Two practices are in the books for the Canes. I celebrated it by having lunch with my homeboy and Panthers beat writer George Richards -- who I rarely see anymore -- at Casola's Pizzeria off NW 17th Avenue and US1. If you haven't been to Casola's, you are missing some great pizza (it's the place I always went to after games at the Orange Bowl).
As for practice, nothing too exciting came out of it Sunday -- just more positive signs from some young receivers, a quick conversation with the oft-troubled Sam Shields and plenty of other notes and quotes.
> Saturday was LaRon Byrd's day to shine. Sunday it was Travis Benjamin's. The former Glades Central receiver who caught my eye during Saturday's open practice was on the receiving end of two long scoring passes according to teammates during 11-on-11 drills Sunday. Benjamin, who can be spotted easily on the field because of his trademark long dreads, has tremendous breakaway speed. Canesport.com, who spoke to trainer Andreu Swasey, reported Benjamin having the fastest 40-yard time of any incoming freshmen at 4.26 seconds. Other top 40-times include receiver Davon Johnson (4.32) and Brandon Harris (4.47). Safety Vaughn Telemaque, who has received rave reviews, was times at 4.75 seconds -- slower than quarterback Taylor Cook (4.59) and defensive end Marcus Robinson (4.56)
> Speaking of Robinson, coach Randy Shannon set some what I consider lofty goals for the freshman when I asked Shannon what he hoped to get out of Robinson at defensive end. Basically, Shannon painted the picture of turning Robinson into a third-down, pass rushing end. "If he can contribute 15-25 plays in game situations, that is great. One guy we had out here was Javon Nanton that played just 15 plays a game and was a third down specialist. He led the Big East in sacks one year. If he can do that, then great, but if not then he is our future."
To me, this is just further proof just how beaten-down Miami's defensive line situation is when you get an 18-year old to arrive in August and you are hoping he can already be counted on for that much action. Robinson played defensive end and linebacker in high school, but was tabbed as the nation's No. 4 outside linebacker by Rivals.com. Freshmen have been contributors at defensive end before -- the late Bryan Pata comes to mind. But Pata was bigger than Robinson and more built for lining up versus 300 pound tackles. It's certainly going to be an adjustment for the kid.
"We have a couple guys down. Since I played d-end in high school, coach made the decision I could make the move," Robinson said. "Physically, I feel good really. I just got to use my technique and I'll be fine. I've put on 15 pounds since I've been here. I'm up to 241. Right now, I got to use my speed, my feet, my technique when I take on a big guy. I'm working with Eric Moncur. He's teaching me pretty much. Steven Wesley too. They're teaching me to be fast with my hands and how to move on the line without standing still."
> I'm not the type of guy who wants to fan the flames, but it's never a good sign to me when reporters try and ask a player a question and UM reps intervene to say he's not interested in answering it. That's what happened when reporters tried to ask Shields about his academic situation (which has been a hot topic/rumor this summer). The fear is Shields had a lot of making up to do in the classroom. Either way, we'll find out soon if he is in trouble. Friday was the last day of summer school and finals and Shannon told us on media day that the coaching staff would be receiving grades early this coming week.
For his part, I got to give Sam credit. He answered other questions and stressed he's matured. Shields said he's also gained weight -- about five pounds -- and is up to 185. Shields said he's lining up mostly on the outside and said freshmen receivers have been doing a good job pushing the veterans.
"I'm just focused on the things I got to do now," Shields said. "I want to help this team win games."
> Sophomore cornerback Demarcus Van Dyke, who started eight games last season despite being one of the thinnest corners I've ever seen, said he's bulked up to 178 pounds this season. He was weighing 160 when he arrived at UM. Van Dyke was awfully impressive from what I can remember in the spring. He said he had a couple breakups during 7-on-7 drills. He said coaches are trying to find the best two corners "and then the next two for a first and second team."
He also spoke highly of the other freshmen -- who he is playing alongside and against -- Sunday.
"Those guys are coming along real well," Van Dyke said. "Those guys have picked up their game fast. Brandon [Harris] is a great defensive back who will help us a lot this year. Vaughn [Telemaque] and [Ramon] Buchanon are ballers right there, real ballers. They'll help us out this year."
"All [the receivers] are good. They got their different styles. LaRon is a big physical receiver. Thearon and Kendall Thompkins are slashy guys. [Davon Johnson] and Travis Benjamin and Tommy Streeter will spread the field on you. You have to watch how you cover them. Those guys are good."
> As for the walking wounded, the same three guys who sat out Saturday and did drills off to the side -- defensive ends Eric Moncur and Allen Bailey and defensive tackle Josh Holmes -- were in the same place again Sunday according to Shannon.
> Tampa Plant tight end Orson Charles (rated No. 1 in the nation by Rivals.com) watched practice again Sunday. In other recruiting tidbits, I got the sense from a few conversations defensive tackle Antwan Lowery would still be welcomed at UM even though the team already has two defensive tackles lined up for it's 09 class. The U though appears to be getting tired of Lowery's games. He was supposed to announce August 1st, but has since negated and reopened his recruiting to include Florida with Rutgers and Miami.