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A deeper look: Offensive line

Among UM's many reasons for its offensive struggles the past two seasons, no unit likely received more criticism or blame than the offensive line. An eye-opening 36 sacks was part of the reason former line coach Art Kehoe got the boot after 2005.

But as porous as UM's line was in Kehoe's final season, most didn't expect much more from the o-line in 2006. Mario Cristobal started the season with one player -- Anthony Wollschlager -- who had any real significant playing time from the previous season and a rash of injuries. Yet, somehow, Miami's offensive line improved in 2006 even with a true freshman making 12 starts at tackle. Under Cristobal's leadership, the team cut its sacks allowed by 14 from 36 to 22.

Jeff_stoutlandThis season, as Miami looks to improve on probably its worst offensive showing I've seen since I began following the Canes at age four, the offensive line is likely in the best shape its been in a while. This weekend as Camp Shannon began I took time to speak with several offensive lineman, defensive lineman and new line coach Jeff Stoutland to see how much progress has actually been made since last season. In my estimation: substantial.

Part of coach Randy Shannon's spring and summer conditioning program under strength coach Andreu Swasey was to whip Miami's fatboys into shape. Did he ever. Saturday, as Shannon pushed his entire team with 50-yard sprints to finish practice, only three lineman were straggling way behind. And most of that was due to dehydration and the need to vomit.

Rutledge"Coach Shannon just focused on us being quick and being fast and moving faster. I think the whole o-line lost between 30 and 40 pounds,'' fourth-year junior Chris Rutledge said Saturday. "I’m proud of our whole o-line as a whole. I couldn’t have done it on my own. Coaches helped, the players as well. The competition we had on a daily basis, that was big.”

Rutledge said he dropped from 333 at the end of last season to his current weight of 304. While he was among the bigs to cut weight, progress was also made in other ways. Freshman phenom Jason Fox, who began last season at 6-6, 265, now tips the scales at 6-6, 290. Most, if not all of that, was muscle.

"I don’t think I lost anything far as speed or agility goes," Fox said. "I don’t want to go into exact numbers. But I've gotten 30 to 40 pounds stronger in about every lifting category. I’m feeling good and so is the rest of our offensive line. We’re ready to go."

Truth is, it doesn't look like everybody is ready. After speaking to players and coaches, I got the sense Jason_fox Miami has a core of about seven lineman -- Derrick Morse, Fox, Reggie Youngblood, Andrew Bain, A.J. Trump, Rutledge and Orlando Franklin -- who could probably start and hold their own this season. The next group -- Matt Pipho, John Rochford and Tyrone Byrd -- could play if needed. And a final group -- Cyrim Wimbs, Chris Barney, Harland Gunn, Joel Figueroa, Tyler Horne, Ian Symonnette -- probably just will never really be able to cut it or aren't ready yet. Of course, Monday was only the third day of practice (heck, these guys aren't even really hitting yet). And in the coming weeks, things can always change -- especially with injuries. But Canes fans should be happy because the situation is without a doubt improved on the o-line.

For starters, I think its pretty safe to say the tackle jobs have been won -- with Fox (at left), Youngblood (at right) and Rutledge (the key backup at either spot). Rutledge, once considered a project after leaving Miami Dr. Krop, certainly looks like he's really ready to contribute more than he did in his six starts a year ago when he looked lost.

"I think Rutledge has done a nice job in making transition from guard to tackle in the spring," Stoutland said. "I thought he did a really nice job. All of that does is make us thicker and make us a little thicker by position."

Guard is where it gets tricky, but only if sophomore Trump stumbles at center. If Trump, who is coming Aj_trump off nine months of rehab on a torn ACL, can hold his own, then Morse should be able to start as Miami's pulling guard on the right side and not at center. Trump, a redshirt sophomore from Clearwater, will be given a shot though and it appears Stoutland likes him a lot. And even if he struggles, John Rochford, once the long-snapper, may be able to step in if he steps up some more. Stoutland said he likes Rochford's quickness.

