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10 posts from April 2007

April 27, 2007

Feeling The Draft

I find it funny how we were made to believe this UM team was void of talent the past several seasons (I even bought it). Yet, Saturday, two players from a 7-6 team -- tight end Greg Olsen and linebacker Jon Beason -- are expected by most to find their way into the first round. I rarely like to take shots at coaches because I don't fully believe they deserve all the blame, especially since they are not on the field. But the fact UM's record the past several seasons has not matched what it has produced at the next level is further proof that the guys running the show the past 3 seasons were at least partially responsible for not getting the most out of what it had.

Let's review what exactly has come out of The U since the struggles first really began in 2004 and stopped playing in the BCS and what Olsondrophas come out in the draft following. The highlights: RB Frank Gore (one of the top rushers in the NFL last season), CB Antrel Rolle (starting corner), CB Kelly Jennings (another starting corner), and Devin Hester (who only broke the NFL return record for TDs last season). Those are only four names of the 10 guys taken on the first day of the draft -- the first three rounds -- in the 2005 and 2006 draft. This year, three more -- including safety Brandon Meriweather -- are expected to go in the first three rounds, giving Miami what should be a total of 13 players chosen on Day 1 since 2005.

I'm no draft expert, but after this weekend there will be only two other college football programs who will have had at least 13 players taken during the first day of the draft following the past three seasons. And that tells me one thing: of all of college football's talent rich programs, UM has the least to show for what it has produced on the field over the past several seasons. Don't believe me? I did the research.

--> Mighty USC? That's the only program appears headed to having more players selected on the first day than Miami the past three years. The Trojans had 7 players taken last year on Day 1, 4 in 2005 and expect to have 3 this year. That's a total of 14 -- just one more than Miami. The Trojans were national champs in '05, runner-up in '06 and were a bad day away against UCLA from playing for another title this year. 
--> Then, there is Oklahoma. The Sooners appear as though they are headed to matching UM's First Day total of 13 (5 in '06, 6 in '05 and now 2, RB Adrian Peterson and LB Rufus Alexander expected to go on Day 1). Yes, Oklahoma has lost some, too. But the Sooners played in the Fiesta Bowl this past season. Miami was in Boise.
--> 2006 national champion Texas? They actually have had less First Day talent than UM. The Longhorns had 5 players taken on Day 1 in '06, 2 in '05, and are expected to have 5 players go on Day 1 this year. That's a dozen.
--> Ohio State? The national runner-up last season is expected to have one player fewer than the 'Canes taken on the last three Day 1s combined. Buckeye nation had 7 last year, 3 in '05 and only 2 are expected to go on Day 1 this year. That's a total of 12.
--> How about talented LSU? Only a total of 9 are expected to be taken on Day 1 after Saturday. Shockingly, only three players were chosen on Day 1 last year and two in '05. Four, including expected top pick JaMarcus Russell are expected to go on Day 1 this year. The Tigers have finished the past three seasons ranked no lower than 16th and were No. 3 last season.
--> What about the Seminoles? Florida State had 5 in '06, 3 in '05 and three are expected to go Day 1 this year. That's a total of 11. FSU, if you forgot, won the ACC title in 2005 and played in the Orange Bowl.
--> How about the hated Gators, who are fresh off of winning the national title? Only three are projected to get in the First Day this year. That gives Florida a grand total of 5 after you include their only other first day selections from the previous two drafts: linebacker Channing Crowder (3rd round to the Dolphins in 2005) and receiver Chad Jackson (2nd round to New England in 2006).

There are a couple ways to look at what I've just presented. One, Miami's reputation led a lot of NFL experts to take average-at-best UM talent way too early in the draft. Or two, UM's coaches really dropped the ball and the team should have been a lot better than its three-year combined record of 25-12 turned out to be. The fact guys like Gore and Hester (a pair of third round picks) are currently thriving makes me believe the latter.

JoewylieOn the positive side, though, I will say this: Being able to brag you can still produce more first day talent than all but one college football program even during your worst struggles is something that definitely scores points with recruits. And I believe that's the real reason the Canes continue to net big-time talent. Earlier this week, the son of former basketball Cane Joe Wylie became the sixth UM commitment for its Class of 2008. I don't know much about the kid other than the fact he's a 6-2, 191-pound hard-hitting safety from Boyd Anderson High in Fort Lauderdale. When I find a highlight video, I'll post it.

Anyway, I'll be working the Heat-Bulls Series this weekend and the NFL Draft on Saturday and won't be out there for the Canes' big showdown with FSU on the diamond. I was hoping to get a chance to see more of the baseball team this season, but I've been relegated to doing other things. Hopefully that will change in the coming weeks. If not, I'm calling out baseball junkies to let me know what's going on out there and generate some baseball discussion. How did the Canes look this weekend? I'm sure we'll find out soon enough if this team has any real Omaha aspirations.

Before I forget: I saw an interesting rumor on Canestime.com about the basketball team and Jimmy Graham possibly transferring if Anthony King returns this season. Truth be told, I find it hard to believe Graham would be willing to sit out a season to play one year somewhere else. He doesn't strike me as a selfish player or someone who would leave The U for more playing time. He's going to get loads of it anyway. Stay tuned, though. I'll try to get an update on the situation.

