Miami football opens spring practice

Miami sophomore quarterback Brett Gabbert set career highs Saturday with 308 yards passing and four touchdowns in the RedHawks' 38-7 win over Akron. Jeff Harwell/Akron Athletics
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Miami sophomore quarterback Brett Gabbert set career highs Saturday with 308 yards passing and four touchdowns in the RedHawks' 38-7 win over Akron. Jeff Harwell/Akron Athletics

How anxious were the Miami RedHawks to get back on the football field?

Their first spring practice on Thursday was punctuated with what coach Chuck Martin described as a “little skirmish” between some players.

“That was a down note, especially at Miami” said Martin, who’s preparing for his eighth season as Miami’s coach, making him the longest-tenured RedHawks mentor since Randy Walker’s nine-year term from 1990 through 1998. “That’s not Miami football.”

At the same time, though, Martin could understand a high level of spirit among players who got to play only three games last season due to COVID-19 protocols and hadn’t been on the field together since sometime before the RedHawks’ regular-season finale against Bowling Green on Dec. 12 was cancelled.

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“We had awesome intensity,” he said during a post-practice Zoom media session about the first session, which was conducted in the Dauch Indoor Sports Center on the artificial turf of Ben Roethlisberger Field. “It was really good. It was awesome to practice. We had such a good eight weeks of off-season work. We got a phenomenal amount of stuff done. The kids and the coaches did a good job of getting ready.

“We had really good energy. We’ve been preparing for this for eight weeks. We’re definitely stronger and faster. We’re in good shape. We did so much installation on Day One on both sides of the ball that it was ridiculous.”

The RedHawks managed to squeeze in three games during the 2020 “season,” winning two. That was after seeing their spring practice schedule cut short when pandemic concerns shut down sports.

Miami has scheduled 15 2021 spring practice sessions on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays through April 29.

The RedHawks have good reason to look forward with gusto to the 2021 season, which is scheduled to start on Sept. 4 with the annual “Victory Bell” rivalry matchup against Cincinnati at Nippert Stadium. Based on the depth chart put together for the 2020 regular-season finale at Bowling Green that ended up not being played, Miami has nine starters returning on offense and 10 on defense, along with all five special team players.

The primary challenge facing Martin and his staff before the 2021 season is replacing offensive left tackle Tommy Doyle, a Mid-American Conference first-team all-conference pick who chose to make himself available for the National Football League draft, and center Danny Godlevske, who transferred to Oklahoma State. Cornerback Emmanuel Rugumba, a fifth-year senior last season, also won’t be back.

“The biggest battle is on the offensive line,” said Martin, who described quarterbacks Brett Gabbert and A.J. Mayer both as looking “sharp” during the first workout. “Clearly, we’re still pretty young. Right tackle is a little bit of a revolving door. We think all five positions can be up for grabs.”

Filling those slots isn’t Martin’s biggest concern. He’s still dealing with the uncertainty left over from 2020.

“What’s 2021 going to look like?” he wondered, “You’re not starting from scratch every year, but you are starting over. We have a lot of starters back, but complacency can set in. You’re always trying to fight complacency. That’s the key to winning. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the past.”

While Martin was troubled by seeing a couple of players indulge in extracurricular activities during the first spring workout, he was encouraged by the passion.

“As things get normal – and we’re not there yet – it’s great just having spring practice and not having it cancelled,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to carry it forward to next year. We felt like we had a year taken away from us. Hopefully, they’ll take that chip on their shoulder into the fall.”

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