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10 posts from July 2008

July 30, 2008

Refresher course: The Big Uglies

Only three days before the start of fall practice. Are U ready? Today, we take a look at the guys who decide the game in the trenches: The Big Uglies.

In the U's case, the men up front this year appear to be on different ends of the spectrum. On the surface, the offensive line appears to be the team's strength on offense. Defensively, the line appears to be the weakness, a result of injuries and inexperience. But is that really the case?

> Who is gone:
Three starters graduated (LG Andrew Bain, C John Rochford, RG Derrick Morse). Backup guard Cyrim Wimbs is also gone.
> Who is back: LT Jason Fox, Jr. (6-7, 306), RT Reggie Youngblood, Sr. (6-5, 312), OT Chris Rutledge, Sr. (6-5, 314), OG Orlando Franklin, So. (6-7, 345), OG Joel Figueroa, So. (6-5, 344), C/OG A.J. Trump, Jr. (6-3, 308), OT Tyrone Byrd, Sr. (6-5, 310), OT/OG Chris Barney, Jr. (6-5, 345), OT Ian Symonette, R-So. (6-9, 364), C Tyler Horn, R-Fr. (6-4, 289), C Matt Pipho, Jr. (6-7, 307), Harland Gunn, R-Fr. (6-2, 313).
> Who is new: C Xavier Shannon, Sr. (6-1, 298, transfer from FIU), OT Ben Jones, Fr. (6-6, 270).

> What happened in '07: The Canes began the 2007 season with seven players having veteran experience including an All-ACC preseason selection at guard in Morse. The biggest question was at 030408_jfox center, where injuries once again kept Trump out of the starting lineup. Instead, Rochford moved in from H-Back and manned the center position for all 12 games. Although most might not remember, Miami's offensive line basically escaped any major injuries all season. A strong rotation of seven players either started or rotated in at starting positions all season. Fox started all 12 games at left tackle for the second consecutive season. Bain started 9 of the 12 at left guard with Franklin stepping up in three of the last four. Rochford and Morse started all 12 at center and right guard, respecitvely. And Rutledge and Youngblood split duties at right tackle with Youngblood starting the final seven games. As a unit, Miami gave up three more sacks (25) than it did a year earlier. But all in all, the group did a solid job opening holes in the running game.

> Spring recap: Position coach Jeff Stoutland began trying to replace the three starters in the 030408_jfigueroa interior while getting some of the young guys to come along. With Orlando Franklin out with an injury, A.J. Trump played at left guard with Barney, who has lost weight and finally appears to be headed in the right direction, working in the mix. At right guard, Figueroa seemed to shine brightest with Gunn making steady improvement. The center position is where the biggest struggles occurred. Shannon, Pipho and Horn had trouble during the teams' first scrimmage snapping the ball to the quarterback. By the spring game, though, those problems appeared to be resolved.

> The Big Questions: Who emerges at center and is there enough depth on this team if key guys get hurt? The center battle is expected to be won by Shannon, who started 27 consecutive games at FIU before leaving to join his dad's team. But it is by no means, a sure thing. As far as injuries go, Miami was pretty lucky last season. They'll have to be again this year. Aside from the four guys who have starting experience -- Fox (24 career starts), Rutledge (9), Youngblood (16), Franklin (3) -- the Canes are entering the season with backups who have battled injury/weight issues throughout their career.

030408_crutledge> What to expect: If all goes according to plan, Miami could potentially have one of the biggest and best offensive lines in the ACC. Fox, Youngblood and Rutledge form a solid trio at the edge. The interior (if it goes according to what coaches thought in the spring) should have budding star Orlando Franklin at left guard with mean-streak Figueroa at right guard and an emerging Gunn right behind him. If Shannon steps up, then Miami should be more than fine. But, if things don't go well and key players go down with injuries, it could be a long season for the Canes.

> Down The Road: While Miami should be fine in '08 when it comes to its offensive line, there is no doubt the Canes have to start finding some guys they can plug in for the future. Ideally, Franklin, 030408_olineman could make the move outside to tackle in '09. But if Fox were to leave early for the NFL (there is always that possibility considering he'll be a three-year starter), Miami would still have another tackle position to fill. Who becomes that guy is as good a question as any at this point. While Gunn and Figueroa are expected to develop into starters by the end of this season inside, guys like Trump, Barney, Symonette, Horn and Pipho are going to have to take major steps forward in their careers. The Canes also apparently will only get one of the two lineman they signed in '08 into school this fall in Jones. Fellow signee Brandon Washington (6-4, 315) is attending prep school this fall and has told those closest to him he plans on reopening his recruitment.

> Who is gone: DE Calais Campbell (left early for the NFL), DE/DT Vegas Franklin (graduated), DT Teraz McCray (graduated), DT Luqman Abdallah (transferred), DT Chris Perry (transferred to Texas Tech).
> Who is back: DE Eric Moncur, Sr. (6-2, 250), DE Allen Bailey, So. (6-4, 290), DE Adewale Ojomo R-Fr. (6-3, 240), *DE Courtney Harris, Jr. (6-3, 255), DT Antonio Dixon, Sr. (6-3, 322), *DT Josh Holmes, So. (6-0, 280), DT Joe Joseph, Jr. (6-3, 300), DT Chaz Washington, So (6-4, 320), DT Dwayne Hendricks, Sr. (6-4, 300).
> Who is new: DT Marcus Forston, Fr. (6-2, 302), DT Jeremy Lewis, Fr. (6-3, 271), DT Micanor Regis, Fr. (6-3, 300), DE Andrew Smith, Fr. (6-3, 223), DE Gavin Hardin, Fr. (6-5, 225).

022708_calais> What happened in '07: It was supposed to be a big year for Campbell. But UM's most recognizable face underperformed and a barrage of injuries to several other key cogs on the line led the Miami enduring one of its worst seasons in recent history. The Canes struggled against the run, ranking eighth in the conference and failed for the most part to create a ton of pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Moncur (5 starts), Franklin (6 starts), McCray (10 starts), Dixon (4 starts), Joseph (5 starts) and Hendricks (3 starts) were primarily the guys on the field for it all. Miami netted 31 sacks as a team.