And finally: For those of you interested in doing your own football scouting, I recently received the prep schedule for spring jamborees in Miami-Dade. And the two biggest games with potential Canes recruits are: Brandon Harris and Booker T. Washington take on Dillard, Thursday, May 24 at Lockhart Stadium; and Glades Central visit Traz Powell Stadium for a showdown with nationally-ranked Northwestern Saturday, May 26. Both games are scheduled for 7 p.m. kickoffs. The Classic with most bang for your buck, though, is the Thursday night Jamboree at Traz on May 24, which begins at 5 p.m. with Carol City vs. American and is followed by Norland vs. Central, Jackson vs. Krop and linebacker Etienne Sabino and North Miami Beach vs. Edison.

And finally, for real this time: I found this link on a UM message board for the new Madden '08 commercial starring former Cane Devin Hester. It's pretty phat. Check it out below.

April 23, 2007

Reaction to Reddick

OK, so Anthony Reddick is likely out for the 2007 season after tearing his ACL while allegedly playing a pickup basketball game last week. While professional athletes have rules against certain activities written into their contracts that don't allow them to play pickup games. College athletes do not have to adhere to any regulations limiting what they do off the field in terms of playing other sports for fun.

I'm of the opinion Anthony was just a victim of bad luck. But as a Canes fan, where do you stand on today's news? Do you think college athletes bear the responsibility of being more cautious? Fire away.

I've got to go into seminar now. Like most UM beat writers, my days now are spent doing other activities which pull me off in other directions and away from The U. But when I get the time, I promise to be back with some good stuff. For now, fire away on Reddick.

April 19, 2007

Shannon Speaks

Since it rarely happens during the offseason, I figured I'd share exactly what coach Randy Shannon shared with the media during Thursday's ACC teleconference. The highlights: he says Josh Holmes was the biggest surprise of the spring; he said UM plans to only play with three running backs; he says Javarris James isn't seriously injured and he talks about how UM would handle a crisis situation. If you want to hear it with your own ears, visit www.theacc.com. They usually link up the audio in the afternoon and you probably will be able to tune in then.

ShannonShannon's Opening statement: Right now, our team did a great job this spring. Guys flew around, executed, what  we was trying to do as far as our team mentality, working hard and trying to change the culture of the mentality that we always compete and fight on everything we do as far as individual drills to walkthroughs to scrimmages to everything. And we're really excited about developing some of our young players, coming along and challenge the older players and having a competition at every position.

Q: Coach I was wondering what your initial impressions of the offense was from spring practice and what do you think held back the offense the last couple of years from being some of those great Miami offenses? Was it a matter of execution, talent, or what?

A: I really don't worry about what happened in the past and that's why I tell the players that's what we have to focus on, the future. Because you cannot change what happens in the past. Three seconds went past you, you cannot change it. Things we did in the spring football: As far as the offensive line. They did a lot of execution, different formations, different plays and we did not have what we call any illegal formations or false starts with the things we practice and that was the thing guys were getting better in their mindset, getting stronger for what we want to accomplish.

Q: What about the skill position players on offense? How did they look?
A: They did a nice job. You know, not to single out anybody. But I think the running backs did a nice job with the addition of Cooper. I think its becoming a lot of competition now cause the guys know we're probably only going to travel maybe three guys and the next two guys are probably going to have to play special teams. They won't be able to travel. Receivers kind of stepped up a little bit. Lance Leggett started the early part of spring doing a great job, had an injury, then Sam Shields had to step up. And he came out with great plays in scrimmages and situations. He showed us that he can do it. And we're real excited about our skill positions. We're going to add on some guys hopefully as freshman that'll help us out and do some great things for us.

Q: Obviously the shooting at Virginia Tech this week is not a football issue and really not what happened at Miami this past fall. What is your process for getting in touch with your players that they know there is trouble around? Can you contact them all at a moments notice?
A: Yes. We have a log in our football office, that's in every coaches office and our football office, our football relations office and all the secretaries. We have a phone list of every player and have their email address, and their text messages, we have all those numbers and their parents numbers. When something when we have to contact all the players, team meeting, crisis, anything, it's something we can all split up and get it done in a matter of two minutes.

Q: You think in some fashion reach a pretty high percentage of your team in two minutes?
A: Yes. Because we have nine assistant coaches, myself its 10. With the football relations department, we have four or five. We have three secretaries. So, we split it up amongst each other. And we go.

Q: Has that always been something in effect or is that something you've worked on in the last?
A: We've worked on it. Because you never know. We may need to call a team meeting, class scheduling or change of scheduling you may have. We've always been able to do it. Guys respond and they come up.

Q: The NCAA Management Council is proposing to ban text messaging during recruiting. Since it has been en vogue and a pretty big part of the process, I'm wondering can you put the toothpaste back in the tube?
A: Oh, It's not that hard. Recruiting really comes down to, that last part of recruiting, which is January when you go out and develop relationships with kids face to face, you know home visits and meeting with the parents as far as what you have to present from your school to their kid. That's what it all comes down to. Text messages, you keep track of a kid, if you can tell them to call you. But those are difficult things. There are some downfalls to it, there are some up sides to it. It's what the NCAA feels is best and you have to abide by it no matter what, which you may think its all a part of being in the NCAA.

Q: Javarris James finished spring game gimpy. Can you give us any update on his situation?
A: Oh, he's back running now. He had a mild sprain and he's doing well and flying around. No surgery is needed. And he's excited about the summer because we got competition there and he wants to get back involved in it. But just like any injury you need to take your time. But we expect him to be fully recovered come the first day of practice in August.

