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All eyes on Miami QB Cam Ward, a generous teammate, as Hurricanes open spring practice

The University of Miami offensive linemen will furiously feast on goodness knows what delectables this week, courtesy of nationally vaunted Washington State quarterback transfer Cameron Ward.

They should be mighty hungry after a few sessions of spring practice, which began Monday and will continue with 14 additional sessions through the April 13 spring game at UM’s Cobb Stadium.

“He’s unbelievable,’’ Hurricanes left tackle Jalen Rivers said of Ward, who chose UM at the last minute instead of entering the NFL Draft. “We jelled real quick. He took the skill players out to his house and they watched the Super Bowl together. He’ll be taking us O-linemen out to a dinner this week.

“It’s going to be a big bill.’’

Whatever it takes.

No. 1 Ward

The unquestionable focus Monday, at least during media viewing and afterward in post-practice interviews, was No. 1 signal-caller (jersey number and depth-wise) Ward, the 6-2, 223-pound star who chose UM at the last minute instead of entering the NFL Draft.

Ward’s NIL money, reportedly in the $1 million to $1.5 million range, could keep those meals coming.

Year 3 of the Mario Cristobal era began first at the indoor facility, then moved outdoors for the last hour, when media left. The Canes, who went from 5-7 in 2022 to 7-6 last season, hope to make significant strides this season with more top-end transfers and a No. 4 national signing class.

ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year Rueben Bain, a defensive end, told reporters after practice that he’s “got to be more vocal’’ in 2024.

Is this the year Miami returns to prominence?

“We’re going to have a great year,’’ Bain said.

Then, he added: “I mean, it’s the same preach every year — ‘The Canes are back, blah-blah-blah.’ But I’m not really too focused on that. I’m focused on the spring, just working, trying to get better and grow together as a team. I’m always going to have high hopes for my team.’’

Bain smiled when describing Ward. “He’s a little chirpy. He barks back a little bit. I told him I’m going to hit him and set the tone for spring.

“He told me, ‘Come on with it.’ I like that about him. He’s got a little swag to him.’’

Ward, who replaces former UM starter Tyler Van Dyke, now at Wisconsin, has thrown for 13,874 career yards and 119 touchdowns, with 30 interceptions. He played his first two seasons at Incarnate Word in San Antonio before transferring to Washington State for the 2022 and 2023 seasons.

Last season, Ward was 323 of 485 (66.6 percent) for 3,735 yards and 25 touchdowns, with seven interceptions. He also rushed for eight touchdowns.

Reese Poffenbarger

Fellow quarterback transfer Reese Poffenbarger, from FCS-member Albany, threw for 36 touchdown passes and 3,603 passing yards in 2023 — the most of any FCS quarterback.

Cristobal said Ward and Poffenbarger, listed as 6-0 and 208 pounds, have already “fast-tracked” themselves at Miami by “the way that they played.’’

“They were leaders in both FBS and FCS, respectively,’’ Cristobal said. “They know football. They played it in big games, tough games, tight games. Nowadays, in the offseason, they’re allowed to have their player-led workouts and they’ve had in excess of eight of those on top of what we do from a skill instruction standpoint. Now with 15 practices, another probably 16 player-led practices in the summer and fall camp, we feel good about where we can get both those guys.

“Both are high-level achievers, learners workers. They create a lot of excitement for the right reasons.’’

Poffenbarger began practice Monday as the No. 2 quarterback, but redshirt sophomore Jacurri Brown and surprisingly, sophomore Emory Williams, rotated behind Ward. True freshman Judd Anderson, who towered above the rest at 6-7, also tossed some passes.

Surprise QB

The biggest surprise: Williams, who fractured his left, non-throwing arm Nov. 11 at Florida State, was seamlessly throwing passes. Williams will no doubt be guarded carefully during spring.

“Really impressive on Emory,’’ Cristobal said. “He’s been out for a long time, hasn’t taken many reps. He jumped out there today and it seemed like he never missed.

“He had a great day, Cam had a great day, Reese had a great day, Jacurri did as well. We’ve got a really good quarterback room now.’’

More news:

Per Cristobal, these players are out for spring, likely rehabbing from injuries or after offseason surgery: Defensive linemen Nyjalik Kelly and Armondo Blount; offensive linemen Zion Nelson and Frankie Tinilau; running backs Mark Fletcher Jr. and Ajay Allen; defensive back Isaiah Thomas; and right tackle Francis Mauigoa and linebacker Francisco “Kiko” Mauigoa. Kiko also was given the respected No. 1 jersey, switched from his previous 51.

The players Cristobal hopes will return at some point during spring: defensive lineman Akheem Mesidor, cornerback Damari Brown, tight end Cam McCormick, safety Brian Balom, defensive tackle Josh Horton, redshirt junior offensive lineman Jonathan Dennis and freshman defensive lineman Cole McConathy II (“soft tissue issue,’’ the coach said). Horton and Denis might take longer to return.

Former five-star offensive tackle prospect Samson Okunlola, entering his redshirt freshman season after sustaining a major knee injury last season, took the place of NFL Draft-bound left guard Javion Cohen. Redshirt sophomore Matthew McCoy replaced the recuperating Mauigoa at right tackle. And Indiana transfer Zach Carpenter replaced departed center Matt Lee.

Former UM star running back Duke Johnson is in school and will be a student assistant, Cristobal said.

Fletcher’s jersey number is now 4, from 22; Bain went from 44 to 4. Former No. 16 Isaiah Horton, one of the starting receivers, along with Jacolby George and slot Xavier Restrepo, is now No. 2. Poffenbarger is No. 16, with Anderson No. 15.