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22 posts from February 2008

February 29, 2008

Timing Day, SPR: Day 3

They didn't have the type of careers they hoped for at UM. But a collection of 14 recently departed Canes continued to strive for more as pro hopefuls Friday afternoon by participating in NFL Timing Day at The U. Kyle Wright, Kenny Phillips, Calais Campbell, Derrick Morse, Tavares Gooden and Darnell Jenkins met with the media after their workouts for a collection of about 50 NFL scouts Friday.

With two stories due soon, I don't have time to give you an in depth rundown. But here are some quick notes from NFL Timing Day and Friday's afternoon practice.

* Quarterback Kyle Wright said he's optimistic he'll be drafted and said he spoke Kyle_wright_actionwith two head coaches -- the Vikings Brad Childress and the Chargers' Norv Turner -- during his time in Indianapolis earlier this week for the NFL Combine. "The feedback I’ve been getting is very good in that aspect," Wright said of being drafted. "They said they were impressed with how I was throwing the football. Everybody I talked to knew the situation down here. I didn’t have to go and reiterate that. Whatever happened, happened. I’m just ready to go to the next level and have a new opportunity."

* Defensive end Calais Campbell, who was disappointed with his 40-yard dash time (5.06) in Indianapolis earlier this week, wasn't happy with what he ran on Friday and said it "felt like I was Calais_campbell slow or not as fast as I usually am." Campbell said the one area he improved skills Friday was his vertical leap -- he picked up five inches from what he did in Indianapolis. "I think the position drills really helped me out a little bit," Campbell said of his workout Friday and potential draft stock. "I got to show my athletic abilities. I think I just got to continue working hard. That’s what I’m going to do always. I’m all about hard work and getting better, getting better on the field. When the private workouts come, I’ll try my best." Campbell said he spent the past month in California trying to add muscle and strength to his upper body. He said his plan now is to train in Miami with UM strength coach Andrew Swasey in the months leading up to the draft.

* Despite tweaking his hamstring, linebacker Tavares Gooden said he turned in a faster 40 time Tavares_gooden Friday (4.48-4.52) than he did at the combine (4.6) earlier this week and said his vertical jumped from 34.5 inches to 39 inches on Friday. Gooden said what he thinks NFL teams like about him is his ability to play all three linebacker spots. "I think its going to come down to me going to my different scouting days and going out there and showing them how well I can move," said Gooden on where he could end up being drafted. "I know had a couple injuries, but I think I tested well with those injuries. People can see I can play while I have a couple nicks and bruises."

* Receiver Darnell Jenkins, who was named Team MVP this past season, said he improved his 40-Darnell_jenkins time (4.45) and his speed during agility drills Friday. He said what slowed him in Indianapolis was the fact he was asked to run first and he "was unable to stretch." He said he spoke to 25 teams at the combine this past week and has been told by experts to drop from 187 pounds to 180. "At lot of scouts say regardless if I ran the 4.4, 4.5, 4.6, when they watch my film it’s much faster than that," Jenkins said. "A lot of scouts say that I’m real tough and I’m capable of running past anybody and that’s what they like about me."

* Safety Kenny Phillips said he did not participate in tests Friday because he and agent Drew Kenny_phillips Rosenhaus were pleased with his 40-yard dash time of 4.48 in Indianapolis. Phillips, however, did particpate in position drills Friday. Expected to the first UM player taken and listed by many experts as the No. 1 safety prospect in the draft, Phillips said he was asked by some NFL scouts earlier this week why he had a drop in production this season. His response: "Some of them [brought up my lack of production]. I just told them it didn’t happen. I told them I matured more as a player. I took on a lot more responsibility as far as communicating and helping the coaches out and they still said I made a lot of plays. I just got to look at it through my point of view and it worked out for me."

* Friday was the first day this spring UM players lined up in full pads and according to kicker Matt Bosher Miami's offense had a good day. Bosher said receiver Leonard Hankerson hauled in touchdown pass from Robert Marve, running back Javarris Jenkins scored on a run and receiver Kayne Farquharson hauled in another TD pass.

* Coach Randy Shannon (CHECK OUT HIS AUDIO) spent several minutes after practice yelling at his team. Players said Shannon wasn't happy with the way the special teams concluded practice.

* Several offensive lineman including Jason Fox said they've been impressed with the way right guard Joel Figueroa has shown improvement. Right now, Figueroa is the favorite to replace Derrick Morse in the starting lineup this season.

February 28, 2008

Weekday leftovers

Who said leftovers weren't good? Well, it's going to be a busy weekend at the University of Miami. The men's hoops team hosts Virginia Saturday in the first of two virtual must-win home games. Spring football practice moves forward with a Friday morning special of NFL Timing Day for the guys headed to the pros. And the undefeated Canes baseball team will host the hated Gators.

Before we turn our attention to all that, I wanted to feed you the last bit of leftover notes and thoughts I had from the week. I also wanted to remind you to check out Tuesday's and Wednesday's practice reports as well as the collection of audio interviews I recorded for your listening pleasure. But first, some quick hits...

* Miami's loss at Clemson Wednesday night could be blamed on the 21-point hole Frank_haiththe Hurricanes dug for themselves early on against the Tigers. And, it could also be blamed on the nearly 10 hours it took for the Hurricanes to get from South Florida to South Carolina the night before the game. According to my buddy Brian London from WQAM, the Canes left campus at 9 a.m. Tuesday. But because of delays at the airport and having luggage lost in Atlanta, UM's buses didn't pull up to the team hotel until 6:30 p.m. Maybe that should have been one of the few flights the Canes' penny-pinching athletic department should have considered chartering?

* Football coach Randy Shannon officially announced last week his desire to put the names of players on the back of jerseys again. Then, we learned this week that players that did not see the field last year would have to earn their "U'' decals on their helmets. I know some of you have gotten bent out of shape about Randy's tactics. But I kind of like what he's done here. The funny thing would be if one of the new guys didn't do enough from now until the start of the season to earn one. Would Randy send them out on the field without a U?

* There's no doubt the four new Northwestern kids are not only talented, but they're loaded with personality too. In two practices, I've already collected better quotes from Marcus Forston, Jacory Harris and Aldarius Johnson than I did from any other trio on the team a year ago. They're refreshing. And trust me, they got that old-school Cane attitude. Harris laughed at Nix when he asked this week if he was nervous. Johnson said what we were all thinking when he said Cannon Smith "was a bit short." Forston made his own funny when he exaggeratted how close he and his fellow Bulls were, saying "we all take showers together and go to the bathroom together." I'm all for being serious at the right time. But college football is supposed to have a little fun in it too, right?

MR. QUOTE MACHINE: When I first met Kayne Farquharson last season and drove down to his home in Homestead and met his mother, I knew the Canes were getting a throwback, trash-talking wide receiver. Farquharson, though, made it a point last season to keep his mouth shut for the most part and let the veterans do the talking. So far this spring, though, Kayne has done a pretty good job raising his voice and the level of his play.

Kayne_farquharsonThrough the first two practices, he and sophomore Leonard Hankerson are considered the first team receivers, ahead of freshman Aldarius Johnson and junior Sam Shields. Farquharson said "It’s been a glorious few days." But that wasn't the only thing the Mouth of the Canes was talking 'bout. I asked him to give us the Kayne Farquharson assesment of UM's trio of young quarterbacks, his thoughts on new receivers coach Aubrey Hill and more.

"We’re going to start with Cannon Smith, the money man -- shout out to Fed Ex," Farquharson said Wednesday. "Cannon has been doing a good job of throwing the ball very accurate. Jacory Harris. I helped recruit him myself. I see a lot of things with Jacory. He’s a smart guy. He goes through his progressions. For a high school kid, you don’t see that a lot. And then we got Robert Marve, last but not least, the son of an NFL linebacker. Great genetics. Strong arm. All three of the quarterbacks are very accurate. It’s been a good two days for all three of them."

So, what about Hill? "So far, so good," Farquharson said. "He leads with an iron fist. He lets us know if we do good he’ll give us a compliment. But I also know he's got a doghouse. Nobody has been in the dog house yer. I hope everybody stays out of the dog house."

Redshirt freshman Daniel Adderly has been seen making plays during practice. Farquharson's take: "6-6 got some hands. I call him 6-6. I call him Plaxico sometimes," K-Far. "He’s a raw guy. Once he gets his game downpack, I think he’ll be a very good receiver."

Farquharson once told me he was interested in asking Cane great Michael Irvin for his No. 47 jersey. Wednesday, he told me he gave up on the idea and decided to stick with the number they gave him -- 82. Why? "Because there’s 82 ways to the end zone."

WORKING HIS WAY BACK: Few players have had to endure the hardships junior Anthony Anthony_reddick Reddick has had to endure during his time at UM. After making six starts as a freshman in 2004, he tore his right ACL 22 plays into his sophomore season. The following year, he was limited by injury before being suspended for the fracas with FIU. Last April, he tore his left ACL in a pickup basketball game and never got on the field. Surprisingly, the 6-foot, 208-pound senior seemed pretty chipper this week, sporting a smile when reporters talked to him Wednesday."You appreciate it a lot," Reddick said of getting a chance to return and play this season. "While I’ve been out I’ve been thinking about a lot of things."

Reddick said he's turned to two former Canes who have suffered his same pain -- cornerback Glenn Sharpe and running back Frank Gore. He said he's spoken to them frequently for support. "They said once you work hard everything will work out, [the knees] will be perfect. The first one [his right ACL] is feeling 110 percent. The other knee, yeah, I'm still not there. But It just takes some hard work. Frank is a prime example, he had both knees. It’s something you got to fight through."

He admits his timing is still not back. He said the same explosion he once felt in his left knee has not returned yet. But he's optimistic it will. "It's just about reacting a little faster, just doing it and not thinking about it," Reddick said. "It will come."

SPECIAL TEAMS TALK: I got a chance to speak with special teams coach Joe Pannunzio and kickers Joe_pannunzio Matt Bosher and newcomer Jake Wieclaw this week and came away with the idea that not only will the return game remain unanswered until the fall, but also who ends up handling the kicking duties. Pannunzio basically blew me off when I asked him if he had some sort of idea of who he might want to use in the return game. "It’s way to early for that," Pannunzio said. "The one thing that’s good is that probably for the first time since I’ve been here there is a true list of about 15 guys we can choose from. We’ll work through the spring and have a guy that will surface." When asked who those 15 guys were, Pannunzio said "It's the same list of guys you have in your head."

If I'm right, then the best return guys probably won't surface until they arrive at UM in the fall. Chavez Grant, Damien Berry, Ryan Hill, Shawnbrey Hill and Lee Chambers have all been seen this week working on punt and kickoff returns along with freshmen Aldarius Johnson and Jermaine McKenzie. But the truth is the vets all had chances to compete in the return game last year and didn't do enough to impress. Most experts have told me they expect true freshmen receivers Thearon Collier, Kendall Thompkins and Travis Benjamin to make a strong push for the duties in the fall. One thing is for sure, Pannunzio is tired of the: Can UM find another Devin Hester talk? "Everybody wants to compare Devin Hester," Pannunzio said. "I don’t know if there’s another one of those guys here or coming here. Devin is Devin. That’s unfair to compare them to that."

Matt_bosherAs for the kickers, most expect Matt Bosher to retain the punting duties considering Wieclaw's specialty is kicking. But Bosher told us this week he believes he could end up handling all three duties -- punts, kickoffs and field goals. So far, Bosher said the team hasn't done any live field goal kicks during practice and that the kickers "are working from 40-45 yards in." Pannunzio said Bosher has the stronger leg of the three competitors, including former Miami Gulliver Prep standout and walkon Alex Uribe. "Right now we’re just working on keeping it close because you don’t want to be missing anything within 40, 45 yards," Bosher said. "We’re keeping it close and making sure we’re consistent and accurate."

CAN'T WAIT FOR BRANDON: Defensive backs coach Wesley McGriff said Wednesday he's spent most of his time early on in the spring preparing guys for "emergency situations" in case of injuries. He's Brandon_harris_u had two safeties -- Anthony Reddick and Randy Phillips -- working at corner while expected starters DeMarcus Van Dyke and Bruce Johnson have been out with the track team this week. Truth is, McGriff can't wait for another corner to join the team soon -- highly-touted recruit Brandon Harris of Miami Booker T. Washington. McGriff said he was impressed with the way Harris was used in high school -- rotating from corner to safety and even playing receiver and quarterback. But when he gets to UM, McGriff said he believed Harris will be "a solid corner."

"He’s got a tremendous football background," McGriff said of Harris Wednesday. "We can’t wait until he gets in here and learns the scheme. He’ll have an opportunity to play early basically because of our depth chart. Unfortunately because it’s collegiate sports, we could have some injuries. But we’re excited about him, his athleticism, his speed, his maturity. We’re excited to have him and have him be on campus."

OJOMO 'LOVING IT': Redshirt freshman Adewale Ojomo earned himself the Defensive MVP on the scout team last season and although he isn't on the first team depth chart this spring, he says he's enthusiastic and hungry. "I’m loving it. I’m enjoying it. I’m going to savor every moment of it," Ojomo said Wendesday. "I’m with the second team rotation. I’m behind Eric Moncur. We’re the right side soldiers."

Adewale_ojomoOjomo, who stands 6-3 said he's gained three to four pounds since the end of last season to hit the 250-pound mark, said he doesn't care if he's starting because he said he knows he will be in UM's four-man rotation. "It's exciting to be out here because you’re competing for a job. You have to learn plays. It’s not just showing you were a card tells you to go anymore," Ojomo siad. "You got to learn plays and go hard every play."

Ojomo said defensive line coach Clint Hurtt, who was shorthanded most of last season by injuries, is "serious about our health." "He makes sure we all get tape on our hands," Ojomo said. "He doesn’t want no jammed fingers or no injuries. He's serious about that."

February 27, 2008

Spring practice report: Day 2

So what did we learn after Day 2 of spring football? Today, assistant coaches spoke for the first time since the start of the spring. I got to speak with defensive backs coach Wesley McGriff, offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, special teams coach Joe Pannunzio, receiver Kayne Farquharson, defensive ends Adewale Ojomo and Eric Moncur, center Xavier Shannon, safety Anthony Reddick and kicker Matt Bosher (audio will be posted later tonight and I'll provide links). Here's a quick rundown of notes I collected...

McGRIFF TALKS SECONDARY: With his two best corners -- Bruce Johnson and DeMarcus Van Dyke -- Wesley_mcgriff participating in track season, defensive backs coach Wesley McGriff said he's been experimenting with putting a few of his safeties at corner early this spring the way he did with Kenny Phillips last season. McGriff said he has Anthony Reddick and Randy Phillips (a former corner) "working on the edges" in case of emergency situations. As for a depth chart, senior Lovon Ponder and Phillips are with the first team at safety with Reddick and sophomore Jojo Nicholas on the second team and sophomores Jared Campbell and Damien Berry as the next in line.

