‘Human skyscraper’ on Miami roster (nearly 6-9) learning plenty from 5-4 line coach

The first time Markel Bell got a glimpse of his future offensive line coach, he likely was looking down. Of course, at 6-8 3/4 — “you can say 6-9,’’ Bell said Tuesday — Bell pretty much looks down at everyone.

“He’s a little firecracker,’’ Bell, who weighs 340 pounds and wears size 18 shoes, said of 5-4 University of Miami O-line guru Alex Mirabal, know as one of the top offensive line coaches in the nation. “He’s good. He knows what he’s talking about. That’s what I love.’’

He also loves getting 1-on-1 instruction from his head coach Mario Cristobal, a former UM offensive tackle who won Hurricanes national titles in 1989 and ‘91 and described Bell as “the human skyscraper’’ on the first day of the early signing period in late December.

“I’m taking everything I can from Coach Cristobal,’’ Bell said, “from his experience being a tackle here at Miami. I’m doing everything I can to help the team.’’

Cristobal previously said Bell, rated as the nation’s top junior college offensive lineman when he transferred from Holmes Community College in Goodman, Mississippi, “would be able to help us immediately’’ should he have a good winter conditioning program and strong spring.

“It’s not just the size, Cristobal said. “It’s the athleticism.”

Growth spurt

Bell played junior varsity basketball in ninth and 10th grades and was “about 5-10” in eighth grade before he “shot up to 6-3, 6-4” in high school. “By the time I was a senior I was about 6-8 and 370.’’

He said his father is 6-3 and his mother, 5-8, and that “it was definitely a shock’’ to reach almost 6-9.

Bell has had plenty of opportunities this spring, as starting All-American right tackle Francis Mauigoa is recuperating from double shoulder surgery. Former five-star recruit Samson Okunlola, a high school tackle who played in three games before a season-ending torn left MCL necessitated surgery, has been practicing at left guard.

“It was a transition I loved to learn,” Okunlola, 6-6 and 330 pounds, said Tuesday. “I had to really dial into it, and it was great learning the process of being a guard, learning how different the run game is at tackle from guard.”

Last year’s UM five best linemen started all 12 regular-season games together. The Canes, 19th nationally in sacks allowed (14 in the regular season and two more at the bowl game), were 44th in rushing offense (173.2 yards a game).

Former left guard Javion Cohen and center Matt Lee will both likely be drafted later this month, with UM’s starting left guard spot up for grabs. The Canes center will be transfer Zach Carpenter, and 6-4, 330-pound junior Anez Cooper has the right guard position locked.

“It’s a different speed, different pace,’’ Bell said of football on the FBS level. “I’ve been taking it day-by-day adjusting to it.’’

Playing hard

Bell said he chose UM because the program had a plan for his development.

“Technique-wise, I get coached up every day. I’m being coached to play hard, and taught the right things to get me to the next level. Coming from Mississippi, it’s a whole scenery change. It was something different stepping out of my comfort zone.’’

Mirabal recently described Bell as “really, really big’’ and “really, really good.’’

“He’s tough and a great listener,’’ Mirabal said. “He’s gotten tremendously better. He’s got good feet, great length. It’s not that he’s tall, it’s that he’s got really long arms.’’

How is UM different?

“Just the vibe,’’ Bell said. “Florida kids, they’re different, and I like different. It’s a family vibe. I felt real at home when I came on a visit. And now, they’re like my brothers.’’

He said he first met Mirabal when the line coach visited him at one of his games.

“I heard many great things about him but I never saw him in person. That was a fun experience.”

When asked his reaction when he first saw Mirabal, Bell laughed, then laughed again. “I didn’t even know that was my O-line coach.’’