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?
Not 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?
UM'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 turn 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.