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Quick thoughts from UM’s spring game, including a major statement by early enrollees

Ten quick thoughts from UM’s spring game on Saturday at Cobb Stadium (besides the fact that new starter Cam Ward is really good):

▪ There’s a lot to be excited about these early enrollees.

Tight end Elija Lofton lived up to his Swiss Army knife reputation, starting at running back and steamrolling for several runs of 5 to 12 yards. Lofton can play tight end, running back, H-back and receiver.

Linebacker Cam Pruitt started the game, had a tackle for loss and made a great play in coverage on an incomplete deep pass from Ward to Elijah Arroyo.

Receiver JoJo Trader had two 20-plus yard receptions, generating most of his yards after the catch.

Receiver Ny Carr slid to the ground to make a terrific catch on a dart from Jacurri Brown.

All four of those freshmen should get meaningful playing time this fall.

Meanwhile, freshman edge player Marquise Lightfoot had a sack on 3rd and 17 and later recovered a fumble.

And freshman running back Chris Wheatley-Humphrey turned the corner for a 15-yard run, then ran up the gut for 8 yards.

Jadais Richard and Damari Brown each made at least one good play in coverage, but the overall depth and quality at cornerback is worrisome.

Richard, Brown and Daryl Porter Jr. are the only scholarship cornerbacks who have played more than one college snap. (Robert Stafford and Demetrius Freeney are the others.) Freeney intercepted Judd Anderson and returned it for a touchdown during the third quarter, which featured no tackling and a running clock.

Safety Mishael Powell has been playing a lot of slot corner. So UM essentially has six corners. But that’s not enough; UM needs to add at least two corners in the portal.

The cornerback play was shaky on Saturday.

Richard had an egregious missed tackle on a Xavier Restrepo completion, and Restrepo then took it another 30 yards on the first drive of the game.

Receiver Isaiah Horton beat Porter on a 2-yard TD pass on Ward’s first drive, and Porter was later beaten on a long completion.

▪ With right tackle Francis Mauigoa missing the spring, Samson Okunlola started at right tackle and Matthew McCoy started at left guard.

It looks like a tight competition between those two for the one open starting job on the offensive line.

The offensive line did an exceptional job creating creases in the running game, but it’s difficult to tell how much of that was a result of deficient defensive line play.

▪ What stands out about Ward is the effortless throwing motion and the escapability in the pocket.

On one sequence, he broke out of the pocket and completed a 25-yard pass to Restrepo along the sideline. It’s a throw a lot of college QBs can’t make with that type of accuracy.

Ward was 17 for 23 for 260 yards in the first half. Three of his incompletions came on deep balls.

Horton, Restrepo and Jacolby George caught TD passes from Ward.

▪ The No. 2 quarterback job remains highly competitive, as questions swirl about whether Jacurri Brown will stick around.

Albany transfer Reese Poffenbarger, who was the second quarterback to enter, made an exceptional throw to Riley Williams for a 30-yard gain. That was his first throw and best throw of the game.

Emory Williams (10 yards to Ray Ray Joseph) and Brown (40 yards to Jackson Carver) each threw TD passes in the first half.

Brown, the fourth quarterback to enter, was the best of the backups Saturday. He showed great touch on two deep balls and ran 30 yards on his first play from scrimmage. But people inside the UM program aren’t sure he will stick around.

▪ The second year receivers had some good moments, including as runners. Joseph caught a TD pass and had a 20 yard run. Robby Washington turned the corner on a 15-yard run early in the game.

▪ Good to see TreVonte Citizen back after his devastating knee injury in August 2022. He had a four-yard run early in the game.

▪ Anthony Campbell, the Louisiana-Monroe transfer who had a quiet first year at UM, made a great play snuffing out a screen pass. He’s battling for a defensive line rotation job.

▪ Several transfers who made no impact last year had some good moments: Campbell, Freeney (pick six) and Shemar Kirk.

Kirk caught a crosser from Williams and ran for 30 yards and also made a terrific over-the-shoulder catch on a deep ball from Brown.

▪ Safety Savion Riley, the Vanderbilt transfer who arrived this spring, was beaten by Restrepo in coverage but also recovered a fumble.

Restrepo, who had a big day, tried unsuccessfully to jump over Damari Brown on another play. Restrepo already has great chemistry with Ward, just as Restrepo had with Tyler Van Dyke, who transferred to Wisconsin.