> Spring recap: Injuries once again played a factor with several guys missing time. The biggest news was the move of Bailey from linebacker to end. Ojomo, the defensive MVP of the Scout team in '07, made strides. But since the spring, two players expected to be in the rotation -- Harris and Holmes -- have gone down with inuries that could keep them out all season. And Bailey, who was being counted on heavily, suffered a torn pectoral muscle that could potentially nag him all year. Bailey and Washington each had sacks in the spring game.

> The Big Questions: Who joins Moncur in the starting lineup and can the Canes 030408_dlinereturn to their old form when the defensive line was a reliable strength? Will the freshmen have no choice but to be pressed into duty right away? Word out at The U is Moncur should have Ojomo or Bailey (if he's healthy) starting opposite him with Dixon and possibly Forston starting at defensive tackle.

> What to expect: Another year of transition for the D-line. While position coach Clint Hurtt has done a great job going out and getting some talented recruits, each will have to get accustomed to Adewale_ojomo lining up against much bigger than they were used to in high school. If Dixon, who has lost weight, can finally be relied upon as a full-time starter and Hurtt can rotate talented young guys like Forston, Lewis, Regis with a few other vets at tackle, then Miami could be an improvede team when it comes to plugging up the run down the middle. As far as creating pressure on opposing quarterbacks is concerned, new defensive coordinator Bill Young did a good job in the spring using his linebackers in zone blitzes to get to the quarterback. The defense had six sacks in the spring -- four were by linebackers. It could create the perfect scenario to allow a young line to concentrate on stopping the run.

> Recruiting picture: Hurtt has gotten off to a good start in trying to lock down two more defensive ends and tackles in the '09 class. UM netted its second defensive tackle commitment Tuesday, adding Crutis Porter (6-2, 334) of North Carolina. The Canes also have 6-3, 280-pound Luther Robinson of Fort Pierce Westwood. Hialeah American defensive end Olivier Vernon (6-3, 245) committed to Miami in February, but has been taking trips to visit other schools. Vernon, though, assured me he's still at UM commitment and is only looking. His recruiting video -- as well as other interviews I did last week (Plantation cornerback Brandon McGee, Columbus defensive tackle Antwan Lowery and Killian running back Lamar Miller) should be up on our Herald.com recruiting page by the end of the week.

July 29, 2008

Shannon speaks, recruiting news

We interrupt this week's regularly scheduled programming of position by position previews to pass along some news from this afternoon -- including some of the things coach Randy Shannon talked to the media about during an informal lunch Tuesday with beat reporters.

But first, the Canes have landed their 10th commitment in the 2009 class, picking up 6-2, 335-pound lineman Curtis Porter of Charlotte Victory Christian in N.C. Porter called UM coaches last night to give them the good word. He made an unofficial visit to UM earlier this month. Porter is rated an ESPN Top 150 recruit and said he chose the Canes over offers from Florida, Florida State, Michigan and Clemson among others. The following is Porter's highlight reel on YouTube.

Perhaps, the bigger news is that this likely ends the courtship of Miami Columbus High defensive Columbus_dt_antwan_lowery tackle Antwan Lowery, who last week told me he was negating on his previous plans of announcing August 1st and plans to reopen his recruiting with Florida and Rutgers also in the picture. While Porter played left guard last season at West Charlotte High, he is expected to play defensive tackle in college. Miami is supposedly only seeking to sign two defensive tackles in this class and already has 6-3, 280-pound Luther Robinson of Fort Pierce Westwood.

Brandon_martiIn more recruiting news, Canes 2008 linebacker recruit Brandon Marti told me this afternoon he received the good news he was looking for from the NCAA Clearinghouse and will report for the fall semester at UM this Thursday. Marti played at Gulliver Prep his senior season, but transferred to Braddock High for the second semester of his senior year because he was no longer on financial aid. It caused a bit of confusion for Marti with the Clearinghouse.

"My dad went online today and saw that I was cleared at about 11 a.m.," Marti said. "I called and let coach Barrow know and now I'm waiting to hear back from a few other guys. I'll be in my suite with Thearon Collier and Kendall Thompkins later this week. I'm excited. Coach told me to come in ready because he thinks I can make a real impact on special teams."

As for coach Randy Shannon, our Susan Miller Degnan, who attended the lunch on UM's campus, tells me Shannon broke the news to the media today that it will no longer have locker room access after games. This is what Randy said when asked why:

"Some of the players voiced to me that they have a problem that some young ladies are over in the locker room that they go to school with, that are, what you call, reporters also. It’s a touchy situation, but when you’re walking around on Randy_shannoncampus and you see a young lady that you were in the locker room with and you.. it’s kind of tough for those guys to respond to that. So we’re going to try something new to see if this can work with you guys that the same thing we do after practice. You guys get together and say, “Here’s the eight guys that we want.’’ And those eight guys are going to come up when I come up. That’s when they’re going to come up. So when I come up, they’re coming to see you guys. I can tell you that if Robert Marve or Jacory Harris or Cannon Smith have a bad game, I’m going to bring Robert Marve up there and I’m going to bring Jacory up there. If the offensive linemen give up eight sacks, I’m going to bring two offensive linemen up there. I’m going to appease as much as I can, because I know that’s the story you guys gotta get. We’re going to give them an ample amount of time. We’re not going to say, ‘OK, you all got five minutes.’ No, we’re not going to do that. We’re going to give you guys time enough to get your story written, get your things that you want to get done. I’m not going to have them guys sitting down in the locker room, getting dressed. We’re going to bring them right up with me…because I know how important you all guys have to write your stories. But also I got to take into consideration what’s best for the players in certain situations like I explained. It’s tough, but let’s see if it works. It may work, it may not work, but I have to try to find a way to make it work."

All I'm going to say is that when I covered the Dolphins this past weekend, I had more access than I've ever in the years I've been going out to UM. I got to watch all of practice (something we rarely get to do at UM) and had about as much time as I needed for interviews.

Among the other highlights according to Susan...
> Shannon insisted defensive end Allen Bailey is "ahead of schedule" in his return from a torn pectoral muscle he suffered while training back in May. The 6-4, 289-pound sophomore could be ready for the first game according to Shannon and has already begun "pushing on things." I want to see what he looks like with my own eyes this Saturday.

