the St. Petersburg bowl in the closing seconds was blocked, along with one extra point in the 17-16 loss to Mississippi State.
“He has improved and he’s been pretty consistent this spring on getting the ball up quicker,” Martin said.
● While the RedHawks bring back strong units on both sides of the ball, the one place that was hit pretty hard by graduation was defensive end. Standouts J. T. Jones and Austin Gearing are both gone. Among those hoping to step up for those roles is sophomore Dean Lemon (6-2, 258).
“Dean Lemon had a great spring,” Martin said. “If Dean Lemon can play consistently, He’ll be a high end player. … (Overall), I think we have enough bodies there that we’ll be efficient at the end.”
● After suffering a knee injury that cost him the remainder of spring and half the 2016 season, quarterback Gus Ragland led the RedHawks to six straight wins to close out the regular season. He also played very well in the bowl game, and Martin expects plenty of the former Moeller High School standout.
Ragland was known more for his running in high school and has worked hard to develop his passing game at the collegiate level.
“You’ve (now) got … a quarterback that threw the ball at a crazy (efficient) rate,” Martin said. “He (also) extended plays and we did some design quarterback runs (last season).”
All that, however, was with a player coming off a spring ACL injury. “We didn’t really unleash the Dobermans. We were as safe as we could be while trying to win games with him,” said Martin, adding that there will be more opportunities to unleash Ragland in 2017.