McGriff said there is no question Chavez Grant -- once locked into the nickel position -- will see more time on the outside next season. "He’s what I call the ultimate utility player," McGriff said. "He’ll play nick and corner. You’ll see his playing time increase at corner."

As for the young guys -- Berry, Nicholas and Campbell, McGriff said: "All of them have gotten better. Joe Nicholas got a lot more confidence in making the calls. He’s not that timid freshman anymore. He’s comfortable with the position. Damien Berry is still doing wonderful for us on special teams. He’s a guy that can play corner and safety. I’m going to play him at two positions. He just flies around. Jared Campbell -- he’s done a tremendous job in meetings taking those things and regurgitating them. The main thing is to get them in pads and see how they respond when the bullets fly. They’ve all gotten better in their own ways. But let’s see how they comes along with those pads on."

STOUTLAND BREAKS DOWN THE LINE: UM offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland Jeff_stoutlandsaid he's been pleased with the way his lineman have either gained weight or lost it in preparation for the spring. "Jason Fox, he’s gained some good weight, not sloppy weight. Guys are going to have a hard time running him over now," Stoutland said. "Chris Barney has take a lot of weight off. It’s gone both ways. Some guys have put some good weight on. Some guys have taken some sloppy weight off. I think all in all, they look better physically. Now, its just a matter of putting it all together on the field and learning the system."

Stoutland, who used a rotation of Fox, Reggie Youngblood and Chris Rutledge at tackle last season, said senior Tyrone Byrd has now entered the mix. "Inside is where we have the most change and where we have to be very creative in the springtime," Stoutland said. "I’ve moved A.J. Trump out to left guard. We need to get solid depth there now. Orlando is obviously not involved right now, but he will be. Chris Barney is doing a much better job than he was before. Then we have at the right side, we have Joel Figueroa and Harland Gunn. Harland Gunn is doing a very nice job. He’s very impressive."

"We got to find a center and that’s between Matt Pipho, Xavier Shannon and Tyler Horne," Stoutland said. "They’re all about the same in speed of the snap. It comes down who can move laterally and move fast off the ball and move down the line. So, you got to make a lot of calls up front and make calls."

When asked if Shannon, who made 27 consecutive starts while at FIU might have an advantage, Stoutland said: "He’s got a lot of starts under his belt. To me its important to be in live in games. There is no substitution for being a starter in live games."

CALAIS TALKS DRAFT: Before the start of practice, I bumped into former Canes defensive end 022708_calais_2Calais Campbell, who was working out with a bunch of other former Canes and preparing for Friday morning's NFL Pro Timing Day at The U. Campbell said he was disappointed with his 40-yard dash time at the NFL combine in Indianapolis Monday, but still pleased with the athleticism he showed. He said also felt he did a great job during the interview process. He admitted to both me and Herald Sports Writer Susan Miller Degnan his decision to leave The U early was not easy. He said he wavered throughout the process, but ultimately decided he wanted to leave because he had already graduated and it was best for him to leave.

PHOTOS: I took some more pictures today before practice got started. I'll add the captions later... (#16) Quarterback Cannon Smith plays catch during practice early... (#4) Aldarius Johnson stretches with (#5) Javarris James... running backs coach Tommie Robinson shows (#43) John Calhoun what he wants him to do on blocks... (#4) Johnson hauls in a pass while catches balls from the juggs machine... (#9) Quarterback Robert Marve warms up before practice... (#9) Marve throws the heavy ball with offensive coordinator Patrick Nix before practice begins... UM's secondary warms up before practice (from left, Anthony Reddick, Jojo Nicholas, Carlos Armour, Jared Campbell and Randy Phillips)... (#5) Javarris James gives new fullback Patrick Hill (#30) some words of encouragement... new receivers coach Aubrey Hill talks with Jermaine McKenzie (#15) and Aldarius Johnson (#4) during the juggs catching drill... (#84) Tight end Richard Gordon plays catch with Dedrick Epps.
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February 26, 2008

Spring practice report: Day 1

The first practice off the spring is over. What did we learn? Which freshmen are already practicing with the first team? How did Miami's young quarterbacks Jacory Harris, Robert Marve and Cannon Smith look? Here's a quick collection of notes I gathered...

* BAILEY TALKS SWITCH, HEALTH: Allen "Big Boss" Allen_baileyBailey said he was given a couple of weeks to decide whether or not he wanted to make the move to defensive end. Ultimately, he said he wanted to do what was best for the team "with seven linebackers here and seven linebackers coming in and a weakness at end." Bailey said he still has to learn "pass rush reads and learn a couple moves." Bailey said he missed about a month of workouts after having surgery to remove a bone spur from his left bicep muscle. He said he was practicing with the second team Tuesday behind Steven Wesley and Eric Moncur. He said Antonio Dixon and Josh Holmes were on the first team at tackle.

* EXPECTING A TIGHT ARMS RACE: UM coach Randy Shannon didn't come out and say the fight for the starting job is only going to be a battle between Robert Marve and Jacory Harris. But he basically hinted at it. Other players did, too. Senior linebacker Glenn Cook said "They both have their advantages. They both are talented. They both want to win. It's going to be a battle, it's not going to be easy for either one of them."

* LINEBACKER DEVELOPMENT: Cook also said freshman linebacker Arthur Brown, the most highly-touted recruit in the 2008 class, is "real raw." "I don't think he got a lot of coaching in high school," Cook said. "So, he's still learning technique. I think he'll be alright. He's a real talented kid." As for freshman Sean Spence, Cook said "He's a great athlete whose picked it up a little bit faster. He's a real smart kid. He'll have a chance to play early. I think he's a little more ahead [of Brown]."

* NEEDS WORK ON THE FUNDAMENTALS: Brown, meanwhile, said he realized there was a lot he Arthur_brown thought he was doing right and now he learned he was doing wrong playing the position at Wichita East High. He said he thought he had his fundamentals down tackling, but has now learned he'll have to make some adjustments. Brown said he's gained nine pounds and now weighs 228. He said he's playing at strongside linebacker on the second team beind Sean Spence, who is on the first team with Cook at middle and Daryl Sharpton on the weakside. Brown said Kylan Robinson is backing Sharpton up at weakside and Spencer Adkins is the backup in the middle.

* SURPRISED FIRST TEAMER: Spence, who played weakside in high school, said he's gained nine pounds and is now up 202. He said he's spent a lot of time with linebackers coach Michael Barrow to pick up the defense and believes that's part of the reason he's moved up on the depth chart. "I was very surprised. I was looking forward to second and third team, learning what I have to do. But they threw me out with the first team. I’m excited about it."

* CONFIDENT JACORY: Quarterback Jacory Harris, whose weight was thought to be an issue coming out of high school, said he's gained 10 pounds since he first arrived at UM last month and is now Jacory_harris_2 listed at 6-4, 178 pounds. He sounded confident when answering questions with the media today -- just like in high school -- and said he plans to compete hard for the starting job. "Pressure busts pipes," Harris said of dealing with the pressure of being a true freshman quarterback. "If you [struggle with] pressure, you shouldn’t be out here. I just come out here and have fun. I’m never nervous. Coach Nix asked me that before practice. He said 'I bet you're nervous.' I said, 'No, I’m not coach.'

Marcus_forston* HARD FIRST DAY OF WORK: Freshman defensive tackle Marcus Forston said the biggest adjustment for him on day one has been learning to practice at a fast pace. "I've never worked like this in my life. In high school, we would practice 3-4 hours. We were out here for 1 hour, 45 minutes. The tempo -- you never stop running. Every station you go to you run to. You tie your shoe? You got to run or you are behind." Forston said he's behind Josh Holmes on the second team on the right side at tackle. He said he's playing next to Joe Joseph.

AUDIO LINKS: Click on the names of the following players to hear their interviews... Quarterback Jacory Harris; Running back Shawnbrey McNeal; Receiver Aldarius Johnson; linebacker Glenn Cook; defensive tackle Marcus Forston; cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke; kicker Jake Wieclaw; linebacker Sean Spence; linebacker Arthur Brown; defensive end Allen Bailey.

WHAT WE GOT TO SEE: We got to watch the first 10 minutes of practice as the guys worked out about 200 022608_qbsyards away from us -- way over on the other side of the field. Quarterbacks Jacory Harris, Robert Marve and Cannon Smith worked with their receivers for several minutes of long toss. I shot some photos below (just click on them to see larger versions).

PHOTO CAPTIONS -- Above: Robert Marve (left #9) and Jacory Harris (right #12) take snaps on Tuesday as offensive coordinator Patrick Nix watches. Below in order: Redshirt freshman Daniel Adderley (#19) runs after the catch; Freshman Aldarius Johnson (#4) hauls in a pass from Jacory Harris; Adderley (#19) goes skyward to haul in a Jacory Harris pass; Nix and Marve (#9) talk during practice; Running back Javarris James (#5) runs after making a catch; Defensive tackle Dwayne Hendricks (#93) jogs off the field to begin participating in individual workouts; freshman fullback John Calhoun (#43) makes a catch on a pass from Jacory Harris; redshirt freshman Jermaine McKenzie (#15) stretches out to haul in a long pass from Jacory Harris; Shawnbrey McNeal (#33) does a set of pushups in fron of Randy Shannon.  022608_adderley 022608_ajohnson 022608_adderley_catch
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A Feel Good Spring

I couldn't help but feel pretty good after leaving the BankUnited Center Saturday afternoon. Not only because Frank Haith's basketball team capped its best week ever in the ACC with an impressive victory over Maryland, but because for the first time in a while there is a sincerely good feeling around The U again as a whole.

* The baseball team opened the season with a three-game sweep of Cincinnati. With the mix of talent and experience this team has, it looks and feels like this could be a special year (at the very least a return to the College World Series type of season).
* Haith's bunch just beat Duke, is red hot and appears to be on its way to its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2002.
* And the football team, which just signed one of the nation's top freshman classes a few weeks ago, is set to begin spring practice today without any talk about rebuilding or fired coaches or Kyle or Kirby. This spring there is nothing but good old fashioned optimism.

Being born and raised in this city and having spent many Saturdays at the Orange Bowl and Friday nights at the Light as a kid, it's hard for a South Florida guy like me to at least not admit I'm a little happier these days (I'm human after all) that the Canes are doing better. So, I started thinking... When was the last time as a Canes fan have you felt this good? Better yet, when was the last time you were looking forward to what would happen next at Miami while not having to cover one eye while doing it?

I know I haven't given you a real topic to chew on in a while. But I figured as you sit at your computer today waiting for updates on what's happening out at spring practice, you can take a moment to reflect, pound your chest a little and give me your thoughts on the question posed above.

As for spring ball, I never completed my spring forecasts because I was unable to speak to any other position coaches in the two weeks leading up to today's first practice (media availability was about the only thing that hasn't been going well at UM lately). So, instead, I've decided to make them spring reports. I'll be at practice in the coming weeks. There, I plan to do some more in depth reporting as the practices roll on. For now, though, these are the more intriguing story lines I'm sure all of us will be following.

* Bill Young's new defense. What is it going to look like and what are players going to be saying about it? Young told us Friday in a five minute press conference not to expect much change because he stole most of his idea from Randy Shannon and other UM coaches over the years. But come on... you know this team is going show some different looks. The Hurricanes rarely blitzed under Shannon's leadership when he was the defensive coordinator. Young's defense at Kansas was all about taking chances, creating pressure and turnovers. UM used to have one of the most exciting, play making defenses in the country. Last year, they just looked sorry. I can't wait to see how different UM will look come on March 6th and the first spring game at Traz Powell Stadium.

* The quarterback battle. After three years of Kyle, Kirby and some of the worst quarterback play the program has ever had I'm extremely interested to see what two of the state's best high school quarterbacks -- Robert Marve and Jacory Harris -- are going to do being thrown into the fire. Coach Randy Shannon told us Friday he wasn't going to name a starter by the end of the spring and he wouldn't rule out using a two-quarterback system come the fall. What he didn't say is what we should already expect. We're not going to hear him or offensive coordinator Patrick Nix say anything to give us an idea which quarterback is performing better during practice. Nix and Shannon didn't do it last year. They certainly aren't going to do it with these two young guys. The two dates to catch Miami's young QBs and do some critiquing of your own are March 6th (at Traz Powell Stadium) and March 29th (the spring game at Lockhart Stadium).

* The Search For The Playmaker. Shannon has said repeatedly Miami's biggest problem offensively in the past few seasons has been finding that player that could "make somebody miss." With the addition of seven talented receivers in this signing class -- including the early arrival of Aldarius Johnson -- and the return to health of redshirt freshman Jermaine McKenzie, I'm convinced UM has a playmaker or the set of playmakers its longed for. The question is: Who is going to be emerge and be the man at receiver? Sam Shields, assuming he shakes off his off the field woes, should be that person. He's got the talent and ability to be. But will these young hungry guys who are just as talented push him out of the way? It certainly is going to be fun to watch.

* Big Boss Bailey. Allen Bailey was considered the most prized defensive recruit Miami hauled in 2006. He's grown into a walking muscle -- 6-4, 289 pounds with 7 percent body fat. How scary is he going to look on UM's defense now that's made the move from linebacker to defensive line? Is he the most talented player on UM's defense now that Kenny Phillips and Calais Campbell are gone?

February 23, 2008

Courtside blog: UM 78, Maryland 63 (F)

Checking in from the BUC for another afternoon of ACC basketball. The Canes get Maryland today. I'll provide my insight as the game progresses. What is going with you guys? Holler back.

By the way... here is what the Indy Star reported on in the aftermath of Kelvin Sampson's departure from Indiana and how it might impact highly-touted recruit Devin Ebanks.

- 15:19 left, UM 9, Maryland 6: Anthony King has a pair of jumpers early and four points to pace the Canes. Miami has come out shooting the ball well. UM shot 57 percent on Wednesday against Duke.
- 14:13 left, UM 15, Maryland 6: Canes force Gary Williams to call timeout after going on a 10-0 run to go up 9. Anthony King has 8 early points. Nice to see him back.
- 11:47 left, UM 18, Maryland 13: Bambale Osby has 7 early points to pace the Terps. Jimmy Graham picked up his second foul with 13:02 left. Graham was instrumental in UM's upset of Maryland in the ACC tournament last year. The Canes sorely need his interior toughness in a game like this.
- 7:43 left, UM 27, Maryland 19: Miami has been getting in the paint and getting a lot of nice buckets. Dwayne Collins had a beautiful alley-oop dunk that was followed by a driving layup by Ray Hicks, who scored over and between and three Maryland defenders. Jack McClinton's three-pointer with 8:05 has extended UM's lead back to 8.
- 3:47 left, UM 33, Maryland 24: UM's lead swelled to 11 moments ago when Anthony King's hook shot swished with 5:57 left. It's nice to see King have some confidence in his game again. He's played well tonight and is the star so far. He's got several rebounds and even a pair of blocks.
- Halftime, UM 39, Maryland 36: the Terps on an 8-2 run to close out the final two minutes of the half and make it a little tighter than it really was in the first half. I'll come back with some numbers soon. Couple of key stats -- Miami only had four turnovers in the first half; Maryland outrebounded UM 19-10. Anthony King has 10 points and Brian Asbury has 9. UM shot 54 percent from the field. Basically, Miami needs to start rebounding or continue to shoot a high percentage.

