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20 posts from August 2007

August 31, 2007

Keys to the game: Marshall

Breaking down the keys to a game in the season-opener is tough to do, especially when you have nothing to go on but practice reports and last year’s news. While my plan is to give 10 keys to the game prior to every game this season for the Canes, I think this first one will be more of a hodge-podge of info and what I’m personally going to be looking for from the Canes.

I’ll start with Marshall.

Breaking down Marshall: This isn’t your older’s brothers Thundering Herd – the one that had Randy Moss catching touchdown passes from Byron Leftwich or Chad Pennington. This Marshall went 5-7 last season and had one of the worst defenses in all of college football. The team ranked 114th out of 119 teams in I-A ball last season against the pass and ranked 101st and 102nd, respectively, in total defense (390.2 ypg) and scoring defense scoring defense (29.25 ppg).

The Herd did have Conference USA’s Defensive Player of The Year in defensive end Albe McClellan, a 6-2, 225-pound end who put up Calais Campbell like numbers (18.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks). But the junior was lost for the season on August 6th when he tore his ACL. Aside from McClennan, The Herd’s secondary also took a hit when returning cornerback starter Zearrick Matthews broke his forearm in a freak collision with a teammate. Matthews will also miss Saturday’s game. The Herd will have only five real returning, experienced starters – one at defensive tackle, two linebackers, a corner and free safety C.J. Spellman.

-> Thanks to recent UM grad Paul Burkhart for some video from UM's on-campus pep rally before the Marshall game.

Offensively, Marshall wasn’t so bad last season. The Herd had one of the country’s top rushing offenses, one that averaged 167 yards on the ground (30th best nationally). But talented RB Ahmad Bradshaw is gone, replaced by junior Chubb Small (5-9, 200) who had all of 42 carries last season for 193 yards. The offensive line, which still features talented center and Remington candidate Doug Lagursky, returns only one other starter – right guard Brian Leggett. Quarterback Bernard Morris is back and so is the team’s second leading receiver Emmanuel Spann (5-11, 195). But Marshall’s best offensive weapon could be former Homestead High standout Darius Passmore, a 6-3, 180-pound junior, who led all California JUCO receivers with 18 touchdowns in 2005. But sat out in 2006.

The special teams are nothing special. Anthony Binswager handles kicks and punts, but he’s not exactly great. He was 5 of 13 on field goal attempts last season. The Herd also had three punts blocked and didn’t return a kick or a punt for a score.

The coach, Mark Snyder, is in his second season. He has a little experience against the Canes. He was the linebackers coach at Ohio State when the Buckeyes beat UM for the national title in 2002. His new defensive coordinator, Steve Dunlap, knows the Canes well. He coached at N.C. State the previous two seasons, Syracues from 2001 to 2004 and West Virginia before that. He’s beaten UM twice when he was at Syracuse.

But all that honestly means little in my eyes if the Canes show up to play Saturday with the same intensity we’ve seen from them this spring and fall. UM will be in the Orange Bowl and has the more talented team. They should win. But covering the 18-point spread will depend a lot on how well some of the things I’ll be looking for end up happening. The five things I’ll be watching for from the Canes on Saturday is below.

1. Kirby Freeman’s comfort level running Patrick Nix’s new offense. Is Kirby going to be wild and trying to create too much like he was at times last year? Or is he going to be smarter and are the Canes going to be able to move the ball down the field? If he’s the latter, Miami’s offense should produce at least 200 yards passing and at least three touchdowns in this game.

2. Freeman and new center John Rochford’s quarterback-center exchanges. Rochford was a fullback this time last year. Freeman was the backup. It would be nice for Canes fans to see no problems in their exchanges Saturday. A fumble or two and you’ve got to be worried going into Norman next week.

3. The Canes’ run defense. Last year, UM set a school record in allowing less than 67 yards a game and allowed only one rusher to eclipse the 100-yard mark. This year, Baraka Atkins and Kareem Brown are gone and the linebacking core is without Jon Beason and Glenn Cook. Tavares Gooden, the team’s new starting middle linebacker, can’t get lost on the field. He needs to be a leader. Oklahoma can run the football. Marshall has a new running back and only two returning lineman. The Canes – namely starter tackle Dwayne Hendricks and backup Antonio Dixon need to show – they can still stop inferior opponents from running the football.

4. The entire special teams unit. Francisco Zampogna won the kicking duties and Matt Bosher is the team’s new punter. They need to show they can deliver. Same with new kick returner Richard Gordon and punt returner Graig Cooper. With the kickoff spot being moved back, field position will be a big part of winning close games this season. Playing a team like Marshall should allow the Canes to flourish. And they need to.

5. Freshman cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke. It doesn’t happen that often at UM where a true freshman starts in his very first game. We know how well Van Dyke runs and we’ve heard how physical he’s been in practice. But how is he going to hold up? Coach Randy Shannon and defensive coordinator Tim Walton made him the only other sure starter next to safety Kenny Phillips. If Van Dyke struggles, there may be reason to worry the Canes corners might be in trouble this season.

My prediction: UM 34, Marshall 13. I predicted a 30-13 victory a couple weeks ago, but I’m predicting a little bit more of a margin of victory for the Canes. I think Javarris James and Graig Cooper end up having big games, combining for close to 200 yards rushing with two touchdowns to lead the offense. Freeman will end up completing a high percentage of short and mid-range passes and Darnell Jenkins will catch Freeman’s only touchdown pass. The defense will create a few turnovers and score a touchdown of its own, something that hasn’t happened lately too much at The U. Zampogna will make two field goals.


A "Canes Four Pack" with four tickets for $81 for Saturday's season-opening game against Marshall is still available. Fans can purchase four tickets to see the game for only $81, which is a $97 savings. To order the Canes Four Pack fans can call 305-284-CANE or 1-800-GO-CANES or order online by clicking here. Also, single-game tickets for the Marshall game will be on sale on Saturday morning starting at 8 a.m. at the South Plaza of the Orange Bowl. Tickets cost $20 and $47.

Canes fans have been planning this for weeks, but I've been too lazy to put it in my blog. There is a request for all fans to wear orange to the game Saturday. Fans want to fill the OB in orange in support of the program.

August 30, 2007

No more entitlement at The U

I haven't had a lot of time to devote to this blog since Tuesday's live Q&A which featured Northwestern QB Jacory Harris and freshman cornerback and new starter DeMarcus Van Dyke (hint: go check out some of their answers. It was probably the most fun I've had yet on a live blog).

But I wanted to come and share some thoughts and extra insight from this week before we turn our full attention to Saturday's season-opener against Marshall.

For starters, what struck me most about Tuesday's press conference wasn't the decision to pick Kirby Freeman as the team's starting quarterback. It's the fact Randy Shannon stayed true Shannonto his word. It's not that I ever really doubted Miami's new sheriff. It's just that maybe I was Cokerized (yeah I'm stealing the phrase from The Legion). For all the talk about taking Miami back to the old school -- where the competition in practice is what really determines who starts -- I somehow always believed through camp that the usual suspects would end up earning the starting spots come game time. I thought Randy was simply trying to light a fire under his veterans. But now I know Randy is beyond the head games. He really is going to do all he has to do to take The U back to the old Cane ways. If you get hurt, you move to the end of the totem poll, he said. If you don't bring it everyday, you ride the pine.

The fact he and his staff picked Freeman and in my eyes these other four surprise starters -- Khalil Jones at receiver, Dwayne Hendricks at defensive tackle, DeMarcus Van Dyke at cornerback and John Rochford at center -- sent a strong message to the team. Let's not forget the Sam Shields' suspension too. Tuesday, as players filed into The Edgerrin James room following Shannon's press conference, they got a chance to start looking at the depth chart for the first time. In some cases, there was genuine surprise. In all cases, there were smiles -- even from the guys not slated to start. The reason? Shannon stayed true to his word with them too. Just as Barry Jackson wrote in Wednesday's editions -- there is no longer entitlement on this team.

As I learned from somewhat revealing conversations with tight end Chris Zellner and safety Lovon Ponder, that wasn't always the case last season -- especially on offense. Both told me starters were often given preferential treatment and if they were hurt, they were allowed to return to their starting jobs even while the other guy was out busting his butt in practice. The only place where that didn't seem to happen was on defense. Oddly enough, that's one unit where the Hurricanes continued to play at a national championship-type level.

"Last year, you knew you had a lot of people that knew they were starting. So, a lot of guys would come to practice and would be like, well, I'm not really starting, so I'm not giving my best effort," Zellner told me. "... I saw Kyle one time where he hurt his knee a little bit. Last year, they probably would have sat Kyle because he's a great asset to our team. This year, I was like Kyle 'You going to play?' He was like, 'Yeah, it's a competition... And that's just the way it was. I think we needed it."

Ponder echoed those same sentiments. "We had a team where a lot of people were put ahead of other people,'' he said. "But now, people are on the same level. We don't have big-headed guys or guys putting people down. Going into games, guys were being treated differently -- with practice reps and all that. Now, coach Shannon treats everybody equally bad, equally good."

I'm sure hearing some of those responses must make the Cane familia angry and even more resentful toward the Coker regime. But at least you can take solace in the fact LC (I always used to giggle when I would see his initials on his practice shorts) can only now give his opinion from a studio off in TV land. When asked what he thought of the QB selection recently, Coker said he was surprised but not shocked Shannon and his staff picked Freeman.

Truth is, now I wonder how this team might have been different last year if Shannon was making all the big decisions. There's no doubt in my mind Kyle's injured throwing thumb wasn't just a problem that surfaced when he was hurt in the Virginia Tech game. Had Shannon been running the show, would Wright have been pulled before then? I guess we'll start finding out just how different this team is now with a different leader and different standards.

PROGRAMMING UPDATE: Almost forgot! I need to promote The Herald's new high school football show, the Big Show, starring yours truly as host. With the help of Recruitflix.com, we put together a The_big_show countdown of the top 20 high school teams in Miami-Dade and Broward with video highlights and interviews of key players. As the former high school writer, this is sort of a dream come true for me. I've always felt the high schools in Dade and Broward were so richly loaded with talent they deserved better coverage than they received. It took me and a staff of three at Recruitflix to put this thing together. It's finally online. There will also be clips every week following games uploaded to the Herald website. We'll improve the quality as the season progresses. But for now, please, please, please, check out THE BIG SHOW. And let me know what you think of it.

