Sorry it took so long, but it took me awhile to get through all of the interviews from today, a day when the University of Miami began moving past the weekend news of first game suspensions for seven players including starting quarterback Robert Marve. Coach Randy Shannon and select players met with reporters for the first of a dozen Media Days this season Monday. And they kept me busy.
Shannon has been catching a lot of heat for the way he handled the suspensions both nationally and locally, including from our own Greg Cote, who believe the coach should not have waited 10 months to remind Marve he was being punished. On my way to UM this morning, I got a phone call from a staff member close to Shannon who told me the program is not pleased with the way the situation is being portrayed. "There's always two sides to a story," they said. And the truth is, they've got a point.
For all the fuss being made about the situation, the only thing that really matters in my eyes is how the team and Marve handle the situation moving forward. And according to the source who called me this morning to voice his displeasure, the suspensions are not as big a distraction internally as it might seem from the outside.
Last night, Marve was obviously agitated when he spoke about the suspension to the media. He seemed like he had already rehearsed his answers, saying basically the same thing over and over. While his feelings were hurt according to his family like The Herald reported Saturday, it seemed to me that a day later when the lights of the cameras were shut off and recorders were tucked away, Marve looked like he had already moved on. As we left the practice field Sunday, Marve was already asking Jacory Harris and Cannon Smith where they wanted to eat dinner and where they'd be hanging out later.
Although players said they were stunned by the news (just listen to receiver Leonard Hankerson), I genuinely believe this team is not going to let the situation affect them. Sunday, Cannon Smith told me privately he thought Marve was "handling the situation like a man." "That's one of the things about Marve, he's a tough guy," Smith said. "Of course, we felt bad for our teammate. I talked to him about it. He's handling it great. That's the kind of guy Marve is, he's not going to let this get in his way. He's going to come back and he's not going to skip a beat. He's going to be firing on all cylinders."
Monday, I asked team captain and starting left tackle Jason Fox, who always his big thumbs on the pulse of the team, for his thoughts on how he thinks the team responded to the suspensions and news. quot;Really positive," Fox said. "... all the guys, they've all handled it real well. This is a program that's going to hold guys accountable and they know that they're still going to get their opportunities. The guys that are suspended are going to be there to cheer the other guys on. They're not there to hold any grudges. They're there to support the rest of the guys."
> While we know for sure the reason Marve was suspended was for his run-in with the last last October, Shannon didn't elaborate further Monday than he did Sunday as to why the other six players -- running back Damien Berry, receiver Kayne Farquharson, fullback Eric Houston, long snapper Chris Ivery, defensive end Adewale Ojomo, and safety Randy Phillips were suspended. So, we'll have to go with what he told us Sunday regarding "curfew, study hall and doing the right things in the classroom."
I asked Shannon if any of the six were supposed to be starters like Marve and he said no. We know that not to be the case at least with Ivery, who was supposed to handle snaps on punts. And I'm pretty sure Ojomo was going to start at defensive end. But hey, that's what Randy told us.
> As for Harris, Shannon said he will not shorten the playbook at all for his first career start Thursday. And he made no promises about Cannon Smith even getting a snap. Harris' teammates aren't worried one bit he's the guy starting Thursday -- despite being just eight months removed from his high school graduation and winning a second consecutive state title at Northwestern. Everything receiver Khalil Jones, Fox and right guard Joel Figueroa said about him Monday evoked confidence.
"He's very cerebral," Fox said. He's very confident. He's not a guy that will jump up and down and yell and holler. You can definitely see in the way he holds himself in the huddle, he's confident. He knows he's going to make the throw, that he's going to make a play. You don't really sense any type of timidness from him. He stands tall. You kind of respect him in the huddle already, even though he's a freshman. Marve's a little bit different. He gets excited. But they're both very confident in the huddle and they both kind of demand respect in the huddle. When they start talking everybody gets quiet and starts listening."
Jones said playing at Miami Northwestern, where the level of pressure is elevated, has prepared Harris well for his first collegiate start. "He's mature. He reminds me of a rockstar. To be that young, I marvel at how well he handles the pressure and how far he's come along in a short amount of time. He really doesn't act like a freshman quarterback. It's been a great transition from high school to now. He's taken it so well, really taken control of it. I'm proud of him."
Figueroa said the biggest difference between Harris and Marve as far as their play is that "Marve likes to get out of the pocket and scramble a little bit more. Jacory likes to stay in the pocket."
For those of you worried about Harris taking big hits and being able to get up from it, he told reporters Sunday night he's gained 19 pounds since he left Northwestern and is standing 6-4 and weighing 187 pounds. Ken Dorsey's height and weight his freshman season in 1999? A very similar 6-4, 185 pounds.