"What I like about A.J. is that he’s a good leader," Stoutland said. "He’s a very smart and intelligent player and he’ll make the appropriate calls when he’s there. But he’s got to do it physically. I have total confidence in him from a mental standpoint."

In my mind part of that opinion is formed from the idea having Morse at that guard spot is far more important for Miami's offense, which should be more run-based this season with Javarris James and Graig Cooper.

"Derrick is just a freak," Fox said. "He’s got an unbelievable motor. He’s the type of guy you want on your offensive line. At the end of every play, everybody is walking back to the huddle, he’s running downfield trying to cut some guy."

"Guards, I think we’re really starting to solidify that position," Stoutland said. "D-Mo is an All-American and that’s why I really don’t want to move D-Mo. He kind of solidifies s. He’s kind of in my mind one of the top players in this whole conference at the guard position. Although if Orlando comes on, then maybe you got three of them. It’s a lot of scenarios that can kind of happen."

Orlando_franklinFranklin is probably the one freshman on the team who has impressed most. After sitting out last season because he had to retake two high school English classes, the 6-7, 326-pound 19-year old freshman has turned heads enough now that the left guard spot is considered open for competition.

"Orlando is a new guy, but among the freshman he's furthest along," Stoutland said. "He’s so physical. He’s as strong and as quick on his feet as a fifth-year senior would be. So, he’s way advanced in that category. Now, I got to get him mentally advanced to play."

Said Fox of Franklin: "For how big he is, he’s an unbelievable athlete. Ive never seen him with pads on, but I can’t wait. I'm excited about it. He could [be one of those freshman that plays right away]. He’s that type of guy. He’s studies hard. Im really excited about what he can do."

In the end, I expect senior Andrew Bain, the only Canes lineman to start all 13 games last season, to edge out Franklin for the starting job (who appears prime to be a key contributor at either guard spot). But should an injury knock someone out, Franklin is likely the first man in.

Stoutland, of course, will say otherwise in the coming weeks. He's got to keep his guys competing on a high level and getting the most of his backups for progress sake.

"They look different than when I first got here," he told me when I asked him for an assesment of their growth Monday. "There’s still room for improvement. Now it’s a matter of putting this group together, finding out the right combinations of people playing next to each other. Because you know, during the season, guys are going to get dinged up. You’re going to have several different players going in there. So, I want to make sure I have a preseason that gives me a good understanding of who should be in the game if something would happen here, something would happen there so I can have the right people in the game."

As for Stoutland, he might be the perfect replacement for Cristobal. One player said he's a cross between Kehoe and Cristobal, fiery, but also a great tactician. One player told me, Stoutland spends more time correcting mistakes than any coach he's ever had. He's also apparently fair in distributing pain.

"He’s all-around -- funny and serious," Rutledge said. "He wants what he wants when he wants it. You can watch its kind of like NFL. If you work hard, you get a little rest. If you don’t work hard, then you get run into the ground all day. That’s how he is. He’s about hard work, work ethic and working hard."

For those of you who would like to listen to some of my interviews, check out our audio page. Throughout the season, I'll load the audio clips I collect from the lockerroom and after practice. Also, don't forget to check out Susan Miller Degnan's daily features and notebooks online and in the paper.

** Tonight (Tuesday) from 7 to 8 p.m. I'll be on Canespace.com to answer the questions from Canes fans left behind in this blog this afternoon. Next week, we'll return to do the same thing here at Eye on The U at the same time and same day. It will be an alternating feature from week to week.

Comments

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Manny, great look at the key to the offense's success this year. One question, what do you expect to be the most likely new feature of the defensive schemes under Walton that The Randy didn't feature during his tenure as DC?

Thanks Manny for the update on the offensive line.

Manny, I pronounce you king of the blogs!