August 28, 2007

Depth chart released | Live Q&A

UPDATE: Reminder guys that I will be on live tonight at 8 p.m. to answer questions from today during our live chat. Preceding that though, Andre Fernandez and Bob Emanuel will be answering high school sports questions on the high school sports blog at 7 p.m. At 8:30 p.m., Northwestern QB and UM recruit Jacory Harris will be on live to answer questions with me on Eye on The U.

Feel free to leave some questions for me this afternoon. There will also be audio up shortly from today's press conference including coach Randy Shannon, running backs Graig Cooper and Javarris James, safety Lovon Ponder, tight end Chris Zellner, linebacker Colin McCarthy and guard Derrick Morse. I'm in the process of uploading them to the Miami Herald website. Here is the link to our audio page.

The biggest news early on from coach Randy Shannon's press conference:
- Kirby Freeman has been named the starting quarterback.
- Receiver Sam Shields has been suspended for the Marshall game for violating team rules.
- John Rochford has been named the starting center, freshman DeMarcus Van Dyke the starter at cornerback.

Offensive starters | Backups
QB: Kirby Freeman | Kyle Wright
RB: Javarris James or Graig Cooper | Derron Thomas
FB: Jerrell Mabry or Dedrick Epps
FL: Khalil Jones | Darnell Jenkins | Leonard Hankerson
SE: Lance Leggett | Ryan Hill
LT: Jason Fox or Chris Rutledge | Cyrim Wimbs
LG: Andrew Bain | Orlando Franklin
C: John Rochford | A.J. Trump
RG: Derrick Morse | Joel Figueroa
RT: Reggie Youngblood or Chris Rutledge | Tyrone Byrd
TE: DajLeon Farr or Chris Zellner | Richard Gordon

Defensive starters | Backups
LE: Eric Moncur | Vegas Franklin
LT: Dwayne Hendricks | Josh Holmes
RT: Teraz McCray | Antonio Dixon
RE: Calais Campbell | Courtney Harris
SLB: Colin McCarthy | Eric Houston
MLB: Tavares Gooden | Darryl Sharpton | Allen Bailey
WLB: Spencer Adkins | Kylan Robinson
LCB: DeMarcus Van Dyke | Tervaris Johnson
RCB: Randy Phillips or Carlos Armour
SS Kenny Phillips | JoJo Nicholas | Jared Campbell
FS: Willie Cooper or Lovon Ponder

Special Teams
K: Francesco Zampogna | Daren Daly
P: Matt Bosher | Daren Daly
KO: Daren Daly | Francesco Zampgona
PR: Graig Cooper | Chavez Grant
KR: Ryan Hill and Richard Gordon

Shannon said where you see "Or" is where either of those guys could start.

It's going to be Kirby

The Miami Herald has learned from a source close to the university, that Kirby Freeman will be the starting quarterback for the opener against Marshall on Saturday in the Orange Bowl.

Fifth-year senior Kyle Wright was told that Freeman was the starter this morning. Wright missed the last four games of 2006 while recooperating from thumb surgery. Freeman, who started those last four games of 2006, by all accounts had a better preseason than Wright. Wright was hindered by an injured left knee and missed the final preseason scrimmage.

Freeman's 2006 statistics: 59 completions in 108 attempts for 872 yards and 7 touchdowns. He threw 8 interceptions. He also ran for 1 touchdown.

Check back with Miami Herald.com around 11:30 this morning for the official announcement.

Also, don't forget to leave questions tonight for our live Q&A session right here at Eye on The U around 8 p.m. Northwestern High QB and UM commitment Jacory Harris will be on live at 8:30 p.m. to field questions as our special guest of the week.

August 27, 2007

Picking the starters

UM coach Randy Shannon will unveil his starting lineup tomorrow, along with the answer to the quarterback riddle that has plagued this team for far too long. Today, I'm going to take my shot at filling the starting spots, but would like to see who you think will start and why too. I'll start with defense.

Defensive line: At ends, Calais Campbell and Eric Moncur and at tackle Teraz McCray and Josh Holmes. Campbell and Moncur are easy choices. From what I learned from speaking to Coach Clint Hurtt last week, expect to see Courtney Harris in a lot on third downs. Hurtt told me he could be the best pure pass rusher. At tackle, McCray is the most experienced and simply has to be on the field. Holmes earned himself a lot of praise the fall and will get the job because he outworked Antonio Dixon. Still, I think Dixon will be the guy that eventually emerges with the majority of playing time as the season progresses. He's the biggest guy UM has in the middle.

Linebacker: I'm sticking with Colin McCarthy, Tavares Gooden and Daryl Sharpton. I was tempted to go with junior Spencer Adkins in place of Gooden, but I think Michael Barrow is going to give Gooden a chance to keep his spot. He's the most experienced player of the group with the most career starts. Adkins is still going to play a lot anyway. Sharpton is going to have the best season in my opinion and should probably lead the team in tackles.

Secondary: Kenny Phillips and Lovon Ponder at safety and Randy Phillips and Carlos Armour at corner. Chavez Grant is locked in at nickle back. The only tough decision was who starts opposite Randy Phillips at corner. But Armour has remained healthy enough this fall to prove his value. But as soon as Phillips or Armour tweaks something, freshmen DeMarcus Van Dyke is the first guy in. I asked coach Wesley McGriff how a guy as thin as Van Dyke (6-1, 170) has managed to earn the respect of his coaches and teammates. His response: "He's fast. But he's also physical." Physical, I asked? "On the surface it might not look like it, but he mixes it up in bump and coverage and he isn't afraid of anyone. He throws his bones at them."

Kicking: Daren Daly will likely get the nod on field goal attempts. Francisco Zampogna, who has the stronger leg, will handle kickoffs.

Punting: Matt Bosher. He's basically owned this spot since the spring. The sad part of the story is that he wasn't supposed to be doing this. He was supposed to be one of the best placekickers in the country when Miami signed him.

Returns -- Kickoffs: Richard Gordon and Ryan Hill. I can't wait to see what happens when Gordon actually gets the ball in his hands in a game. He's been the talk of the fall camp and I think he makes a big splash in the return game.
Punts: Tough one to decide considering how many guys have worked into the spot in the spring, but I think this is where Van Dyke gets to make his splash. Graig Cooper could end up getting the job in the future. But he's muffed a few punts in practice and I don't think until he gets over that will he be given a chance to handle these kicks.

Offensive line: I think the Canes end up going with the best five -- Jason Fox at left tackle, Orlando Franklin at left guard, Derrick Morse at center, Andrew Bain at right guard and Reggie Youngblood at right tackle. Much has been made of the battle at center, but coach Jeff Stoutland is the type of guy who has said he wants his best unit on the field at all times. It's pretty safe to say those are his best five guys. A.J. Trump or John Rochford could be given a chance to start at center and if they are, Morse moves back to right guard and Bain back to left guard.

Tight end/H-Back: Dajleon Farr. The fact Kylan Robinson was moved to defense tells me any blocking done in the backfield is going to be done by UM's tight ends. Farr did the best in the spring and is the more experienced player in this unit. Don't be surprised, though, if by the end of the season Richard Gordon is making more plays.

Receivers: Sam Shields, Lance Leggett and Darnell Jenkins in the slot. Pretty easy decision considering those are clearly the top three. I expect Jenkins to have a breakout season, kind of the way Sinorice Moss did a few years ago.

Running back: Javarris James. He'll get the first carry of the season, but will split a lot of time in the backfield with Graig Cooper, who will likely catch more balls out of the backfield than any one on the team. Derron Thomas is the third option and might stay there. Charlie Jones and his injured foot might never see the field again.

Quarterback: Kyle Wright. As much as I think Kirby Freeman deserves the starting nod for the long-term benefit of the team -- he is the younger guy who could start for two years -- I think Wright will be given a chance to keep his job. He and Freeman supposedly have not been able to separate from one another in competition. Had Freeman clearly dominated him, I'd say Randy would give him the job. But he hasn't.

August 25, 2007

Booker T. winning for South Florida

As the former high school writer in Miami-Dade, I've been well aware for years now how impressive South Florida high school football players and teams are.

But sitting at home and watching Booker T. Washington take on Summerville, S.C. on ESPN this afternoon has brought a smile to my face because now I believe the rest of the country is finally finding out just how talented our local kids are.

Booker T. Washington is currently leading Summerville 22-3 with 6:50 to play in the third quarter. Canes receiver recruit Davon Johnson has looked spectacular, catching four passes for 163 yards and two scores -- in the first half. Summerville, mind you, is ranked eighth in the country according to ESPN's national rankings. Booker T. is ranked ninth.

But what I think today's game has shown is just how under-ranked South Florida athletes and teams have been over the years in team polls and recruiting rankings. This is the first time a Miami-Dade team has played on national TV. The disparity in speed in talent between BTW and Summerville is almost laughable. Booker T. is simply on another level. Cornerback Brandon Harris has completely shut down A.J. Green, considered the nation's No. 2 receiver, in their one-on-one battle.

Canes fans have to be salivating. And South Florida high school football fans have to be celebrating. South Florida area teams, which have produced more NFL talent than anywhere in the country in the last 15 to 20 years, have had very few opportunities to play in games like these. Instead, the players have had to wait until they got to the University of Miami, Florida State and Florida to shine on the big stage and deliver national championships. Then, proceed to the pros and prove it again there.

As a 305 guy, all I got to say is I'm smiling this afternoon. Way to represent BTW.

August 24, 2007

Q&A with Clint Hurtt (Part II)

I filtered through Part I yesterday with my new favorite interview among coaches at The U. Here's is Part 2 with defensive line coach Clint Hurtt. Enjoy

Q: Can you talk about Bryan Pata and how much the guys are still thinking about him?
A: I think that it’s something that because guys are so close. We always promote Clint_hurttunity around here and so to have the idea, the concept, it’s going to be easier for guys to move on is a little far-fetched. I think they understand they have to move on in life. And that’s something I speak to them about too. But that’s been a tough deal for me. I can’t say I’ve moved on from it. So, how can I expect an 18, 19-year old guy to say he’s moved on from it. I don’t grieve. But do I think about him? Yes, everyday. Do those guys think about him everyday? There is no doubt about it. And I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all. I tell those kids all the time if they come speak to me about it.