> Shannon addressed several weight issues, saying offensive lineman Chris Barney has lost 21 pounds -- dropping from 360 to 339 this off season. Defensive tackle Antonio Dixon has dropped 15 pounds and is now at 323. He also said he would like Graig Cooper to get up to between 210 and 215 pounds with Javarris James between 220-225.

> Shannon pointed to senior Khalil Jones as developing as a leader a lot of players go to.

Refresher course: The "Hands" Team

It's another day closer to the start of fall practice and time to take another look back and ahead to what is in store position-by-position for your Canes.

Today, I try and cover UM's receivers and tight ends, who for lack of a better word did a pretty job covering themselves last year by dropping passes and failing to make big plays time and time again.

> Who is gone:
Darnell Jenkins (leading receiver last season); Lance Leggett (graduated); Ryan Hill (moved to cornerback)
> Who is back: Sam Shields, Jr. (6-0, 180); Kayne Farquharson, Sr. (6-2, 185); Leonard Hankerson, So. (6-2, 218); Khalil Jones, Sr. (6-2, 200); Jermaine McKenzie, R-Fr. (6-2, 173)
> Who is new: Aldarius Johnson, Fr. (6-2, 217); LaRon Byrd, Fr. (6-4, 205); Tommy Streeter (6-6, 200); Travis Benjamin, Fr. (5-11, 160); Thearon Collier, Fr. (5-9, 165); Davon Johnson, Fr. (5-11, 165), Kendall Thompkins, Fr. (5-10, 170).

> What happened in '07: Miami's receivers took another step back in 2007. The passing game, which finished dead last in the ACC, saw not only poor quarterback play, but inconsistency Darnell_jenkinsfrom receivers yet again who often dropped balls when they were rarely open and never really showed much separation to get open. If you want to know what type of season it was, realize Jenkins (who led the team with 31 catches for 619 yards and 2 scores) earned MVP honors in what would have been an otherwise average season at Miami. Leggett, hailed by Rivals.com as a 5-star recruit, was the biggest disappointment among the wide outs. He managed only 15 catches for 238 yards and one touchdown his senior year. Shields, who often found himself in coach Randy Shannon's doghouse, had brief moments of stellar play including a six catch, 117-yard effort against Texas A&M. The rest of Miami's receivers did little. Farquharson, Hankerson and Jones combined for 16 catches for 158 yards and two touchdowns. McKenzie missed the season after suffering serious neck injuries in an auto accident right before the start of fall camp.

> Spring recap: Johnson, an All-State performer and star at Miami Northwestern, was the only freshman receiver get into school early. Although he didn't exactly blow up in the 030408_receiversspring game (he dropped the only pass thrown his way), there was enough talk about him from new receivers coach Aubrey Hill to believe the experience Johnson gained will propel him into a starring role at some point in the very near future. Other than that, there wasn't a ton of positivity to come out of the spring. Receivers still dropped a ton of passes, some deep down field. McKenzie, who most were hoping would finally get on the field and peform, missed the team's opening scrimmage and game with an apparent leg injury. Farquharson had five catches for 51 yards in the team's first scrimmage and led all receivers for catches in the spring game with 4 for 29 yards. He, Khalil Jones (2-16) and Hill (1-14) were the only receivers to catch balls in the game itself.

> The Big Question: There isn't a bigger question on the team than who emerges at wide out. Most Sam_shields_big_catch would say Shields should develop into the go-to receiver. He is the fastest wideout on the team and who has the most experience. But when you take into account his off field issues and the rumblings about his academic issues this summer, you can't count him for sure to become that player. After Shields, word out of the 7-on-7s this summer suggest Hankerson and McKenzie (who was a 7 on 7 star before his car accident) will become Miami's other starters with Jones and Farquharson in the rotation.

> What to expect: The unexpected. If any of the freshmen come in and wow during the fall, look for them to quickly climb up the depth chart. There isn't a 022608_ajohnsonposition on this team in more dire need of talent and consistency. Shannon himself admitted there were times last year where they were looking for Jenkins to save them. After signing seven receivers in February, some one is going to break out. And word is Johnson, Byrd, Streeter and Benjamin are the most likely to do so. Having watched Johnson and Streeter closely in high school I can tell you both have type of go-over the middle toughness Miami's receiving corps has lacked. I think if Shields doesn't screw up, he'll be the go-to guy. But with or without him, by the end of this season there is no doubt in my mind Johnson, McKenzie and Hankerson and a few other freshman will be part a solid young core for the future.

> The Kool-Aid Quote of the Spring: Offensive coordinator Patrick Nix on the play of the receivers: "A lot of times wide receivers are blamed when it’s a bad throw or they might have not the protection. We might have to throw early. To the average spectator they think it's all the receivers fault or something like that when it could be a lot of different things. But the receivers had a good spring. They all did very good. We have a lot of depth, so that's a very good thing. They made a lot of big plays all spring."

> Who is gone:
Dajleon Farr (transferred to Memphis).
> Who is back: Dedrick Epps, Jr. (6-4, 255); Richard Gordon, Jr. (6-4, 260); Chris Zellner, Sr., (6-2, 247)
> Who is new: Daniel Adderley, R-Fr. (6-6, 220) and Tervaris Johnson, R-So. (6-2, 220) who moved over from receiver and safety respectively this offseason.

> What happened in '07: Not a lot if you came to Miami thinking you were going to follow in the footsteps of Jeremy Shockey, Kellen Winslow and Greg Olsen. The tight end Dajleon_farrposition basically became obsolete last season with Zellner, Epps and Farr getting very little action at all. Zellner, who played more of an H-back role, caught 13 passes for 105 yards and 1 touchdown to lead UM tight ends. Epps had eight catches for 83 yards and 1 touchdown -- the lone highlight of the season for UM tight ends, the game-winning touchdown catch against FSU. Farr, who came in as the nation's third best tight end according to Rivals in 2005, caught all of six passes before opting to transfer to Memphis. Gordon, who originally started at tight end, moved back there after moving over to the defense. He caught one pass for 8 yards.