Josh_holmesQ: Any position player or group that may have surprised you a little bit during spring practice? A guy who did better than you expected?
A: You know who kind of surprised me and this is probably singling out one player, is probably Josh Holmes, the redshirt freshman defensive tackle. He did a phenomenal job of picking up what we needed to get done this spring. And he was aggressive and powerful, knocking offensive lineman back and making plays. We're kind of enthused about the way he's performed. And now we got to maintain it and make sure he can perform.

Q: Why do you think these college players and a lot of pros feel like they need to be carrying guns?
A: I don't know. That's... a lot of them feel they need protection I guess. But I really don't know why they feel that way. I know the players on this team don't feel that way anymore and they're doing all the right things right now to be model citizens and do the right things.

Q: What does that say that you had to take the unique step of banning guns? What has society come to?
A: It's just like anything I guess. Things that happen in life that you cannot control. You just have to try do your best as a coach and as as person and educate the players what may happen when you have those things around you. One thing we've been doing a pretty good job as a staff and as a university and we'll keep reinforcing to educate the kids.

Q: How important do you think it is for UM to maintain someone being selected first in the draft? What does that say for UM and it is important to maintain that, continue it?
A: It's great because its for the school because it sets standards high and the bar high. The things that make me more proud are guys that go in the first round and also graduate. Those are the things that are very important and make it special. To have somebody go in the first round that'll be another step. Even though we've had a down year, we still had guys go in the first round, which will be great.

Q: As far as Greg Olsen, Jon Beason, can you talk a little bit about Greg and what makes him special and why he's supposed to go so high?
A: I don't know about the NFL, when they're going to draft him. There's rumors all the time that he may go first round, he may end up going second. I think Greg is unique guy that they can make him have matchup problems with linebackers because he can catch the ball and he runs very good routes and the way he can use his 6-4, 6-5 body and blocking and doing a lot of good things. As far as Jon Beason, he plays the game old-fashioned, he plays the game hard. He's a physical type player and he brings a lot of excitement to the game. If those guys see those things in him, then he'll fit those NFL teams and they'll draft those two guys.

April 17, 2007

This and That

I want you to know I haven't forgotten about you, Eye on The U crew. As I've told you before, they got me doing a lot of different things over at One Herald Plaza lately, from the AVP Tour to golf to the men's Final Four to covering high schools again this week for our departed prep writer who is off to Tampa for a special writing seminar. That being said I just wanted to make this blog more of collection of topics.

I'll start with The U. First off, I'm hoping to have some info relating to center Anthony King and his eligibility real soon. As soon as I know, you will.

I know most of you guys are football die-hards, but there are other sports going on at Miami and while I won't bore you with too much of it, I want to make sure to show Katiemeierthem some love every once and awhile and fill you in on what's happening. On the women's basketball front, the team recently picked up three more signees -- Vitalija Vasciunaite, Latoya Drake and Diane Barnes. The Hurricanes were short several players on its roster this past season and signed six in all in its Class of 2007. Vasciunaite, a 5-8 shooting guard, played on the Lithuanian National Under 18-team and is a prolific scorer. Drake, a 6-2 forward/center, is a JUCO All-American honorable mention from Florida Community College in Jacksonville. Barnes, a 6-2 sophomore forward, is a transfer from Trinity Valley Community College in Texas. She played at Lakeland Kathleen High. Those three join Orlando Boone 5-10 guard Briyana Blair, Damisha Moore, and 5-8 point guard Epiphany Woodson. Not sure how good any of them really are, but just having bodies to choose from is a victory for Katie Meier whose team suffered a tough, tough season and will now return without ACC-leading scorer Renee Taylor.

AudracohenOnto another team at UM that doesn't get enough pub. The women's tennis team is set to take off for the ACC championships this week. You know, the national runner-up from a year ago! The Lady Canes have the No. 1 player in the country in Audra Cohen and are ranked 10th in the country nationally and just got their second-best player back from injury in freshman Laura Vallverdu (ranked 14th nationally). For all the credit Cane coaches get for recruiting, hats off to women's coach Paige Yaroshuk-Tews for having the top-ranked women's player on her team the past two seasons (Meagan Bradley was the other) and taking the Canes tennis program to great heights. Another player in need of a shout out: No. 3 player Audrey Banada, a former standout at North Miami Beach High, who recently passed Ronnie Reis for the most career victories on the tennis court at The U.

OK, now to the topic on everyone's mind. I know this isn't a sports-related issue, but it is a college issue and I've got to imagine all of you have some thoughts on what happened over at Virginia Tech yesterday. Obviously, it's a tremendous tragedy, but the first thing that came to my mind was how in Virginiatechthe world this guy was able to pull off a shooting on two different places on opposite ends of campus. Its one thing to walk-in and kill somebody in their dorm, it is another to cross campus and kill 30 more people. Didn't somebody see him carrying weapons through the campus? I can't understand how students weren't notified -- through email no less -- until two hours after the first shooting there was a killer on the loose. After seeing what happened at Columbine 8 years ago, I figured somethings would have changed. Ss_070417_vtech_mwtease_vsmallBut school campuses continue to be protected by lackluster security. I covered high schools for five years in Miami-Dade. Not once was I stopped by a security guard in my middle of the day visits to campuses to speak with teachers,  administrators or athletes. And when I was stopped, I simply told them I was with The Herald and was let past easily. Most of the time, security guards were rarely found and when they were, they were sitting on carts, relaxing and dozing off. I'm just of the opinion schools need to be held more accountable when providing security for their employees and students.

