CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) — A year ago, all Miami quarterback Stephen Morris could do in the Hurricanes’ spring game was evaluate his teammates from the sideline.
This time around, he’ll evaluate again — just from the field.
A back injury kept Morris out of spring ball last season, so he watched while wearing a whistle instead of a helmet. And while many Hurricanes will try to impress coaches one last time before training camp starts in the summer, Morris will be keeping a critical eye on things as well, if for no other reason than to get a better feel for who will be his primary targets when the real season begins.
“It really helps me understand who’s going to be my go-to guys, especially going into the summer,” Morris said. “I know guys like Allen Hurns and Phillip Dorsett, they’re going to make plays for me. I want to see Dallas Crawford play. I want to see Jontavious Carter come out. I want to see D’Mauri Jones do something special. Things like that are what you want to see. Then they’ll have confidence going into the summer and we can take off from there.”
The Hurricanes are among more than 30 teams around the country scheduled to play their spring game on Saturday. Miami is coming off a 7-5 season that could have seen it play in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game, if not for a second straight year of self-imposed postseason bans because of the ongoing NCAA investigation into the Hurricanes’ athletic department.
Expectations at this time in 2012 were low. This year, the Hurricanes are likely to be a popular pick to win the ACC’s Coastal Division, if not the overall conference title.
There’s changes on the field, too, with Miami coach Al Golden raving about how far his team has come this spring as opposed to last.
“It’s not even close,” Golden said.
Golden said he chose the rosters for the spring game last week, without much rhyme or reason. First-stringers will be playing alongside second-stringers on both sides of the ball, although Miami will try to keep as much of a real-game feel as possible.
Several players who will have key roles in the fall will not play because of injuries, and many recruits will arrive this summer to add plenty of depth.
In other words, what the Hurricanes show on Saturday won’t exactly be the game plan for the Aug. 30 opener against Florida Atlantic.
“I just think the biggest thing is for us to see who can execute,” Morris said. “We’re going to have a lot of people out there, we want to have fun with the fans, but we just want to execute. With the offensive plays we have, it’s not going to be anything crazy. We’re not even going to have all our starters on the first team. We just want to see who can execute plays and be a playmaker.”
Golden reeled off a handful of names of players who he thought had impressive spring seasons, including offensive lineman Seantrel Henderson — who has struggled at times in his first three seasons with the Hurricanes, but even wound up taking younger players under his wing and coaching them up during drills this spring.
That’s exactly what Golden wants to see.
“I don’t think you can become a great team until you get that, until you’re empowered enough to know the difference between when you should have thrown it somewhere else or how you should react to a certain play,” Golden said. “I think that’s important. We’re getting more of that, I promise you. … It’s about those guys taking ownership and being empowered and holding each other accountable. I’m starting to see more of that.”
Morris has been considered the locker-room leader for the past two seasons, even among the defensive players. And he echoed Golden’s sentiments about how he thinks the Hurricanes have matured this spring.
“Everyone here’s for a common goal and we have the same vision,” Morris said. “I don’t think we had that the last couple years. Now guys have matured, guys have been in the system for three years under Coach Golden and now we can see the end.”