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.