Lastly, I want to send a shout out to our News Department and Debbie Cenziper for garnering the 19th Pulitzer Prize in our paper's history yesterday. Her House of Lies series on on widespread problems in Miami-Dade County's public housing agency was spectacular and achieved what we all got in this business for -- to help people and make change. Cenziper led a team that wrote more than 30 stories and revealed how local developers took millions of dollars in taxpayer money to build affordable housing for the poor and failed to deliver, leaving thousands without their promised homes. The series led to massive changes in the county housing agency and the arrest of three developers. It was definitely cool to be in the office Monday to see her win the award in person.

Anyway, I'm out. When I get the chance to zero-in and focus on the football team again I'll post my thoughts on the position battles, etc. But for now, you're going to get what I'm covering, writing and thinking about. Feel free to chime in on what's up at The U and the tragedy at Virginia Tech.

April 14, 2007

The Recruiting Circle

Although I will not make it my business to cling to every word a teenager says over the next 10 months before National Signing Day 2008, for those of you interested in what is happening with local kids and the current state of recruiting with The U this blog entry is for you.

Saturday, as promised, I attended Recruitflix.com's combine at Traz Powell Stadium and watched as 83 Futurecanes_2high school football players, mostly from Miami-Dade and a few from Broward, participated in three events -- the shuttle drill, the 40-yard dash and the bench press. Among the attendees, were five kids the University of Miami is very much interested in: Northwestern offensive lineman Brandon Washington (pictured on the left, center back), defensive tackles Marcus Forston (right back) and Benjamin Jones (left back), Booker T. Washington cornerback Brandon Harris (front on the bench) and Chaminade linebacker Jordan Futch (pictured below). I did about 5 to 6 minute interviews with each and got to know them a little since they figure to be on the Canes radar from here until February.

The most interesting development came from Washington, who as I suspected, told me his recruiting process is far from over. The 6-4, 305-pound offensive lineman was said to be a UM commitment. But he sure didn't sound like one when I asked him about it.

"It's more like a soft one," Washington told me. "My recruiting process is not over with. I just got an offer from LSU and I want to go out of state. I want to go to Southern Cal, that's my school. UM, it's a school I grew up on. But it ain't over though, I'm being recruited by other schools."

BrandonwashingtonI think Washington, who told me he has a 2.65 GPA and still needs to pass the state-mandated FCAT exam, will still likely end up a Cane. When I asked him what he wanted in a college, he said "a good education and a school where my mom will be able to see me play every game, one right down the street." But his "early commitment" should teach all of us a lesson. Although, he didn't admit it to me in his own words, he basically shrugged his shoulders in agreement when I asked him if he "committed to Miami" to get people in the media -- those guys at Rivals and Scout.com -- to stop calling him. After all, I think we all kind of forget these kids are teenagers. The last thing they want is some dorky guys in eight different cities asking him how they feel about the Hurricanes, Buckeyes, Gators and Trojans every other day.

Me? I'm going to try and stop being called dorky for as long as I can. My philosophy is simple, I speak to a kid once before the football season and get an idea of what he likes, what he's looking for a college, who likes him and what he ultimate deems the biggest factor in his search. A week before signing day, once the trips are over with, you usually know where they're headed.

To me, what I got out of Saturday's combine was simple: The attitude about The U and at The U has changed. This time last year, when I did the same thing and asked Doug Wiggins, DeMarcus Van Dyke, Major Wright and Armando Allen and others about UM, the attitude was "We love UM, always have, grew up rooting for them, but I haven't really heard much from them. They came out and watched me, but I don't have an offer."

It appears Coach Shannon has made it a point to be aggressive locally because all five kids I spoke with claimed to already have UM offers. And I truly believe in the end, it will make a difference. Had Larry Coker and company really pushed early for kids like Wright and Allen, they might be at UM today. Personally, I think the Canes are headed toward a great signing class and its really all because of Shannon and the fact Miami-Dade and Broward are supremely loaded with talent in the Class of 2008.

Futch told me many local players having been talking about the buzz surrounding The U again.

"Miami has Coach Shannon now, they're coming back," Futch told me. "There is definitely word going around trying to entice all to go to UM together and help turn things around. High school coaches have been telling me, [Northwestern LB Sean] Spence, Brandon [Harris] and Brandon [Washington] to get there and make it a dynasty again... I think a lot of guys want to be a part of that. In South Florida, we got a lot of talent that has been tending to leave the state... It's an opportunity to stay home. It would be great if we could all do that."

Last year, that same buzz was about Florida. The Gators made off like bandits, recruiting the No. 1 class in the country. But that happened because the Gators were on the minds of all recruits early and often. It appears Shannon and company have beaten the Gators to the punch -- at least locally -- this time around. And it appears the players in 2008 are making deep relationships with players and coaches.

Jordan Futch, who lists UM No. 1 on his top five (Wisconsin, Auburn, West Virginia and South Carolina are the others) and at the front among his 23 offers, recently made an Jordanfutchunofficial visit to UM and spoke with linebackers coach Michael Barrow. Futch said he has developed a deep friendship with current UM linebacker Glenn Cook and speaks to him nearly everyday. Unlike the other four players I spoke with Saturday, Futch told me his plan is to make his college choice sometime next month. The other four told me they all want to take their trips. Saturday, Futch posted his best shuttle time, 4.01, to take top honors. He said his fastest 40-time is 4.56 and the most lifts on the bench press among the many camps he attended is 18 (Players lift 185 pounds).

