Football season has officially started at the University of Miami. I just got back home from Saturday morning's first practice of the fall and have plenty of thoughts and notes to share with you.
I took my new video camera out there and filmed plenty of practice, stuff I'll post as the year progresses (Note: Today's practice was the only one open to the press or public this season). In case you missed it, I posted a few video interviews yesterday with Jason Fox, Marcus Forston and Glenn Cook. There was also another video done on the quarterbacks by Emily Michot. I'll have more video up later today from practice including interviews with freshmen Brandon Harris, Laron Byrd, Jordan Futch and center Xavier Shannon.
To the highlights...
> The first noticeable difference in my eyes with this team -- there are playmakers at the wide receiver position. Even though the guys were just wearing helmets and shorts, the new arrivals made quite the impression. No one bigger than 6-4, 211-pound, No. 47-wearing LaRon Byrd. He was the first player Randy Shannon mentioned in his post practice meeting with the press.
"We're very excited about him, the way he's progressing and things like that," Shannon said. "He stood out. We threw a tight end option route where Laron ran over the corner and that as a big play for us. He has great size, he's blocking, he's doing those things. You don't come in and teach a freshman to do that. It's just natural."
Consider it a big deal to hear Randy say what he said. Shannon rarely singles out players for what they do in practice. (CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO WHAT SHANNON SAID AFTER PRACTICE)
> Byrd (whom Herald recruiting guru Larry Blustein insisted to me months ago would make an instant impact this year at UM) wasn't the only freshmen to make me say 'Wow.' Freshman Davon Johnson of Booker T. Washington had a nice catch down the sideline, then stopped to avoid a cornerback before scoring a touchdown. Former Northwestern receiver Kendall Thompkins also scored a TD on a long pass from Taylor Cook during 11 on 11 drills. I also liked what I saw from Travis Benjamin and Thearon Collier, who look like they will be battling it out with Johnson in the slot.
> After dodging the question Friday, Shannon finally told us exactly which freshmen are still waiting to get into UM: Defensive back Joe Wylie, defensive tackle Jeremy Lewis, safety C.J. Holton, linebacker Gavin Hardin and Brandon Marti. None, obviously, were at practice Saturday. But they could be as soon as Monday. Ultimately, the wait could be a bit linger longer. As long as they report before the third day of school, they can play this season.
> For those of you worried about the depth of the defensive line, I saw something Saturday that might make you even more queasy. Defensive end Eric Moncur was unexpectedly held out of practice and was busy working out on the sideline with a trainer (he was tossing one of those weight balls while running side to side). Allen Bailey and Josh Holmes (also out with injuries) were also participating in the drills.
It might be good news that they're working out, but it wasn't good to see a few other guys leave. During practice, Dwayne Hendricks eventually made his way to the sideline (not sure if it was cramps or not) and defensive tackle Joe Joseph was carried off the field with cramps late. The good news, a leaner Antonio Dixon once nicknamed "2 Play Dix" was able to complete practice. As you know, Miami is already without Courtney Harris for the season and Holmes could miss significant time. Shannon insisted Saturday Moncur (who he says missed 5-6 weeks of workouts this summer) will be back for the start of the season. But to me, these are obviously not the kind of signs you want to see from a defensive line that lost so much and has been riddled with injuries. Also of note, freshman Marcus Robinson, who was recruited as a linebacker, was playing defensive end Saturday (call it out of necessity).
> As far as the quarterbacks are concerned, I thought both Robert Marve and Jacory Harris looked exceptionally well. Both did a great job during seven on seven drills, rollouts and connecting on deep passes. I still say both are better than Kyle or Kirby right now even though they still haven't thrown a pass in college.
> Cannon Smith, who I spoke to one-on-one Friday at Media Day, looked better than he did in the spring. Shannon told us his arm is stronger and I found out why. According to Smith, he was still recovering this spring from a separated shoulder. He said he couldn't throw the ball as hard as he wanted to. "I don't know what percentage I was at, but I know when I was throwing the ball, it wasn't all there," Smith said. "But now I'm back and after working hard with coach Swasey during the conditioning drills I feel I'm back to where I want to be." We'll see if that means in the race for the starting job with Marve and Harris.
> Shannon told reporters Friday that the team's fourth quarterback, Taylor Cook, was too far behind to compete for the starting job this fall. You saw why Saturday. Although, he showed some good arm strength and did connect with Thompkins for a touchdown, Cook looks like he'll need some coaching from Patrick Nix on his mechanics. He throws the ball sidearm and at times doesn't appear to be really stepping into his passes.
> Several player said they couldn't sleep last night before the start of practice -- including Byrd and Xavier Shannon. Shannon said he woke up early and was at UM early enough to still see the moon, "It was strange coming out here and still seeing the moon." Shannon, who has some great stories to tell about his father, said Randy recently called him at 6 a.m. on his day off a few weeks ago to ask him if the movie National Treasure 2 had been released yet. "He didn't ask me how I was doing or anything," Shannon said. "Just, 'Did it come out yet?"
> There were a few visiting recruits among the spectators and fans in attendance. I saw highly touted tight end Orson Charles from Tampa Plant, Northwestern safety Tevin McCaskill and Pace defensive back Kayvon Webster. I was told Cane commitment Stephen Plein of Fort Myers was there. Highly touted Plantation High defensive back Brandon McGee (who will announce his decision Aug. 11) was also reportedly there. I also spotted Booker T. Washington running back Eduardo Clements (Class of 2010) on the way out.
> The following is by no means an official depth chart, but it was where I filmed guys practicing at Saturday. Consider just a starting point for discussion as the fall progresses.
Offense (first team | second team | third team)
QB: Robert Marve or Jacory Harris | Cannon Smith
RB: Javarris James or Graig Cooper | Derron Thomas or Shawnbrey McNeal
FB: Patrick Hill | John Calhoun | Eric Houston
WR: K. Jones and K. Farquharson | A. Johnson, L. Hankerson or J. McKenzie | L. Byrd
Slot: Sam Shields | T. Benjamin, D. Johnson and K. Thompkins
TE: Dedrick Epps | Chris Zellner or Richard Gordon | Daniel Adderley, Tervaris Johnson
LT: Jason Fox | Tyrone Byrd | Ian Symonette
LG: Chris Barney | Orlando Franklin
C: Xavier Shannon | Tyler Horn
RG: Joel Figueroa | Harland Gunn
RT: Reggie Youngblood or Chris Rutledge | Ben Jones
Defense (first team | second team | third team)
DE: Steven Wesley (since Bailey was out) and Adewale Ojomo (since Moncur as out) | Marcus Robinson
DT: Joe Joseph and Antonio Dixon and Marcus Forston | Dwayne Hendricks, Micanor Regis
SLB: Darryl Sharpton | Arthur Brown | Jordan Futch
MLB: Glenn Cook | Spencer Adkins | Romeo Davis
WLB: Colin McCarthy | Sean Spence | Kylan Robinson
CB: Bruce Johnson and Chavez Grant | DeMarcus Van Dyke, Carlos Armour and Ryan Hill | B. Harris
S: Lovon Ponder, Anthony Reddick, Randy Phillips | Jojo Nicholas, Jared Campbell | V. Telemaque