> What happened this spring: The three remaining tight ends each got a few balls thrown their way in the spring game. Zellner caught 2 for 16 yards, Gordon caught 1 for 5 yards and Epps caught one for 4 yards.

> The Big Question: Will Miami even bother to develop a tight end like it once had when Shockey, Winslow and Olsen were dangerous weapons down the middle of the field? And is he available right now? Or, will Patrick Nix phase the tight end -- outside of blocking -- out of the offense until help arrives in the form of recruiting and let his receivers do the heavy lifting?

> What to expect: For Epps, Gordon and Zellner to continue doing the little things like blocking Dedrick_eppsand making a catch or two in dump off situations. Right now, neither of the three players have any skills remotely similar to what Canes fans are used to at tight end. Although Gordon, who once returned kickoffs early last year, has the speed and big frame to possibly be used as a real weapon in the passing game, he has struggled to to pick up route running and there are long odds he ever will. Instead, Epps will most likely be the guy who leads this group in receptions and production near the goalline. He showed the most improvement in the spring.

> On The Recruiting Trial: So, who exactly is the staff looking at to be the next great tight end at Orson_charlesMiami? The Canes are trying hard to land Rivals' No. 1 tight end in the '09 class, Tampa Plant's Orson Charles (who is reportedly expected to visit UM this weekend with his family). Charles (6-3, 216) is the playmaker Canes fans covet. Miami also has three other commitments who play tight end -- 6-6, 240-pound Stephen Plein of Fort Myers, 6-4, 225-pound Cory White of Jacksonville and 6-4, 235-pounder Billy Sanders of Phoenix. White is being recruited as an offensive lineman. Charles should already be adored by Canes fans. He's the kid who broke the Gators' crystal national championship trophy when he accidentally knocked it to the floor on his visit.

July 28, 2008

Refresher course: The backfield

As we inch closer to the start of fall practice Saturday, I wanted us to take a quick look back to last year, look at what is currently in stock and take a peak forward at each position for your Miami Hurricanes.

Today, we'll start with the offensive backfield where Miami returns perhaps its top two offensive weapons at running back and starts over with little experience at the most important position on the field -- quarterback.

> Who is gone:
Kyle Wright (graduated); Kirby Freeman (transferred to Baylor).
> Who is back: Robert Marve, R-Fr. (6-1, 203)
> Who is new: Jacory Harris, Fr. (6-4, 170);  Taylor Cook, Fr. (6-7, 230); Cannon Smith, Fr. (5-11, 200)

> What happened in '07: In a word, Miami's passing game was a flat out Kyle_and_kirby"Disaster."  Wright and Freeman combined to throw 20 interceptions and only 16 touchdowns for a passing attack that finished last in the ACC and 108th out of 119 teams nationally. Marve, Mr. Florida Football 2006, missed the season and most of practice after suffering deep cuts and severe scarring on his left hand following a car accident.

> Spring recap: Marve, Harris and Smith each participated, although it clearly developed into a two-man show with Marve and Harris taking the lead. In the spring game, Marve finished 10 of 22 for 93 yards and threw 2 INTs; Harris was 9 of 17 for 64 yards; Smith finished 1 of 5 for 66 yards and 1 INT.

> The big question: Who gets the starting nod and who plays? In the few press 030408_qbs_2conferences he's had since the end of the spring, coach Randy Shannon has told reporters he'll name a starter the week before Miami opens its season against Charleston Southern (Aug. 28) at Dolphins Stadium. Shannon has also told reporters the starter will play the majority of the game with the backup seeing duty too.

> What to expect: Forget the fact nobody on this team other than safety Lovon Ponder has 022708_marvethrown a pass at the collegiate level. Both Marve and Harris are better -- at least through most observers eyes -- than Wright or Freeman ever were. Marve and Harris both ran high-octane, spread offenses in high school and have better arms and accuracy than Miami's two previous signal callers. Marve should emerge with the starting job -- having had a bit more time to learn under offensive coordinator Patrick Nix than Harris. But expect the former Miami Northwestern and Mr. Florida Football 2007 to be hard on Marve's heels. Shannon loves competition and I expect him to probably keep it "an open competition" from week to week -- especially if Marve struggles in the early going.

> Sidenote: It will be interesting to see how Cook, who played in a run-oriented attack in Texas, develops and if he supplants Smith (who appears to be out of his league) as the team's No. 3 QB. But there's a chance -- and Cook has been saying this since the day he was recruited -- he could end up switching to another position (likely tight end) down the road.

> Who is gone:
RB Charlie Jones (quit team in '07), FB Jerrell Mabry (transferred).
> Who is back: RB Javarris James, Jr. (6-0, 214), RB Graig Cooper, So. (6-0, 202), RB Shawnbrey McNeal, So. (5-11, 190), RB Derron Thomas, Sr. (5-9, 204), RB Lee Chambers, R-Fr. (5-10, 180).
> Who is new: RB Damien Berry, So. (5-11, 198, moved over from safety), FB Pat Hill (5-9, 260), FB John Calhoun (6-3, 235).

> What happened in '07:  If there was a bright spot on an offense that finished 022608_jjames110th overall (315 ypg) and 101st in scoring (20.5 ppg), it was the tandem James and Cooper created last season when healthy. The duo combined for 1,264 yards and eight touchdowns despite facing many eight-man fronts and defenses who knew the run was coming because the passing game was so bad. Cooper (who averaged 5.5 yards per carry) ultimately finished as the leading rusher with 682 yards and was the only back to crack the century mark in a game. James (who suffered from a few nicks) slowed down a bit after a freshman season in which he ran for 800-plus yards. McNeal, meanwhile, had his moments, flashing his speed with a 39-yard run against Georgia Tech. But he too was injured. Thomas provied to be a valuable backup in spots.

> Spring recap:
While most eyes were on the guys at quarterback, Cooper and James had a solid spring -- flashing signs when healthy the two can be one of the most dangerous combos in college football. In the spring game, Cooper ran for 91 yards and two touchdowns on only eight carries and caught two passes for 12 yards while James (who carried 1 time for 25 yards) caught four passes for 60 yards. McNeal had four carries for six yards, but a 66-yard burst on a screen pass. Thomas left the spring game with an apparent ankle injury. Chambers had 11 carries for 36 yards in mop-up duty. Hill provided several bone-jarring blocks and excited running backs coach Tommie Robinson with his effort.