As for the other kids, Marcus Forston (6-2, 286) told me he is not scared off by the fact UM already has Forstonlifting three early commitments at defensive tackle. "The best guy is going to play anyway," he said. Forston, who will likely be the highest rated player in Miami-Dade this coming season, told me he has 23 offers including ones from USC, Tennessee, Auburn, Clemson, Florida State, Rutgers, North Carolina and Ole Miss. He said he has a GPA of 2.8 and grew up admiring former Cane Warren Sapp. He said what he is looking most forward to this season are one-on-one battles with Washington, who transferred to Northwestern a few months back. They'll get their chance starting May 1st when the spring officially begins.

"For me, it's all going to come down to the coach that comes to my living room, sits down with my mom and be right with her,'' Forston said. "I don't want any B.S. Straight up."

Saturday, Forston tied his personal record for bench press lifts at 33. The runner-up was teammate Benjones Benjamin Jones, who also lists a UM offer among his four (LSU, North Carolina and FIU are the others). Jones (6-6, 270) lifted the bar 29 times and ran the 40 in 5.1 seconds. He said his personal best, run at the Scout.com camp, was 4.8 seconds. Jones said he too has a 2.8 GPA. What he is looking forward to most is just playing. Last year, he tore his meniscus and dislocated his left knee when teammate Terrell Killings rolled over on him during practice. Jones missed the season. This year, he play next to Forston and likely help him avoid the double-teams that limited Forston's number of sacks.

As for Harris, whom I told you before I thought was destined for UM because his brother Tim runs track for the Canes, he told me Saturday he will not commit early and wants to take all of his trips. He seemed excited by the fact USC is close to offering him and said the Gators are also in the mix. Still, I think he's destined to be a Cane.

"I grew up rooting for UM, going to all the home games," Harris told me. "When I went to the FSU game last year, I could visualize myself on that field, making big plays. But I'm not in a rush. I want to take my time with picking a school."

Brandonharris_2Brandon Harris (5-10, 180) is as good a cornerback as there is the country in my opinion. He's played football his entire life, mostly as a quarterback and has tremendous instincts. In addition, he has gotten tremendous training by going up against the likes of teammate and another UM target Davon Johnson on a regular basis. Harris ran a 4.6 40 on Saturday, but ran a 4.45 at the Scout.com camp not long ago. In the shuttle drill Saturday, he ran the third fastest time at 4.3. He also managed to bench 185 pounds four times. Not bad for a kid who weighs less than the weights itself.

The kid with the fastest 40-time Saturday is nowhere on UM's radar, but maybe he should be. Bay Point High's Lavaris Edwards, who won the state 100-meter title as a freshman, ran a 4.4 flat. Edwards (5-11, 186) was out of football his sophomore season at Southridge with an injury and returned to Bay Point last year as a junior. He said he has offers from Akron and Troy State. Another kid who caught my eye was Northwestern linebacker Quavon Taylor. The kid has offers from USF, UCF and FIU, but could be in for a huge season at the West.

Eventually, I'd like to post my audio interviews with The Big Five from Saturday, but need someone at The Herald to help me out with getting it on the blog. Unfortunately, the quality isn't great because of the windy conditions.

ON A SIDE NOTE: In case you are wondering, Recruitflix.com is a new website set to launch sometime next month that will feature all of the top prospects in Miami-Dade as well as a handful in Broward as well as team pages, game footage and highlights from all of last season and this coming season as it progresses. I don't want to get too much into it because I am writing a story on them in the coming month, but basically it will revolutionize how colleges recruit, allowing them to watch game film from their computer without having to wait for tapes to come in, a process that can often take a long time. I've been told the public will eventually be able to access these videos too for a fee.


April 13, 2007

Spring Hardware

I'm not going to pretend I've been busy thinking about what I saw in Saturday's Spring Game. To be honest, most of it is a blur from boredom. No offense. Not much interest. I'm sure you all felt the same way. Neverthless, I'm going to try and give you my opinion on who impressed me and what I learned from talking to Miami's positions coaches.

I'd love to break down every single position over the next week or so, so we have something to talk about since we've entered the dead period. I'll get to that in a minute, but the Canes have been busy recruiting and I've been lazy to report it. Canesport and Canestime have been all over it. UM has five commitments for 2008 according to the websites including three defensive tackles. The early five are:

DT Justin Thompson, 6-5, 290 from El Camino JUCO.
DT Micanor Regis, 6-3, 310 from Pahokee, Fla.
DT Jeremy Lewis, 6-3, 275 from West Palm Beach
OL Brandon Washington, 6-4, 314 from Miami Northwestern
DB Patrick Johnson, 6-1, 193, 4.44-speed from Pompano Beach Ely

I'd love to tell you this is significant. But last I checked we're in April. February is 10 Patrickjohnsonmonths away. After covering high schools for five years in Miami-Dade, I can tell you commitments this early from 17-year olds are about as valid as my commitment to never eating a hamburger again. The only way that's going to happen is if McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy's all shutdown for good. And that's not going to happen. Kids are going to want to make their trips. And you never know what can happen when they do that -- even if they are sold on a school from Day One. Patrick Johnson is most certainly the stud of early commitments and the most hyped player of the bunch. I haven't seen him play, but I'm hoping to catch him at some point. There are plenty of camps going on this weekend and I'll be at the one Saturday morning at Traz Powell Stadium where most of Miami-Dade's top players will be working out for Recruitflix.com.

All in all, the one thing you should take from these early five commitments to The U is the fact that The Commander and crew have certainly changed some attitudes locally and around the country about the program. This time last year the buzz in the recruiting world around UM was darn-near death. This year The U seems like a live-wire cooking up some zzzing. Good sign early.

