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Position battles remain unsolved as football spring practice ends

When Chuck Martin looked around the David and Anita Dauch Indoor Sports Center on Saturday, he didn't spot as many experienced faces as he was accustomed to seeing.

Gus Ragland and Brad Koenig are gone, and Kenny Young and Alonzo Smith left, too. They and the rest of the first recruiting class Martin signed after becoming Miami's head football coach graduated, leaving a large flock of younger RedHawks wrestling to replace them.

"We lost 19 seniors, and a lot them were starters, obviously," Martin said after Saturday's spring-practice-ending Spring Showcase. "But, you forget about the ones that are really good backups that played a lot of reps. There's not only starting positions open but, even more so, even backup positions that you're trying to create that depth at certain spots."

Before Martin, Ragland, Koenig and co. arrived, the RedHawks had gone 0-12 the previous season. Over the next few years, Miami steadily increased its win total, topping out at six in both 2016 and 2018.

AJ Mayer and Jackson Williamson are engaged in the highest-profile position battle, as the two quarterbacks are vying to replace former stalwart Ragland. Neither separated himself during spring practice, so the competition will continue into the summer.

"They both had good days, today," Martin said. "It seems like, when one of them is a little off, so is the other one. They've been pretty mirrored."

While the group returns more experience than the quarterbacks, the starting running back position remains open. Martin expects to utilize a three-player committee, staffed by Maurice Thomas, Jaylon Bester and Davion Johnson. Thomas missed all of the spring with an injury.

"Hopefully, I've got three that can do the job, and then we're developing two younger kids," Martin said. "Tyre [Shelton] showed some stuff and [Mitchell] Burton showed some stuff."

Even the incoming freshmen, who arrived a semester early, started to establish themselves.

Linebacker Luke Bolden flew across the field to deliver a highlight reel hit while tackling running back Brandon Labrie. The play was shown on multiple local television channels.

No matter the position or class, Martin likes the improvement he's seen during the past month.

"There's a lot of younger guys that, three or four weeks ago, couldn't even really function, that are now understanding and playing football the way it's supposed to be played," Martin said.

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Fall camp is scheduled to kick off on Aug. 2. Twenty-nine days later, Miami begins the regular season at Iowa on Aug. 31.