> The big question: Can James and Cooper stay healthy and if not, who emerges Graig_cooperas the No. 3 option? Rumblings out of UM this summer are that McNeal (who found himself in Shannon's doghouse some last year) is battling academic issues. Even though James appears to be fully healthy now and Cooper has added 10 pounds of weight in muscle to bulk up for the hitting in college football, it was painfully apparent last year Miami needed a solid, go-to third option. If McNeal isn't around, then most expect Thomas to be that guy with Chambers and Berry to play in spot situations.

> What to expect: Cooper and James to be the focal point of Miami's offense. With an inexperienced arm at quarterback and receivers with a lot to prove, it seemed like Nix made it a point to get the ball into the hands of his experienced playmakers this spring -- including through the air. After talking about doing it in '07, Nix lined up Cooper and James in the backfield together this spring and sometimes in the slot, creating safe opportunities to catch the ball underneath coverage. They combined to catch 27 passes last season, but appear to be headed toward much more in 2008.

> Quote of the spring: Robinson on what the addition of Hill at fullback means to the team: "Patrick Hill has been a blessing to us. We love what he brings. He brings exactly 022708_phill_jjwhat we thought he would. He’s one of those kids we really recruited. When I recruited him, I told this kid I wanted him to tell me that he wanted to run the football. Because if he told me he wanted to run the football, I was going to leave him in California. But he never told me once he wanted to run the football. I asked him once, 'What would be your idea of a great game?' He said 'If I can just go and knock a couple guys out. If I can just knock about five guys out.' I said you got a scholarship offer from the University of Miami son. And he’s done a great job for us. We didn’t need a guy griping and frustrated because he’s not running the football. No, we needed a guy who would bring some toughness to our offense and we can go inside and bang around the tackles and get some movement."

July 23, 2008

No Canes to be found

Just got a copy of the 2008 Preseason All-ACC Football Team and wanted to make sure U got a good look at it.

QB – Cullen Harper, Clemson
RB – Josh Adams, Wake Forest
RB – James Davis, Clemson
WR – Aaron Kelly, Clemson
WR – Hakeem Nicks, North Carolina
TE – Ryan Purvis, Boston College
T – Andrew Gardner, Georgia Tech
T – Eugene Monroe, Virginia
G – Rodney Hudson, Florida State
G – Sergio Render, Virginia Tech
C – Edwin Williams, Maryland

DE – Everette Brown, Florida State
DE – Michael Johnson, Georgia Tech
DT – Ron Brace, Boston College
DT – Vance Walker, Georgia Tech
LB – Aaron Curry, Wake Forest
LB – Clint Sintim, Virginia
LB – Brian Toal, Boston College
CB – Victor Harris, Virginia Tech
CB – Alphonso Smith, Wake Forest
S – Michael Hamlin, Clemson
S – Myron Rolle, Florida State

PK – Sam Swank, Wake Forest
P – Graham Gano, Florida State
RET – Brandon Tate, North Carolina

Couldn't find a Cane? Neither could I. So, if someone deserved to be up on the list who should it be and why? My vote would go to Jason Fox. But there wouldn't be much argument after that. Just more evidence of how far The U has fallen. If I'm Randy Shannon I'm posting this list up in every locker with a sign that says 'Nobody believes any of you are any good.' Last year, Derrick Morse, Calais Campbell and Kenny Phillips were selected to the team.

By the way, Clemson quarterback Cullen Harper was voted the Preseason Player of the Year.

July 22, 2008

Football Forecast: '08 predictions

By now, you've thumbed through the magazines, read the predictions (The Canes were picked third in Coastal Division of the ACC preseason poll) and played at least half of the Canes' season on NCAA Football 2009 on your PS3 or XBox 360. Along the way, you've probably wanted to punch pundit Phil Steele in the face (he's the guy who replaced the Canes among the state's Big 3 on his preseason magazine cover with South Florida). And you've also probably heard about the new team motto this season in Coral Gables: "No excuses."

Well, with the start of fall camp (Aug. 2) and Canes media day (Aug. 1) a little more than a week Randy_shannonaway now, it's time for me to get back to work. And what better way than feeding you my own predictions and position breakdowns to get you ready for Camp Shannon, Take 2. A year ago, new coach Randy Shannon told reporters and a crowd of 3,000 at Canesfest Miami "wouldn't just be thinking about an ACC championship, but the national championship." Call it a simple rookie mistake. Monday in Greensboro, Ga., the only thing Shannon promised reporters: "we'll be better than we were last year."

Canes fans should appreciate this year's preseason prediction from Shannon -- because unlike last year's this one isn't full of testosterone and pride. It's from a coach who learned a lot through a tough first season. Those who wear green and orange glasses fulltime, though (and you know who you are), shouldn't confuse "we'll be better" to with much better than last year's 5-7 season (the worst at UM in nearly 30 years). These Canes will just be better.

And the root of Miami's improvement won't be because as Jason Fox put it Sunday Robert_marve_mug"the cancers are gone." Or, because everyone on the team is now wearing linebacker Glenn Cook's wristbands that read 'No Excuses'. Or, because a new seven player council will be laying down the law and policing the misfits. The reason UM will be better this season is because of what I could only say should be the team's 2008 slogan -- UM Football 2008, We've Finally Got Some Guys That Can Play Quarterback Again.

OK, so Robert Marve and Jacory Harris have never thrown a pass in college. So what? It didn't take anyone with two working eyeballs very long this spring to see both can play the position better than what Miami had under center the last three seasons. Say what you want about Kirby Freeman's game-winning drive against FSU or the few times Kyle Wright was able to connect with a receiver downfield in his career. Freeman and Wright combined to throw 15 touchdown passes and 20 interceptions last season. Quarterback U finished dead last in passing in the ACC and 108th out of 119 teams in the big boy college football division. And an offense without a triggerman is like getting on a plane without a pilot. You aren't going to get very far rolling down the runway.