- 15:57 left, UM 44, Maryland 44: Miami had an eight-point lead evaporate with an 8-0 Maryland run. Sophomore forward Landon Milbourne hit back-to-back threes for the Terps before Greivis Vazquez sunk a runner in the lane to tie with 16:17 left. Lance Hurdle will go to the line for UM now to try and put the Canes back in front.
- 10:34 left, UM 53, Maryland 48: James Dews has scored the last four points and Miami has scored five straight points to make the BUC loud again. The Canes have the lead and the momentum in a very important game for the NCAA Tournament hopes. Let's see if they can sustain the energy out of this break. Maryland has tied the score three times here in the second half.
- 7:45 left, UM 59, Maryland 53: Another little spurt here has put the Canes back in front by six. Eddie Rios hit a jumper and then Dwayne Collins intercepted a pass and passed ahead to James Dews for a layup. These ACC games raise my blood pressure!
- 3:58 left, UM 63, Maryland 58: This one is going to go down the wire. Maryland's defense has stiffened. They're forcing UM to take tough jump shots and they aren't giving up any easy baskets in the paint anymore. Miami is going to have to win this with defense and rebounding.
- 2:57 left, UM 66, Maryland 58: McClutch strikes again! McClinton's three-pointer with 3:03 left puts UM up by 8.
- 1:48 left, UM 70, Maryland 61: This place is loud again and looks like the Canes are on their way to another huge win. Jack McClinton sinks a left-handed scoop in the lane with three seconds left on the shot clock and now the pressure is on Maryland to start hitting threes.

February 22, 2008

Shannon, new assistants talk spring

I just got back from a busy morning at The U where football coach Randy Shannon, his two new assistants, defensive coordinator Bill Young and receivers coach Aubrey Hill, and basketball coach Frank Haith and guard Jack McClinton held press conferences. To listen to what they had to say, just click on their names.

I'd love to have a chalk full of quotes ready for you, but it's going to take me some time ot piece it all together. Here are the highlights from my notebook...

* THE QB SITUATION: Shannon said much like last year he doesn't plan to name a Randy_shannonstarting quarterback until the fall -- likely a week before its over -- and added he wouldn't rule out using a 2-QB system. He also told reporters he doesn't really feel redshirt freshman Robert Marve has an advantage because he's already been in the program one year and incoming freshman Jacory Harris and Cannon Smith are newcomers. Shannon said offensive coordinator Patrick Nix has been doing a good job working with his new QBs, especially with 2-hour weekend throwing sessions and 7-on-7 voluntary workouts. ‘‘You have to be careful about naming someone too early," Shannon said. ‘‘It's wide open between them. The best man wins the job."

* YOUNG SAYS FORMER DOLPHIN PLAYED ROLE IN HIS COMING TO THE U: The Canes can thank a Bill_young former Dolphin for their new defensive coordinator. Bill Young said former Dolphins defensive end Trace Armstrong, who played for Young and then Shannon when he was an assistant with the Dolphins, facilitated the meeting between Young and Shannon. Young said the meeting didn't happen until after Kansas played in the Orange Bowl and when he was at the national coaches' clinic. Young called it "an early Christmas" coming to UM. As for his relationship with Shannon and the type of defense he plans to implement, Young said it will not be much different than what Shannon installed here years ago. In fact, he said he "semi-stole" stuff from Shannon when he was at Kansas.

"We hope to be a more aggressive, attacking defense," Young said. "Ultimately, you do what your personnel allows you to do. But we do want to be a pressure football team. We want to mix it up, keep the offenses off balance if we possibly can. We'll still have a four-man rush."

Young also said he is happy Shannon is a former defensive coach himself and says both men are comfortable with the situation. "He's the boss."

* REDSHIRTS?: Shannon told us he expects an answer from the NCAA concerning medical redshirts for linebacker Glenn Cook and Romeo Davis soon, likely later today or Monday. Cook, who I feel will likely end up being Miami's starting middle linebacker, has switched his number from 55 to 3 according the roster we received. "It would be a tremendous asset to have those guys," Shannon said.

* TOUGH LOVE FROM DAD: Shannon surprised me a little when he said WASN'T excited that his son, senior Xavier Shannon transferred to The U from FIU. Shannon also said his son, who is Xavier_shannon expected to compete for the starting center position, is not on scholarship. He said Xavier never warned him he was transferring to Miami. "I don't talk to him, say much at all. I say `Hi,' that's about it," Shannon said. "He graduated from FIU, wants to go to grad school at Miami, have classes FIU wasn't offering. I don't talk to him. That's coach Nix, coach Stoutland. He wanted to go to school here. I told the coaching staff he wants to come here they got to deal with him. He knows he has to work hard, and even though I'm his dad, I'll treat him like a regular player."

* HILL GETS RIBBING FROM GATORS: Aubrey Hill said he was "jumping off the roof" when he was called by Miami to become its new receivers coach. He said he's also been getting a lot of ribbing from his former Florida Gator teammates. "I'm a Cane," said who played at Florida in the early 90s. "A former Gator and a Cane." As for his receivers, Hill said his new group of receivers are "very eager" to hit the field. He says players have been staying late after workouts to familiarize themselves with him.

* INJURED/OUT LIST: Shannon added defensive tackle Luqman Abdullah, linebacker Eric Houston and defensive lineman Dwayne Hendricks to the list of players he told us on National Signing Day would not be participating in the spring. The others were linebackers Romeo Davis and Colin McCarthy, defensive end Courtney Harris and offensive lineman Orlando Franklin. Fullback Jerrell Mabry was not listed on the spring roster and is no longer believed to be on the team.

Anthony_reddick * BACK AND HEALTHY: Shannon said safety Anthony Reddick, who is returning from his second season-ending knee injury, will be full go and ready to contribute. He said receiver Jermaine McKenzie and defensive tackle Antonio Dixon have also returned to full health from their injuries. McKenzie had that serious neck injury he sustained in last summer's car wreck. Dixon had knee problems. Shannon also said he was very happy to announce the team will be two-deep at each position in the spring. Last year, he pointed out how Miami only had spurts where only four healthy linebackers were available during the season.

* BAILEY TALK: Shannon addressed the move Allen Bailey made from linebacker to defensive end and said it was solely based on the fact Bailey now weighs close to 290 pounds. "When you're 290 and try to get after guys like [Graig] Cooper, you're going to get tired."

* NAMES BACK ON JERSEYS: Shannon said his desire to put names back on UM's jerseys was a result of how feels the team is taking on the image he wants. Shannon originally decided to take them off last season because the players weren't thinking like a team enough. "Having no names on the jerseys was unique, they felt at the end it was more of a team than individuals thing. That's when I decided to put the names back on. These guys see the big picture now."

* PRACTICE SCHEDULE: Practice begins next Tuesday and the team will average four practices a week. The only practices open to the public will be on Thursday night at 6 p.m., March 6th, a scrimmage at Traz Powell and the weekend of Canesfest, Saturday, March 29th, at Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale at 10 ap.m.

* FOCUSED ON MARYLAND: When I spoke to UM basketball assistant Jake Morton yesterday, he admitted to me he knew it was going to be tough to get the team back down to earth from its big win over Duke Wednesday. But guard Jack McClinton and coach Frank Haith both made it a point to stress the team is still very much hungry to finish the season strong and isn't going to be just satisfied with what it accomplished against Duke.

Frank_haith"We haven't accomplished what we've wanted to accomplish as that's making a strong enough case to make the NCAA Tournament," Haith said. "We can't rest on our laurels. Beating Duke, I don't know if they give us two wins for that. It's just one. It would be nice to have two. But it's just one."

* Haith said UM, which beat Maryland twice last season including an upset in the first round of the ACC tournament, said Miami will once again have to win the battle on the glass and play "a rugged game" inside.

* He also took the blame for Miami coming out flat against FSU earlier this month. He said he was "scared" his players might get injured during practices because some of them were sore and took practices a little lighter. "We stopped doing some of the things that make us who we are," Haith said. "We stopped with our Circle The Wagons and Pay The Piper drills and I think it stopped us from being aggressive, the way we needed to be."

February 21, 2008

Bryce Brown commits

Is it just me or is the recruiting going on with the University of Miami getting out of control? Do we need to start checking UM assistants for performance enhancers? It's not even three weeks after the last National Signing Day and the Canes already have one of the nation's Top 2009 recruits.

Bryce_brownI'm not breaking any news here. You know who I'm talking about. Bryce Brown, the younger brother UM linebacker Arthur Brown and the top junior running back in the country, decided to taper the madness surrounding his recruitment on Thursday and announce his expected intentions. Brown told Rivals.com he's going to follow his big bro and will play football for the Canes. Sure, he added an asterisk next to his commitment by saying he still plans on taking his trips (which recruit doesn't do that these days anymore).

But after talking with his trainer, Brian Butler, I don't think young Bryce is going to break his commitment unless like Butler said "he has his socks blown off." So, why should you care about a kid who still has a year of high school to play making a commitment to the Canes now? Three reasons: Brown (6-1, 212) is a beast; he could potentially convince other top '09 recruits to follow him; and because this is yet another sign Randy Shannon, Clint Hurtt and the rest of the UM recruiting crew is down-home serious about getting the ship righted.

"I think he's a big time player," national high school recruiting analyst Charles Fishbein told me when I asked him to state the obvious about Brown. "He's super athletic. He runs hard. He's a punishing, physical back. But the one thing I noticed about at the combine I saw last year is the way he changed direction. He was more athletic than his brother. I think his change of direction is special. He could play linebacker and safety if he wanted to and start at running back. He's that good."

Brown, like his big brother, has Butler -- his trainer -- do most of the talking for him these days. But I'm hopeful I'll get a chance to talk to the younger Brown soon. I certainly plan on talking to Arthur Brown when spring practice begins next Tuesday.

According to what UM recruiting coordinator Clint Hurtt told me last week, Miami wants to nab two running backs in it's '09 class and will likely have 19 scholarships available overall. That means UM could still very much land the best running back in South Florida and a Rivals.com 4-star recruit in Miami Killian's Lamar Miller. I asked Fishbein, who is a recruiting encyclopedia, to describe the differences between Brown and Miller.

"Brown reminds me of Jamal Lewis. He's big powerful running back with breakaway speed," Fishbein said. "I think Lamar is one of these kids whose a powerful runner, he's going to run outside the tackles more and not as a punishing runner as others. Bryce is a guy that will not only can he wear you down for three quarters, but he'll break out with a long run. Lamar can pound it out for a play or two. But with Brown, this is the type of kid who wears you down and by the end of the fourth quarter, he wears you out."

I asked Fishbein if he really thinks getting a 5-star kid this early will help in the recruiting game, something Brown said he did in part because he wants to help the Hurricanes recruiting players. This was his take

"I think anytime you get a big-time player like that can help a recruiting class," Fishbein said. "But I think at the end of the day, it's going to come down to is Miami getting it done on the field. This year was like a mulligan year. The coaches are new, so you can't really blame them for the past. But I think overall they've got to win. Bryce will stick because his brother will be there. At the end of the day, when Miami goes outside of the tricity area, Miami is going to have to win next year. I think they have to at least show some improvement on the field -- 8-4 type season. Kids are all about winning now."

Here's a footnote: Butler said Miami is also recruiting two other players he trains locally in Kansas -- inside linebacker Jayden Bird (6-3, 230) and outside linebacker Houlden Tharpe (6-1½, 210). Fishbein told me neither of those kids are on Brown's level talentwise.

HERE'S A YOUTUBE CLIP OF BROWN. WARNING: It was obviously made by a Kansas State fan who was hoping Bryce might actually buy into it and pick the in-state team. Either way, it's a good collection of clips.

February 20, 2008

Courtside Blog: UM 96, Duke 95 (F)

The frantic finish is over. Duke is done making three-pointers. And the Hurricanes have the big victory coach Frank Haith was looking for. Perhaps, not only for this 2008 season and his team's NCAA tournament hopes -- but the kind you can brag to potential program-changing recruits about.

The ending wasn't pretty. Miami nearly let a 20-point lead with 13:36 remaining slip through its fingers. How mad would Hurricanes fans be today if Duke had come back to win Wednesday? But as it turned out, Jack McClinton's free throws with 1.6 seconds left was just enough cushion to get the Canes past the country's fifth-ranked men's basketball team.

"We knew the first five minutes of the second half were going to be key," Haith said. "Duke traditionally -- that's what they do. The first five minutes of both halfs, they really get after you. I told the team be prepared for them to get after us. I thought we handled that part of the second half really well. We attacked them."

How special was the win for the Canes? At UM, beating a team ranked in the top five has only happened three times. Once under Leonard Hamilton in 1999 when the Canes went on the road to beat second-ranked UConn and went on to finish 23-7 and make the NCAA Tournament. And way back in 1962, when Rick Barry was still playing here. The Canes knocked off No. 2 Duke then and then went on to finish 23-5 and reach the second round of the NIT tournament.

There's no question the Hurricanes benefitted from being on their home court and having a loud, supportive crowd behind it -- even though it wasn't a sellout (the boxscore says the BankUnited Center fell 330 fans short of its 7,000-seat capacity). At Duke earlier this year (where sellouts are tradition), Miami buckled under the Blue Devils loud crowd and home-cooking (The Canes were whistled for a season-high 31 fouls). Wednesday, all of that was on UM's side (Duke outfouled UM 25-24). And it made the difference. At times during the game -- especially during Miami's big 18-5 run in the second half -- I felt like I was inside the Orange Bowl for an FSU game it was so loud. For a night anyway, you felt like this might be a preview of the future. A glimpse if you will of the team and the homecourt advantage Haith says he believes the Canes can have down the road.

"When we took the job four years ago we knew the opportunity would come where you would have a Haithtop five team come play on your court," Haith said. "The atmopshere we had out there tonight was terrific. When we took the job we envisioned that was something that could happen. So, it was special to see that and special for these guys that are here on our team now to have that feeling. But we can't stop. We're still trying to build our resumé to make the NCAA tournament. There's no question this helps. But we got another big one on Saturday."

