Bruce Feldman ESPN College Football writer and author of the book CANE MUTINY wrote this about Miami's Spring game at Traz Powell:
The vibe around the Miami football program is much different than it was a couple of years ago. The Canes look -- and seem -- like a legit powerhouse program again.
I was out at practice Friday and everywhere you looked they had freakish athletes. At receiver, there is 6-foot-4, 225-pound LaRon Byrd, 6-3, 215-pound Leonard Hankerson and 6-5, 210-pound Tommy Streeter. Each casts an imposing shadow, and all three move like cornerbacks. Travis Benjamin, the fastest of a UM receiving crew that goes seven deep, showed how dynamic he was in UM's spring game, catching six passes for 171 yards, producing one huge play after another.
There is also a deep stable of explosive tailbacks, evoking visions of the Clinton Portis/Willis McGahee days. The D-line, rocked by injury in 2009, is loaded again, led by uber freak Allen Bailey, a chiseled 285-pound defensive end with 4.6 speed. The secondary also can match up athletically with any receiver corps.
Even the area that has been the Canes' Achilles' heel the past few years -- the O-line -- looks good. Redshirt freshman offensive tackle Jermaine Johnson, a nimble 6-6, 322-pound former prep basketball star, is just one of a batch of lean up-and-comers who had insiders raving.
Mort importantly, this 2010 UM group passed the eyeball test of perhaps its toughest critics, the former Canes players who came out to observe Friday's practice. There were more than 100 old Canes lining the field, ranging from Jimmy Johnson to Hall of Famer Ted Hendricks to Cortez Kennedy. There was also former UM standout Tony Chickillo, who watched with son Anthony, one of the country's top D-line recruits in the Class of 2011.
"This looks like what Miami is supposed to look like," said one UM player from the '90s, pointing at a group of the Canes' towering wideouts. "It hasn't been like this for a while, but we're ready now. Just look at them."
Andreu Swasey, the team's longtime strength coach and the guy who is more qualified to say when a team is ripe than maybe anyone at UM, beamed as he spoke about not only the athleticism, but also the work ethic and maturity of this team.
I'm not ready to anoint Miami as a national title front-runner just yet, although after seeing this team up close, it made me think a little harder about the Canes.
The Canes made big strides last season, but it was still too much of "three steps forward, one step back," punctuated by a dismal bowl performance against Wisconsin. The Canes burst onto the field with two big plays that night -- then acted like the Badgers would be so in awe of the Miami speed, they'd fold. Didn't happen. And that kind of resolve and focus that UM lacked comes back to locker room leadership.
Optimists could shrug it off and say Miami was still young last year. Eh. Regardless, Miami's definitely not young any more. Jacory Harris, the unquestioned leader of this team, sat out this spring after having offseason thumb surgery on his right throwing hand. He was great at times last season, but too often was reckless and made bad decisions. He should be a Heisman contender this fall. The spindly Harris will be much better with a second year in offensive coordinator Mark Whipple's system and the development of that group of receivers. Harris' body also has matured physically. UM was perilously thin behind him last season, but in A.J. Highsmith, walk-on transfer Spencer Whipple (son of Mark) and early enrollee Stephen Morris, the Canes are improved here as well.
Here's a problem: Once again, the season begins with a treacherous first month. After opening with Florida A&M, the Canes visit Ohio State, then visit Pitt and then visit Clemson. Expect to hear some talk about how this start will impact Randy Shannon's future at UM. It shouldn't. The UM brass should address that issue by then. Shannon's contract status has been a hot topic down in South Florida for a while now. (He is in the final year of his contract and is currently the second-lowest paid coach in the ACC.) He has not won as many games as some would've expected, but in fairness, he inherited a tricky situation. He's provided stability and done outstanding work instilling more discipline into the program. Off the field, the results have been outstanding. On the field, critics can knock some decisions, such as hiring Patrick Nix as his offensive coordinator a few years back. Some former UM players had questioned that he held his team with too firm of a hand.
"They just aren't having fun out there," was a common critique from some past players a few years ago.
Shannon, though, has grown into the head-coaching job. The team has more life now, as was evident Friday afternoon. Harris, the boisterous quarterback, has helped provide some juice as well. Bailey, now a senior, says he's seen a change in Shannon, too. "He has lightened up," he said. "He's giving us a little more leeway."
Shannon knows he can have more trust in his players. Now, I think UM needs to show the same trust in its coach and extend his deal.
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