Last year, you could have put Walter Payton, Barry Sanders or even Bo Jackson's Tecmo_bowl_cartvideo game character from Tecmo Bowl in the backfield last season and that offense still wouldn't have produced much more than it did. Yes, the passers and playmakers will be young this year. But at least they will be available for use (they were injured or in high school last year) and that will make a difference. It will be enough, at least, to net a few more W's. In the end, I'm calling for an 8-5 season (including a trip to a bowl game) and plenty of optimism heading into 2009 by season's end.

Aug. 28, Charleston Southern, W 52-14
Sept. 6, @Florida, L 34-10
Sept. 20, @Texas A&M, L 27-24
Sept. 27, North Carolina, W 20-16
Oct. 4, Florida State, W 28-26
Oct. 11, UCF, W 31-21
Oct. 18, @Duke, W 30-23
Oct. 25, Wake Forest, L 27-24
Nov. 1, @Virginia, W 23-17
Nov. 13, Virginia Tech, L 17-10
Nov. 20, @Georgia Tech, L 14-10
Nov. 29, @N.C. State, W 35-20
Dec. 26, Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, Miami will beat Penn State, 30-24

- The highpoint will be: Bouncing back from a 1-2 start with three straight wins at home over Butch Davis and North Carolina, the Noles and then UCF. And then winning on the road at N.C. State to clinch a trip to a bowl game.

- The lowpoint will be: Hearing it from Gator fans after they pick up their first win over Miami since Randy Shannon's freshman season at Miami in 1985.

Javarris_james- Offensive MVPs: Javarris James and Graig Cooper. It's hard to see the Canes giving this award to only one player this season especially since I believe Cooper will lead the team in rushing and James will lead the team in scoring and receptions. It was quite evident in the spring offensive coordinator Patrick Nix wanted to get the ball in both of their hands. Expect to see a lot of screen passes and quick outlet passes to both players this season, something Miami didn't do enough of in '07 when the duo combined for only 27 catches, 229 yards and only 1 touchdown.

Randy_phillips- Defensive MVP: Randy Phillips. The one thing new defensive coordinator Bill Young is going to create with his young defense this season is turnovers and well as opportunities to score on them. Phillips, who has been itching to be a defensive playmaker his entire career, will be the beneficiary and will parlay a great senior season at safety intercepting passes and making plays into making at least the second or third round of the NFL Draft in April. Phillips, by the way, led the team last season with three picks.

- Freshman Of The Year: Sean Spence. Considering the Canes played 10 freshmen last year and will play nearly as many this season, giving this award out isn't easy. But I've watched Spence play since his freshman year of high school and have been blown away with how much he knows the game. This kid had all the talent in the world and I expect him to be starting by the end of this season if not outright in the fall. I think he'll be the second-leading tackler on the team behind Colin McCarthy (the best LB). His former Northwestern teammates, quarterback Jacory Harris, defensive tackle Marcus Forston and receiver Aldarius Johnson will be right behind him when it comes to production.

- Sophomore Of The Year: DeMarcus Van Dyke. He started as a true freshman and more than looked the part in the spring, putting on some muscle and weight and looking like a guy who could be headed to the NFL early. I think Van Dyke has a huge sophomore season and starts opposite Bruce Johnson with Chavez Grant and freshman Brandon Harris working in the mix at corner.

- Biggest Surprise: Joel Figueroa. Ok, so maybe it won't be that much of a surprise considering he already was making huge strides in the spring. But I think Figueroa is going to be a solid starter for the Canes at guard and will be one of the guys on the line counted on most heading into 2009 after Jason Fox (the Offensive Lineman of the Year) caps a great junior season by heading to the pros early.

- Best Receiver: Sam Shields. I'm going to be optimistic on this one because most of us in the Sam_shields business aren't. Despite all his off field issues, Shields still finished second on the team in receiving last year with 27 catches for 346 yards and 3 TDs. If he can keep himself on the field and out of Shannon's doghouse, then he'll be the go-to-guy on third downs on this team. If not, look for a solid seasons from Kayne Farquharson, Leonard Hankerson and a few good rookie seasons from freshmen Aldarius Johnson, Travis Benjamin and Laron Byrd.

- Best Defensive Lineman: Eric Moncur. Allen Bailey's pectoral injury will Eric_moncurprobably be the only thing that slows him down a bit enough to allow Moncur to be the team's most productive defensive lineman. Moncur, who made the big sack against Duke last year and plays with Bryan Pata's wristbands on every Saturday, is the tyep of guy who will quietly have a stellar senior season. It's going to be a tough, learning season for guys like Adewale Ojomo, Forston and Miami's other incoming freshman lineman. But Moncur will provide a solid foundation of leadership.

- Best Special Teamer: Damien Berry. After being moved from safety to running back in the spring, Berry will find himself sitting behind JJ and SuperCooper and likely Shawnbrey McNeal waiting for carries. In the meantime, he'll continue to play like the special teams demon he showed flashes of being last year. I'm calling for two blocked punts and several bone-jarring hits on kickoffs.

FOR U... OK, so now it's your turn to have a little fun. I want to get some feedback from you guys with your picks for these same awards as well as your predicitions for the season. And while you are at it, leave me some questions you'd like for me to ask players or coaches when camp opens.

July 21, 2008

Kent picks Canes

The Canes nabbed one of the best high school football players in Georgia Monday when All-American defensive back Prince Kent of Norcross High chose UM over Clemson and Alabama during a press conference.

Prince_kent_mugKent (6-3, 195) is rated the country's 21st best athlete by Rivals.com. He had 59 tackles and caught seven passes last season as a junior. He took an unofficial visit to UM in June and becomes the ninth commitment for coach Randy Shannon's 2009 class.

"He's very physical and a great tackler," Herald recruiting analyst Larry Blustein told me when I asked for an evaluation. "He's not blazing fast (about a 4.6), but from what I've seen in him in camps is that he's very athletic. I think he has a very good chance of coming in and working into the rotation at safety or corner right away and making an impact on special teams."

July 17, 2008

Another 2 QB system?

University of Miami coach Randy Shannon didn't give reporters at Thursday's Florida Sports Writers Association meetings in Tampa any insight into who will be the starting quarterback this fall (I say its Robert Marve). But he did say something that might not sit well with fans of the U -- there's probably going to be another two quarterback system this fall (which I was counting on).

