ST. PETERSBURG, FL - DECEMBER 26: Defensive lineman Braxton Hoyett #95 of the Mississippi State Bulldogs tries to block a pass by quarterback Gus Ragland #14 of the Miami (Oh) Redhawks during the second quarter in the St. Petersburg Bowl at Tropicana Field on December 26, 2016, in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Joseph Garnett, Jr. /Getty Images)

Miami coach Chuck Martin: ‘We have the most talent since I’ve been here’

Armed with the stability and security of a two-year contract extension, Chuck Martin convened his fifth set of spring practices as Miami’s football coach with the first of 15 sessions on Sunday.

Athletics director David Sayler announced on Wednesday that Martin’s deal had been extended through Jan. 30, 2021, even though the RedHawks slipped from a 6-6 2016 season that included a Mid-American Conference East Division co-championship and bowl appearance to 5-7 overall and 4-4 in the conference.

Nineteen starters return for the 2018 Miami campaign – eight each on offense and defense and three on special teams – but Martin believes the RedHawks talent level will lead to intense competition for starting jobs at most positions. All five starters return on the offensive line and all three starting linebackers also are back, but Martin cautions that the returning starters shouldn’t feel comfortable.

“Our offensive line is one of our most experience units, but we’re so talented that there will be competition there,” Martin said . “We’re crazy talented at running back, so that will be competitive.”

Fourth-year junior running back Maurice Thomas, a Talawanda graduate, will be limited to individual workouts during spring practice, Martin said. Thomas is working his way back from an injury that limited him to three games in 2017. He is expected to be 100 percent for fall practice.

Miami also has a couple of holes that need filling, including two in the defensive backfield after the graduation of cornerback and Dayton Christian product Heath Harding and safety Tony Reid. Junior college transfer Zedrick Raymond, who will be on hand for the spring session, is expected to be a strong contender for one of the slots.

Martin also lost two starting wide receivers, one of four defensive linemen and a tight end.

“We’re less experienced on the defensive line, but we have a lot of young guys who’ve been balling,” Martin said. “Overall, this will be the most competitive spring practice since I’ve been here, because we have the most talent since I’ve been here.”

While Gus Ragland returns for his senior season at quarterback, spring practice will include the opening of a search for his backup. Ragland is the only one of the five quarterbacks on the spring roster who’s thrown a pass in a game. Michigan-transfer Alex Malzone won’t be on hand while finishing his degree work in Ann Arbor, and Covington (Ky.) Catholic recruit Alex Mayer has yet to graduate.

The rest of spring sessions are scheduled for 3 p.m.: March 13, March 15, March 27, March 29, April 3, April 5, April 10, April 12, April 17 and April 19. Three Saturday practices – March 31, April 7 and April 14 – are set to start at 10 a.m., and the annual Spring Showcase is scheduled to start at 1:30 p.m.

All sessions are open to the public.

Miami will open the regular season on Sept. 1 against Marshall.