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 make 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. Neither, 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.
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 have. 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 him 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.