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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.

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.

RUNNING BACK/FULLBACK...
> 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."

Comments

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1st

awesome read! that was a great appetizer for what should be a great season!

Awefully exciting stuff.

Manny...I'm wondering if Taylor Cook isn't getting a bit overlooked because he didn't play in Florida while the two other guys won Florida's Mr. Football. A few of the recruiting services had this guy as the top rated QB recruit we brought in, and he's the biggest guy with the strongest arm (I think). I know we won't know anything until Fall practice begins for real (not 7 v 7's), but have you heard anything about his chances?

Also, Derron Thomas has a 5 yard-per-carry average and has been electric when he's on the field. Why isn't this guy ever considered a viable candidate to start or be the primary back-up. He blows me away every time he's on the field.

Manny,
Looking forward to your honest observations again this season.

peace

Thanks Manny.

Backs need to be consistent with pass protection which Derron has not been, and he isn't an everydown back. His speed and game breaking ability were under utilized.. Maybe Nix and company could get him on the field out in the slot or something.

LMAO! Hill is a freakin' beast! I love his passion and aggressiveness!

I'm starting to get excited!!!! I see the OL being the strentgh of this offense. We have the RB's and potentially the receivers, but not sure about TE and QB. Hopefully one of these FR QB's steps up to the plate.

What is up with the Baseball team.Why has joey terdeslavich transferred?Adan Severino signed for a paltry sum as a 26th round pick. Is Morris lossing it? Is the loss of Dimare more than we know? The canes have NO OUTFIELD? They may also loose freshmen Rolando Gomez.FIU recruited well. Morris may need some help big time. please someone comment.

Manny... OK... Summers almost over and your getting your grove back...


To the Bloggers the real ine will be given out after the Charleston game but If the line for Florida were at 34 and the over/under was at 51... what's your favorite?

Damn Manny don't you think that was a little harsh on Cannon Smith? Now what you say "who appears to be out of his league" about Smith may indeed be true. But the kid is a Freshmen and deserves at least the benefit of the doubt before you cast his aside. Now if he was Senior then so be it, but the jury is still out for you to make that call this soon in his college career. He could be a late bloomer. I don't know how Ken Dorsey fared in his first few practices, but if we (the fans, media, etc)wrote him off then UM would never have had a chance to see one of the great college QBs of all time.

Other than that one comment, I love the article and enjoy reading your blog. It keeps the fan base invigorated and salivating at the mouth for more updates. Keep up the good work, but try not to be so negative. Remember these are college kids and not professional athletes.

good post Manny. Do you know if Kylan Robinson is back at RB or still at LB?

Manny...good write up. My comments:

1. It will be interesting to who Nix uses in the slot most (JJ?) and how he uses him there.

2. It will be nice to see more plays called downfield with Marve and Jacory able to get the ball there unlike the previous duo at QB.

3. I would not be suprised to see JJ or Coop get 1,000 yards this season as the run will be emphasized early and often to give Marve and Jacory time to get settled and then go to play action later in games.

Manny besides randy phillips who do we have at safety?

Manny besides randy phillips who do we have at safety?

FIU (baseball) recruited well. ... please someone comment.

Posted by: M. kesselman | July 28, 2008 at 03:55 PM
minor-league athletics with a nonexistent fanbase ...
BENEATH U

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH I can smell it....I can smell it. Ok....here is the deal. I live around the Chattanooga, TN area, but guess what??? I am the proud owner of (4) fifty-yardline season tickets. I think we will again take our lumps this year, but we will be much more competitive. Hopefully we can get decent QB play, and great Defensive play, and end up with 8 wins. Hopefully we don't get beat by those basketball schools this year (GT, WF, NC).

I'll repeat it again. The only explanation for Duhhhh U's past success and current failure as quoted straight from your former coach's mouth.

“From a coach’s standpoint, it’s extraordinarily competitive (ACC),” said North Carolina coach Butch Davis. “There were years I coached in the Big East (with Miami) and it was basically get ready for one game. Outside of that, it was pretty much a cakewalk."