There is nothing wrong with him being on your mind, the love and respect you have for him as a person. There’s nothing wrong with that. But if play harder because the Patapicthoughts of him, so be it. There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s nothing wrong with that at all. I tell guys all the time, do not let. The one thing Bryan was never going to do was sulk. He was always going to push. I’ll always remember, he was going to push through it as he matured and became a man that’s what I was so proud of. He was always going to push through the tough times. And that’s what I talk to Eric and I talk to those guys about and we end up getting into that conversation about Bryan. You know, continue to push. Put the team before yourself. As much as we preach now, Bryan Pata put the team before himself. He made a move going into his senior year.

And I talked to Vegas Franklin about that. He may have to spend more time at tackle this year, maybe than he does end. But you got to put the team before yourself and there’s lessons to learn from that and there’s nothing wrong with it. I just tell guys, you got to move on and move past it. That’s what I’m trying to do now. There’s times you still get caught up. If I turn on film from last season and I see that 95, it’s an extremely hard thing to do. It’s tough. But you know, it’s just something that as you get older, you don’t ever forget about people, but you got to allow yourself to move on. You got to allow yourself to work on and push on and move yourself through the positive of that person. And that’s what I tell them about Bryan.

Q: Do they still spend a lot of time talking to the family? Do you?
A: Yes. I still talk to Jeannette and Bryan Pata’s mom. My mom has been very sick lately. I spoke to Jeannette about two weeks ago and I spoke to Edwin before they had the function at Gwen Cherry Park for Pata. So, yes, I still keep in touch with them. Everything was over because we had a two-a-day that day so nobody was able to make it. But I don’t want anybody to ever get the idea that we as people here at the University of Miami are separating ourselves from the Pata family. They are still very much a part of us.

Q: As recruiting director, the text messaging, how much of a pain in the [rear] was that for you guys? Do you like it? Is it beneficial? Would you like to see it back?
A: I like having it because here’s the thing people got to understand. First and foremost, we’re not like the NFL. We can’t spend hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to do background checks on kids. And just as much as kids know us, we want to get to know the kid. What do you bring to the tape? I want to know this about the coach. What type of person is he? Is he true to his word? Things of that nature. For us. We that’s what we want to know about the kid. How much is he concerned about the game? Things like that. That’s what we’re big on. The more and more we can have connections with those kids… it’s not real conversation. Because let me tell you something, coaches and kids will eventually get tired of text messaging. After about 2 or 3 exchanges that will be about it. So, there’s nothing wrong with it. I hope the NCAA changes the rule. If they don’t, you’re going to find more kids making decisions they wish they didn’t make and more universities wishing they knew more about the kids than when they actually went and signed them.

Q: But what do you honestly get out of a text message? You can’t deliver a big message in a text message? What for you as a recruiting director, what does [text messaging] tell you?
A: “You can see how interested the kid is. If a kid doesn’t reply to your text messages, you pretty much know. It’s either two things. Either the kid doesn’t like a lot of attention. Just like Allen Bailey last Allen_bailey year. Allen Bailey, if anybody was watching us recruit him, you would have thought he hated the University of Miami. But Allen Bailey is a very reserved to himself kid. He does not like a lot of attention. I fully understand that. When it comes to being a recruiter, you better know the kid first before you just ‘I’m going to go get him, go get him, go get him.’ You got to know the kid you are dealing with. Allen is not a kid that required a lot of attention. He just didn’t like it. So, when he didn’t reply to text messages. I didn’t take it personal. When I got to opportunities to go see him, I realized it wasn’t that. The kid just didn’t like all that [attention]. So you know, I knew he would get to know us, feel everything out. So we gave him some space and treated him like a human being. Sometimes in recruiting, kids act like they’ve won the Heisman and are four-time All-American. Some of these kids, you don’t know what’s going to happen.

Q: What’s been your secret to success then? I mean 17 commitments in August. That's sick.
A: The biggest thing we emphasize here is us being us. We don’t go and make a kid feel like we’re going to change the complexity of the University of Miami just because he’s here. That ain’t going to Jacory_harris happen. We’ve have some of the best football players that have put on a helmet come through this program and we haven’t done that for any of them and we’re not going to do that for anybody. What we are going to do is show you that we’re good people. We’re going to treat your son with respect and we’re going to make them understand discipline and character comes first. He’s going to get a great education. We’re not going to lie to them. We’re going to tell them exactly how things are. Period. Point blank. And if you don’t like it, the University of Miami ain’t the place for you. Point blank. If you feel this is where you want to be, we’d love to have you. But we’ll leave it clean cut like that and I know for a lot of people ‘Well, that’s not enough.’ Or ‘That may sound good, but that don’t work.’ It’s worked for us. There’s a reason we’ve had success with this football program. There’s a reason we’ve had a lot of players we’ve signed move onto the NFL.

Sometimes, the kids that you have to give all attention to or attention everyday or write them everyday or when there’s unlimited calls and you got to call the kid, three or four times a day, those kids usually don’t turn out to be very good. They don’t. Because they’re all about themselves. You can’t be complacent and be all about yourself and be a good football player. It’s all about the team. That’s when great players emerge.

Q: How much have you come across the Bryan Pata issue in recruiting? I know there has been some misconception when ESPN first reported the Pata story that he was shot on campus. Some parents think Miami is a dangerous school. Have you come across that? A: Yes. It happens a lot. Especially since I coach the defensive line. People automatically ask the question when it comes up. A lot of people are misinformed about it as far as the details if it happened on or off campus. The question comes up, Bryan_pata but the thing is, people got kids. And they want to know where my kid is going to be living. I mean, I don’t care if I’m living up north or in Fort Lauderdale. I need to know where my kid staying because no matter what one of your football players was murdered and I want to know where my son is going to be living. Where’s he going to be laying his head? So, obviously that comes up. Obviously, you answer it honestly. Tell them how kids are going to be living on campus for the first two years and only if he has a GPA above 2.5, then they’ll be allowed to move on. But there’s also only certain areas now where you are allowed to stay. You can’t stay anywhere you want. We know where they’re at. And they have to get an OK as far as where they’ll be staying before they sign a lease. We need to know where they are going to be at.

Q: Have you lost any kids in recruiting because of the Pata situation?
A: Sure. For some parents that was an issue. [They flat out said] I don’t feel safe with my son being there. As a coach, you can’t get upset with that. That’s their choice. That’s absolutely their choice and we’re not going to sit back and get upset because listen I don’t have kids. But everybody else on our staff has kids and we’re not fake people. We understand that people have concerns and if that’s their concern, we’ll sit down and explain it to you and let you know what we’re trying to do to change things. If you’re still not convinced that’s enough, and you’re not going to be comfortable. That’s fine. We’re not going to be upset with you because ultimately it has to be what’s best for that child and the parents.

Q: Is it hard knowing how good your offensive line might be when you got a guy like Calais and Eric Moncur?
A: No. I don’t agree with that now. Coach Stoutland has done an unbelievable job with that group and Jeff_stoutlanddon’t believe we’re out here everyday kicking tail. There’s days we may get the better of them. There’s days they may get the better of us. It hasn’t been how its been the last couple of years where we were kind of getting the better of the offense running. It has not been like that at all. It’s been back and forth. But that’s good. That’s how thing we’re in the past when were doing really good. It basically comes like this, whatever group comes out here with intensity and focus and doesn’t feel sorry for themselves because your in the dog days of camp. That’s usually the group that ends up winning. That’s normally how it goes for me and coach Stoutland. We start to get on each others groups. But they are vastly improved, vastly improved.

Q: What is it in that offensive line that is better?
A: Obviously as each year grows, they’re going to be stronger. But they seem more technical. More technically sound and they’re pushing each other. They’re closer than they’ve ever been. Those things are showing right now, through practice. The cohesiveness, the communication. They’re unbelievable. And the thing is, I know they’re going to be one of the best offensive lines we see. I can honestly say that. When we do have some struggles and go through some tough times, we got good players out there. It ain’t like everyday that Calais and Eric are kicking tail. They got some offensive lineman.

Q: So, they’ve been pancaked?
A: I wouldn’t say they’ve been caked. But they’ve been blocked. Just because you don’t get caked doesn’t mean you didn’t get your butt kicked. If you get blocked, you got your [butt kicked].


LATE NOTICE: I know this is kind of late notice, but defensive end Calais Campbell will be available on Hurricanesports.com for a live chat at 1 p.m. today. Check it out here.

HELP ME HELP YOU: I'm trying to come up with new ideas of stuff you guys might want to see in the blog this year. I've obviously got some staples -- Q&A, In Their Own Words, The Hot Stove, Live Q&As with me, Rumors and Reasoning and Reading Between The Lines. Anything else you'd like? Maybe a guest blogger every now and then? Let me know.

August 23, 2007

Men's hoops schedule released

Figured I share the men's hoop schedule for those of you who still go to games. There will also be a trip out to Puerto Rico for the ESPN Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic from Nov. 15-18. The teams featured in the tournament include Arkansas, Charleston, Houston, Providence, Virginia Commonwealth, Temple and Marist

11/6, Barry (Exhib.), 7:30 p.m.
11/10, Florida Southern, 4:30 p.m. (FSN)
11/24, Morgan State, 1 p.m.
11/28, Alabama State, 7:30 p.m.
12/2, St. John’s, 4 p.m. (FSN)
12/8, @Florida International, TBA
12/13, @Mississippi State, 9 p.m. (RSN)
12/17, Stetson, 9 p.m. (FSN)
12/20, North Florida, TBA
12/23, North Carolina A&T, 1 p.m.
12/29, Winthrop (Orange Bowl Classic in Sunrise), 4:30 p.m. (FSN)
1/2, Penn, TBA
1/12, Georgia Tech, 2 p.m. (RFL)
1/15, @Boston College, 9 p.m.
1/19, @NC State, 8 p.m. (RFL)
1/23, North Carolina, 9 p.m. (RFL)
1/27, Clemson, 1 p.m. (RFL)
1/29, @Wake Forest, 7 p.m. (RSN)
2/2, @Duke, 3:30 p.m. (ABC)
2/6, Florida State, 7:30 p.m.
2/9, @Virginia Tech, 2 p.m.
2/17, @Georgia Tech, 1 p.m. (RFL)
2/20, Duke, 9 p.m. (RFL)
2/23, Maryland, 2 p.m. (RFL)
2/27, @Clemson, 7:30 p.m.
3/1, Virginia, 2 p.m. (RFL)
3/5, Boston College, 7 p.m. (ESPNU)
3/8, @Florida State, Noon (RFL)
3/13-16, 2008 ACC Tournament Charlotte, N.C.

