The mood around the first day of fall practice was vastly different than what Miami University head football coach Chuck Martin remembers going into his first season.
That’s the difference even just two wins last year can make after an 0-12 season in 2013.
But perhaps more noticeable to Martin was how much better his RedHawks looked Thursday as they jogged onto Ben Roethlisberger Field at the new Dauch Indoor Sports Center. Heavy rain forced practice indoors; however, Martin was pleased with what he saw Day 1.
“We’re bigger, stronger, faster, and we have way more depth, way more athletes,” Martin said. “This is the first practice we’ve had that we could actually run a practice the way we want. We had so many depth issues at certain positions last year that we had to adjust practice to account for the fact we would be running kids into the ground. It’s nice to be able to do what we want to do and not worry about having enough DBs, enough O-line guys. We can actually run a normal practice.”
Martin said a talented freshman class, the addition of players who red-shirted last year and the growth of many returnees give his team a whole new look.
Miami, coming off a 2-10 campaign, is replacing seven starters on offense, including third-team All-MAC quarterback Andrew Hendrix, but practice ran smooth and the tempo remained upbeat with fifth-year senior Drew Kummer and freshman Gus Ragland getting most of the reps at quarterback.
“We lost a lot of big positions on offense last year, so a lot of us have to step up,” said wide receiver Rokeem Williams, one of the few returning starters on offense. “We took that attitude into the offseason because we knew we had to get bigger, faster, stronger. Even though the quarterback is still up in the air, I feel like all those guys are competing for a starting job and it will all fall in place and we’ll have a pretty good offense this year.”
On the other side of the ball, the RedHawks have a big hole to fill in replacing Mid-American Conference Defensive Player of the Year Quinten Rollins (second-round draft pick by the Packers) at cornerback, but eight starters return, including all four linemen and two of three linebackers.
Several backup spots are up for grabs, and the competition already was underway Thursday, despite the fact players weren’t able to wear full pads yet.
“I thought the whole team, offense and defense, had a great energy for our first practice,” said linebacker Kent Kern, who missed the spring while still recovering from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for the final three games. “Everyone was moving fast, finishing, running hard to the football every play, which is important for our defense. The energy and the effort really stood out today.”
Miami has plenty of work to do between now and the Sept. 5 opener against Presbyterian; however, Martin likes that his team is to the point where it “can really make strides.”
The RedHawks showed improvements in most phases of the game last year but had three contests in which they lost on the final play and six losses decided by a single score.
“We just have to figure out those fourth quarters of games,” he said. “We won a couple, but we lost our share of close games last year. We had no belief last year. We were excited to be in that situation because we hadn’t been in a lot of close games, so that was a sense of accomplishment, but now the step is winning some of those close games, getting over the hump of believing we can make plays to win games. That’s a big hurdle to climb.”