HEY MANNY,

IF YOUR COMMENT ABOUT CANNON SMITH..."WHO APPEARS TO BE OUT OF HIS LEAGUE" IS TRUE WHY THE HELL DID WE RECRUIT HIM? BUT YET WE REFUSE TO RECRUIT '09 QB - EUGENE SMITH THIS YEAR WHEN APPEARS TO BE BETTER THAN CANNON WAS COMING OUT OF HIGH SCHOOL? ALTHOUGH I AGREE WITH 95 PERCENT OF YOUR COMMENT'S ABOUT KYLE WRIGHT, I DO BELIEVE HE HAD A STRONGER ARM THAN ANY OF THE CURRENT QBS ON THE ROSTER!!! THAT WAS ONE THING ABOUT KYLE...HE HAD A CANNON OF AN ARM!!!

Q: Damn Manny don't you think that was a little harsh on Cannon Smith? Now what you say "who appears to be out of his league" about Smith may indeed be true. But the kid is a Freshmen and deserves at least the benefit of the doubt before you cast his aside. Now if he was Senior then so be it, but the jury is still out for you to make that call this soon in his college career. He could be a late bloomer. I don't know how Ken Dorsey fared in his first few practices, but if we (the fans, media, etc)wrote him off then UM would never have had a chance to see one of the great college QBs of all time. Posted by: SK8 | July 28, 2008 at 04:51 PM

A: Good point SK8. It was probably a little too brutally honest. He is a freshman after all. I just think he has a lot to overcome to prove to me he's better than Marve or Jacory. The fact he hardly got snaps in the games speaks loudly to me too. But I could be wrong.

Manny, I feel Cannon has gotten fewer snaps partly because Marve was already there and Jacory was recruited from the Miami area and alot of his teammates from High School were recruited to Miami as well as the fact that he is a bit on the short side. But in this game Joe Montana was not an all world recruit for Notre Dame ( not that I am saying he is going to be a Joe Montana) and we all know how he turned out. And Taylor Cook whether or not he played in a run oriented offense in High School or not should receive as much consideration as Marve or Harris. He was a bigger prospect than Jacory coming out of school and to already be thing of putting his 6 foot 7 butt a tight end already is simply ridiculous. If our coaches do not give all four of them equal snaps how in the hell are we going to know who is really the best one to lead our Canes.

Manny

Please ban this real canesrule character. He is a gator fan and all he does is try to annoy the hell out of us.

Manny, you are without a doubt the prototype beat writer any hardcore Hurricane fan could ever wish to be blessed with covering their team. Outstanding work as usual. Hankerson will blow up this year, I see him following in Reggie Wayne's shoes with Marve developing a real special passing combination between the two of them.

Hey Manny finally no bickering.... LOL just a lot of good comments about this yrs team. Has anyone tried this on for size Have Cook line up as TE and have the option of his trowing the ball to a WR down field. I have a gut feeling that the coaches on all levels are looking to spice up the offense and how better than to try some razzle dazzle plays. Hey it has worked before and not just at the "U". Talk to St. fans and if momory serves me right so has VA Tech. I for one can not wait to read your reports every day. I know I'm not alone in saying thanks for a job well done. If it was not for you I'd be left out of the mix. I truley believe thatthis yrs team is going to surprise some people. Teams that think this group of kids is going to be an easy push over win maybe in for a big surprise. A rattled offense, and over confident deffense and a special team breakdown could lead to an easy TD for the other team. Something I'm looking froward in seeing. Nothing would warm my heart better than to see Miami run and interseption,punt return, fumble recovery or kick off back for a touchdown or at the least a long gain in yards. I'd love to see our QB's put up some nice #'s in yards comp. Most definatly I'd like to see more TD's than interceptions in the recap coloms of the newspaper. I'd really love more than anything to see the 3 bozzo's on ESPN have to eat crow because they picked Miami to loose but have to anounce that MIAMI has won yet another game. Let's go CANES... If you are a player and you are reading this... We love ya kids, play your heart and soul out for the "UM" you can and will be winners. Just have faith and trust in yourself, and the fans. Play your game, be proud. Set your goals high and remember above all else, You can do anything possible, Just go do it. DON'T GIVE UP AND NEVER SURRENDER. Play for 60 minutes never a second less. Don't start to party till the game is over. Then rejoice in a victory. Then practise for the next week, and do it all over again. Till you have played the season. With the hopes of a bowl game as a goal. Who cares where or when or for what. the ACC Title or National Championship, or braging rights of just playing in a bowl game. Lets remain winners in both your heart and ours your loving fans. Good Luck in 08

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