Your thoughts?

Q&A with Clint Hurtt (Part I)

One of the best interviews on the coaching staff this year has turned out to be Clint_hurttdefensive line coach and recruiting coordinator Clint Hurtt. Unlike most of the assistants who seem to be very careful with their choice of words, Big C is pretty straight forward and honest. He also speaks with a lot of passion. I spoke to him at length about many topics -- Bryan Pata, his defensive line and recruiting. I figured I'd provide you with what I gathered over the next couple days.

Before I get to that. I want to ask you guys for a favor and go visit our High School Sports Blog. My close friend Andre C. Fernandez is doing a live chat while on his trip up to Summerville, S.C. with the Booker T. Washington Tornadoes, who play at high noon Saturday on ESPN in their season-opener. He's riding up with potential Canes recruit Brandon Harris, current Cane recruits Davon Johnson and Thearon Collier and coach Tim "Ice" Harris. BTW is ranked 27th in the nation. Summerville has the nation's top receiver recruit in Georgia recruit A.J. Green and (who will go head to head with Brandon Harris) and a talented QB in Reid McCollum who is headed to South Carolina. It's a big, big game and a great way to kickoff the football season. Andre's live blog will begin at 3 p.m. But if you guys want to leave him some questions before hand, feel free. Here's the link.

OK. Here's the first installment of my conversation with Big C, who deserves a huge raise for what he's done in recruting this offseason. Enjoy.

Q: What is it about Eric Moncur that’s going to make him good this year?
A: If I had to some him up in one word, it’s dangerous. He’s absolutely dangerous, extremely explosive, fast, athletic, plays the game with a passion. Motor goes non-stop. The only thing I get on him for now Eric_moncur is that he needs to learn how to have amnesia. It’s almost like his mindset sometimes gets like DB’s. With DB’s they get in trouble if they get a deep ball on them. They don’t know how to let it go. You have to have a short memory. I get on him because of that because Eric has to be so perfect in everything that he does, if he makes one mistake, it frustrates him. We just had this talk yesterday. He needs to learn how to let things go. Let it go. So, what you made a mistake. Next play. You can just tell. He’s trying so hard to make a play. He may miss a tackle. Or he may miss an assignment because he’s so honed in on, I got to make a play, I got to make a play. Don’t worry about that. Plays are going to come. Take care of your responsibilities and plays are going to come.

Q: Who does Eric remind you of?
A: Jerome McDougle. His motor is like Calais’. He’s like a McDougle type. Explosiveness, change of direction. Saavy. But Eric’s motor is like Calais’. He is non-stop.

Q: Could a guy like Eric end up having a better season than Calais Campbell numbers-wise because Calais is going to get so much attention?
A: It all depends. Everybody says Calais is going to get a lot of attention. He may get a lot of attention. He may not get a lot of attention. It depends on what people are going to do. We’re not sure if people are going to turn and double-team him or just chip him with a back. It all depends. But I can tell you this, if they do give 81 too much attention, 94 is going to make a lot of people pay” He’s not the only one that can. But if he’s killing you, you’ll rethink what you’re doing.

Q: Can you just talk about Calais and how he is different from last year?
A: I just think he’s becoming the complete football player. He’s a very good rusher, pass rusher. But the one thing that allows him to get so many sacks is his second effort. His motor is so Calais_campbellnon-stop. But I think now, he’s more of a power pass rusher. He knows he has his two moves that he likes. He has his counter rush anytime he wants and he’s really working on polishing those moves. I get on d-lineman all the time. Don’t be a Jack of All Trades and a Master of None. Don’t try to work 5 or 6 pass rushing moves. He two that work good for you and one counter rush and just go to town on them. Who knows what they are. But you got them. And that’s what you work on. And all of them are taking heed to that. And now, your getting more consistency on an every down basis. So, when you rush the passer, you’re having success with it now. And for Calais, that’s what he has done. And he is so much better versus the run now than what he was last year. Last year, he had 20-and-half tackles for loss. He’s going to have more this year. Just because how dominant he is. He’s taken more pride in that. He wants to be more of a complete ballplayer.

Q: How about the rest of the defensive ends. You have a battle going on for that third spot?
A: Well, Eric Moncur has been magnificent this whole camp. Courtney Harris, just got to get him to be Courtney_harrisconsistent. That’s biggest thing with him. He’s still young, but to get him to be a more consistent football player. But he’s a very, very special talent, reminds me a lot of Kenny Holmes (now an eight year veteran in the NFL with Packers). But he just has to be consistent in everything else that he does. He’s our best defensive end when it comes to blocking field goals. That’s why I say he reminds me of Kenny Holmes. That’s Kenny Holmes’ fortay when he was here. Vegas Franklin, he’s our utility guy. He can play on the edges. He can play down in the middle on third down situations. Vegas has had a very good camp. He’s actually stepped up and become a leader for these young guys, actually helping a lot with Adewale Ojomo and Steven Wesley. As far as I’m concerned, we have four first team caliber ends. I feel that way about Courtney and Vegas. And obviously Adewale and Steven are maturing and growing. But they’re still young and they need some time.

Q: As far as your defensive tackles, talk about Teraz McCray, you obviously are going to expect a lot out of him this year.
A: D-Tackles are the key points. I mean defensive tackles and corners are the key points to your Teraz_mccraydefense. And obviously, d-tackle is obviously my responsibility to get those guys going and Teraz is a very big part to what we do. He is our leader in there. He has vastly the most experience. He’s slow to get back into the mix and knock some rust off. But he had a good practice today and I think he’s going to have a great senior year. He’s worked that way this spring and he had a great offseason and before he got nicked out here, he was having a great camp. He’ll be fine. But the other guys are the guys that have to step to the forefront. Antonio Dixon. The last four or five practices has really started to elevate his game. So, I’m really excited about that. I just can’t praise him much because I don’t want him to get comfortable. Josh Holmes, we’re getting him back. He’s extremely intelligent football player. Quick guy. And obviously Dwayne Hendricks, he’s a run stopping guy, a run-plugging guy, a very smart, intelligent guy in the middle. So, we’re coming along and progressing. I’m just happy its starting to go that way.

Q: A guy like Dixon conditioning has always been his thing. But do you think this year he’ll be able to play more snaps?
A: His conditioning has gotten a lot better. But he needs to continue to show us, he’s not Two Play Dix. And that’s what we call him when he gets like that. But, I think now, he’s in shape coming in. But offseason conditioning is different than in season conditioning. Your body has to make an adjustment to it. Now, he’s out here running 110s. And you got a 45 second break. As opposed to football and your going to the wall for whatever amount of seconds and it’s just rapid fire. So, he’s starting to get that down, trying to pick up. But that’s what we got to see now and see if it becomes the right answer for us.

Q: So you call him Two Play Dix?
A: We call him Two Play Dix. Maybe he’ll be a lot better than that. Believe me, I’m not knocking him because right now, we’re going through periods and stuff and he’s kicking [butt].

Q: What can you say about Dwayne Hendricks?
A: He’s doing well. It’s still a battle throughout. I can’t sit here and tell you who the first team guys are. Who is going to play the most and stuff like that and they still have a lot of time before we play Marshall and they’ll determine that on their own. I tell them all the time, I’m going to push the hell out of them all the time. Right now, he’s going to be in the mix.

Q: Dixon is a guy who has had to overcome a lot in his life, being homeless and the speech impediment and all the things he has to battle, how much of a personal relationship do you have with him and do you try to help him along in dealing with other issues?
A: Antonio and I are extremely close. Actually, when it came time and he didn’t qualify coming out of Booker T., I was in contact with Dixon a lot. I went up to Milford Academy and made sure everything Antonio_dixonwas going to be taken care of up there and they we’re going to look after him. Obviously, I went to prep school there and I know the coach up there very well and I know a lot of guys from the school. We have a very close relationship and I’m extremely close and hard on him. I love him like he’s my own little brother or if I had a son one day. He’s an unbelievable kid. A first class person. He has overcome so much and the thing about it is, when people overcome things, been through tough times and tough walks of life, he thinks everybody should have sympathy for him. Well, he doesn’t take that approach at all. That’s not Dix’s concern. He keeps pushing and persevering. And even though we give him a hard time about being out of shape and how much we got to count on him, I know that he’s going to come through for us.

I know that’s he’s been through so much in his life, I just know he’s not going to let this defeat him. This is a tough thing. He’s been a big guy all his life. He’s always been such a good kid, sometimes some coaches may not push him as hard because he’s such a good kid, you can’t get on him. But I’m not going to be like that with him, it’s been a change for him. I’m on him for all the things he does. If he’s not wearing the right shoes. If he’s walking through the hallways with a tang top on and not a t-shirt like he’s supposed to. If he’s limping and feeling sorry for himself. I’m going to blast him for everything does. So the majority of the time, it’s going to be a lot of tough loving. But we got a great relationship and he always responds.

Q: He was telling me before about how last year, he was guilty of going out and eating some late night Chinese food, greasy things. As a former defensive lineman, how tough is it to hold your mouth at 12 o’clock at night?
A: It’s real tough. As d-lineman, our personalities are different. We like to be out in the crowd and what happens when your out late at night, your drinking beer or eating pizza – if you are of age. And you get caught up in that little bit and you don’t understand that when you eat that way and you’re a big guy, its either your going to but in some extra work or your going to have to start cutting back on some things. I mess with Dixon because he got a girlfriend named Carla. And she might kick Emerald’s behind in the kitchen. She can put it down now. So, it’s kind of tough, you got to stay away from her. I tell him all the time, she’s a sweet girl, but she’s setting you up for failure. So… I talk to her on the phone and I got her to understand, I need you to cut back on some of the stuff your cooking for him – especially when your cooking it. I said because if not, big boy is going to be real disappointed when he’s home with you.

