Which position do the Hurricanes have the most depth at? It could be wide receiver.
With the addition of talented freshman wide receivers like former four-star prospects Mark Pope and Brian Hightower to a group that already included dynamic talent like Ahmmon Richards, Jeff Thomas and Mike Harley, the competition for playing time at the position is one to watch.
There are 14 wide receivers on the Hurricanes roster and 10 are realistic options for regular playing time this season: Freshmen Dee Wiggins, Marquez Ezzard, Pope and Hightower; redshirt freshman Evidence Njoku; sophomores Mike Harley and Jeff Thomas; junior Ahmmon Richards; redshirt junior Lawrence Cager; and redshirt senior Darrell Langham.
Wide receivers coach Ron Dugans is now trying to figure out who will have a consistent role in the Hurricanes’ rotation. Dugans is hoping to play as many as eight wide receivers in most games this season.
Here’s a look at each of the 10 wide receivers competing for playing time …
* The hope is that Ahmmon Richards is finally 100 percent healthy after going through an injury-riddled sophomore season. Richards earned Freshman All-American honors with 49 catches for 934 yards and three touchdowns two seasons ago.
“The first day of camp (Saturday) we had one-on-ones against the DBs and it was in the red zone,” Dugans recalled when asked about Richards. “I think it was against (Michael Jackson) – I forget who the DB was – but he went up and high pointed the ball and almost one-handed it and came back down, and you’re just like, ‘Wow.’”
Richards will definitely start at one of the outside wide receiver spots, assuming full health. He’s one of the few Hurricanes receivers, maybe the only one, who already has a starting job locked up.
* Lawrence Cager seems like one of the top candidates to be the second outside wide receiver opposite of Richards. He has the size at 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds and the experience as a redshirt junior. But inconsistency has been an issue for him, as he’s accumulated 24 catches for 307 yards and four touchdowns in his two years of action with the Hurricanes.
“Cager has done really good. He’s done good for us,” Dugans said. “He’s been physical. He’s made some plays and he’s missed a few that I wish he would have made. But overall he’s done a good job for us.”
Cager is now two years removed from a serious knee injury that earned him a medical redshirt in 2016.
* When looking for the Hurricanes player who can make the biggest jump from last season, Jeff Thomas (5-10, 180) has to be one of the top candidates. Coaches and teammates have raved about the growth they’ve seen from Thomas, who finished his freshman year with 17 catches for 374 yards and two touchdowns.
“Jeff has probably had the biggest maturation process over the last year out of anybody on our whole offense,” offensive coordinator Thomas Brown. “Jeff was really up and down last year. He had some bright moments and would kind of get tired and go in the tank. Stuff would go wrong and he would kind of go in the tank. And I’m just really pleased the way he’s come out from a mindset standpoint and works everyday, and really takes coaching from coach Dugans. He’s starting to really work himself into a really good football player.”
Thomas is also one of the top candidates to earn the second outside wide receiver spot opposite of Richards. But his speed also makes him an option in the slot. The point is, Thomas is expected to start at one of those positions.
"I had about three clips from yesterday's practice,” Dugans said of Thomas. “He went inside to crack block a guy, missed a guy and tried to run through a DB. I'm like wow, where has that been? As far as him run blocking and not just loafing, feel like that's not important -- it's important to him now. He's going to play a big role.”
* Mike Harley (5-9, 175) will be part of the Hurricanes’ receiving rotation this season, whether it’s starting or as one of the top reserves. And like Thomas, he has the speed to play either on the outside or in the slot.
“Mike has been the same guy for the most part since he’s gotten here,” Brown said. “He’s never had to be taught how to work. He gives it up every single day, he will fight you tooth and nail for every single inch there is on the football field. Obviously, size is a little bit of an issue for him but he’s still putting on weight and progressing.”
* When Dugans described the competition for the starting outside receiver spot opposite of Richards, he didn’t mention Darrell Langham. Langham said he’s been practicing behind Richards.
“I am hoping for a little more snaps this year, but I do know it’s a team effort,” Langham said Wednesday. “Everyone’s going to get on the field and everyone’s going to put the work in when they play.”
Langham, who is listed at 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, played in all 13 games but made just one start last season. He made the game-winning touchdown catch in a dramatic win over Florida State.
“[Coach Dugans] said he wants me to use my body more physically, like push people around and knock them out of the way and use my frame as an advantage,” Langham said.
* Dugans said freshman wide receiver Dee Wiggins (6-3, 195) “has been playing at the boundary. Wiggins, you see him one time and he looks like Jerry Rice. The next time you see him and it’s like, ‘What are we doing?’ It goes back to just being consistent and myself just being hard on him and coach him hard and they’re going to do what they demand.”
* Marquez Ezzard (6-2, 210) is competing for playing time in the slot.
“He’s been playing along with Harley and Jeff Thomas,” Dugans said of Ezzard on Wednesday. “The biggest thing for him, going back to the freshmen, is knowing what to do and taking it from the classroom to the field. It’s been kind of a struggle there as far as that goes with him. But today he looked better effort wise and just assignment wise, he looked better.”
* The top rated wide receivers in Miami’s 2018 recruiting class have not disappointed so far. Mark Pope (6-1, 180) and Brian Hightower are in the group of receivers who are practicing on the outside opposite of Richards.
“He’s done some really good things,” Dugans said of Pope. “His thing just coming in was confidence and trying to learn the plays. Just got to trust your coach, man. So he’s done a really good job. He’s shown some flashes.”
Pope was not enrolled at UM for spring practices, so fall camp is his first time practicing on the college level. When asked which of the freshman receivers have stood out, cornerback Trajan Bandy pointed to Pope.
“He’s fast, he’s quick and he blocks,” Bandy said. “After practice, he talks to me and he asks me questions about what he did wrong in practice. I tell him and the next day he fixes it. He comes out and he runs his route harder and he blocks harder.”
Dugans said Hightower has “shown some flashes also.”
* Evidence Njoku (6-6, 225) is working his way back from an October knee injury that ended his season early last year. He has been able to practice.
COVERAGE FROM DAY 5 OF FALL CAMP
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COVERAGE FROM DAY 2 OF FALL CAMP