If we find the right man at center this could turn into a really good O-line.

http://canespace.typepad.com/canespace/2007/08/the-greatest-sp.html#comment-78587274 7p to 8p or 8p to 9p? SYNCHRONIZE

http://www.palmbeachpost.com/blogs/content/shared-blogs/palmbeach/umblog what's gotten in to nonchalant jorge milian? 3 blogs in 4 days. EPIPHANY?

http://blogs.sun-sentinel.com/sports_college_hurricanes/2007/08/a-few-things.html#comments And it's not fair when someone pastes a story from Canesport here. Why? Because others have to pay for that content and shouldn't be able to read it here for free. -- shun(del)

http://blogs.sun-sentinel.com/sports_college_hurricanes/2007/06/who_got_u.html#comments omar kelly: "Right now there isn't a clear front-runner to take over my old job, but I'm sure you guys are being kept in mind because whoever inherits this blog will inherit The Legion." MISTAKE: you assumed our loyalty. and you know what happens when you ASSuME : )

after one month, the fallout from omar kelly's "promotion" comes into focus. kelly's legion migrated to canespace & Miamiherald.com : ) the moral: if it ain't broke, don't fix it

Manny,
thanks for the update on the offensive line.....
2 questions for you:
Who will be the suprize player on offense and defense?
Who will make the biggest impaact of the incoming freshman on offense and defense?

Thanks

hey manny navarro, 600+ posts since july 23rd! head to head, more posts than greg cote, dolphins, omar kelly or shun(del) : ) KEEPING SCORE

http://blogs.herald.com/random_evidence/2007/08/on-um-harmony-i.html hey manny navarro, how does it feel topping the herald's july blog report with 52,000+ hits? #1

Thanks Manny. O Line is being massaged the same as D line.

whats the deal with corey luiget? manny how good should we feel about maybe landing patchan?. and what are our chances landing tj bryant.? and finally who do you feel will be our next commit?

Green,

You are a dooche bag and get a life!

if you post that on sunsentinel, shun(del) would erase it in a new york minute ; )

http://blogs.sun-sentinel.com/sports_college_hurricanes/2007/08/a-few-things.html#comments shun(del): "Here's the criteria: 1) No profanity" run that profane post by shun(del) the schoolmarm ; )

Manny, are we any closer to a decision on the OB?

good stuff manny, can't wait to see what tonight brings...hopefully some great insight into the season

Manny, Do you know anything about Jerrell Powe getting in as a late signee?

Manny, good info as always.

questions for tonite:

1) who are your "sleepers" to start on offense and defense?

2) who's going to return kickoffs and punts?

3) are FB's and TE's going to be a big part of this new offense?

4) why are the rest of practices closed?

Manny as always bro...ON POINT!

Thanks.

Fantastic job as usual, Manny. Question for you: Is it just me, or does it seem like the injury bug hasn't bitten the Canes like it has in prior years? Is it just a change in luck, or can you point to something specific?

Thanks for the great info.

http://blogs.sun-sentinel.com/sports_college_hurricanes/2007/08/a-few-things.html#comment-78665920 shun(del): "This is not something I decided to do, but it was brought to my attention today and I agree with that person. Laws are laws. Put yourself in the shoes of CaneSport and other paysites." for 2 years, your pious predecessor turned a blind eye to possible copyright infringement. suddenly, sunsentinel finds religion. GAGTG?

http://www.nypost.com/seven/08072007/business/timesselect_content_freed_business_holly_m__sanders.htm nytimes.com to stop $ubscription-only service. the pendulum swings ...

The Sentential fell off, this is the main source site.

Does Shannon let Jerrel Rowe In?

Good question Canes07. I've been trying to find out and no one seems to know anything.

http://sports-law.blogspot.com/2006/09/jerrell-powe-drops-lawsuit-against-ole.html "Jerrell Powe Drops Lawsuit Against Ole Miss: Where Will He Now Play Football?" by michael mccann

Green, you are a freeking idiot!

yeah, baby

Football is back!!!!!!!!!!!
Just 2 let every1 know. The OL is by far the most important position on the field..