As I drove home from the stadium, I heard fans chirping on WQAM about the big-game Dwayne Collins had and how they're disappointed they hadn't seen more from Collins this season. Collins certainly had a special game -- he was 12-of-14 from the floor for a career-high 26 points. His reverse, finger-roll layups right before the half and right after the half were big time. But Canes fans have to realize Collins wasn't the only hero. Jack McClinton had 22 points -- including 17 in the second half. Brian Asbury had 12 of his 15 in the first half and helped set the tone for the Canes early with some big shots.

More than anything, Canes fans should be excited about the fact McClinton finally got the support he needed -- from someone. Usually, it's McClinton who has to do all the heroics. Wednesday, he had a supporting cast. Haith said last week he likes the fact he has a cast of characters who can play the role of No. 2 on any given night. Truth is, Collins is likely the best available guy to fill that role. He's got the best offensive skill set of any of UM's big men, not to mention the most athleticism. That's part of the reason Haith was hard on him -- even after Miami's best win under his tenure.

"Dwayne was outstanding," Haith said. "But Dwayne will tell you had one he should have dunked and he missed the layup... But he played like I think Dwayne is capable of playing. Now, we want him to go after it and have another performance like that. But he was outstanding. He was aggressive, he was attacking the rim. That's the post presence we've been wanting. That's the Dwayne we've been wanting."

Lance_hurdleMiami has five games left on its regular season schedule. It needs to win three of them to finish 8-8 in the conference (the mark Haith said last month he thought his team needed to reach to make a strong case for an at-large NCAA Tournament bid). They've got Maryland (17-10, 7-5) at 2 p.m. Saturday, a trip to Clemson (19-7, 7-5) on Wednesday night, back-to-back home games against Virginia (12-12, 2-9) on March 1 and Boston College (13-11, 4-7) on March 5th, before a regular season-ending trip to Florida State (15-12, 4-8) on March 8th. Regardless of their opponents records, finishing 3-2 won't be easy. Clemson and Maryland have both lost to the Canes recently and will be looking for payback against UM. Boston College has won 13 consecutive games in the series against the Canes. And FSU already beat UM earlier this year.

But after Wednesday, I'm sure the UM basketball bandwagon -- which piled up plenty of followers when the Canes were 12-0 -- will be all filled up again and believing Miami can at least finish 3-2. The question is, are you one of them?

Diamond Notes: Catchers to call pitches

For those of you familiar with the blog, you know I've rarely talked about UM baseball here since I've never really covered it for The Herald. But with the season around the corner, I decided to attend today's media day to try and gather some notes for you diamond cutters. I'm not making any promises, but who knows, maybe I'll start making way out to the ballpark more this season. Here's some of what I gathered:

NEW PHILOSOPHY: After 26 seasons of having either himself or his pitching coach handle the pitch calling duties, UM coach Jim Morris said Wednesday he's changed his philosophy this season and will now let his catchers handle that responsibility.

"What we’re trying to do is get more rhythm in the game," Morris said Wednesday afternoon, two days before the Hurricanes open their season at home Friday night against Jim_morris_arteagaCincinnati. "The signals have gotten so complicated from the pitching coach to the catcher and from the catcher to the pitcher, it’s taking too long. I want the game to be quick. I think the fans like it better that way. I think our players play better that way and they like that way. In the major leagues, that’s how they do it. I think you’ll see us call some pitches, but we’re going to put more of a burden on them to call the game."

Miami isn't the only college baseball program experimenting with giving its catcher such freedoms. But it is somewhat of a surprising move for Morris considering his two catchers heading into this season are fairly young. Highly-touted freshman Yasmani Grandal, who is expected to eventually beat out sophomore Jason Hagerty for the starting job and did so in the fall, said Wednesday he began calling pitches for the first time this summer. Hagerty, who started started 23 games last season, has a little more experience. He did it all four years in high school at St. John Vianney in St. Louis, Mo.

"I’m actually really excited about it," said Hagerty, who said he tossed the idea around to coaches last season. "I had a coach in high school, Steve Beezer, who caught in the big Jason_hagertyleagues and taught me a lot about it. It’s actually one of the best parts in my game and getting to do it here at the top of college baseball, it’s a dream come true. It’s going to be a lot of fun." "[Doing it the other way] really slowed down the pace of the game. With doing this, we get to speed up the game and get timing with hitters and pick up their weaknesses. It’s going to help us out a lot I think. [Pitching coach JD Arteaga] is great with picking up weaknesses of the hitters. But I think you need to be in the flow of the game especially when your behind the plate. You can see a lot more with the hitters and the field. Don’t get me wrong, JD picks up a lot of stuff. But I think when we both work together, our catchers and JD, its going to work out real well."

Morris said his pitchers have always had the right to shake off a sign they don't like. He says the policy will remain the same. But just like before, if there is a pitch he or Arteaga demands, his pitchers will be required to deliver.

"We will still have signs where [our coaches and our catchers] talk. We can call a pitch and we will call some pitches. But the bottom line we’re going to let them call them game and talk to them about it," Morris said. "It’s going to be more about spending time with the catchers, talking to them about the hitters. We already have a scouting report for the hitters this weekend our catchers have studied... So, it’s going to be different. If it doesn’t work, we’ll change back. But I think its going to work. It worked in the spring."

PROJECTED LINEUP: With seven position starters back, Morris said he has a pretty good idea of what he wants the top of his lineup to look like Wednesday, but admits he will probably tinker some with the batting order in spots six through eight. Here is what he said and what is projected...

1. Blake Tekotte, CF, L/R, 5-11, 180, Jr.:
Will become a three-year starter in centerfield. Last season, he hit .333 including a UM ACC-best .365 in league play. He's coming off a good summer ball season in which he was named a Cape Cod All-Star and led the league with 22 stolen bases. Morris said Wednesday he wants Tekotte to leadoff because although he's not as fast as Jemile Weeks, he's more aggressive. And it also allows him to split up his order of lefties in the lineup.
2. Jemile Weeks, 2B, S/R, 5-9, 180, Jr.: Weeks was named a 2008 Baseball America Preseason Firt Steam All-American. He skipped playing summer ball under Morris' orders to get over the injury that limited him last season. Morris said Weeks is now 100 percent healthy.
Yonder_alonso_23. Yonder Alonso, 1B, L/R, 6-2, 215, Jr.: We all know how Alonso has spent his summer working out with Alex Rodriguez. He's coming off a season in which he hit .376 with 18 dingers and 74 RBI. He hit .338 in the Cape Cod League this summer and is coming rated the No. 5 college prospect in the Class of 2008 by Baseball America.
4. Dennis Raben, RF, L/L, 6-3, 220, Jr.: After finishing second on the team in home runs (12) and third in RBI (48), Raben will return to his familar spot in right field. He was named 2008 Baseball American Preseason First Team All-American after earning Cape Cod League All-Star MVP honors. He's rated the ninth-best college prospect in college baseball.
5. Mark Sobolewski, 3B, R/R, 6-1, 200, So.: The freshman All-American hit .345 in 61 starts, splitting time at third base and in left field. Canes expect even bigger things from him this season. He could potentially hit some clean-up too.
6/7. Dave DiNatale, LF, R/R, 6-1, 200, Jr.: After transferring over from UCF, DiNatale struggled some in 2007, hitting .233 with 23 RBI in 42 games. His fielding was a perfect 1.000 last season. He could potentially find himself splitting time with Aden Severino in left field and at designated hitter.
6/7. Adan Severino, LF/DH, L/R, 6-0, 200, Jr.: The JUCO transfer from Broward Community College has good speed and is a good defensive player. A three-time All-Dade selection at American High, he hit .344 with 23 RBI, three home runs and three steals at BCC last season. Could see some DH duty. Morris also mentioned freshmen Iden Nazario of Miami Southridge (who left the fall as the DH after hitting .367 with a team-leading 14 RBI), Joe Terdoslavich (who played with Sobolewski and ace Eric Erickson at Sarasoata High), and redshirt sophomore Jonathan Weislow (the fastest player on the team according to Morris and a backup for Tekotte in center) as guys who will fill this hole as well.
8. Catcher, Jason Hagerty, S/R, 6-3, 220, So. or Yasmani Grandal, S/R, 6-2, 210, Fr.:
Hagerty is known for his defense. He only hit .195 last season. Grandal left the fall as the No. 1 catcher as the big-time prospect. He was a three-time All-Dade selection. He hit .447 with 48 RBI and 13 HRs as a senior. Grandal said he has dropped 20 pounds since graduating high school and added "lean muscle."
9. Ryan Jackson, SS, R/R, 6-3, 180, So.: A defensive beast, he made 49 starts last season as a freshman. He only hit .236 but hit .452 in the fall with a team-high 28 hits. Spent the summer in the Cape Cod League.

THE PITCHING ROTATION: There is no doubt who UM's ace is -- left-handed sEric_ericksonophomore Eric Erickson, who went 10-4 with a 2.50 ERA last season and who became the first UM freshman to earn All-ACC First Team honors. Morris listed the rest of his rotation as...
2. Enrique Garcia, RHP, 6-4, 225, Sr.: After starting the season as the closer, Garcia found his way into the starting rotation and led UM with 80 strikeouts in 92 innings and finished 8-4 with a 3.82 ERA.
3. Chris Hernandez, LHP, 6-1, 195, Fr.: The Miami Herald's 4A-1A Pitcher of the Year at Monsignor Pace, Hernandez has had a strong showing in fall practice, striking out 23 batters in 16 1/3 innings. At Pace, he went 7-2 with 106 K's and an 0.87 ERA. Hernandez told me he has added speed to his fastball since working with pitching coach JD Arteaga and is now topping out at 92 miles per hour.
4. John Housey, RHP, 6-4, 180, So.: As a freshman he made 17 appearances and 1 start, going 0-3 with a 5.65 ERA.
5. Michael Rudman, RHP, 5-9, 170, So.: Appeared in 11 games and had an ERA of 12.34 with an 0-1 record. He's expected to improve after having a good fall season in which posted an ERA of 2.29, allowing just five earned runs in 19 2/3 innings. Morris said junior RHP Jason Santana, who went 4-0 with a 1.72 ERA, could find some starts after coming back from shoulder surgery.

THE CLOSER: After returning from Tommy John Surgery this past summer and pitching some in the North Carolina league, 6-3, 205-pound right hander Carlos Gutierrez has been designated as the Hurricane's closer. Gutierrez anchored UM's pitching staff as the Friday Night Starter in 2006 before being injured and finishing the season 9-7 with a 4.40 ERA.

Morris told me Gutierrez has actually picked up velocity on his fastball since the surgery and both catchers told me his stuff is flat out nasty.

"Carlos is amazing. He goes from 91 to 95, his ball drops, moves, it goes everywhere," Grandal said. "The first time I caught him I can’t even say I caught him. I had about six, seven passed balls from how much his ball moved. He’s going to have a great season here. As a closer, I’m glad to have him on my side because I don’t think anybody is going to hit him."

*Morris said his left-handed specialist out of the bullpen will either be senior PJ Fisher (6-0, 165), who pitched 16 2/3 innings during the fall and struckout 18 and allowed 13 hits or Nazario.

I conducted interviews with coach Jim Morris, catchers Jason Hagerty and Yasmani Grandal, freshman pitcher Chris Hernandez and closer Carlos Gutierrez and shortstop Ryan Jackson. Click on the links to listen to them.

February 19, 2008

The Hot Stove: First '09 recruit, Ebanks

The University of Miami football team put together one of the nation's top recruiting classes in 2008 because it got off to such a great, early start. Tuesday, less than two weeks after the ink dried on the '08 signing class, the Hurricanes officially got started on '09, nabbing a commitment with a last name quite familiar to UM -- Highsmith.

Aj_highsmithA.J. Highsmith, the son of former Hurricanes running back Alonzo Highsmith, told UM coaches Sunday night he wanted to become the first official member of UM's 09 recruiting class. The 6-foot, 188-pound senior at Fort Bend Hightower High in Texas (just outside of Houston) will come to the Hurricanes as a quarterback. But just like his father, who once starred as a linebacker and defensive end at Miami Columbus High before switching to fullback with the Hurricanes, A.J. Highsmith could potentially switch to another position.

Either way, his father, who played at UM from 1983-86, is excited his son is going to be a Hurricane.

"He loves playing football and I think in the bottom of his heart he’s always wanted to be a Hurricane," Alonzo Sr. told me by phone Tuesday. "He’s listened to my friends, former Canes who come to my house and talk about Miami. He’s always sat there attentive and listened. The funny Alonzo_highsmith thing is he never really said I wanted to play football for the Miami Hurricanes and I never pushed him toward Miami because I didn’t know if they were going to be recruiting him. I actually pushed him to check out other schools because I didn't want him to be heartbroken if they didn't recruit him. So, when Miami finally started recruiting him, he called me and said UM was at my school today and they were scouting me and they like me. I said 'Oh man, that’s awesome. But don’t get too excited, it’s a long process.' So, they finally saw enough film and they liked him and offered. I knew what his answer was going to be."

NOT VERY HIGHLY TOUTED: Highsmith, whose first name is short for Alonzo Jr., is not a very highly-touted recruit. Neither Rivals.com nor Scout.com have him listed among any of the top recruits yet in their early lists for 2009. But at Hightower High, he's proven to be a pretty good quarterback despite no experience in playing the position prior to the ninth grade. Last season, he threw for 2,299 yards with 21 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in leading Hightower to a 10-4 season and the fourth round of the playoffs in Class 5A (the top classification in Texas). As a sophomore he passed for 1,516 yards with 18 touchdowns and four interceptions and his team went 9-4, reaching the third round of the playoffs.

Highsmith Sr. said UM didn't start recruiting his son until last month when running backs coach Tommie Robinson passed by the campus and saw his highlights on tape. Eventually, Highsmith Sr. said offensive coordinator Patrick Nix made his way to Houston before coach Randy Shannon and his staff decided to make a formal offer. Boston College was the only other school to make an official offer for Highsmith.

"I think he's similar to me in that he's a team player and he's going to do whatever the coaches want him to do when he gets to Miami," Highsmith Sr. said. "I think in the bottom of his heart he's always wanted to be a safety. He's only been playing quarterback since the 9th grade because his coach told him he's the smartest kid in the program for us. To the kids credit, here's a kid who has never thrown a pass growing up. He's worked so hard he's become one of the better quarterbacks in the city of Houston and the state."

DEEP CANES CONNECTION: Highsmith lived in Miami for three years with his mother and sister (up until the end of his eighth grade year) before moving back to Houston. During his time in Miami, Highsmith Sr., who is now in his 10th season as a scout for the Green Bay Packers, said his son spent many summers at UM running side by side with his childhood idols, dreaming of becoming a Hurricane. His grandmother has worked in the UM bookstore for more than 30 years. Highsmith said his son, who has a 3.5 GPA, will try to enroll in UM in January and said he doesn't expect his son to take any other visits.

