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Players and coaches trying to maximize off-season time

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USA TODAY

Based on interviews this week with several Miami Hurricanes’ football coaches and players, the message from coaches on what it takes to be champions is getting through.

Part of that process occurs in June and July when players have a lot more freedom than they do during the school year. NCAA rules limit the access coaches can have with the team in the summer as well as the school year, thus it’s a must that players train diligently on their own in the summer. Apparently they are as they prepare for a season that begins with a high-profile game against LSU in Arlington, Texas, on Sept. 2.

“For me, summer time is a great time for guys to step up and take more of a role, kind of be a coach when we’re not there,” said offensive coordinator/running backs coach Thomas Brown. “We have more time than ever before to meet with those guys on the field in walk throughs and that type of stuff, and we’ve got to take advantage of it.”

Senior quarterback Malik Rosier is said to be coming back every night for extra work.

“Malik, he should be that guy,” Brown said. “As the starting quarterback he should be the leader of the entire team because you’re going to be given the keys to the ship. From a quarterback’s standpoint, having a chance to take control of a huddle, make sure guys know what they’re doing when they line up and helping the young guys as much as possible.

"Travis Homer has got to become a more vocal leader. Deejay (Dallas) always has been vocal, but he’s put himself in the role because he’s made some plays. And having Ahmmon Richards back is going to have a huge impact. He’s a very confident guy when he’s healthy, and he’s got a chip on his shoulder. He adds that attitude to the fire.

“I think some guys, I’m not going to name names, take time to have some away days and are lagging behind a little. I think overall it’s going well. We’re still trying to get those guys to enjoy the summer, too, while getting prepared for the fall.”

Asked how the incoming freshmen look so far, Brown said, “Talent-wise it’s not going to be an issue. At every position we have competition now. At running back we’ve now got the depth.”

Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz likes what he sees in the players understanding the big picture, so to speak.

“I think the great thing we have is that you can see the culture is in place,” he said. “The young guys when they come in they instantly have role models like a Jaquan Johnson. They really learn the summer how to become us, you know, which is fun.

“They go through this whole process of what we’re about and go through the whole process of nuts and bolts. Learning respect in the locker room is really most important with their work ethic and their toughness. And if they don’t show those two things ... that’s the time to teach them. And we can.

“We have the opportunity to meet with them a little every week, bring them along that way. The number one thing is they work in the weight room with coach Gus (Felder) and the others and as long as they’ll be resilient with the running and all the things we do in the summer time, then we know we can figure out the rest.”

Regarding the newcomers, Diaz said, “It’s hard to make an assessment, but we can see why we recruited them. We’re glad that they’re all here. And obviously at some positions, it’s great to have them here because of the lack of numbers we had in the secondary and the lack up depth up front. To have those guys be able to not do things for the first time on August 1.....they hear it on June 1 and it gives you a big jump in terms of their comfort level, because when you play a really big game around September 1, you don’t have a lot of time to get yourself really ready. We can’t be feeling our way out in the opener. We’ve got to know what we’re doing.”

Safeties coach Ephraim Banda also sees the summer as time for players to fine tune fundamentals.

“I want to see the small little things that I see need corrected not be made twice,” he said. “You can make a mistake once but you can’t keep making it. And the last part I want them to do is when I talk to them in terms of trusting me, and if I say hey I want you to look at this, don’t worry about anything else.

“Your number one job when you come to Miami is your toughness in the locker room. Those are the ones you have to go on the field with. Those are the ones who have to trust you... No matter how high they are recruited, it doesn’t matter in the locker room. They’ve got to go prove their toughness.”

Senior defensive back Sheldrick Redwine said the summer “has been been real good. We’ve been getting our bodies in shape, doing everything we can to prepare for the first game. We start preparing right now. Doing the things necessary to win.”

He said this is a very important period of the off-season.

“That’s the time we’ve got to put extra stuff in,” Redwine said. "When the coaches are not around and you’ve got to do it on your own. The little things and get better at it. That’s the time to do it. A lot of people probably don’t take advantage of it but everybody on our team is taking advantage of it.”

Defensive back Jaquan Johnson said he “can definitely sense that we’re a tough team.”

Regarding the freshmen, he added, “Those guys came in to learn. Those guys were high school stars. Everybody is taking pride in their learning, they’re doing whatever they can do to contribute to the team. That’s the most that I’ve seen., that they came in willing to learn.”

Coach Mark Richt said coaches are allowed only eight hours a week with players in the summer.

“It’s broken down to six hours of strength and conditioning and two hours of film study and walk throughs,” he said. “A lot of it they’ve got to do on their own. We have to leave the field when any balls come out.

“That’s why we have exit meetings at the end of spring football. And we talk with the strength staff, we talk with the nutritionists, we talk about goals, we have a huge meeting that might last five or six hours with coaches and the strength staff and tell them (players) exactly what they need to do to get ready to compete at the highest level.”

And this year that means the first game. For the first time in nearly a decade, the Hurricanes will be opening the season against a traditional power.

I asked Richt if players are looking at LSU film.

“Oh yes,” he said. “We do a lot of installation of our offensive and defensive systems but we’ll still roll the tape and begin to see LSU. Coaches are looking at it, players are looking at it.

“When you flip on that film you know you better work hard. They know about being in shape because LSU will have a bunch of guys that can really do it.”

The last time the Hurricanes opened the season against a ranked opponent was 2009 at No. 18 Florida State. They won 38-34 with a goal-line stand at the end of the game.

Asked about opening on a big stage, Richt replied, “I always say this: I’ve never had a team not excited about the first game no matter what, because you’ve had all these spring practices, all that summer practices. Fall camp you can have as many as 29 practices. That’s 40-45 practices before you play a game. That’s a long time to go before playing.

“All game ones are exciting, but when you know you’re going to be the only show in town, you’re going to be in the Jerry Dome, you’re going to be on national TV on a Sunday night, and the whole world’s going to watch it. It adds juice to it. We wouldn’t have scheduled the game if we didn’t think we could create energy for our program and our players. And it will help us understand where we are in the grand scheme of trying to become a champion.”

THE NOT SO MAD HATTER

Whether he is roaming the Greentree Practice Field or leading a summer camp for kids at a park, it’s easy to spot Richt. He’s the guy wearing the distinctive wide-brimmed white straw hat.

Many fans probably aren’t aware of the hat because he doesn’t wear them at press conferences, or on the sideline during games since he’s wearing headphones.

“Controversial question,” I said to him out of curiosity. “What do I call your hat? Is it a Panama hat?”

Richt grinned and said, “Well, let’s call it an Orvis (the brand name). A lot of people covet it. My pastor from Athens, Bill Ricketts, every year is getting me a new hat. And he keeps shipping them to me.

“So I’ve got them in the weight room. It’s hard to work them in so they feel good. Some of them I keep nice and clean for maybe a gift A lot of players say, what do I need to do to get a hat? “You’ve got to go through the program, get your degree, do everything the way you’re supposed to do it. If you want one that will fit your big head, I’ll order you one.”