OFFENSIVE MVP: As for the hardware for this spring. I asked Patrick Nix Saturday to give me an offensive MVP for this spring. Considering how bad the offense looked I might has well been asking Nix to shave my back. He couldn't and wouldn't. So I did the next best thing. I asked the defensive players. Naturally, the player who created the most buzz overall was freshman Graig Cooper. Super Coop climbed the charts and right past Charlie Jones for the No. 2 spot behind Javarris James. I know. There is no depth chart. But I'm making mine up and I say Cooper is going to be No. 2. He's too good. Too fast. Too everything and what UM needs more of: they're called playmakers.

But I'm not going to give Cooper the award. He was hurt and didn't play enough. The Rutledgequarterbacks certainly aren't getting it and neither are the receivers. Did they actually play this spring? I'm going with the second guy whose name I heard dropped the most: offensive lineman Chris Rutledge. With three potential starters out with injuries, C-Rut got snaps at both guard and tackle and maybe did enough to move into the top 5 spots on the team behind Jason Fox and Reggie Youngblood, the two tackles, and Derrick Morse and Andrew Bain, the guards. Matt Pipho could end up playing center, but I think Morse will end up getting the nod at center in the fall and Rutledge will move into his guard spot. "I think he made  tremendous improvement of the course of the spring and was one of the most improved players out of the group," offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland said. Rutledge is also the guy Calais Campbell dropped when I asked him who had made the most strides on the o-line.

I will give honorable mention to a few people, namely the tight ends, who I thought did a pretty good job catching and making plays in the short passing game. Charlie Jones also deserves mention for making a few nice catches out of the backfield and making a few plays on the ground.

DEFENSIVE MVP: This isn't as easy a decision as you would think. Yes, Calais Campbell is the best player on the field, offense or defense. But Kenny Phillips had a great spring as did most defensive players. But I'm going with Campbell right now because he's the reigning champ from last year and is absolutely unblockable when he's at his best. His three sacks Saturday were cake for him. I really believe there is a chance he could be a top three pick in the NFL Draft next year -- with Phillips not far behind.

CampbellBut enough about Calais, who needs a catchy nickname (I'd love to hear what you guys can up with). The guys who moved and shaked on defense and earn high honorable mention are end Eric Moncur, tackle Josh Holmes and linebacker Colin McCarthy, who I predict will all be in the starting lineup come the season-opener against Marshall. There is no question where the weakspot on this defense is -- linebacker. McCarthy, though, looks like he's smart enough to be in there all the time. He outplayed Tavares Gooden and in my mind passed him on the weakside. Moreover, the only thing that will stop Moncur stopping opposite Campbell is an injury. Teraz McCray is a lock at tackle and Holmes is in better shape than Antonio Dixon and a better player than Dwayne Hendricks right now.

OK, a few other notes to get in. Former Hurricanes point guard Denis Clemente will not end up going to Kansas State. I've been told the Wildcats aren't looking for a guard. 

April 10, 2007

Newsy hoops banquet wrap-up

Monday night's end of the year men's basketball banquet was loaded with news. Here it is in a nutshell: Anthony King's future will be decided in a week, Jack McClinton says he can run the point, UM is going to build a practice facility, coach Frank Haith wants to play the Gators, '08 Top 10 national recruit Devin Ebanks will visit the first weekend in May, '07 freshman recruit Freddy Asprilla is still a maybe, the Canes may not be done recruiting for next season, UM's 2007-08 home schedule looks sexy, and ESPN's Andy Katz says the Canes could be a Top 25 team next season.

Now that I've got your attention, let's begin with King.

Haith said after attending last week's Final Four and the National Association for Basketball Coaches Anthonyking meetings he feels there is still a 50-50 chance King will get to stay at UM next season. King, who played in eight games before missing the final 24 and having wrist surgery, needs the NCAA to increase its current maximum permissible number of games played for a medical redshirt from 20 percent to 30 percent. As I reported in Tuesday's edition, King is currently at the 25 percent mark. Haith said even if the proposal is shot down, the NCAA could amend its increase anyway to 25 percent, thus allowing King to return next season. The NCAA will vote soon and a decision is expected to be made either April 16 or 17 according to Haith. But even if King is granted his wish and allowed to return for another season, don't expect him to be 100 percent. When King accepted his award Monday night from his teammates for being dubbed "The Ultimate Teammate," he was still wearing something protective -- either a soft cast or bandages -- on his wrists. Haith said King would likely not be able to return to full health until sometime in July.

Jack McClinton, meanwhile, who was named Team MVP, told me he's not worried at all aMcclintondribblebout making the move to point guard (LISTEN TO AUDIO). McClinton played the point a lot more toward the end of the season when Denis Clemente was suspended for the team's final five regular season games. On a side note, Clemente, who was released from his scholarship last week and will not return to the team, was not at Monday's banquet. But it wasn't because he couldn't attend. Haith said Clemente was invited, but chose not to. He said Clemente is still attending classes at UM and is looking to transfer. I've heard rumors of Clemente being linked to Kansas State and former Miami High coach Frank Martin.

Back to McClinton. He told me he played point guard in prep school two seasons ago and ran the point at Siena. Although at times, he struggled with his dribble last season, he says the area he needs to work on most is his decision making, something he says he plans to work on while playing against pros in several camps in his native Baltimore this summer. Check out the complete audio interview for more.