"His heroes have been Sean Taylor, Ed Reed and all those type of people," Highsmith Sr. said. "He sees all the University of Miami helmets in my house. He definitely knows about the UM program."

To listen to the complete audio interview, click on the following link, Alonzo Highsmith Sr. interview.

EBANKS WATCH: I know some of you have been inquiring about the recent developments surrounding the University of Indiana, former Hurricanes recruiting target Devin Ebanks and the chance he could end up backing out of his commitment to Indiana -- and choosing the Canes -- if coach Kelvin Sampson is fired. (For those of you who haven't heard here is an SI story to give you some background).

Devin_ebanksWell, I haven't spoken to Ebanks, but today I did inquire with my sources at UM about the situation (the Canes can't comment publicly) and I did get to speak to Ebanks' coach Jere Quinn. Here is what Quinn had to say about Ebanks, a 6-8, 185-pound swingman who is rated the 13th-best recruit in the '08 class regardless of position.

"Right now, Devin is just comfortable with waiting and seeing what happens with Indiana," Quinn said. "We've decided to instead of being proactive, we'll be reactive with this situation. We've heard that Indiana is supposed to decide what happens with Coach Sampson this weekend. Even if Coach Sampson leaves, Devin made his commitment to Indiana. That's something he'll have to think about."

Ebanks, who signed a scholarship in November, would need to ask Indiana for a release from scholarship if Sampson is fired in order to choose another school. Quinn said he and Ebanks have not discussed other possible destinations because "we're in the middle of our season." But he said Ebanks has been contacted by other schools since the news broke that Indiana and Sampson we're in hot water.

"Without a doubt Miami was a finalist before," Quinn said. "But like I've told you, right now he's Indiana's and he hasn't talked with me yet about where he would like to go if he doesn't go there."

So, would the Canes take Ebanks considering they've already signed another standout at the same swingman position in 6-6, 195-pound DeQuan Jones? From what I heard today "without question." UM still has a scholarship available for 2008 and while coach Frank Haith has said he's looking to sign a combo guard, the chance to get Ebanks should he come available would likely be too enticing to pass up. The one roadblock will be convincing Ebanks' mother, who wasn't very fond of her trip to Miami with her son last year. She is likely to push her son toward Rutgers, the other finalist for his services, because it is closer to her home in the greater New York area. What Miami has in its favor, though, is that Haith and Ebanks had a great relationship through the recruiting process.

February 16, 2008

Hoops Report: Rios Q&A, Rick Ross request

It was no secret heading into the University of Miami's basketball season that the biggest question mark was at point guard. Coach Frank Haith told reporters early on, he hoped his most hyped and prized recruit, Eddie Rios, would eventually sprout into the leader of that role by season's end.

"I think Eddie is going to have a terrific career, but I don't want him to feel he has to wear a cape," Haith told me back in May. "I think at least for the early part of the season, we can spread the work around between Eddie, Jack [McClinton] and Lance [Hurdle]. But eventually, Eddie is going to be the man. That's what he's coming here for."

Lately, Rios has begun to show flashes of the skills that once made recruiting Eddie_rios_muganalysts hype him as one of the top five '07 players in the country as a sophomore. Last week at Virginia Tech, he scored a career-high 14 points, made three three-pointers, picked up two steals and then hit a pair of clutch free throws down the stretch to ice UM's first ACC road win in 11 tries. I wasn't at Virginia Tech. I didn't watch the game. But from what I heard from his teammates including Ray Hicks, it was the type of effort they used to see from Rios when they would go watch him play at Miami High.

So, could this be the start of what Canes fans have hoped for? Or was it just one good game? And what has taken Rios so long to get going? I went down to UM Wednesday and spoke with Rios for 20 minutes to try to see where his head is at. Here are some of things he had to say.

Q: Between you, Lance and Jack, you are probably the most natural of the three guys sharing the point guard duties. Coach has said it himself. Are you hoping maybe what you did against Virginia Tech will start making you feel like the old Eddie Rios?
I hope so. I hope I can continue playing the way I've been playing. I think I can help the team by just hitting shots when I'm open, finding my teammates and making everybody else better. And also d-ing up [playing defense], doing anything to win, being a scrappy player. So, I guess I can contribute like that. Hopefully, I'll go out and have a good outing like I did against Virginia Tech and do it again Sunday. But I just got to keep working. I can't settle on one game. I've got to keep working my shot and my handle and help the team win.

Q: I know you came in with a lot of expectations. You predicted you were going to take UM to the NCAA tournament as a freshman when you signed. You still believe it? And have you had the type of impact you were hoping for?
I still believe in that. I wanted to make a bigger impact than I have this year. I think I came in kind of, I don't know, I didn't really adjust so early. It was kind of a surprise to me. I don't think I've done so good so far. But hopefully, there's a lot of games left, hopefully I can go out with a bang and we'll just keep winning. This year has been a learning experience for me.

Q: People had these big expectations of you because of all you accomplished in high school and at the AAU level. How did you envision yourself?
A: I just envisioned myself like if this was going to be high school in the sense that it was going to be easy to drive, easy to hit shots. It was a different atmosphere coming in. The intensity went up. The speed changed. I envisioned it like high school when I first came out. And then when we started playing in the preseason I said 'OK, I'm in college now.' It just took me awhile to adjust. Early on the season, I didn't have my legs with me in the sense that I'm used to starting. And when I start my legs warm up quick and my legs won't be burning. I was slow and stiff. But all that now is going away now. When I get in there, I'm ready to go. I don't get tired. My speed is back. My legs don't burn as much. It's a big change.

Q: What's been the biggest adjustment from high school to college?
A: Eddie_rios_2 A:
Knowing when to shoot when you're open. There's times when you think you're open or when you are open and you think the guy is going to come contest your shot -- you just got to let it go. I used to think a guy was going to block it because they recover so fast. Also the speed, for everybody. The speed is a little quicker. You have quick twitch muscles. They react faster to your passes. And also the defense, staying in front of your defender, staying in front of him.

Q: You are a guy who has always had the ball in your hand. You've been the starter, the star. Has it been tough sitting on the bench?
It's been tough, but I just got to wait for my name to be called. I just got to go in there when they do call it and try to help my team out the way I can. If I don't play that much I can't get mad at the coach or my teammates, I just got to keep practicing and wait for a new opportunity.

Q: I know your parents have a lot of pride and they had their own expectations. I know at one point they thought you could spend one year in college and go to the NBA. What have your parents said through this season. Has it been an eye-opening experience for them too?
A little bit. They just tell me to keep working hard each game and don't worry about it, about playing. You'll get your chance soon and help the team win. They tell me if I'm not playing to cheer for the team, practice hard against them and make them better. They haven't given any problems, I don't think.

Q: What did they say after the Virginia Tech game?
A: They were happy after that game. They told me it's only one game and there are still more games to be played. Anybody can have one good game. I hit my shots. I was supposed to do that. They said keep working and do it on Sunday and the rest of the season.

Q: Was there a point this season when you started to feel comfortable again?
A: I think the Duke game helped me a lot. We played a very good team. The atmosphere was intense. When I went there, I felt nervous in the beginning when I got in there. But then I started to blow by guys. To be honest, I felt like I was back in high school. I felt real loose. I felt like I had freedom. I made a mistake and coach left me in there. The team was feeding off my energy. Jimmy had a couple dunks. Ray had a couple dunks. I don't know, I guess it helped my confidence a lot playing against a team like that. I grew up seeing them on TV all the time. To go up there and did what I did, I was like OK, I feel good now. It kind of helped me out and I just kept building.

Q: You mentioned having freedom and not being scared of making a mistake. Have you felt that early on?
A: A couple times. But I think that happens to everybody. It's not being scared. You know if you make a mistake, they're going to take you out and it starts messing with you. You got to deal with it and take care of the ball and do what I got to do.

Q: Who have you spent most of your time talking to during this adjustment period?
A: I'm very to myself. I don't spend a lot of time talking to my parents about anything. The coaches? I have a good relationship with everybody. But I'm one of those guys that keeps things to myself. I go to the court and take out all my anger there. Shoot, dribbling. I really don't know how to answer that question.

Q: What about Dwayne Collins? You've known him for a long time. You guys talk?
It's different with Dwayne. He's a big guy, so he can't really relate to me and the fact I'm a point guard. It's different. Jack every now and then throws in a couple words of encouragement. Lance talks to me. But I really like to keep things to myself. I think its just the way I was brought up. I was always alone and stuff. I always had my dad and stuff. But I haven't been talking to him that much because he's been busy with work and stuff. I really haven't dealt with things like this. I don't know how to handle it, so I just keep it to myself. I just keep practicing.

Q: Is it because you are shy?
A: (Laughter) I think its time management. I'm kind of shy. It's things where I Edwin_rios_playeroftheyearknow what I have to do. I just want to do it on my own. For example, I'll make a mistake and they'll say come by and we'll have film. To be honest, every game I play I have a video in my head of all the mistakes I make. I just know I can do things. I just want to solve them on my own. It's been a learning experience. The first half I wasn't playing that well. I was having trouble with my shot. I was shooting low percentages. All of a sudden, we go to ACC play and my minutes get cut in half -- probably more. But now, I'm getting minutes back. I guess it just comes down to playing hard, relaxing and concerting myself.

Q: Have you been playing differently because you were coming off the bench?
I was basically going in playing bench minutes, being conservative, taking care of the ball. But what I've learned is I got to go in there produce, making plays, taking balls to the basket and drawing fouls. I kind of picked it up by myself as the season progressed. [The Virginia Tech game] was a booster for me. I feel real confident.

Q: I know you take a lot of pride in what you do, your stats, the way you are playing. Did you look at your stats this year and say I can believe these are my stats?
I was watching film with coach I think after the Winthrop game and he brought up the stats and he was saying everybody's stat line. And he brought mine up and when I heard mine I was like 'Dang, mine are that bad?' It was just motivation to get back in the gym. I've been spending a lot of time doing that. I know because I hit a couple shots they're probably going to guard me a little different now.

Q: I know you've been trying to deal with your struggles on your own. What have you done to maybe draw some confidence? Do you watch film of yourself from your high school days?
I did it before the Duke game. Me and Lance, he was in the shower. I was there on the computer I was listening to my music and stuff. I was like 'Dang why I am playing like this? I went on YouTube and put on some videos there -- AAU videos -- and I was like why can't I play like this all the time. I just kind of put that in my mind. I go out there and I feel confidence and I start making plays. Whenever I feel kind of down, I go there and find them... Basically, I have no idea why I've been holding back basically the whole season. I didn't think college was going to be so hard. I wasn't really working that hard and taking it easy and once I saw the competition level I was like man it's time to get serious, buckle down. Especially once we got into ACC. I was like its time to buckle down and work hard and see what I can do. I was taking things for granted. I mean, I would stay after practice and come in before and do extra shooting, but there was no intensity behind it. I was just doing it because I had to. Now, I'm back, I have that energy back. I'm hyped. I want to keep playing. I have a lot of energy now.

Q: Coach said you've spent a lot time working on your dribble a lot. Why?
I've been working on my handles. I haven't been taking the ball to class or anything (laughter). After practice I stay with [trainer] Wes Brown after practice for about an hour and just work with him. He'll pull stuff down off the internet and two ball stuff and three-ball. And I'll get my shots up. When I work on my dribble I feel like I can get anywhere I want on the floor. I just feel comfortable when I play.

Q: Part of playing point guard is having a good feel for your teammates. You feel like you got that?
A: I've got a good feel for the team. I know what guys can do and what's their limit. I just think the whole team, it's about being there, making plays, hitting my shot. I got to keep building on that. You got to know what players to give it to at what time. Like, you can't give it to Dwayne when he's trailing. There are certain things I pick up. Me and Jimmy joke around a lot. We have a good sense for each other because in practice since we're always on the same team. I just have to remember to make the easy play. If I make a mistake, don't worry about it and go back and play defense.

AS FOR HAITH... This is what he said Friday he wants to see Rios work on: "The toughest adjustment for him is learning how hard you got to play on the defensive end and offensive end, taking care of the basketball. That position is the hardest to learn because you got to know not only what you got to do but what other people got to do. The speed of the game. Not messing with the ball when people are into you. Being able to go by people. I think that as point guard, you have to have pace of the game. So, you can't let people speed you up. That's strength. You can see people when Eddie would get in the game, they would go after him. Speed him up and try to get after him. Once your confident in your ball-handling skills, you control how fast you go. I think that's been the key for Eddie. And Eddie can score. We need him when he has opportunities to score, we want him to score too."


CALLING OUT MR. ROSS: University of Miami athletes usually have the distinct pleasure of getting to meet plenty of superstars in South Florida. Earlier this month, recent UM football signee Vaughn Telemaque bragged to me how he got to hang out with Edgerrin James and a few rappers who are James' friends during his visit to campus. The basketball team, meanwhile, is apparently very interested in meeting their favorite rapper, Carol City's own Rick Ross.

After my interview with Rios Wednesday, I got approached by senior Ray Hicks who wanted to make Rick_rossa point in requesting the Miami-based rapper to come watch him and his teammates play. Hicks said he and the team listen to Ross's songs -- usually Boss -- before the team heads out to the court for games. In fact, Hicks likes the song Boss so much, he's tattooed it across his back.

"For us on the team, Rick Ross gets us ready to play. He gets us in the game mode. He's one of my favorite rappers to hear -- me and Brian [Asbury]. We just want to see Rick Ross at the game. If we could have a special request, we'd love for him to perform a song at halftime -- Push It To The Limit. If he came to a game, he could do it halftime and give the crowd what they came to see.

"There's a song called Boss. That song does it for me. He just keeps saying he's the biggest Boss people seen thus far. He's the biggest boss around. I just like listening to him before the game. So, Mr. William Roberts, I'm leaving you a ticket before the game. Brian is a big-time co-signer. He's got my back on this. Me and AB and Eddie Rios, I know they got my back on this. 110 percent. Seeing Rick Ross at a game will get us ready before the game. We have one big sound player that plays the songs and we try to listen to to get us all on one beat. We all agree on Rick Ross."

February 13, 2008

Spring Forecast: Defensive line

When the 2007 season began the most recognizable face of the University of Miami's football team belonged to its tallest defensive player, 6-8, 280-pound defensive end Calais Campbell.

After a stellar sophomore season in which he racked up 10.5 sacks, most expected Campbell to not Calais_campbellonly lead another typically solid UM defense but to possibly become the greatest pass rusher in UM history. Campbell and the Hurricanes fell well short of the goals they set. In part to a rash of injuries that decimated UM's depth on the defensive line (and plenty of double teams) Campbell finished with only six sacks and Miami's defense endured one of its worst seasons in recent history. The Canes struggled against the run (ranking 8th in the ACC) and fell all the way to 52nd in the nation in scoring defense.

