Few topics have lit up Canes message boards more of late than the uncertainty surrounding freshman cornerback Doug Wiggins, whom coach Randy Shannon told reporters Wednesday has not been with the team for over a week because he had to deal with "personal issues."
Rumors have swirled that the former North Miami Beach High standout and the country's No. 4 cornerback according to Rivals.com has been dissatisfied with playing time and is looking to transfer, and that he got into a fight with a teammate and was kicked off the team. In search of the truth, I spoke to several sources Wednesday, including Wiggins' former high school coach, and it appears there is some truth to the rumors -- just not all of the rumors are true.
Wiggins has not been kicked off the team, Shannon said that much Wednesday. Wiggins has missed practice because of a torn hamstring. Those unresolved "personal issues" stem in part from a run-in with a teammate, but not all of it. NMB coach Jeff Bertani, who is close to all of his former players, told me while Wiggins does wish he could have played more this season, that is not the issue bothering him. He says Wiggins does not want to leave UM and says he is hopeful Wiggins and UM coaches will sit down and talk things out.
I know Wiggins is a good kid from having followed him in high school. Whatever trouble he had with a teammate or a coach at The U is likely the result of his desire to contribute. Doug is a winner and wants to win all the time. He came to UM with high hopes and still has them.
He won The Miami Herald's Outstanding Senior Award in Miami-Dade following a season in which passed for 1,324 yards and 10 touchdowns and also played safety for a Chargers' team which reached the state semifinals. He arrived at UM early for spring practice and worked his way up at one point to second on the depth chart at nickelback. But somewhere along the process, a source told me Wiggins began to have a drop-off in effort (ala, Sam Shields and other players who have let down a bit in practice). I spoke to several teammates this week including Damien Berry who said they are hopeful Wiggins returns to the team. "He's one of our brothers," Berry told me. "He's one of us."
-- Of the 19 players who signed with UM in 2007, only two so far look like they could end be lost in the mix -- tight end Daniel Adderley, who hasn't been mentioned at all in practices and was seen on the sidelines not practicing Wednesday, and defensive tackle Chris Perry, a highly-touted lineman whose knee injury could be much worse than first anticipated.
Everyone knows about the headliners in the freshman class who are playing now: cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke (who has started four games this season), running backs Graig Cooper and Shawnbrey McNeal, former JUCO receiver Kayne Farquharson (whose had his moments) and guard Orlando Franklin, whom has split time with Andrew Bain at left guard. But there are others who are doing extremely well in practice and on special teams and who should find themselves in more prominent roles next season. The obvious is quarterback Robert Marve, who is likely the favorite to win the starting job considering coaches will likely be more inclined to go with a quarterback they can build toward the future with.
But others include...
- DB Damien Berry, whom defensive line coach Clint Hurtt told me reminds him of a young Antrel Rolle and who has excelled regularly on special teams.
--OL Harland Gunn, whom Hurtt told me the scout team defense fears to go up against during one-on-one drills.
- LB Allen Bailey, who could potentially climb to the top of the depth chart at middle linebacker if he's not convinced to move to the defensive line.
- DE Adewale Ojomo, who has gained 35 pounds -- up from 212 to 247 -- since arriving at UM and who has been a terror on the scout team.
- WR Jermaine McKenzie, who has impressed coaches with his ability to go and get the football and make catches even after his return from his neck injury.
- And S Jojo Nicholas, who has shown flashes of brilliance and even made a diving interception at the start of the season.
Several of you have asked about the Hurricanes run of talent in the first round and if it will continue after this season. The obvious answer is it will if either defensive end Calais Campbell or Kenny Phillips leave school after their junior seasons. But even if they return -- that's likely a longshot -- linebacker Tavares Gooden's improved play this season and his ability to score well in the combine, according to Hurtt, is likely to get Gooden to sneak up into the late first round. More than 20 NFL scouts were at UM last week checking out potential draft picks. Receiver Darnell Jenkins is another player likely to get taken on the first day with offensive linemen Derrick Morse, Andrew Bain and defensive tackle Teraz McCray all capable of being second day draft choices.
One the biggest surprises this season has been the fantastic play of Miami's offensive line. But with Morse, Bain and Jon Rochford -- the three starters in the interior -- leaving after this season, I asked left tackle Jason Fox and Morse this week to let me in on the possible replacements. While Orlando Franklin is a lock to get the spot at left guard, one surprising name both players emphasized was redshirt freshman Joel Figueroa, who wasn't very highly touted coming out of North Miami High. "Fig, he has the physical part down, he's fast, he's big and strong and can block with the best of them. He's still young and has the mental issues to work out, but he'll be there." The oft-injured A.J. Trump will get a chance at center, but don't be surprised if Gunn or Tyler Horne works their way past him.
- Next week's finale at the Orange Bowl is expected to get crazy for fans in attendance. But before hand, there are going to be plenty of events including a party at the Mayfair Hotel thrown by former Canes linebacker Jonathan Vilma the Friday before the big game. With the help of AllCanes.com, the party will get started in the hotel ballroom at 8 p.m. and will end at midnight. Tickets are $10 in advance and $15 at the door. Former Canes expected to attend include Craig Erickson, Lamar Thomas, Yatil Green, James Jackson, Carl Walker, Jason Geathers, Andre Johnson and Russell Maryland.