Marve"Whichever quarterback that we name, we're going to play the other one," Shannon said without specifying any of the quarterbacks by name (as if Cannon Smith or Taylor Cook really have a shot). "We need depth at every position on the field and that's the one position that we don't have depth at because they're young. They're good quarterbacks, but they're young."

Shannon explained it won't be a platoon situation and said the way he envisions it, one person will emerge as the clear starter, and another will play at certain times to get a feel for game action -- in case that person gets called upon for a bigger role, for injury or any other reason.

Jacory_harris_actionCan't say I'm surprised. It's the only move that makes sense. While Shannon probably made a mistake last year by putting Kirby Freeman in the starting spot, he's got four guys who have never thrown a pass in college available to play quarterback. He's got to play at least two, one more than the other to develop rhythm (Marve) while letting the other (Jacory Harris) feel important and ready should they need them.

While all Canes fans might not like the move, they can at least take solace in this: at least its not Kyle Wright or Freeman who will be behind center. I know it was just the spring, but Marve and Harris looked so much better than their predecessors I honestly believe either one would have beaten them out last year for the starting job if they were around.

* In other tidbits from the meetings, Shannon confirmed defensive end Courtney Harris will miss the season and expects defensive end Allen Bailey (who is now up to 290 pounds) to recover from his pectoral injury in time for the start of the season. That's great news since I think Bailey is probably going to be the best defensive player Miami has this coming season.

J-MAC STILL GRINDING: As much as I'm itching for football info just like U (because getting basketball interviews are easier than football interviews) I was able to catch up with Jack McClinton Wednesday Mcclinton2after his whirlwind camp tour this summer which included hook-ups with Chris Paul, Steve Nash and LeBron James. Jack, who is taking this week off from workouts to rest his tired knees (he's got tendinitis), told me he's become so close with Paul, an All-NBA First Team selection, he can call him whenever he wants to talk hoops. Paul named him the MVP of his camp in June after McClinton outplayed Florida's Nick Calathes, Davidson's Stephen Curry, Boston College's Tyrese Rice and about a dozen other collegiate studs at the camp. I'll have a full fledged story on Jack's travels in Friday's paper and maybe a full Q&A with him later this week... as for his teammates, McClinton told me all of them are excelling. But he -- like Julian Gamble -- pointed to freshman DeQuan Jones as impressive. "I saw highlights of him in high school, but it's his athleticism, how hard he goes that's impressive. He's really impressing me. We've never really had someone as athletic on the wing as him."

Joe_mercadanteMERCADANTE PROMOTED: If getting basketball news four months before the start of the season bothers you, then this baseball night is going to send you off the deep end. Thursday, Jim Morris promoted Joe Mercadante (a former volunteer assistant the last four years) to fill in one of his vacant assistant coach spots. Mercadante will continue working with hitters and catchers, but now he'll get to recruit. Mercadante was basically Gino DiMare's right hand man when it came to hitting. Mercadante is a 2003 graduate of Florida, where he played catcher.

* NEW PODCAST: And lastly, I've finally recorded a new podcast of The Countdown with Larry Blustein, Rudy Rodriguez-Chomat and Andre C. Fernandez. It's mostly high school talk, but I do talk to Larry about some Cane recruits as well with Rudy about some of the basketball players UM is recruiting.

July 14, 2008

Back from Vacation

I don't know about you, but I was completely blown away last night watching Texas' Josh Hamilton belt 28 home runs in the first round of the All-Star Game home run derby. It's probably one of the most amazing athletic feats I've seen in sports -- right up there with those amazing rounds Tiger Woods puts together or those nights when Michael Jordan just seemed unstoppable. It was total domination not for a brief moment or a run, but for an extended period of time. It's only a shame Hamilton didn't finish the job and win the crown (the New England Patriots come to mind).

Our Miami Hurricanes -- the football Canes you care most about -- are nowhere near that kind of excellence yet. They're about as far off as Hamilton's eye-opening 519-foot blast was from home Ryan_braun plate when it landed in center field. As I make my return from vacation this week, the only reason I bring up Hamilton is because one of the guys he overshadowed last night was former Canes standout Ryan Braun (one of the few Canes currently in action during this college offseason break). As impressive as Hamilton was last night, you have to throw Braun (the 2007 NL Rookie of The Year) in the argument when it comes to the best young players in baseball today. Braun finished tied for third in last night's contest with 14 homers and he's currently hitting .286 with 23 homers and 66 RBI on the season and will start for the NL tonight in left field. And the bottomline is he's not getting enough love! So, here's to you Brauny, the first official winner of the new Eye On The U Bad-Ass Award, which will be given out once weekly this coming year here at Eye On The U. Nominees of course are always welcome for Canes past and present.

--> A DATE WITH THE GOLDEN DOMERS? If there was a runner-up award, new Hurricanes athletic director Kirby Hocutt would be the recipient. After hearing the complaints last week from Canes fans angry about possibly not having The U at midfield, Miami's new, young athletic director stepped up to the challenge and gave Canes fans what they wanted. Now, as our Barry Jackson reports, Hocutt is interested in approaching Notre Dame about scheduling a game in the future once it hires an athletic director. It's probably not going to happen, but if Hocutt can some how pull that one off Canes fans are at least in the early stages going to love this guy. I don't know about you, but I grew up loving every second watching the Canes destroy the Irish. And that would be the No. 1 game on my wish list... here's one for all you that remember those old Convicts vs. Cathlolic days.

--> TWO FORMER CANES IN ARENABOWL CHAMPIONSHIP: Baseball isn't the only sport going on during these boring sports months of summer. For those of you in need of a football fix and Canes action, two former Canes from the 2001 national championship team will meet this weekend in ArenaBowl XXII Sunday at 3 p.m. Receiver/linebacker Jason Geathers will represent the defending champion San Jose Sabercats and lineman Martin Bibla will start for the Philadelphia Soul. Geathers had two TD catches, a touchdown run and returned an INT for a score in last weekend's playoff game.