Fast forward to February and the buzz surrounding UM's defense heading into the start of the spring on Feb. 26 once again surrounds another mountain of a prospect, but not Campbell. It's about 6-4, 289-pound sophomore Allen Bailey, who has been moved from linebacker to defensive end. With three starters gone on UM's defensive line and very little experience returning from last season (aside from senior defensive end Eric Moncur), Bailey could become the player who generates the most excitement on UM's young defensive line come the fall. He's already got defensive line coach Clint Hurtt creating new words to describe him.

"He's a freakazoid," Hurtt said. "Right now Allen is sitting at 289 pounds at 7 percent body fat. Allen_baileyYou're talking about a guy with a 39½-inch, 40-inch vertical leap. It's ridiculous. If Bruce Johnson vertical leaps 39-40 -- that's outstanding. But to watch Allen Bailey do that? that's a nightmare. I think the fact he's 290 you can play him at d-tackle. But I look at him as a 290-pound defensive end that can play in space. I think he creates a lot of problems for you. He can stand up and get into coverage. He can stand up and play like a Shawn Merriman type. There are a lot of different things that we can do with him. [New defensive coordinator Bill] Young and I have not sat down yet and determined what we can do with him. But I'm pretty sure we will and once we do we'll have fun with it."

While Bailey will definitely be one of the stories to follow on UM's defensive line in the coming months, it won't be the only one. In this Spring Preview/Forecast, I'll take a look at UM's defensive line and try and provide some thoughts and insight to get you ready for what's to come.

WHO IS GONE: DE Calais Campbell (early entry to the NFL Draft who is expected to be a 1st round pick); DT Teraz McCray (started 9 games in '07); DT Chris Perry (freshman transferred to Texas Tech); DL Vegas Franklin (started 5 games in '07).

WHO IS BACK: DE Eric Moncur (6-2, 255, Sr., started seven games and tallied 5.5 sacks); DE Eric_moncur Courtney Harris (6-3, 254, So., played in 10 games and tallied 0.5 sack); DE Adewale Ojomo (6-3, 236, R-Fr., was Scout team defensive MVP); DE Steven Wesley (6-3, 235, R-Fr., played in eight games and had 3 tackles); DT Antonio Dixon (6-3, 331, Sr., started 3 games and played in 9 despite injury, 12 tackles, 1.5 sacks); DT Luqman Abdallah (6-3, 307, R-Jr., played in six games with no starts and had a total of five tackles, one for loss); DT Dwayne Hendricks (6-4, 287, Sr., started 3 games and played in 6, 9 tackles, 1 sack); DT Josh Holmes (6-2, 270, R-So., played in only 3 games due to injury); DT Joe Joseph (6-3, 271, Jr., played in 9 games and started 5, 12 tackles, .5 sack); DT Chaz Washington (6-4, 305, R-So., Did not play).

DT Marcus Forston (6-2, 286); DT Micanor Regis (6-3, 300); DT Jeremy Lewis (6-3, 295); DE Andrew Smith (6-3, 240); DE Allen Bailey (6-4, 289, So. moves in from linebacker). Forston, a Rivals 5-star recruit from Miami Northwestern, was considered the best DT in the country in this class and will be the only newcomer involved in the spring. Regis, a star at Pahokee High, and Lewis, a standout at Palm Beach Lakes, are not far behind in talent according to most experts. Smith wasn't highly-touted coming out of Coconut Creek Monarch High, but Hurtt considers him a diamond in the rough.

THE BIG QUESTIONS: Aside from Moncur, who is going to develop into Miami's other dependable starting end? How long will it take Bailey to adjust and how much can he be counted on? And, after all the injuries to the defensive tackles last season, do the Hurricanes feel confident any of the returnees can really do the job or will Forston and the rest of the highly-touted freshman be forced into action immediately?

HURTT SAYS: "If you just watched the New York Giants in the Super Bowl you Clint_hurttnoticed what a difference a defensive line can make. When you got some horses up there that go up and get after it, its a different deal. I think we can get back to that. We sorely missed Kareem [Brown] and Bryan Pata. It's a bit different rotation when you can start with Kareem and Pata and rotate in Dixon and Teraz. Or when a guy like Baraka [Atkins] is your fifth tackle. Or when Eric Moncur and Baraka and Calais are your defensive ends. This year, you scout the talent level. In all fairness to Joe Joseph and those guys, they're just not quite there yet. But it's a year later and they'll be a little bit better.

"It's going to hurt losing guys like Vegas and Teraz and Calais because you're losing the experience factor they brought to the table. But on the flip side, our talent level increased. Injuries took a toll on us last year -- probably worse than any year that I've been here. We were just beaten down to Um_pileup the ground. We increased our depth this year. By increasing our depth we increased it with it quality, which is going to improve the competition stand point. We moved Allen Bailey to defensive end. That increased the depth at that position. Adewale is still emerging as a defensive end candidate. Steven Wesley, it's the not the prom anymore, it's time for Steven to grow up. With him, Adewale, Eric Moncur, Allen Bailey, Courtney Harris (he's still coming in) and then you bring in Andrew Smith that's definitely going to help. And the same thing at defensive tackle. You got Dixon. You got Dwayne Hendricks coming back healthy. Dwayne will be able to help. Joe Joseph, he got a lot of experience this year. He had his good and his bad moments and he'll continue to improve. And obviously Josh Holmes, he's a guy that has to stay healthy. Marcus Forston being here this spring, it's going to be a huge help to him and I think a huge help to us a defense. I don't know what all the so-called experts are thinking, but he's a guy that can definitely help us out and can be an impact guy right away. And then, obviously you got the other two guys coming in the fall. And I think both of those guys have extremely bright futures there with Marcus."

MY TAKE: While Miami's defense as a whole has always been great when its had a strong pass rush, the bigger concern in my eyes for the Hurricanes is stopping the run. Injuries certainly devastated Miami's front line -- especially at tackle -- last season. Now with McCray and Franklin gone, UM is Marcus_forstonentering this season without a single proven player it can place at the center of its defense. Antonio Dixon has the most experience, but has spent most of his career out-of-shape and is still coming off an injury. Hendricks and Holmes only played in three games last season due to injury. Joseph just doesn't appear to have the talent and who knows for sure if Abdallah and Washington will ever see the field (if they aren't headed somewhere else already). That leaves Forston, a tremendous talent, but still a freshman who will have to get used to going up against monsters every week. And Regis and Lewis will not arrive until the fall. While I'm pretty confident a tandem of Moncur, Bailey, Ojomo and Harris (once he gets back in the fall) along with some cameos from freshman linebacker Marcus Robinson on third downs will give UM a solid foundation at end, I think there are definitely plenty of reasons to worry about what happens at tackle.

'09 RECRUITS: Hurtt, who also plays the role of recruiting coordinator, said Miami will be looking to sign two defensive tackles and two defensive ends in its '09 class. Lucky for the Canes, there are some pretty talented recruits again across the state to choose from including a few in South Florida. Seffner Armwood's Ryne Giddens (6-4, 240) is considered one of the best ends in the country and already visited UM with his family before his team played Booker T. Washington last year in the state playoffs.

Other talented ends include Hialeah American's Oliver Vernon (6-3, 230), who already has a UM offer, and South Dade's Ed Stinson, a 6-5, 235-pounder who is considered more of a project because he's a recently converted basketball player. At tackle, there are two locals -- Krop High's Brandon Taylor (6-2, 295), who is the son of former Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor, and Columbus High's Antwan Lowery (6-3, 300). Miami is also said to be hot after Tallahassee Godby's Corey Gaines (6-1, 270).

February 12, 2008

Spring Forecast: Quarterback

When spring practice gets underway at the University of Miami on Feb. 26, the school once known as Quarterback U is going to experience something quite rare in its illustrious history. The Canes are going to start preparing for a season without a passer on the roster who has thrown a single ball in a college football game.

Even during UM's recent struggles after Ken Dorsey handed the duties off to Brock Berlin and Kyle Wright and Kirby Freeman were in charge of leading the nation's 108th-ranked passing offense last season, the Hurricanes always managed to have at least one veteran quarterback on its roster (or somebody who at the very least played in garbage time at the collegiate level). The 2008 Hurricanes will not.

Instead, three rookies -- Robert Marve, Jacory Harris and Cannon Smith -- will Robert_marvebattle this spring to become the frontrunner to take the first snap when the Canes make their Dolphins Stadium debut against Charleston Southern on Aug. 28. So, who is going to emerge as the leader by the end of the spring? Most expect it to be Marve, a redshirt freshman who has the advantage of having been in offensive coordinator Patrick Nix's system since last summer. But after inking 33 new players to his roster on National Signing Day last Wednesday coach Randy Shannon said it will be an open race for the starting job and he expects Harris and Smith to push Marve plenty.

So, who will emerge the top dog? We won't know for sure until probably after the spring game on March 29th. But here at Eye On The U, it is always fun to speculate. Here is the first in a long line of previews/forecasts heading into the spring...

* WHO IS GONE: Kyle Wright (3-year stater graduated); Kirby Freeman (transferred to Baylor). Raise your hand if you're going to miss either of these guys?

Technically you can say Marve (6-1, 198), who was Florida's Mr. Football in 2006 at Tampa Plant High where he set the Florida state single-season records for passing yards (4,380) and touchdowns (48) and broke a 31-year old record for completions (280). But he never got a chance to play last season -- much less really practice -- after he suffered a broken wrist, dislocated ring finger and a deep cut on his non-throwing hand when he was involved in a rollover accident in July with receiver and UM teammate Jermaine McKenzie at the wheel. He's only recently begun to take normal snaps after having a final skin graft surgery on his injured hand. He will wear a protective glove on his left hand from now on.

Jacory Harris (6-4, 170) and Cannon Smith (5-11, 200) have been enrolled since January and will participate in spring drills. Signee Taylor Cook (6-7, 230) will enroll in the fall. Cannon_smithHarris went 30-0 as a starter and led Miami Northwestern to a mythical national title last season. He was selected as the EA Sports National Player of the Year and Florida's Mr. Football after completing 66.7 percent of his passes for 3,445 yards, 49 TDs and 6 INTs as a senior. Smith, the son of FedEx CEO Fred Smith, was the nation's top prep school quarterback at Hargrave Military Academy who has drawn comparisons to Drew Brees. Cook, the son of a rice farmer and member of the Texas House of Representative, is considered a raw, talented prospect. For more on Cook, I've got an audio interview with Cook I conducted on January 27th if you care to listen.

Will Jacory Harris or Cannon Smith really push Marve out of the starting role?

* HERE'S WHAT RECRUITING COORDINATOR CLINT HURTT HAD TO SAY: "That whole thing just has to play out. I know Coach Nix and Coach Shannon talk about this all the time and they'll handle this on their own. Competition makes guys better. And all of these kids bring this to the table, none of them have taken a college snap yet. We really can't wait to see what they're going to do. I think they all bring some unbelievable qualities to the table and one of these kids will turn out to be the best and we'll be better as a team for it."

* HURTT ON CANNON SMITH: "Here's what you need to know about Jacory and Cannon -- they're very competitive kids. Cannon has a lot of moxy to him. He has a swagger to him coming in the Clint_hurttdoor. That's definitely something to add to the position. I came from a prep school myself and he's going to be a little more advanced. It's not going to be as big a jump for him as it's going to be a typical kid coming out of high school. When you go to a prep school you're going up against junior college kids and you're going up against the same speed of the game of the game you'll see in college. It's not going to be quite as dramatic a change for a kid like Cannon. And the terminology is the same. In high school, they don't use the same terminology as they do at a collegiate level. At prep schools they do that a little bit more of what we do here. That will help out Cannon a lot.

* HURTT ON HARRIS: "For Jacory, coming from the caliber program he came out of at Miami Northwestern and just the competition and talent and he saw, he's not going to be the typical freshman quarterback coming in. He's an extremely intelligent kid coming in the door. I always was impressed with him on film. But I remember a bunch of us went to go watch him when they were Jacory_harrisplaying Hialeah this year. We were standing on the sideline just watching. And there was this play where he picked up the corner blitz. And instead of giving it away that he picked it up and let Hialeah check out of the blitz, he didn't give it away. As soon as he got the snap, he threw a hitch to Tommy Streeter in the corner, Streeter made a guy miss and the play went for about 45 yards. For a kid to have that kind of intelligence level and do that in high school, you know he's a special kind of guy. It's not so much what kind of arm he has. It's how he controls the game from the neck up. He has some great things going on for him and he's going to have a bright future."

* MY TAKE: I've never had a chance to watch Cannon Smith play, but I did get a chance to watch Jacory Harris go from virtual unknown as a junior at Northwestern to megastar by the end of his senior year. What has always impressed me about Jacory is that not once through that metamorphisis did he ever show me he was anything more than the same hungry, humble competititor and a tremendous leader he was when I first met him. No knock on Kirby Freeman or Kyle Wright, but being around UM the past few seasons I never got the sense players had full confidence in either quarterback. Harris has teammates who naturally gravitate toward him because he's a natural leader who is always picking his teammates up and always putting the team first. Perhaps the most amazing story I heard about Harris -- aside from the fact he called every offensive play at Northwestern his senior year -- was how after Roland Smith and the rest of Northwestern's coaching staff were fired last summer amid the Antwain Easterling fiasco, it was Harris and defensive tackle Marcus Forston who kept the heart-broken Bulls together. In the weeks before Billy Rolle was named coach, Harris and Forston organized team workouts and practices without a single coach telling them what to do. That to me is leadership, the special ingredient that keeps losing and struggling lockerrooms together.

I know Harris, who will be healthy for the start of the spring after spraining his MCL in the state championship game in December, is planning on giving Marve all he has and I fully expect him to give Marve his fiercest competition for the starting job. The fact Marve spent most of last season healing doesn't give me the confidence he has as big a lead for the job as most would expect. Ultimately, I don't think we'll come out of spring knowing for sure if Marve or Harris will be running the first team going into the fall.

* '09 RECRUITS: After signing three quarterbacks Wednesday and with four young scholarship quarterbacks on the roster, most imagine it is going to be hard for UM to sway a quarterback to sign in '09. But Hurtt tells me they're going to try and sign at least one because "you never know how things are going to work out." So, who is Miami looking at?