August 22, 2007

Their own words: Cooper, Leggett, Morse

One of the parts of this job I enjoy is getting close to athletes and seeing them grow not only as players but as people. I consider myself one of the lucky reporters because I get to see many stories play out from the beginning (when they are just teenagers hoping a reporter will get their name in the paper) to the times when the make their first big plays on the field at The U to the day the get drafted and their dreams come true. I've got to enjoy those experiences with guys like Roscoe Parrish, Frank Gore, Sean Taylor, Andre Johnson and many others over the years.

Although my deepest relationships are forged with local athletes, mainly the Miami-Dade and Broward kids, I try everytime I go out to UM to not just speak to the Right Now guys like many reporters do. I try to talk everyone, meet them as a person first and then ask the athletic questions. After all, these are people. And they deserve to be treated so. I know I've gone off on a bit of tangent, but I wanted to share my philosophy with you in the way I gather my information as a reporter. I may not get all the scoops -- that's really a matter of luck in my eyes -- but I feel like I do get to know an athlete as a person and have the honor of telling their complete story in a fair matter.

With that said, I never want to get to a point in this profession where I stop giving you information straight from their lips. So, I've decided that part of my blog -- aside from the longer Q&As -- will be to give you quick glimpses on what's going on with particular players and let you hear it in their own words. With camp rapping up Tuesday, I realized I had a ton of interviews you would probably have liked to have heard with your own ears. So, I've compiled a quick compilation and plan to share it with you on Eye on The U. As the year progresses, I'll make this a weekly or bi-weekly feature so you can hear it In Their Own Words. My first three interviews came late last week with running back Graig Cooper, Lance Leggett and Derrick Morse following the team's second scrimmage. If you would like to hear the actual interviews, click on the links near each name.

Graig Cooper
Q: Can you talk about J and the backfield duties? I mean are there times when both of you are in there at the same time?
A: Me and J. We make plays and we have a few when we’re in there at the same time. Graig_cooperBut we’re not selfish. We don’t mind when it comes time to let the other one in. We just compliment each other.
Q: But are there plays where he’s doing more of the inside running and your doing more of the outside running? Or is it a general mix?
A: No. It’s a general mix. J’s not slow now. He’s not slow now. J can run inside and outside. There is no basic running for him.
Q: As far as your involvement in the passing game, have you been catching a lot of balls in camp? Are you going to be catching balls out of the backfield or has it just been running the ball?
A: I mean, everybody is catching the ball out of the backfield. I just got a couple plays I line up at slot and probably catch the ball, but it’s no, I’m not the only one catching the ball.

Lance Leggett

Q: I know you’ve had some frustrating moments in your career. Do you feel different coming into your senior season?

A: Yeah. I feel real good. Actually, I feel happy about this season. Usually, I come in like ‘Golly!’ But now, I’m very happy about this season, excitedLeggett_catch .

Q: What have coaches told you they expect from you?
A: They just tell me to go out and play my game. They don’t put no pressure on me because they know how I am. I get pressure on me, I get down on myself. I feel I have to make every catch. That’s with any receiver. But I get down on myself, but I’m usually making plays. And if I don’t make that play, I feel like I let everybody down.

Q: Do you feel like that’s been your biggest hurdle? The biggest task for you to overcome?

A: Oh yeah. That’s what it basically was. But Coach Shannon helped me out.

Q: What did he do?
A: He just talked to me. That’s one thing about Coach Shannon. He talks to you like a father. Anytime you want to talk to Coach Shannon, just go into his office. He’s just like when he was the defensive coordinator. He helped me out when he was the defensive coordinator, before he was the head coach. I used to talk to Coach Shannon. He used to help me out. He was like a father figure to me.

Q: Has there been a point now, where the light bulb has gone on for you?

A: Of course. It just a lot of stuff. There’s not really one time that stuck out. But everything he tells me, it stays in.

Q: I know he tries to do a lot with movies, motivation? Did he do anything special with you?
A: No. He just said Lance, no pressure. Just go out and play your game.

Derrick Morse

Q: I know there’s a battle going on at right tackle with Reggie Youngblood and Chris Rutledge? What do you think?
A: Well, no. They’re just rotating with Fox. All three tackles, they’re great players. They’re keeping fresh -- especially against the ends in this conference -- if you can have a rotation like that, keep guys fresh and have tread on their tires at the end of the season, that’s what can take us all the way.

Derrick_morseQ: I know you’ve been getting rotated a lot from center to guard. How is that rotation going for you?
A: Actually, it’s funny, I’m getting a lot more experience at center in case I have to play there this season. And like I said, but I’m playing both right now just guard and center. So, learning both positions only helps me with the offense and learning and all the positions. It benefits me and everybody else who is switching around. Bain’s going left guard to right guard and so, he’s learning those position. And I’m learning right guard and center positions. We got a 3 or 4 rotations at tackle and some depth.

Q: I’ve got to ask you about Orlando Franklin because he’s kind of the new guy that has blown some guys away as a freshman. What do you think about him?

A: He’s came in this camp and done an awesome job for us and he’s a true freshman. He’s really picked up the offense well and plays hard. That’s what the coaches are looking for and that’s what we’re looking for as a team to get better and like I said, it’s not just the tackles that have the rotation. It’s the guards too. We got three guards now. Joel Figueroa too. We need guys to switch in and out and not have a drop out all year.

Q: I was going to ask you about Tyler Horn and Harland Gunn?
A: Tyler Horn has come in and done an excellent job at center. Harland Gunn, he’s good, but he needs to learn a little bit. But it’s a new offense. As long as he learns the offense, he’s going to be a great player.

Q: Defensively, on the other side, who are the guys making the big plays?
A: Our ends are second to none. Eric Moncur and Calais Campbell are beasts and our d-tackles stepped up and really played good. We really needed them too. We have some injuries and stuff where those guys are getting the most of the reps.

August 21, 2007

Time To Start Saying Good-bye

It's done. Over with. Finished. The Canes are leaving the Orange Bowl after this season.

I know some of you are in a world of pain right now. Others are rejoicing. The move to Dolphins Stadium was inevitable in my eyes. But like some of you, I'll be sad to see the Canes play anywhere else but the OB. There's just always been so much magic there, history.

As a reporter, it's been a pain in the rear to cover games there because the stadium is so antiquated. But I've never really minded. As a fan, I'm going to cherish so many great moments and memories.

For me, the best moment came in 2000 when I was there in person for the great finish against Florida State. When Ken Dorsey's touchdown pass to Jeremy Shockey sealed the comeback and the day the Canes climbed back up from the dead and said they were going to be a college football champion again.

The most painful moment? Seeing Miami's 58-game winning streak snapped in a loss to Washington when I was 15 years old and allowed to enjoy games as a fan. I was flat out stunned and can remember the dead silence of the place as everybody was filing out of there.

I've only been around the OB since the mid 80s. I wasn't there for the '83 national championship game. But I was watching with my Dad at home when I was just five years old.

Anyway, I'm rambling. I just wanted to give you guys a forum for your thoughts on the decision, your greatest OB memories, etc. Also, just wanted to remind you I will be doing a Live Q&A on Canespace.com tonight. Leave your questions -- try to stay away from the OB only because I'm not reporting on it -- and I'll try to answer as many as I can tonight from 8 to 9 p.m.

August 20, 2007

Reading Between The Lines: QBs, RBs

One thing that has changed under coach Randy Shannon's reign is the approach by he and his coaches to avoid talking about individuals and to focus on the team. When the previous administration was in place, you could ask Larry Coker or one of his now departed assistants about which player was going to start and which player was doing the best at a particular position and he would answer that question honestly.

Shannon's approach is different. He wants everybody to look good, he wants to keep all injury information in house and Shannonmake sure everybody continues to work hard by saying the right things in the media. For his team, it's a great approach. Everybody is happy through camp and everybody keeps believing they have a shot at playing. For us, who are trying to cover this team and make sense of what's really happening out at camp, it makes our job tougher. Before, Coker and his staff were much more up front and would tell us what was happening. We'd report the news and what was said during the week usually played out on Saturdays. In a sense, those days are now over. Now, we have to make the best educated guess at what's happening out there from what little we gather from coaches and what we get from the players and provide you with the best insight we can.

In a way, that's part of the reason I've stayed away from simply passing along the rehearsed answers Shannon, offensive coordinator Patrick Nix and others have been feeding us this fall. I mean, aside from "guys flying around and playing hard" and "everyone is competing and has a chance to play" what have they really told us anyway? In the next couple days, as the team begins school and practices are held off until later in the week, I'll attempt to read between the lines of what we've been hearing out at camp this fall, tell you what I think you guys can expect from all three units and try to answer the questions I've constantly come across during camp. Today, I'll start with the offense and the most important position first.

The big questions: Who is going to start? And are Kyle Wright or Kirby Freeman any better?
What's been said: Shannon, Nix and every player on the team has been careful to answer this question when posed even in round-about-ways as, 'So, who has been playing the best? or 'Who really is throwing the best ball?' The general response really has been "both are doing great" and "both could start."
My take: What you're hearing competition-wise is truly what's happening out there. Wright_2Neither, Kyle Wright or Kirby Freeman has set themselves apart this fall. One day, we hear Kyle has thrown a few TD passes. The next day, its Kirby who we hear is tearing it up. Both quarterbacks I believe have improved -- just not significantly. In the end, though, I believe the fact neither quarterback has truly outplayed the other has turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the coaching staff -- especially in the aftermath of the loss of freshman quarterback Robert Marve. The day Marve was lost for the season, the variables involved in the Kyle-Kirby quarterback battle changed. With Marve healthy, Shannon and Nix would have insurance if the loser for the starting job got sour on the bench. They might have actually been able to give Freeman the job without worry. But now, in a much tighter race, I think they have to give the starting nod to Kyle, even though in the end, assuming Wright's recent knee trouble is not serious, both will end up playing (with Freeman spelling for a few series). As I've said in a few Q&As before, I don't believe Wright could handle being beaten out for the starting job, especially after he's held it for a few years and is now a senior. Shannon knows Kirby can handle it and will continue to push. If Kyle struggles in the early going, he can at least say he gave him a shot and thus replace him for the better of the team.

