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 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 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.
> 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, 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).
> 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 return 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 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.