Canestime.com and Canesport.com have produced two early out-of-state names -- Tom Savage of  Cardinal O'Hara, Penn. and Kevin Newsome of Chesapeake West Branch, Va. Eugene_smithCanestime's Mike Bakas reports Savage (6-4, 220) has already developed a relationship with UM offensive coordinator Patrick Nix. Canesport editor Gary Ferman reported Newsome (6-2, 210), who is more of a dual-threat quarterback, grew up a Hurricanes fan. In state, the two biggest names are Tampa Plant's Aaron Murray (who took over for Marve and broke his state records) and Miramar High's 6-3, 195-quarterback Eugene Smith, who debuted at No. 1 in The Miami Herald's Pre-Spring Rankings for '09. Smith is the cousin of former Hurricane Melvin Bratton.

February 11, 2008

Springing Forward

Go ahead and admit it Canes fans: You're already counting down the days until spring practice! Well, there are only 15 days left until Randy Shannon's football team embarks on a new season and until we see nine new Canes -- including a few of the studs from the national champion Northwestern Bulls -- wear The U for the first time.

To get you warmed up for spring ball my plan is to put together position previews over the next two weeks. In each preview, I'll provide facts and analysis on what UM lost to graduation and the NFL Draft, who is coming back, who is coming in and who potentially could be the front-runner to land the starting job at each spot. I also plan to raise some questions and shed some light on what fans should expect to see in the spring and beyond. And then with the help of recruiting experts like Larry Blustein, I want to provide a list of potential recruiting targets Miami may be looking at to fill holes/needs in the coming year as well as an outsider's take on what's happening at The U.

Monday, I got a chance to catch up with a UM insider, defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator Clint Hurtt, who along with linebackers coach Michael Barrow was named one of the nation's Top 25 recruiters by Rivals.com last week. Hurtt and I talked about several topics including recruiting, Allen Bailey's move to the defensive line and much more. I'd love to share all of it now, but I've got save some of it for the next few weeks.

For now, here is an appetizer if you will and some of the highlights from my talk with Hurtt.

Since UM wrapped up one of the nation's consensus top five recruiting classes last Wednesday, Hurtt said the coaching staff has been deeply Bill_younginvolved in installing the system new defensive coordinator Bill Young has brought in with him from Kansas. While Hurtt said he and other assistants will spend a lot of time breaking down film on potential '09 recruits in the coming months, most of the time in the two weeks leading up to the start of practice will be spent on familiarizing players and themselves with what Young wants to do. "It's not that much different from what we did before. The thing is there are some concepts that are a little bit different. To some people it may look different. But it's not the case. There's a lot of stuff in terms of zone blitzes and man-free stuff we already did. But we'll have new things, new wrinkles in, but it's not so much different in terms of what we've been doing. It's still a 4-3 attack. But just like we had last year, there are some 30 packages. We're just not that far along into it yet really to give out details. I can just tell you it's going to be real exciting around here."

* THE '09 RECRUITING CLASS: Hurtt said regardless of what experts rated UM's class, he and the rest of the staff were more than thrilled with how UM fared last Wednesday. Despite failing to get a running back, a tight end and more than two offensive lineman and one cornerback, Hurtt said UM met all of its immediate needs with '08 class. So what will the Canes do in '09? Hurtt said UM will likely use up between 19-21 scholarships in its next class and zero-in most on offensive lineman, tight ends and cornerbacks. Here's what he told me he and UM are targeting per position: 1 QB, 2 RB, 1 WR, 3-4 TE, 4-5 OL, 2 DE, 2 DT, 1 LB, 3 CB, 1 S.

* RECRUITING PHILOSOPHY: Hurtt said UM could potentially end up having fewer scholarships Clint_hurtt_2available for new recruits if any of the 33 players UM inked last Wednesday do not qualify academically and Miami ends up resigning them next year. Without giving me any names, he projected that number at between two and four recruits. So far, he says, UM has already offered close to 30 potential recruits for its 2009 class. He said according to NCAA rules, UM is only allowed to offer kids already registered with the NCAA Clearinghouse. So, for those of us wondering why UM might not have already made an offer to a kid -- that may shed some light. As for offering more scholarships than what's available, he said...

"You have to look at it like this in recruiting: You have to offer five kids for every one you plan on signing. That's really how we look at it. The plan is if you have to go out and sign two defensive ends, you better go out and offer 10 -- bare minimum you better offer 10. That's really how the recruiting game works. If you get one kid from Arizona, that's all you may get from there. If you offer a kid from Texas, you'll have to beat Texas and Oklahoma to get him. When it comes to kids like that it comes to what kind of contact do you have with the kid? Does he have a family member that's a former Cane? Does he have a family member that's formerly lived in South Florida? So, things like that come into play and tells you how many to offer. For us, we want Florida to be our spot. So, if we need to sign 2 defensive ends, we're not only going to offer 10 defensive ends if eight of them from out of state. We'll have to go a little heavier than that. That's the outlook and that's the plan."

POSITION CHANGES: One topic that has been raised since Wednesday are potential position Jordan_futch switches for new recruits. For instance, since UM first began courting Melbourne Palm Bay linebacker Ramon "Cookie" Buchanon, the thought has been he could potentially be moved to safety. Then this past weekend, Canesport.com reported former Hollywood Chaminade linebacker Jordan Futch could get a shot at playing tight end. Hurtt dispelled some of those rumors saying none of the players he recruited to play on the defensive line would be moved to offense and declaring both Buchanon and Futch will be playing linebacker once they arrive in the fall.

"That's just all rumor. We haven't talked about moving anybody. When we sign recruits, we don't get in the business of moving them to other positions like other teams we know. Where we recruit you at is where you are going to be. And if after a year or so it just so happens there's something else you can do to help the team at another spot, then we'll bring it up to the kid. But we never force a kid to change positions."

"CORNERSTONE" OF THE CLASS: One person who will absolutely not be changing positions -- even though he definitely could play receiver -- is Booker T. Washington cornerback Brandon Harris, who Brandon_harris became the final recruit in UM's 2008 class Wednesday and perhaps it's most important signee. Hurtt talked Monday about how important it was for UM to land Harris, the only cornerback in the class and one of only four players who can play the position next season on UM's roster. While Hurtt said fellow defensive back recruit Joe Wylie of Boyd Anderson is the most likely of the '08 class to see some time at corner, there still has not been an official decision yet on whether or not receiver Ryan Hill will move back to corner (the position he was recruited at coming out of high school).

"Getting Brandon was a big deal for us. I sit down and look at the class and see where we're at. We got four corners on the roster right now. Two of them are seniors. For us, Brandon Harris was a guy we definitely had to make sure we got. If there was anybody who could have put a sour note on the day it was Brandon because of the priority of him at the position. He will definitely see the field next year. Sometimes, you have no choice because of numbers and where you're at. But he's definitely talented enough to see the field regardless."

BIGGEST WORRY: Hurtt had several tense moments on Wednesday as faxes were rolling into UM. But the player he feared losing most? Palm Beach Lakes defensive tackle Jeremy Lewis. "I actually thought he was going to end up bolting town. I called him up a couple days leading up to signing day. He kept going back and forth. He just thought it was the funniest thing because he had me sweating bullets. So, I told him, listen, you know now when you sign these papers and you come to UM, I'm going to get your ass back for all the crap you put me through. He's not going to be doing any extra running. But I'm going to give him some grief for all the sweating he made me do."

PROGRAMMING UPDATES: In case you missed it, I had some fresh recruiting stuff at the end of last week I posted on The Herald's website including a new podcast of The Countdown with Larry Blustein; a feature on Killian running back Lamar Miller, the Top Miami-Dade recruit in '09 (UM definitely wants this kid) and a list of the Dade/Broward Top 25 recruits in 2009 before the spring.

February 07, 2008

The Day After

Well, the madness is over -- for now. National Signing Day has come and gone. The Hurricanes netted 33 signees -- the exact number I was told way back in October was the target number.

I got to say I'm a little surprised and impressed with how well UM did yesterday overall. I figured Miami would get Booker T. Washington cornerback Brandon Harris. But I thought after all the uncertainty surrounding Northwestern receiver Tommy Streeter and the switch safety Ramon Buchanon made to Florida, it was going to be awfully hard for Miami to land those guys yesterday. But Randy Shannon and his staff got them. Those three turned out to be the big gets Wednesday.

All in all, Miami lined up a class every scouting service in the country basically rated in the Top 5. But what do you think of it overall? What kind of grade would you give the Canes? Do they still have holes they wanted to fill and didn't get to in your eyes? Where are you most impressed with the job Miami did? I want to hear your thoughts below.

SO HOW MANY GET IN?: OK, so 33 was the number Miami wanted to get and did. But how many of these guys actually get into school and are on this team in the fall? That became a point of contention yesterday during Shannon's press conference. When asked how UM was able to sign more than the maximum 25 scholarships allowed per year, things got kind of confusing. Shannon said the team could bring in all 33 of the current signees under the rules even though he admitted there are only "29 to 30'' slots open. He said Miami simply couldn't go over the limit of 85.

"It's in the book - as long as you can get under 85 you'll be OK. Four to five count as last year's - you're banking and then you get ahead, so you can get over the 25. We didn't sign four or five last year, so you're banking those. You bring those up, that gives you 29 or 30."

So what happens to the extras? ‘‘Some of them may have to go to prep school, some may not, we may sign all 33." I guess we'll have to stay tuned.

SHANNON'S TAKE: One thing is for sure, Shannon, a veteran of this recruiting game, won't be Randy_shannon sweating it. He told us Wednesday afternoon he wasn't nervous during the final tense moments of national signing day like his assistants were. But he was definitely thrilled with the finish. "I don't get all crazy about it. You win some, you lose some. That's part of it. I've been around where I thought I was going got get a kid -- Hey, we got this kid.' You talk to him about 8:58, he's all ready to go - `Coach, I'm going to sign the papers.' Then, 9 o'clock he goes in the back, comes back out and goes to another school. It happens, so I don't get too emotional about it."

FOUNDATION OF PLAYMAKERS: Shannon called this class "a foundation" for the future. It has to be. Although Shannon wouldn't project how many of these guys would make immediate impacts, he talked about the needs Miami filled. Obviously to me the biggest are at linebacker, receiver and quarterback. Shannon talked about what we've all known -- how badly UM needs receivers and playmakers that can make a move and get downfield.

"Last year we had a lot of one-on-one opportunities and we couldn't make anyone miss. That was the biggest emphasis. We had to find guys that could run after the catch. You see guys at Northwestern and Central, Pahokee and Belle Glade, they make someone miss, that becomes phenomenal. If you look at the receivers we have, Aldarius [Johnson], LaRon [Byrd] and Tommy Streeter, those are big receivers. The next tier is Davon [Johnson] and Travis [Benjamin]. They're 5-11, 6-foot guys that can play in and out, make some plays. Then you have slot guys, which are Thearon Collier and Kendal Thompkins that can go one-one-one they can win. They're quick and exciting and can do some returns. All those guys, from Davon Johnson down, have return ability. Those guys plus the guys we have now it's exciting because when injuries come you can always put somebody back in there."

RECRUITING MVP -- DONNA SHALALA?: Shannon called his recruiting MVP UM President Donna Shalala during his press conference. OK, while I'd like to believe that, is he serious? Apparently so.

"When parents come in, their No. 1 concern is education and safety for their kid," UM recruiting coordinator Clint Hurtt said. "And those are the things she drilled home with parents. When kids came on unofficial visits, she meets with them. And its not a thing where it's 15 minutes. She sits down with them in her office. She gets to know them and asks them questions. And the one thing they all say when they leave after the visit that impressed them the most is that conversation with Shalala. And she deserves her due for that."

OK, while Shalala had an influence, truth be told the guys who were in the trenches deserve a lot of credit for Miami's success yesterday. And those are namely two guys in my eyes -- Hurtt and linebackers coach Micheal Barrow. I got a chance to talk with Hurtt for about 10 minutes after Shannon's half hour press conference and this is what he said about Barrow, who was responsible for swaying Buchanon back, getting Arthur Brown out of Kansas and a few other notable kids in the class. "I thought everyone on the staff did a great job, but I'm particularly excited for coach Barrow. It was his first year ever doing it and he did a bang up job. He's very passionate about it in staying on top of kids and building relationships with families."

One thing Hurtt pointed out is that Miami doesn't recruit kids with only one recruiter. He said its a collective team effort. "We staff recruit. We like to double up and triple up on guys."

EARLY WAKE UP CALL: One of the funnier stories of the day came from Hurtt who told a small collection of reporters how he was so distracted he was by national signing day woke up in the middle of the night Wednesday, took a shower, got in his car only to find out it was a little too early. "I've been battling the flu. So, I took a Z-Pac and went to sleep at 7:30. I got up, took a shower got in my truck and saw it was 1:30 in the morning. I said 'What the hell am I doing?. I came back home, layed down for about threee hours and got back up and got in about 5 in the morning."

RECRUITING EACH OTHER: Hurtt said Miami's great, early start nabbing commitments was the key to building the momentum to UM's great class. He credited defensive tackle Marcus Forston and linebacker Jordan Futch for being key recruiters themselves. "Great players want to play with great players. So they were big. Any time one of them was floating, or thinking about going somewhere else, they'd pull each other back in. Jordan Futch, he drove by Jeremy Lewis' house. Sat down with him and reaffirmed his commitment here."

SWEATING IT OUT: Ultimately, Hurtt said Miami was sweating out four players going into the final day -- Detroit King's Nick Perry, Jacksonville Trinity running back Jamie Harper, Tallahassee Lincoln cornerback T.J. Bryant, and Melbourne Palm Bay's Ramon Buchanon. "Ramon was the first one we got back. So, that was the one we knew about. But with the other three we felt from the get-go Nick Perry was a longshot. With Harper, I built a close relationship with him. His dad called me to tell me he was going to Clemson and it was hard. But in the end, we wished him the best. All in all, we were still very happy with how things turned out."

WHAT NOW?: Now, it's time to turn the focus toward spring football, which will begin Tuesday, Feb. 26. Shannon said all of those practices will remain closed to the public except two including the spring game at Lockhart Stadium on March 29th and UM's practice at Traz Powell Stadium, which has yet to be determined.

Wednesday, he said he expects an intense battle at quarterback between Robert Marve, Jacory Harris and Cannon Smith. "Those three guys will get a lot of reps."

* Guys who will not be getting reps due to injuries are linebackers Romeo Davis and Colin McCarthy and offensive lineman Orlando Franklin. Shannon said defensive end Courtney Harris will also probably miss the spring.
* It's been rumored for awhile, but Shannon finally announced that Allen Bailey will be switching from linebacker to defensive end. Bailey, a sophomore, has a monster-sized body and I expect him to be a force there.

RECRUITING FUTURE: I know national signing day is 364 days away. But here at Eye On The U that's still less than a year, which means its still important. Today, I'll be visiting Miami Killian High and meeting with Miami-Dade top's recruit in '09 -- running back Lamar Miller. Be sure to check out the story soon.