Running backs
The big questions: Can Javarris James and Graig Cooper coexist in the same backfield?
What's been said: Coach Shannon made me chuckle when he accidentally called James and Cooper 'butt buddies' on media day. He was simply trying to say how close Cooper and James have become. And they Jamestdhave. Talk to both, and all they do is compliment each other.
My take: Expect Cooper and James to become 'Ball Buddies,' because both are going to be carrying the load for the Canes this season. Cooper, though, will likely be the guy who catches more balls out of the  backfield. In open space, he's been described by the teammates to be the most dangerous player on the team. With what I've seen of Graig_cooperhim in practice, I can't disagree. I get the sense the running game as a whole will be the strength of Miami's offense. Assuming both can stay healthy, Nix in my mind will do all he can to keep the ball in his RBs hands the majority of the time and out of potential passing situations where Kyle or Kirby can turn it over. But if Cooper or James gets hurt, Miami's offense will likely have to shift gears a little bit. There is a big drop off from the No. 2 running back spot to the third. Junior Derron Thomas can make some plays, but the way you hear players talk about Cooper and James I really wonder how many touches he'll get. If senior Charlie Jones, who we have seen walking around with a boot on his foot is hurt bad, then freshmen Lee Chambers and Shawnbrey McNeal might get a few carries. But most likely only in blowouts and  late game situations.

Live chat reminder: This week, I'll be back on Canespace from 8 to 9 p.m. Tuesday night for a live chat. Please leave your questions for me after this blog, so I'll have a few in hand to answer. 

August 15, 2007

Practice notes, plus a Q&A with big Dixon

For starters, all of this is what I gathered from players and coaches. The media is not allowed to watch the scrimmage and all we really got to see in the first 25 minutes of practice were three field goals -- all made -- by Matt Bosher, Francisco Zampogna and Daren Daly.

- Aside from that, reports are the defense had a pretty good day. Derrick Morse and Eric Moncur both told me a number sacks of we're made by my the defense.

- The offense was limited to one touchdown and kicked two field goals according to several players. The touchdown came on what I was told was an amazing catch by Sam Shields against Randy Phillips.

- All in all, though, the passing game struggled according to several onlookers and the running game was the focus. Graig Cooper, though, had a few nice plays in open space including a long return on a punt.

- Freshman Shawnbrey McNeal, who had previously failed a physical, reported and practiced for the first time. His teammates said he had a few impressive plays on runs too.

- Jared Campbell, the younger brother of Calais Campbell, had an interception and is currently practicing with the second team at safety.

I'll come back Thursday with more on what I learned from the scrimmage, including some good interviews with Morse, Cooper, Darnell Jenkins, Lance Leggett, and Moncur. Some of the audio will be up later today.

Antonio_dixonBut for now, enjoy this Antonio Dixon Q&A. Just some background... Dixon is a kid from Miami Booker T. Washington High who I wrote about in The Herald his senior year. He's a junior currently competing for starting time at defensive tackle. He was alongside starting with Teraz McCray today. Dixon has a severe speech impediment and stutters. He bangs his chest or his leg to try and stop himself. He's still a sweet kid, who has overcome a lot including being homeless at times with his mother. I caught up with him Tuesday morning to update you guys on his story. Enjoy.

Q: How is the family doing?

A: Everybody is doing good. Everybody is doing better. My mom has moved to Dublin, Georgia. She got a nice apartment, a good job. She’s doing good. My younger brother is going to Dublin High, he’s 17. My little brother and little sister are still in elementary school. My older brother, he just got married. The situation is a little better. I miss them a lot, but I’m the type of person, I don’t get too worried because they’re going to be alright. I keep my mind on football.

Q: How do you think living on the streets, being homeless at times in your life in high school make you a stronger person, tougher for the college game?

A: I wasn’t like a bad, bad kid. I was bad when I was little. But I never really like sold no drugs or shot anybody, but I seen my friends who did it. Mostly, I just stayed in the house and played games all day. My coach asked me to play football and I did alright. At first, I didn’t know where it was going to take me because I never played any organized football before. I just grinded every year and kept working hard and it got me here. I’m grateful for that.

Q: I know you’ve always had trouble speaking, what is it that you have and how do you deal with it?

A: I have a speech impediment. I guess it passed on from generation to generation because my daddy stuttered. But he never stuttered as bad as me. He just stuttered when he got mad. His daddy used to stutter a lot. I’ve been stuttering all my life, but I’m getting better with it. I’m getting better. When I was little, I used to get picked on so much, I used to let it get to me. The freshmen, they never heard me talk before, I stutter and they start laughing. But I don’t let it get to me. I just slow down, talk and think about it a little more when I’m a little nervous.

Q: Who are your roommates and what are they like?

A: My freshman year it was Bruce Johnson and then my sophomore year I was single. But now, we got an apartment in The Villages with Courtney [Harris] and Spencer [Adkins]. We just moved it in there. It’s quiet right now. We didn’t clean, we really didn’t do nothing. We just go home and go to sleep. Life is pretty good right now.

Q: So, if we went to that apartment right now...

A: Y’all wouldn’t find nothing [laughter], it wouldn’t be dirty or nothing.

Q: How has camp been going for you? I know the knock on you has always been your weight, conditioning. How much weight have you dropped and do you feel a difference?

A: Bowl game I weighed in at 355 and I know I had to drop weight. So, I’ve been trying to drop. Now, I’m 325. I’m trying to get down to 315. I got to keep on pushing. I feel better. I feel way better than my freshman year. My sophomore year, I just got to keep on pushing.

Q: What’s the most you have weighed since you’ve been here and what was it – we’re you eating late at night, pigging out?

A: I was eating at nighttime and it always got me in trouble. Our running backs and wide receivers were doing it, so I thought I could too. I was eating everything, Chinese food, pizza. But for the last five, six months, I’ve cut that out. I’ve cut out breads out. The only time I really eat it is when I go to practice. I eat chicken. Coach Swasey said that if we do go to McDonald’s, we order like a burger or something, to eat the meat [only] and get a small milkshake. I try to control my eating more.

Q: So, you’re eating better. How is it resulting in your play? Are you playing better? I mean are you practicing first or second team?

A: I don’t even know because we rotate so much. We’ll probably won’t even know until game day with the d-line. But for the d-line, it don’t really matter who starts or who don’t start because you could start one game and not start the next. The whole d-line is just trying to push all of us to get better and that’s working now. It’s slowly working, but it’s working.

Q: I know the whole idea when you came here was to get yourself ready for the NFL or a career so you could take care of your family. Do you think your going to get to the NFL? Are those dreams really possible?

A: I feel like if I don’t get lazy and keep pushing and do what coach tells me to do when they need me I think I’ll get there. I just got to keep pushing. [Coach Hurtt] he wants me to be the man. He wants me to step up and my teammates tell met that too. I try to push, I mean mainly point out that I’m inconsistent. Mainly I’m trying to get better. One day I do bad, one day I do good. Two days I do good, two days I be bad. I’m just trying to change that.

Q: Is that the biggest hurdle for you? Is it consistency?

A: I think so. In high school, we didn’t have no film watching. We didn’t do all that. It is pressure on me and our whole d-line because the d-line is the heart of the defense. If they break through our d-line, that’s when touchdowns happen.

Q: I’ve got to ask you about the offensive line. Orlando Franklin is a guy who you battle against, a guy who has impressed coaches early. What impresses you about him?
A: Orlando is big. He’s strong, big. He’s got good feet and his fast. He’s impressed me a lot. He’s doing good.

Q: What about other guys? What’s it like to go against Derrick Morse? You hear about what a tough guy he is.

A: D-Mo is going to go 100 percent even when your tired. He tries to push me too. He tells me, I’m going to push you everyday. The whole line is doing way better. I think we’re going to be much better. They are bigger, stronger, faster and block good.

Q: Do you think Coach Shannon’s mentality he’s had with the defense really made its way to the offense and made them better?
A: Yeah because like at first, I was like I don’t want to be over here [with the offense]. My heart is with the d-line. But now, we all talk. I mean, it’s a good thing.

Q: Let’s talk about school. What do you hope to accomplish with school? What’s your major? What are your tough classes?
A: I’m a Liberal Arts major, but I’m going to change to Criminal Justice. I go to class every day and I try so, it isn’t hard as long as you apply yourself. I’ve been doing extra study hall since I’ve been here.

Q: You have a learning disability? How much did you know how to read before you got here?
A: Yeah. Dyslexia, a reading problem and some spelling problems too. I knew how to read like a small word, but when I might see a big word, I’d have to sound them through. But Ms. Christine is working with me.

Q: Is that the same tutor Frank Gore had?

A: Yeah. I mean a lot of us are working with her, a whole bunch of players. But she helps us and I think its good.

Q: So you want to be a police officer one day?
A: I’m not sure yet. But we’ll see.

Q: Got to ask you about Bryan Pata. I know you guys were close. Both of you came from the same streets in Miami, played the same position, and grew up together the way you did.

A: We were very close. I remember high school, I’ve seen him playing and I was like ‘That boy good.’ And when I came here on my first visit, he was my host. It was hard to see him [die].

Q: How much do you still think about that, seeing what he went through, seeing him die? Does that change your behavior? Do you go out and party as much anymore?

A: I did [party]. You know as freshman and sophomore, you want to party all the time. But when it happened, I just chilled. I was like we’re not invisible. A lot of us think we can’t get shot, we can’t get stabbed, we can’t get killed. But coach Shannon, he changed that now. We get caught we’re in trouble. When I do go out, I don’t drink that much or not really drink at all. I try to have a fun time, but I try not to start no fights with anybody.