As for UM's practice facility, it appears likely to become a reality. Three UM sources told me Monday night the school and the city of Coral Gables approved the building of a basketball practice facility, roughly between $4-6 million, in the grass area adjacent to the BankUnited Center. One UM official told me President Donna Shalala is spearheading the effort for the facility, which would have two full courts and six baskets and a locker-room for both the men's and women's team. "It's going to help us compete recruiting -- big time," one UM assistant coach told me. "Everybody is using that against us right now."

GatorsOne of those teams could be two-time defending national champion Florida, whom Haith said he would love to have back on the schedule in 2009 because the Canes do not have an opening for the Gators in 2007-08. The Hurricanes last played the Gators on Dec. 22, 2005 in Miami, that after beating the Gators on the road in 2004. Haith said he and Florida coach Billy Donovan need to speak to each other instead of through third parties in order to make it happen.

As for the Canes schedule, there will be several sexy match-ups at home including dates against defending ACC champion North Carolina, Duke, Georgia Tech, Maryland, former Big East rival St. John's and a likely showdown with Georgia at the Orange Bowl Classic. Miami's biggest non-conference road game will be against Mississippi State, which beat UM at home next year. In addition to that schedule, Haith said UM has been invited by ESPN to play in nationally televised preseason tournament in Puerto Rico.

KansasSpeaking of ESPN, analyst Andy Katz recently put UM into an interesting category in his initial Top 25 for the 2007-08 season. Here it is verbatim: Teams we'll regret not having, but reserve the right to toss in here after we know all the early-entry fallout: Davidson, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Washington, NC State, Miami, Providence, Virginia, Maryland, VCU, Alabama, Butler, BYU, Southern Illinois, Vanderbilt, Connecticut, Georgia, Arkansas, Auburn and LSU. Katz by the way has Kansas as the No. 1 team in the country, followed by UCLA, North Carolina, Memphis and Ohio State. Coach Frank Haith was proud to bring that recent development up Monday night at the team banquet. Hurricanes radio voice Joe Zagacki pointed out during Monday's ceremony how several major analysts at the ACC tournament -- Dick Vitale and Billy Packer -- congratulated Haith throughout the rest of the ACC tournament on how well UM finished its season.

One thing that is not over for Haith and his assistants after last season is recruiting. When I asked him if he was going on vacation somewhere, he laughed. "It's recruiting Riosseason," Haith said. "There is no vacation." After the dead period ends on Friday, Haith and his assistants will go back to work. But it won't be just on the Class of 2008. Haith reiterated Monday only two of his 2007 freshman have fully qualified -- point guard Edwin Rios and power forward Julian Gamble. Haith said center Freddy Asprilla, who attended 9th, 10th and 11th grades in his native Columbia, still needs the qualifying test score to get into Miami. If he doesn't get in and King doesn't get his medical redshirt, Miami would have two open scholarships. Haith is not allowed to discuss potential recruits, but when I asked him what he would focus on if Asprilla and King are not on the team next season, he simply smiled and said "good players." "We've got several guys on the burner," Haith said. "But we don't know what is going to happen yet."

DevinebanksOne of the best players Haith is after, though, isn't a part of the 2007 class. Devin Ebanks would be part of UM's 2008 Class, and likely the most decorated recruit at UM ever -- even more than Darius Rice. Ebanks was recently rated the No. 1 small forward in the country by Scout.com and the No. 10 player overall. Ebanks is said to be visiting UM the first weekend in May. The Hurricanes hope to make quite an impression because Rutgers, Georgetown and now Texas -- Haith's former team -- all appear to be closing in on trying to sway Ebanks away from UM. Ebanks named UM as his leader last month and Haith and his staff have been following him around at all of his AAU basketball games.

CollinsIn other tidbits, I spoke with freshman Dwayne Collins, who was awarded The Chairman of the Boards trophy Monday night. Although Haith didn't make a big deal about Collins' future position -- power forward or center, Collins told me he'd prefer playing the power forward spot, which would allow him to play face up to the basket and "block more shots." Collins said he's also been excited about the fact of being reunited with Rios, whom he won a state title with at Miami High in 2005. He pointed out to me how he and Rios were once tabbed the fourth best big man-small man combo in the country by Rivals behind Ohio State's Greg Oden and Michael Conley Jr.

Sophomore forward Brian Asbury, meanwhile, will likely spend his summer locally working out with former Hurricane and current Phoenix Suns forward James Jones and other former local players including Jones' teammate Raja Bell. Asbury's former AAU coach told me Monday he hopes Asbury will make an even bigger step up then he did last season and hopefully learned a lot playing at times as a power forward this season. He says he hopes Haith will run more specific plays for Asbury in games, something he considers will be the next step in AB's growth. Asbury was named the team's Most Improved Player after improving his scoring average from 1.0 ppg to 11.7 ppg.

Here's the rest of the list of award winners from Monday...
Most Blocked Shots: Brian Asbury. Most Assists: Anthony Harris. Best Free Throw Percentage, Three-Point Percentage and MVP: Jack McClinton. Hustlin' Canes Award: Keaton Copeland. Outstanding Defender: James Dews. Ultimate Teammate: Anthony King. Outstanding Student-Athlete: Jonathan Stratton. Above The Rim Sportsmanship Award: Anthony Harris.

April 09, 2007

Vanilla Spring

Vanilla, vanilla and more vanilla. That's the word we heard Saturday when UM's spring session concluded at the Orange Bowl and coaches described what we were supposed to take from a 7-0, offensive-less game. The Commander, Randy Shannon used it. The offensive coordinator Patrick Nix used it. Even defensive coordinator Tim Walton used it. So, should vanilla be the taste Canes fans have in their mouths when they think about their football team until they get back together on the field in the fall?