Green, now that's the way to treat a host.

Give Manny his props, don't mudsling a man in his own home.

Great work.

Manny, Cavaleer from Canespace here.

I know it's really to early to tell but from what U've seen of Nix's offense schemes, the new talent at RB and WR and the OL, how much improvement do U think we'll see this year compared to the last five?

I ask because U've seen fall practices up close and personal for several years now and have a great point of reference.

Thanks. See U at Canespace in a few.

Manny...thanks so much for appearing on Canespace tonight for the first ever "ASK MANNY" segment!

All of the fans at Canespace will join you next week right here on the Herald blog for the same event!!!

Hey Manny,

Be very careful about your reputation when dealing with this guy at Canespace.

He has completely banned me because I called him out on deleting posts he didnt like or agree with.

You know as a journalist thats a major no-no and destroys your credibility.

Here is the last post I sent him which he deleted as well.


86, my name is irrelevant to this and you know it.

Im not a gangsta wannabe, it was only a joke and anyone with half a brain could see that.

The point is YOU are running this site, not me. YOU are choosing to delete posts YOU find to be redundant, offensive or just plain dont like.

This is a unilateral relationship where all the responsibility of ensuring the integrity of this blog falls on YOU, not me or anyone else.

Being big brother only hurts your credibility, your site and your future.

So stop acting like the nerd who doesnt want anyone to offend his new cool friends and let this site flow freely as it must to be successful long term.

Maybe, just maybe, I know what Im talking about.


Hey 86, shame on you...

manny, great post on probobly the most important group on the team, the OL. You're doing an awesome job w/this blog.

Cane Fans & Members of the Legion!!!!

Kickoff is 23 days away....get your smack talk in with Sooner fans & the rest of the nation at http://www.d1acollegefootball.com. NO ADS, NO IDIOT NAZI MODS, NO CENSORSHIP.

It takes less than a minute to register.

http://www.ajc.org/site/apps/nl/content2.asp?c=ijITI2PHKoG&b=849241&ct=4247489 Pres. Shalala: Boycott Israeli Universities? Boycott UM, Too!

http://www.aventurausa.com/miami/magazine/playmaker-charity/playmaker-charity-02.shtml celebrating Michael Irvin HOF

http://www.chathamjournal.com/weekly/sports/football/duke-football-on-fsn-70806.shtml throughout august, FSN South & SportSouth to preview U!

How do you post a link?

Check out the latest info and website of The Orange Revolution.........

http://www.theorangerevolution-canes.com/

http://www.insidetheu.com/news/viewnews.php?v=46b4048f455ab "Top 10 Players In Miami-Dade" by rudy rodriguez-chomat

To all you Canespace people, could you please stop with the disgusting back patting and butt licking, we just want to read about the canes not your bs. I for one, will never visit your site. And I agree that Manny should distance himself from the site as well, they are clearly in this for their own gain.

DC Cane: the fascinating story of sunsentinel's demise, canespace's/herald's rise must be told. don't shoot the messenger

memo to sunsentinel: the magic always resided with us NOT omar kelly. proof is in the pudding

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) -- Wake Forest will choose Dino Gaudio to succeed the late Skip Prosser on Wednesday, entrusting the Demon Deacons' program to the veteran coach's longtime top assistant.

http://rivals100.rivals.com/viewrank.asp?ra_key=1738 revised rivals250. glaring omission: Jacory Harris

Miller-Degnan and Navarro are now the pimps of the U Beat...Very much appreciate your coverage, especially SM-D's -- Respect.

Keep up the good work and please CONTINUE writing articles -- fair and balanced -- about UM football thruout the season.

Regardless of what some of you etards think about canespace, what that site demonstrates is that when it comes to blogs and sports coverage, canes fans are a FORCE -- not to be ignored...you hear that, HERALD?!?!

ALL bout dem CANES

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