--> ANOTHER DEQUAN FAN: University of Miami coach Frank Haith told reporters on numerous occassions last year he's predicting big things for incoming 6-6 freshman swingman DeQuan Jones. Dequan_jones After catching up with Julian Gamble last week for a story I'm doing on his trip with Athletes in Action to Africa, all reports say Jones has been tearing it up against his new teammates during the team's offseason pickup games twice a week. Gamble told me Jones knows how to get to the basket and score and was a bit surprised by how advanced Jones was. My question is if Jones is as good as everyone says he is, who goes to the bench for UM -- Lance Hurdle or James Dews? It's not a big deal and it's actually a nice problem to have... also according to Gamble, redshirt sophomore Adrian Thomas is showing great signs after coming back from his second season-ending injury in a row. He said Thomas has shown better shooting touch than he's ever seen from him and demonstrating consistency hitting three-pointers.... Jack McClinton, meanwhile, shined yet again at another basketball camp -- this time LeBron James' camp in Ohio. The All-ACC First Team selection was supposedly praised so much by All-Star Chris Paul earlier this summer at Paul's camp that Paul insisted on calling Haith afterward to tell him how impressed he was with McClinton's work ethic.

--> RECRUITING UPDATE: Among the many phone calls I fielded during my "vacation" last week was one from one of my buddies over at The U, who breathlessly told me to expect the news that the Antwan_lowery Canes had landed a commitment from Columbus defensive tackle Antwan Lowery (ranked fourth by the Herald among Dade recruits). The call never came and when I tried to reach Lowery later that night, his high school coach told me Lowery was going to wait until August 1st to decide between either UM or Rutgers. Lowery's older brother Antonio is a linebacker at Rutgers. But after interviewing Lowery last month, I got the sense he's going to be a Cane in the end. Miami, desperate for talented linemen (on offense or defense), could definitely use him... if Lowery commits, he'll likely be one of the few local players from Dade or Broward who end up at UM this year. Miami is no longer interested in Dade's No. 1 recruit, running back Lamar Miller and has only one Dade or Broward commitment in American defensive end Olivier Vernon (who is visiting other schools). The only other players who say UM is genuinely recruiting them are Pace defensive back Kayvon Webster, Plantation cornerback Brandon McGee and American Heritage offensive lineman Jared Wheeler. McGee has told our reporters he will announce August 11th and has the Canes in his top five.

* Alright, that's enough from me for now. I'll be back periodically this week as we in the media wait for football access. Coach Randy Shannon will speak this Thursday morning at the Florida Sports Writers Association meetings in Tampa. I'm still not sure if The Herald will be sending me or not, but Jeff Shain will be there to report for us.

July 07, 2008

Summer thoughts

I'm still in the midst of my summer break, but I wanted to check in and say hello since it has been awhile since I've posted anything new. Although I haven't been busy reporting -- a guy needs a break (especially when no one at UM is available to talk), I have to admit I've been keeping my ears open and drumming up a few questions and thoughts of my own I'd like to find answers to when I do return.

-- For starters, I don't want to be negative, but I've got a feeling Canes fans aren't going to be happy with the  move to Dolphins Stadium once the season gets underway. I read Barry Jackson's Dolphins_stadium_uBuzz Column today which discussed what Dolphins Stadium is doing to accommodate Canes fans this season. First thought... no U at midfield? I know it seems like something petty. But I distinctly remember hearing those involved with this deal say at the time they were going to do everything in their power to make Dolphins Stadium feel like it also belong to UM. And last I remember, the OB always had the U at midfield. Secondly, I got a question for U. How are U season ticket-holders liking or disliking your new seat assignments? Did you get hosed? Or are you really satisfied?

-- Baseball coach Jim Morris made a move a few weeks ago to replace assistant Gino DiMare by promoting pitching coach J.D. Arteaga. It was a no brainer. Arteaga knows this program as good as Jim_morris_arteaga anyone and he can definitely recruit. But who is he going to add to his staff? And more importantly, how in the world is he going to start filling in the holes in his lineup next season? There is no question Miami's pitching staff will be solid with National Freshman of the Year Chris Hernandez back. But Morris has to replace plenty of other studs. Losing Adan Severino, who signed with the Twins two weeks ago, hurts. Severino was drafted in the 26th round and could have been one of those guys Morris count on. Now, the only really experienced starters back are outfielder Dave DiNatale, catcher Yasmani Grandal, shortstop Ryan Jackson and designated hitter Joey Terdoslavich. I want to hear whom Morris thinks can start next season alongside those four. There is no question there is going to have to be a lot of improvement by others in summer ball and fall ball.

-- Football players and coaches have been off limits to the media since the end of spring practice. And like you, I'm itching to find out what's happened since strength coach Andreu Swasey began Randy_shannon_action working with the guys shortly after the end of the spring. A good chunk of the other freshmen signees began training with Swasey when summer school began on June 24. Practice doesn't begin until the end of July so I won't get to talk to anyone other than coach Randy Shannon until then or if and when players are made available. But I got questions already -- aside from how the quarterbacks looked during 7-on-7 drills. I want to know who didn't do what they were supposed to do this summer. Who other than Allen Bailey got hurt and when can we really expect them back? Has Sam Shields finally gotten it? Which freshmen still really haven't gotten in to UM? Which other arriving freshmen can really be counted on this season to contribute? Which veterans are really ready to take their game to the next level? I'm sure you have plenty of questions too. Feel free to add them to my list.

As for my summer, I haven't had a chance to really get out of town. I'm spending a lot of my time off with the wife looking for a house. But I have had time to see a few movies and shows (If there are any suggestions, feel free to leave them for me)
- The best of the best summer movies for me so far has been Pixar's Wall-E. Great movie for adults or kids. I'd say it is up there with Finding Nemo and Roger Rabbit when it comes to my favorite animation films of all time.
- Wanted starring Angelina Jolie had a little bit too much of the Matrix type stunts for my taste. But Jolie was smoking hot so I give it a 6.
- I got a chance to last weekend to see the final off Broadway show of The Life of Celia Cruz at the Carnvial Center in downtown Miami. As a Cuban-American I loved every second of the music and I thought the story was very well told. I'd like to see if anyone else got a chance to check it out.