SmoresNot me. Not vanilla. As a frequent connoisseur of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream, the craving I got after seeing two of the spring scrimmages is for another flavor: 'Smores! As in, I want to see 'smores from this offense than 7 stinking points in a spring game. Shannon cited injuries and even used the excuse his offense looked so vanilla this spring was because "you never want to show a lot when you practice open to the public because you never know who is there filming."

Randy, I like you. I do. I like the old school mentality you've brought to the Canes. But you cannot honestly think we are that dumb. Unless UM is planning on running the Single Wing this fall, there is nothing UM will end up running this coming season that already hasn't been seen a thousand times somewhere else. And honestly... who in the world game plans off of a spring game anyway? Think Marshall was there game-planning for Terrance Thomason or Eric Kirchenberg or Jake Byrne or Dan Warren or Jonathan Teske?

VanillameltingsmUM's offense was "Vanilla" -- I prefer to use the word "Ugly" --this spring for three reasons: One, this is the third different offense the team has had to learn in three years; Two, they are still installing and learning it; Three, injuries and a lack of talent.

All we really learned this spring is that UM's offense still has miles upon miles to go before it gets to the point where opponents fear it. And I'm not sure how much progress was made in other areas. The only groups in my mind that probably got anything out of the scheduled 15 spring practices was the offensive line and the tight ends, which had more balls thrown their way this spring than any other position. Let's face it, like every spring, there were injuries. Several key players/starters -- OL Derrick Morse, OL Jason Fox, LB Daryl Sharpton, WR Lance Leggett, WR Darnell Jenkins, RB Graig Cooper, CB Glenn Sharpe and CB Bruce Johnson -- didn't get a whole lot of work in, if any at all. Yes, their absence meant other guys -- their backups -- got more work, but it also meant the guys who start opposite them went up against inferior players for most of the spring. How good can you honestly guage this defense to be when they weren't necessarily having to go up against UM's best offensive weapons?

Ultimately, though, that's not what this spring was about. Randy Shannon's goal this spring wasn't to Shannon_52479turn UM from a 7-6 team into national championship contender in two weeks. It was to turn a team divided after a 7-6 season into a team again. I know it sounds corny, but listening to Randy speak all spring, one message is constant in all of his usual mishmash of coach talk: team play, team chemistry, team unity, team competition, team, team and more team.

For a guy connected to the program for as long as he has been, to me the way Shannon put so much emphasis on team unity this spring speaks volumes about how deep UM's in house problems came to be over the past few seasons. After all, there were reasons Randy made offensive and defensive players, once divided into sections in the lockerroom, sit next to each other in the lockerroom this spring. There was a reason he turned the Offense versus Defense spring game into an Orange versus White. There was a reason he never once let the word "starter" enter his or his players' vocabulary. And there was a reason he made his quarterbacks off limits to the media (so they wouldn't keep saying they were the right guy for the job).

And the reason is simple -- he wanted to bring The U back together. Saturday, I finally got someone -- receiver Sam Shields -- to admit there was a problem with unity last year. And in a world where nobody wants to speak ill of the past or hurt somebody's feelings, that's an accomplishment. Shields said "Everybody wasn't working together last year. But we're starting. We had to regroup."

The Hurricanes seemed to have accomplished that this spring. Unlike last season when you could get Larry Coker to tell you who practiced well, who was excelling and who was struggling, getting that kind of information this year from anybody has been tough. The usual answer to a question about who played well is: "Everybody." On a team that's important in the lockerroom. Everyone needs to feel like they have some importance, like they aren't busting their rears for no reason. Last year, there was no question you could sense a divide between offense and defensive players. For the past five years, the defense has carried this team. This coming season looks no different. But at least now, you get the sense there will be no fingerpointing behind the scenes. There will be no division in the lockerroom.

I've got more to breakdown. But now that I've got the big picture out of the way in terms of what I thought UM was able to accomplish this spring, I'll come back tomorrow with a position-by-position break down, who I believe excelled this spring individually and my MVP awards. In the meantime, leave your thoughts and questions. I'll try to answer. Also, check back for an update after the basketball team's banquet tonight. I'll be going to get an update on men's hoops.


April 08, 2007

What did they learn/accomplish this spring?

First off, Happy Easter/Passover to the Eye on The U readers.

Before I give you my thoughts on the spring game on Monday, I'd like to pick your brain and ask you what you thought of it. What are your concerns are with this team? What did you think looked good and bad and inbetween? I'll give you 24 hours to pour your thoughts before I come back on here and address what I saw and how I felt about it as well as what I thought the Canes accomplished and didn't accomplish and what we learned about this team.

April 02, 2007

In the belly of the beast

What's up Eye on The U crew. I'm up in Atlanta, better known as Canes hell, where tonight the two programs UM fans hate most -- Ohio State and Florida -- will do battle tonight for the men's basketball championship.

It's been an interesting week for me to say the least with thousands of annoying Gator fans all around my hotel here, doing the Gator chomp and screaming "It's Great To Be a Florida Gator!" Which leads me to my question of the day: As a Canes fan, how are you holding up with the hated Gators enjoying the greatest year of their lives? And who will you be rooting for tonight? Or better yet, who will you be hating on more? I know the wounds from the Ohio State football loss in 2002 is still fresh. But can you put that aside and still watch tonight's game?

I've got no choice. Anyway, I'll be back in town tomorrow night and there for the spring game. For those of you who happened to see the last scrimmage at Traz Powell Stadium last weekend, what are your thoughts? Holler back.