Q: Give me a good Bryan story? What was your favorite experience with him?
A: My favorite experience was after the North Carolina game. His last week before he died, the weekend before the Virginia Tech game. Me, him and Catfish [Dwayne Hendricks] went to his mama’s house and his mama cooked, his sister cooked, everybody cooked. The food was good. Creole and shrimp pasta. And then, three days later, he was gone.

Q: You guys spent a lot of time of time together?

A: He was [number] 95. I was [number] 96. We were right there together. Everytime after games, we’d go out to Hooters, we’d go out to Denny’s or go out to eat. I was very close to him. He was a good person off the field. Now, I heard stories about his freshman and sophomore years, he was pretty bad. But his senior year, he didn’t go to no clubs. He was pretty chill. He didn’t get in trouble with nobody that I knew of. He was chilling, I got to get my family out of the ghetto. He was serious about his family.

Q: How much do you guys still think about him? Do you still do anything to honor him?
A: His birthday was just the other day [August 12th]. We held a moment of silence. Our whole line, Josh, Chaz, the young people think about him everyday. We all looked up to him. It’s hard to see him pass away like that his senior year.

August 14, 2007

Live Q&A tonight from 8 to 9 p.m.

What's up Eye on The U Crew? I took four days to recharge my batteries this weekend, attend a wedding and host some visiting family members from out-of-town. Now, I'll be back for the rest of this season.

Tonight, there will be a live Q&A session on this blog, one similar to the one Canespace hosted with me last week. Please, leave me some Canes football-related questions so I can already have a few to answer by the time the chat gets going tonight.

August 09, 2007

Bad news: Cook, Ponder hurt

The first bad news of the fall has come out -- linebacker Glenn Cook and safety Lovon Ponder (who were both expected to be starters) -- are injured.

As UM scrimmaged for the first time this fall, both were out with injuries. Coach Randy Shannon told reporters Cook is expected to miss between three to four games. Ponder, who was seen on crutches around school Wednesday, could return to the team before the start of the season.

Cook's loss means Miami will be without its most experienced linebacker to start the season. Cook was tied for the lead for most starts with Tavares Gooden with 14. But without question, he was expected to replace Jon Beason as the brainchild and leader of the linebacking corps from the weakside. Now, Gooden or Spencer Adkins will likely replace him in the starting lineup alongside sophomore Darryl Sharpton and Colin McCarthy.

Willie Cooper who made the big interception to save UM from an ugly loss to Duke last season is now expected to carry the load at safety alongside Kenny Phillips until Ponder returns. Freshmen Jojo Nicholas could also see some time there.

August 08, 2007

The other guy at safety

Covering Miami-Dade high school football for the past decade has allowed me to develop some special relationships with guys who have ended up at The U. One of those is safety Lovon Ponder, who is without question one of the greatest two-sport athletes to come out of Dade in the last decade. Ponder, in fact, is one of the rare Dade athletes to win a state football and basketball title in the same season. He did that in 2003 at Monsignor Pace.

Lovon_ponderWhile most of the attention in Miami's secondary will go to former Carol City star Kenny Phillips (a guy I've always believed would end up being a first round pick since I first saw him as a sophomore in high school) Ponder could be the guy who shines brightest this season. With Anthony Reddick out for the season and Brandon Meriweather off to the NFL, Ponder's role and responsibility in Miami's secondary has been elevated. While freshmen Jojo Nicholas (Homestead High) and Doug Wiggins (North Miami Beach) are likely to own Miami's safety future, Miami's last line of defense the next two seasons will likely be Ponder's responsibility.

I caught up with him at media day and had a long one-on-one conversation. Here it is:

Q: First of all, how are you and how do you feel about the opportunity now of really being counted on to be the man with Kenny Phillips at safety? 
A: "It's a great opportunity for me and Kenny to lead this secondary group that I believe is one of the best in the country. It'll be a fun ride if this group right here can stay together and stick with each other."

Q: What's it like to play with Kenny back there? You guys obviously grew up just a few miles away from each other in Opa Locka? When did you first meet and how well do you guys know each other, to the point you don't even need to communicate on the field?
A: "Actually, through a marriage, my wife and Kenny are cousins. We're related. I met him when he was in the 10th grade at Carol City and I was in the 11th grade at Pace. We kind of connected then. And when he came here we kind of connected even more. My wife Lakanya and him went to Carol City together. It's a small world. They treated each other like sister and brother out there."

Randy_phillipsQ: Talk to me about the rest of those guys in the secondary, start with Randy Phillips first. I know recently he lost his brother. What's it been like talking to him and have you guys been trying to lift his spirits?
A: "It's devastating to lose a brother, especially one your close to. When I found out it happened, I called him and asked him how he was doing and just let him know I'm there for him. He's going to be stepping up big time as a starter and he started last year and played pretty good last year. I believe he's going to play good this year. He was kind of down, but I believe when he went home and saw his son that uplifted him. I have a son and anytime I do something bad or something bad happens, I just look at him and know life goes on."

Q: Talk about Glenn Sharpe. What have his spirits been like? I know he's had a rough career here with injuries and what happened in that 2002 national title game.
A: "Glenn is probably the most high-spirited guys on the team. I always look at him as motivation because he could have quit anytime he wanted to because he could have said 'This is over, I tore both knees, I don't need to play.' But he's stuck through it and through the grace of God he's still here."

Q: There are a lot of other young guys from Dade who are going to be a part of the future of this secondary, Chavez Grant (Booker T. Washington), DeMarcus Van Dyke (Pace), Jojo Nicholas and Doug Wiggins. How are they doing? And are of them ahead of the game, more mature then expected?
A: "It's equal opportunity really. They're going to get a chance to show what they can do in two-a-days to have a chance to play against Marshall. Jojo Nicholas is really going to come along as the third or fourth safety behind me Kenny and [Wille] Cooper. Tervaris [Johnson] and Chavez have been playing real good. Then, you got DeMarcus who has been doing really well covering guys. Bascially, all of those new guys who came in have gotten interceptions on 7-on-7s and really done things."

Q: Anybody in those 7-on-7s really show you something or standout?
A: "I'll say two guys, probably DeMarcus and Jojo. They played pretty good on 7-on-7s, picking up plays and just learning the system."

Q: What it's like with coach Walton being the coordinator and not having coach Shannon out there, calling the plays?
A: "It's no different. It's the same defense. They basically run the same philosophy. It's just a different coaching style."

Q: Last year, you threw that touchdown pass in the win against North Carolina. People say that might have been one of the top moments of all of last season. Any chance we get to see your arm again this year?
A: "Hopefully, he'll do it again. And if he don't, maybe I can be a decoy, run the fake and they go deep to Lance, Sam or Nuke."

Q: Talk a little about the receivers and what you saw out of them this summer, and the quarterbacks too, are they really better than last year?
A: "Oh, they're 100 percent better. I guess their chemistry. They have been in the film room together, outside, running routes and doing different things that has really made them a unit."

Q: Do you think coach has really made a huge impact with the offense by having the offense sort of work the same way the defense has for years?
A: "It's a credit to Coach Shannon and to Coach Nix. Coach Nix is basically Coach Shannon on the offensive side. He's fiery, gets hoarse a lot in practice. I know he pumps the offense up."

Q: The receivers, I know Darnell missed the spring and is coming off that injury. He cut his dreads Is there a different attitude with him and Leggett?
A: "Different attitude. Both of them. They have workman's mentality. They're much better. Nuke is doing real good and Lance is doing real good. They're different people."

Q: You mentioned Jojo and DVD on defense, which freshman have shown you the most on offense in the receiving game?
A: "Well, Jermaine was doing real well in the springtime before he hurt himself. Richard Gordon looked pretty good at tight end because he's quick and fast. Leonard can really catch the ball. He's got that knack for the ball. He goes and gets it. There were several times in 7-on-7s he went and got the ball over a couple of people."

August 07, 2007

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.

August 04, 2007

Day 1: Hankerson not cleared

Just got back from the first day of practice at The U and had a few quick tidbits I wanted to pass along.

The biggest news coming out of camp today is that freshman receiver Leonard Hankerson has still not been cleared by the NCAA Clearinghouse to play. The St. Thomas Aquinas standout was in shorts and a t-shirt Saturday morning and watched his teammates sweat, puke and gag for air in the hot early morning sun at Greentree Practice Field.

Coach Randy Shannon said Hankerson, who attended summer school, could be cleared to play soon. Aside from Jermaine McKenzie, Hankerson has really been the only other new receiver to get rave reviews during 7-on-7 drills this summer. McKenzie, who was involved in that scary car accident and will be wearing a brace until mid-October, was out at practice with quarterback Robert Marve. They were playing catch. Beat writer Susan Miller Degnan said she spotted Marve doing one-handed push-ups.

Other quick notes: Kirby Freeman and Kyle Wright looked OK throwing the football Saturday during 7-on-7 drills. Their receivers had a few drops -- Lance Leggett had several. Speaking of Leggett, he was wearing a huge brace on his right knee. He told Susan its because his knee is still pretty torn up, but that he will not have surgery... For those of you interested in early signs regarding the quarterback situation, Freeman took the first snap and handed the ball off to freshman Graig Cooper... In puke news, left tackle Jason Fox and backup right tackle Chris Rutledge were among the few players barfing during Saturday's workouts. Shannon said it was a good sign on a three to four lineman were unable to keep up with their teammates during the team's final springs... As for Shannon, he spent most of his time working with the special teams Saturday and even threw balls to prospective punt returners. I saw Bruce Johnson, freshman Demarcus Van Dyke, Ryan Hill, Cooper, Doug Wiggins, Kayne Farquharson, Sam Shields, Shawnbrey McNeal, Darnell Jenkins and Chavez Grant all handling punts. Shannon said he wants to spend most of his time working with the special teams because that's what he enjoys.

All in all, it was a good turn out for the first open practice of the weekend. President Donna Shalala was out there and so were about 300 fans, who lined the sidelines and watched practice.

I'll be back later to fill you in on what else happened. But here's an early update from Canes camp.

August 03, 2007

Saying all the right things (well, almost)

Media day has come and gone at The U and in just a few hours Camp Shannon will officially begin. But before we get started and I get to sharing some of the highlights from Friday, I wanted to provide my own thoughts on what I felt like after leaving the Hecht Athletic Center.