As for UM, Shannon and Hurtt both said yesterday UM's focus in '09 will be targeting offensive lineman and tight ends. I'd throw running back in there also. Tonight, I'm planning on recording another recruiting podcast with Larry Blustein to wrap up '08 and to look ahead to '09. Larry already has his list of the state's top 500 recruits ready to roll.

February 06, 2008

Recruiting updates

OK, I'm here at Booker T. Washington for the Brandon Harris announcement. I'll keep you posted.

12:32 p.m. - Harris is wearing a suit and tie and is sitting in the center of the auditorium floor. He is set to announce on ESPN and in front of us at 1:05 p.m.
12:56 p.m. - Got to love Ice Harris. He's got the crowd here on edge talking up a storm about his players. His best quote about the two Booker T. receivers headed to UM: "Randy Shannon is getting it done folks. You want to talk about excitement. You want to talk about thrills. The U is coming back strong with these two cats."
12:58 p.m. - Brandon Harris is starting to speak... "I just want to thank my teammates, my assistant coaches, my brother, everybody for putting me in this position."
1:00 p.m. - Brandon Harris... "I'm nervous right now. I'm nervous. I'd like to thank all the schools who offered me scholarships."
1:05 p.m. - Brandon Harris is going to The U! "It's been a long decision and growing up. My heart... I'm a Cane!"

* The big news from this afternoon is obviously the switch pulled by Melbourne Palm Bay linebacker Ramon Buchanon, who was once a Cane, then a Gator and a Cane in the end.
* Canesport.com reported Palm Beach Lakes defensive tackle Jeremy Lewis is sticking with the Canes even after making his five visits.
* According to internet reports, Miami has lost out on defensive end Nick Perry (USC), cornerback T.J. Bryant (USC) and Jamie Harper (Clemson). But all in all, the Canes have to be happy with what they've been able to pull off today. Getting Harris in a few minutes -- as I expect -- will be a great topping to this class. I expect him to be the last player UM picks up today.

OK I'm here at The West on the third floor in the school library. I'll give you the updates as they unfold.

9 a.m. - So far, Brandon Washington, Kendal Thompkins Ben Jones are here. I haven't seen Tommy Streeter yet. Andre Fernandez tells me all he sees are four UM caps on the table in front of the players.
9:05 a.m. - The players are now seated at the table with caps set out in front of them. Coach Billy Rolle is going to address the crowd of family members, students and media before it all begins.
9:07 a.m. - Tommy Streeter has arrived from nearby Turner Tech wearing a suit and tie.
9:10 a.m. - Actually, Kendal Thompkins still has not arrived. Streeter is sitting in the middle between Washington and Jones. And Jones just playfully put a UM cap on his head and told him "stop playing."
9:13 a.m. - Kendal Thompkins has arrived and is now taking a seat by his teammates. He doesn't have any cap on.
9:18 a.m. - We've got a bit of a hold up here. Not sure what they are waiting for. But I'll keep you posted.
9:21 a.m. - Just spoke to a Northwestern assistant and I asked him what the deal with Thompkins and Streeter was. His response: "Man, they ain't going nowhere. They're staying home." We'll still have to wait and see for sure.
9:23 a.m. - Billy Rolle just told me the hold-up is linebacker Quavon Taylor, who is headed to South Florida. Taylor still hasn't arrived.
9:24 a.m. - Athletic director Earl Allick has now started the ceremony with the pledge of allegiance and the national anthem.
9:27 a.m. - Principal Charles Hankerson is speaking. Maybe this is a good sign. There are four UM caps on the table mixed between a bunch of other caps. That's one for each of the guys the Canes want.
9:30 a.m. - Coach Billy Rolle is now at the podium and he's introducing his coaching staff. How about some kids!
9:31 a.m. - Kendal Thompkins has now placed a Nebraska cap on his head.
9:35 a.m. - We're still going through player introductions. Thompkins, Washington, Streeter and Jones will announce in that order.
9:41 a.m. - We're about to hear we're they're going... Ben Jones is going to... UM.
9:42 a.m. - Tommy Streeter is going to ... Miami.
9:43 a.m. - Brandon Washington is going to ... Miami.
9:45 a.m. - Kendal Thompkins is going to ...  Miami. Call it a clean sweep for the Canes!

STREETER'S DECISION: I just spoke to Streeter about why it ultimately was he picked the Canes. Turns out, his visit to UM this past weekend helped a lot. Streeter, who attends Turner Tech and wants to be a Broadcast Journalism major, said the equipment he saw at UM on his visit was more up to date than anything he'd seen on any of his other visits.

THOMPKINS TALKS: Thompkins tells me he was definitely scared down the stretch that UM might be signing too many receivers. He said he apologized to UM coaches for not telling him how he felt and for not warning him he was going to make a trip out to Nebraska instead of UM last weekend. But  in the end, after talking to his pastor, he decided UM was still the best place for him.

Signing Day Predictions

As the always quotable T.O. would say: "Get your popcorn ready" Canes fans. Today, National Signing Day, is your birthday. Make a wish. Make 33 of them. Make 35 of them if you really want. Just cross your fingers and hope it all works out for best.

Today, I'll be making my way across Miami-Dade county to check in on potential Canes. I'm starting at Northwestern at 9 a.m with a tray full of appetizers. Then, I'm headed to Booker T. Washington at 1:05 for the main course when Brandon Harris makes his announcement live on ESPN. I'll try to bring you as many updates as I can throughout my travels. Herald.com will have updates as well.

But before it all begins I figured I'd share with you my predictions with how I think it will all end for the Canes today with kids who are either on the fence or are undecided. Since I have such a great track record, I'll warn to go ahead and place your bets the other way...

Morning announcements (between 9 and 11 a.m.)
* Tommy Streeter, WR, Northwestern.
His options: UM, South Carolina, South Florida, Oregon and Boston College. My take: Spoke to him Tuesday night for about 10 minutes and came away thinking South Carolina was the school he was most impressed with. Then, when I went back and listened to the audio heard something that changed my mind. My final call: UM.
* Kendal Thompkins, WR, Northwestern. His options: UM, FIU or Nebraska. My take: I was stunned when I heard he had skipped out on his visit to UM to visit Nebraska last weekend. Then, it started to make sense after I heard Laron Byrd had committed Tuesday. To me, if Streeter ends up going with UM, then Thompkins heads elsewhere. After all, how many receivers is UM going to take? My final call: Nebraska.
* Ben Jones, OL, Northwestern. His options: UM or Clemson. My take: I've never thought for a second Jones was headed anywhere else but UM. I think he follows his buddy Brandon Washington and the rest of the Bulls. My final call: UM.
* Jeremy Lewis, DL, Palm Beach Lakes. His options: Miami, North Carolina, Clemson, Tennessee and LSU. My take: Lewis is a kid who hasn't really spoken with the media since after his visit to UM two weekends ago. He's a kid whose been a UM commitment for a long time. But the fact he took all five of his visits makes me believe he's been seriously considered bolting for someplace else. If ever there is a guy to leave Miami hanging at this point, it's this guy. Still, I think Lewis wises up at the end. My final call: Miami.

Afternoon announcements (Noon and later)
* Nick Perry, DL, Detroit King.
His options: Miami, Michigan or USC. My take: Of all the kids who are uncommitted this is the one I've always thought would be the toughest for UM to snag. But I really believe Miami impressed this kid. I just think in the end his family is going to have the final say and tell him to stay home. My final call: Michigan.
* T.J. Bryant, CB, Tallahassee Lincoln. His options: Miami, Florida State, USC, Alabama, Florida or LSU. My take: Everyone keeps saying its impossible for UM to snag a kid away from the Noles out of Lincoln including my friend Charles Fishbein. Warchant.com is even predicting Bryant stays home. But something tells me part of the reason Bryant has kept such a low-profile throughout this recruiting process is because he's wanted to make a clean, quiet escape out of Tallahassee. The fact his mom is from Miami could help the Canes. My call: UM.
* Jamie Harper, RB, Jacksonville Trinity Christian. His options: Miami, Clemson, Florida State or Illinois. My take: Harper has a deep, close bond with teammate Daniel Andrews (a Clemson commitment). Even though Harper "opened" things back up after Clemson running back James Davis announced he was coming back for another year, I always thought his relationship with Andrews would ultimately push him to Tiger town. My call: Clemson.
* Ramon Buchanon, LB/S, Melbourne Palm Bay. His options: Miami or Florida. My take: Buchanon is a guy UM coaches always feared would defect to the Gators because his high school has sent some pretty big prospects Florida's way before including Joe Cohen and Reggie Nelson. Buchanon finally switched to the Gators three weeks ago, but then threw a wrench into the whole deal when he decided to keep his commitment to visit UM last weekend. He could pull the switcharoo on the Gators today. But I think peer pressure will win out. My call: Florida.
* Brandon Harris, CB, Booker T. Washington. His options: Miami, Ohio State, UCF, LSU or Florida. My take: I think Harris has tried his best to wait until national signing day, to really leave his recruitment wide open and give potential suitors a real shot. I just don't think he's ever really fallen out of love with leaving his family, friends and teammates. It just makes too much sense for him to play anywhere but The U. My call: Miami.
* Herman Davidson, S, Long Beach Poly. His options: North Carolina and UM. My take: When UM landed his teammate Vaughn Telemaque last week it basically signaled to eveyone UM was filled at its safety spot. But there are no guarantees in recruiting. So, keep an eye on Davidson. He might surprise tomorrow. My call: North Carolina.

PROGRAMMING UPDATES: I'll try to post as many audio interviews throughout the day as I come across them. I'll also be going on the Dos Amigos show tonight at 790 The Ticket at 11 p.m. to talk about National Signing Day and how the Canes fared. Be sure to also check out a podcast Larry Blustein and I plan to record Wednesday night.

February 05, 2008

More Good News, Live Q&A

posOn the eve of National Signing Day, more good news is pouring out in the Canes' favor. Defensive end Gavin Hardin told Canesport.com early Tuesday evening he's coming to UM.

Hardin becomes the second player one day before National Signing Day to announce he'll be choosing the Canes on Wednesday. InsideTheU.com reported late Tuesday night that receiver Laron Byrd made his commitment to Miami.

So what else did I hear Tuesday?
* Northwestern receiver Tommy Streeter told me moments ago he will wait to announce his decision at 9 a.m. tomorrow on campus. Streeter and I spoke for 10 minutes about his decision-making process. I came away with the impression he's been most impressed by South Carolina. We'll find out where he's going tomorrow. LISTEN TO THE AUDIO.

* A source I respect highly told me after a conversation with Jacksonville Trinity Christian's coaching staff that running back Jamie Harper is going to end up picking Clemson tomorrow when he announces around noon. Harper was very impressed with UM, but my source told me Harper's close relationship with high school teammate Daniel Andrews is what will lead him to pick the Tigers tomorrow.

PROGRAMMING UPDATE: As I told you yesterday, I'll be hosting a live Q&A tonight from 8 to 9 here on Eye On The U. It will be followed with an additional hour at Canespace.com from 9 to 10. By the way, Larry Blustein just told me he'll be joining us tonight for the blog in about half an hour. I'll let you know when he calls me.

FINAL REMINDER: Please check Miami Herald.com all day tomorrow for your recruiting updates. Andre Fernandez, Bob Emanuel and the rest of The Herald staff will be feeding news online all day.

February 04, 2008

Recruiting updates

I know many of you recruiting die-hards are on edge with less than 48 hours left before National Siging Day. I just wanted to let you know I made a few phone calls this afternoon and there will be a story up on Herald.com shortly giving you an update on some of the local kids.

Here's what I got.

* Northwestern receiver Tommy Streeter was supposed to come to a decision Sunday night during the Tommy_streeter Super Bowl. But phone calls got in the way of him and his father getting a chance to speak. Look for Streeter to possibly make his decision by the end of Monday night. I didn't talk to Tommy Jr., but his father told me this afternoon Tommy enjoyed his visit to UM this past weekend. Still, his dad has no idea where Tommy is going to end up -- just that he definitely doesn't want to wait until Wednesday to say where he's going. I think the fact the Canes got a visit from Streeter in the end definitely helps their chances. But I can tell you nobody -- not even his teammates at Northwestern -- know for sure if he's going to pick UM.

* Booker T. Washington cornerback Brandon Harris told me he is serious when he says UCF is top three finalist for him with UM and Ohio State. Brandon told me he loved his trip to the Golden Knights this weekend and said he really likes the fact its "not too far from home and not at home either." I've thought all along Harris is going to choose Miami and I'm not changing my opinion. I think UM is just the perfect fit with its need at cornerback.

* Cross Hialeah defensive lineman Corey Liuget and Booker T. Washington defensive end Jonathan Jackson off the Canes list of potential recruits. Liuget's high school coach Mark Berman said he told him he knows where he's going and UM isn't among the four hats -- Florida State, LSU, Illinois and South Florida -- he'll have on the table when he puts one on his head Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. As he told me last week, Booker T. Washington coach Tim Harris said Jackson is "more than happy with going to FIU." He said that is why Jackson didn't make it to his official visit to UM this weekend.

* Northwestern receiver Kendall Thompkins did skip out on his visit to UM over the weekend to take an official visit to Nebraska, one of three schools who offered him. I didn't speak to Kendall or his family, but one Northwestern assistant told me this afternoon: "If he didn't stick  with UM I'd be shocked. He's wanted to be a Cane for a long, long time."

JACORY HARRIS, CANE RECRUITS GET HIGH HONORS: UM freshman and former Miami Northwestern quarterback Jacory Harris received one of the nation's top honors Monday when was named The EA Sports National Player of the year. Harris passed for 3,445 yards and 49 touchdowns. He was only two short of the all-time Florida record for season touchdown passes and despite putting the ball up 333 times, he only threw six interceptions. He also rushed for 217 yards and scored three times. Harris is one of nine early enrollees at UM. His dad was ecstatic when I told him about it. Harris became the first player from South Florida to receive the honor and only the fourth player in state history, joining running backs Emmitt Smith (1986) and Travis Henry (1996) and linebacker Derrick Brooks (1990). Other guys of interest selected to the EA Sports All-American First Team: UM linebacker Arthur Brown, defensive tackle Marcus Forston, potential recruits Nick Perry (who visited UM this weekend) and cornerback Brandon Harris and former Cane commitment, now LSU's Patrick Johnson.

PROGRAMMING UPDATE: Just so you know I will be doing the live Q&A over on The Herald's Recruiting page tonight from 7 to 8 p.m. Then, Tuesday night I will be online live here at Eye On The U from 8 to 9 p.m. before switching over Canespace.com from 9 to 10 p.m.
* Also, be sure to check out my interview with Long Beach Poly safety and UM commitment Vaughn Telemaque. It will be posted online in the next hour. I'll provide a link once it is up.