> UM's depth chart, released Sunday, had 14 true or redshirt freshmen on it's two-deep list. Shannon said he isn't worried about playing that many freshmen and neither are some of his older players. Shannon said many freshmen will play this season, but will not get the majority of work. "They'll play 20 to 25 snaps," Shannon said. "If we throw them in for 60 plays and 30 plays they don't know what they're doing, then you'll have problems."
Linebacker Glenn Cook said he's confident the freshman can handle it. "We have confidence because we prepared them for the situation," Cook said. "They've gotten a lot of reps in scrimmages and what not, so I think they'll go into the situation and be ready. They've gotten more work than most freshman have ever here. So, they won't be as brand new to things."
> Even though he was passed up by Jordan Futch for the No. 2 spot at weakside linebacker on the two-deep, Cook said freshman linebacker Arthur Brown is doing just fine. Shannon told reporters Monday Brown is not injured. Cook said not to pay too much attention to the depth chart because he believes a lot of linebackers will play.
> Even though Shannon told reporters last week Sunday was the deadline for defensive ends Allen Bailey and Eric Moncur to return to practice in order to be ready to play Thursday, he said Monday "the door is still open" on his projected two starting ends. I still believe its a safe bet they don't play in the opener.
"Allen Bailey the other day went through the whole entire individual work out and tossed one of the offensive lineman doing drills," Shannon said. "We just got to keep progressing. Both of them went to the doctor and the doctor said they looked good. As long as the doctors say its ok they could play. Moncur was probably more ahead of Bailey. But both of them are about equal now."
> Count cornerback Chavez Grant as a guy who is excited about the return of Cook at middle linebacker.
"Cook knows the defense like the back of his hand," Grant said. "When I came in as a freshman, he knew the defense like the back of his hand. And now he knows this one like that. It gives you a lot of confidence when you got a guy in there. When you know what to do, it gives you a lot of confidence."
Knowing what they have to do, though, could still be a challenge for the Canes, who are entering the second consecutive season with a new coordinator. Grant talked at length Monday about how much the terminology has changed under Bill Young and the growing pains.
"The terminology has changed a lot. And as we go through the season we'll pick up on a lot of things," Grant said. "Basically, what we have to do is erase everything from the last two years and start all over. It's not easy. But most of the time what we do is take something from last year and put a different name on it. It does create [a split second of hesitation]. And I believe [we'll see some growing pains]. I've seen it sometimes in practice where as a DB I said 'Oh man, I should have taken that route.' Repitition is the father of learning, though, and I think we'll be just fine.
> Fox said the difference with Xavier Shannon at center this year is having a guy who can stand up physically to the defense. Fox said he's proud, too, how fast Shannon has been able to adjust since coming over from FIU in the spring.
"He's graded out real well in all of our scrimmages and practices," Fox said. "It's real surprising when you think he's only been here one year. By the way he's playing it looks like he's been here a couple years.
"I wouldn't compare him to Rochford. [Xavier is] really athletic. Rochford was a guy who would beat you with speed. [Xavier] has a little more muscle on him. He some speed on him too, but he definitely can move people around."
> Sophomore Matt Bosher, who will handle all of the kicking duties Thursday, said the toughest challenge is "not so much physical, but more mental preparation."
"One minute, you could be getting ready to punt, then a first down comes and you might be in field goal range," Bosher said. "Things change pretty quickly. Coach has done a good job preparing us for it all."
I asked Bosher if its possible he could tire from handling all the duties. "You can kick your leg out just like a pitcher throwing too many pitches. You almost have to kind of be on a kick count," Bosher said.
As for his snapper, Bosher admitted Chris Ivery is a little bit faster than Jake Byrne when it comes to getting the ball back to the holder, but not much. "They both put it on the money every time," Bosher said. "Jake is a great long snapper and he's really going to do well with field goals. I'm completely confident with him for all of us to get our timing down."
FYI, safety Lovon Ponder is Byrne's backup. Ponder has been practicing at long snapper since the spring.
> Be sure to check out my feature tomorrow on Xavier Shannon, who took me inside his relationship with his father, including how much his Dad loves movies. Coach Shannon apparently likes war movies, adventure movies and one of his personal favorites is Get Rich or Die Trying with 50 Cent.
> This week will be the first Live Chat of the new season at our new time and day, 2 p.m. Thursday. The chats will no longer take place here on the blog, but on the same style Greg Cote used for his chat today. There should be a link up later this week for you to leave questions.
> FYI, for those of you who would like to hear the interviews, check out our Audio page. I post just about everything I collect.