Since taking over as coach, Randy Shannon has made it his mission to chip away at all the 'distractions' surrounding his program. Internally, he's installed new rules for his players in the lockeroom and new rules off the field. Externally, he's kept the quarterbacks off limits to the media (he knew we'd drive them crazy) and developed a new company line -- TEAM FIRST -- for all his players.

In essence, he's built an impenetrable wall around his team much like the one UM has built in recruiting from the Palm Beach line south this summer. But that's another story.

Friday, as Miami picked up talented Miami Northwestern linebacker Sean Spence as its 17th early commitment, the current Canes met with the media for the first time since the spring. And needless to say, all of them sounded like they had been in Shannon school for several months.

Quarterback Kyle Wright, who once reminded us last fall when he was injured how he would return and become the starter once again, had nothing but love and admiration for his buddy Kirby Freeman. Starting? Not as important as if the team wins. Ditto with Freeman.

Kirbyfreemanmug"Kyle and I are doing great. Our relationship is fantastic and it really is. It's not just something I'm telling you guys. It always has been, through our ups and downs on the field and off, we've always had a great relationship. We've always maintained it. I'm just trying to do whatever it takes to win games. That is our No. 1 thing. It doesn't matter who is behind center, we're trying to win games."

"It's all about team. Ever since coach Shannon and his staff have came in, It's all about The U. And It really is this time. It's not about me. It's not about a quarterback controversy. It's about team. And for the first time I actually really feel good about that. We're trying to go win football games. And that's the only thing were out to do. We're not out to talk to you guys about anything other than winning good football games. Coach Shannon has definitely implemented good leadership. And it shouldn't just rub off on us."

KylewrightListen to all of the interviews from Friday (to hear some of the interviews from Friday just follow this link to our audio page) and you hear the word team uttered at least a dozen times by every single player. There wasn't a hint or ounce of selfishness uttered by anyone. Not a dose of me, me, me before team, team, team. That should make Shannon happy. Canes fans too. It means his players have been listening and taking his message to heart. But don't believe for a second all of UM's problems are resolved and that TEAM FIRST concept won't find itself being challenged at some point. It would be naive to believe that.

Yes, you can expect improvement. Shannon said Friday all starting positions are open. He's taken a page out of the Jimmy Johnson school he once attended knowing that when practice starts at 7:50 a.m. every morning for the next 17 days his Miami's players are going to be performing at their best. But at somepoint, inevitably, someone will feel sour. Not because they aren't part of the winning, but because they aren't the reason its happening. Then, and only then, will we find out just how much this Canes team has changed.


OK, now that I'm done opining, I wanted to share with you some of my other thoughts from Friday including perhaps the funniest slip-up Coach Shannon has had yet on the mic. For those of you listening to the audio, tune into his press conference between the 18 and 19 minute mark when he's talking about Graig Cooper and Javarris James.

When asked about Cooper in the spring, Shannon said: "I think Coop did a great job. He brought some some excitement to the team. And he's a calm guy. He's not an arrogant or flamboyant guy." It was going well, then coach goofed. "Belive it or not, he and Javarris James are kind of like butt buddies."

Butt Buddies? I never got around to asking Cooper or James what exactly that meant. But it probably would have brought a chuckle. I know I laughed and knew coach meant no harm (For those of you (18 or older) wanting to find out what it means, check out Urban Dictionary.com).

There were plenty of other highlights from Friday, including the news of Spence, which I got when I ran into him in UM's parking lot. And Shannon's reaction to former USC linebacker Josh Tatum and how he will not be on the team this season.

But if I shared it all on this site, this blog would end up being longer than my last term paper in college. I'd prefer for you guys to get your own impressions from our audio interviews, Susan Miller Degnan's story in the paper tomorrow and share your thoughts and questions over the next couple of days. After all, the season is just beginning.

August 02, 2007

Recruits a result of Shannon's work & deeper bond

For the last two weeks, I've spent the better part of my time picking the brains of the Canes' local football recruits about what I consider the biggest story this offseason at The U: the magical transformation of the Canes' image in the eyes of recruits and the giant success its produced in early commitments.

This week, I delved deeper as I spent time working on our high school football section (I'm going to be an integral part of The Herald's improved local coverage). From Monday through this afternoon, I spent more than 40 hours filming video interviews during The Herald's High School Football Media Days with players from every team in Dade and Broward. It was a lot of fun. And before I delve into the point of this blog, I want to share some of my personal highlights with some of the top guys in Dade and Broward including several Canes recruits:

Marcusforston--> Playing catch with Northwestern defensive tackle Marcus Forston and later seeing him outleap receiver Aldarius Johnson for a jump ball on a pass 20 yards down field. Yes, true story. Forston not only leaped as high as Aldarius, he tipped it to himself for a catch. Then did the same against 6-5 teammate and fellow receiver Tommy Streeter. "I'm not just big boned," Forston told me. "I got a 30-inch vertical. I'm more than a big boy."

Brandonwashington--> Watching Northwestern quarterback Jacory Harris connect with left tackle Brandon Washington on a 40-yard seam route down the field for a touchdown. Then, seeing Washington fire the ball right back at him on a perfect strike. Harris by the way told Streeter jokingly that if he didn't commit to Miami he wasn't going to pass him any more balls this season.

--> Finding out from Forston that the day coach Roland Smith and his staff were fired, he and Harris held a team meeting, told players to come back in two days. Then, when the team returned on Monday for workouts, how Forston and Harris led a full Bulls practice with no coaches.

--> Getting a thank you from linebacker Sean Spence Wednesday morning for not ruining his moment and announcing his commitment on a blog last week. "I'm going to do it Friday by the way. I'll call you as soon as I leave coach's office."

--> Talking to Columbus offensive tackle Mike Goodman, who has over 30 offers, and finding out just how serious is about education and how he really values picking a good character school. Goodman, whose father once played on Nebraska's offensive line in the 1970s, said he wants to pick a place that really goes after character commitments and doesn't just say it will. I think its Wake Forest, BC or maybe any Ivy League school for him.

There is a lot more. An hour interview with Chaminade LB Jordan Futch (he was great and really is very smart); a conversation with Homestead LB Marcus Robinson (who sounded anything but like a Hurricane commitment); a chat with Pace offensive lineman Greg Shaw (who said how much he admires his brother Willie Williams); and a talk with a Coral Springs LB who looked like a clone of Dan Morgan.

I'll get back to all that in the coming days, but for now I want to get back to the point of this blog, which is how Miami has managed to rally in the recruiting world. As many of you know, a few recent commits in the past week have cited Randy Shannon and his assistants as the primary reason as to why the Canes are the team to beat again even on the heels of a Gators national championship.

They've all pointed to the same reasons: the new disiciplines instilled by Shannon (his no gun rule, the team's GPA rule to live off campus and the swiping of names off jerseys), the honesty of Miami's coaches during recruiting, and the strong focus on South Florida. Futch echoed those sentiments and really broke down the message that has won recruits over better than I think anyone else has. (CHECK OUT HIS FULL AUDIO INTERVIEW).

"I think discipline, it's been a big thing. Coach Shannon, he's always been a big recruiter. And now he has a great team behind him. He understands that the best talent is the local talent. For years, he's been going after local talent. And when Coker got there, they weren't able to do that. They were going all over the state and places lJordanfutch_2ike Utah for talent when we were right here at home. So, now, coach Shannon has said he's going to get the talent down here. And even with all that negativity, everybody talking about The U fell, The U fell, coach Shannon understood he had some problems and he could fix it. So, that's what he's been doing. He's been disciplining the guys at The U right now. He's just really cracking down. He's taking the guns back. He's taking the names off the jerseys. So, his regime should be a nice one because he's not playing any games. He's in there to win. He's in there to teach the kids and be their father figure away from home. He's changing everything around, back to the way things have used to be."

But as much credit as Randy deserves, and he deserves plenty, I believe there's more to Miami's success than just Shannon and company talking a good game. Never in all the years I've been covering high school sports or followed the Canes have I seen so many kids commit to Miami this early in the game. Not ever after a national championship season. The 16 commitments are 14 more than there were last year at time. Almost as eye-opening, a dandy dozen are from the South Florida area, a place where signing day drama and suspense is as important to recruits as winning a state title.

Somehow, some way, Randy and his guys have managed to easily weed through the ego boost the recruiting process can be for these kids and convince guys like Forston (a kid with over 40 scholarship offers) to pick the Canes before even taking an official visit somewhere else. And while things can always change and likely will (I'm sure one or two guys will end up switching at the last second and many more will still take their trips) the battle in my opinion has already been won. This next recruiting class at Miami is going to be insanely special. And it can't all be because of the message Randy and his coaches have been delivering.

At the FSWA Media Days, Shannon pointed out how he believed his relationship with many of the recruits' parents -- from his old playing days in high school -- has played a big role in Miami being very successful this early in the recruiting game. And to a point, I agree. But I also believe the bigger bond that paid off was the connection between these recruits. How else can you explain this perfect recruiting storm for this Canes coming out of nowhere? So early?

Many of these recruits have known each other for years, played against each other in Pop Warner and admired each others talents. Futch told me Monday how he and Harris' father used to work together and how they grew up playing together. Harris' dad played against Shannon in high school. FuturecanesNorthwestern receiver Aldarius Johnson played with Futch at Miami Lakes Optimist. Brandon Harris, who is not a commitment (yet), told me he always wondered in Pop Warner what it would be like to play with the boys at The West (who he played against in Pop Warner). Same with Patrick Johnson, who did his thing up in Broward. It's like little by little, all of these guys who grew up dominating local Pop Warner leagues and rooting for Miami as boys during the Canes' last few great seasons (in 2000, 2001 and 2002) had this future coming and have embraced it.

Harris and Futch told me how they've spent a lot of time together at UM, even since before commiting. They've gone down to watch 7-on-7 practices, hung out in the dorm rooms of current players and stayed up all night playing video games with each other in Demarcus Van Dyke's dorm room. Patrick Johnson told me how he and Kenny Phillips talk on the phone all the time. There's plenty more stories I've come across in the past few weeks about these bonds. All of them prove to me the bond between Canes and future Canes may be deeper and stronger than its ever been. And it couldn't have come at a better time for the program.