University of Miami coach Randy Shannon said there were no individual standouts at Monday morning's practice, the first in shells (helmets and shoulder pads) and third of the fall. But there were a few interesting guys available to chat with following practice including linebacker Darryl Sharpton, safety turned running back Damien Berry, and freshman defensive back Vaughn Telemaque, whom the Canes reeled in from longtime California power Long Beach Poly.
I'm starting today's blog, though, with a guy who could prove to be quite valuable to Miami's success this season on the offensive line, junior A.J. Trump. It's hard to feel happier for a guy on this team than Trump, who finally appears healthy after injuring his knee six games into his redshirt freshman season in 2006. Although he really hasn't played since, Trump said Monday "I feel like a freshman again." Trump played in just the fourth quarter of last year's opener against Marshall and admitted to me Monday "I think I tried to come back a little early and it wound up setting me back. I know how to be safe with it now and really take care of it."
Now, the 6-3, 300-pounder from Clearwater should be called Mr. Diversity for offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, who has Trump playing all three interior spots on the offensive line this fall. UM could certainly use a healthy Trump. Although Miami's team strength this season is clearly the offensive line with established tackles in Jason Fox, Reggie Youngblood and even the roving Chris Rutledge, there isn't much depth or established talent in the interior beyond Orlando Franklin or Joel Figueroa. Trump could not only become the answer as the team's primary backup -- like Rutledge has been at tackle, but also possibly the answer at center if Xavier Shannon, Matt Pipho or Tyler Horn can't do the job done.
"I'm working the most at right guard. But on a given day be, I'll be at a totally different position," Trump said. "The trouble with switching positions is getting in the right stances. I'm a natural lefty, so the left guard position is easier for me. But I'm starting to get it at right guard. What can screw you up is flipping the plays when flip positions. But once you do it enough, you can figure it out."
I asked Trump if he'd prefer to compete for the center spot, which is open. "I'd love to compete [for the center spot]," Trump said. "But if my role is to play both guards and make sure Fig and Orlando have enough rest, then that's my role. But if I have an opportunity to play center, I'm going balls to the wall."
> Damien Berry talked about his move to running back Monday, and just like Shannon, said that the move was the coaching staff's idea, one to add depth to a position the Hurricanes were hurting at by the end of last season (when starters Graig Cooper and Javarris James were banged up). Berry (5-11, 207) ran for 1,080 yards and 19 touchdowns as a senior at Glades Central (while playing on a torn ACL) and can certainly play the position when healthy. "I think I was coming along, I think I was doing good at safety," Berry said. "But I appreciate the switch. I'll play wherever coach Shannon needs me. If he wants me at safety, cornerback, center, wherever."
Berry, whose father Kenny was a defensive back at UM, is obviously taking the team first approach and that's good for the Canes, which could use the added depth this season. But there are a few things that make me queasy when I think about the move. For starters, it was after the spring. And from what I remember, Berry was actually doing pretty good at safety, a position most recruiting experts thought he would thrive at. Let's be honest. Does this move really make sense? At running back, Berry is going to be buried behind Javarris James, Graig Cooper and Derron Thomas this year and is definitely behind other young guys like Shawnbrey McNeal and Lee Chambers, who came in as running backs. Next year, Bryce Brown and Mike James are slated to arrive. When is Berry supposed to see the field? Miami coaches obviously know better than I do. They watch practice. I don't. But how often have position changes honestly worked out at UM Did Devin Hester ever really find a spot? Did James Bryant really ever settle in at linebacker or fullback? Where is Kylan Robinson these days? I'm just saying I think it's a lot to ask a guy to start over after they've spent a year a two working up the depth chart at one spot to move to the end of the line at the other. Here's to hoping Berry has better luck.
> Sharpton is one of those Canes who likes to get his nose into the action. When I spoke to him after practice, the bridge of his nose was swollen and red, the result of having his helmet slam against his face. After having three sacks in the spring, Sharpton potentially could find his nose in the chests of opposing quarterbacks more often this season than any player on Miami's defense.
The 5-11, 235-pound junior, who started the final five games of last season, said he has been playing with the first team at both outside positions (though he's slotted at strongside) and has worked hard this offseason to become a more dangerous weapon. Sharpton said he's trimmed down his body fat from 15 percent to 10 percent and says he's 40-time is down from a little over 4.6 to 4.5 seconds. It might just help him become the key blitzer at linebacker on this team. Shaprton raved about how much he loves how aggressive UM's new defense is under Bill Young. He says the advantage the team has is that it has learned the new schemes (filled with zone blitzes according to other guys I've spoken with) at the same time.
"Everybody is having fun out there, running around, playing in this new defense," Sharpton said. "I think all the guys have it down pat."
That includes freshmen Arthur Brown, who rotates behind Sharpton on the strongside, and Sean Spence (who is on the weakside).
"I've been very impressed with the young linebackers," Sharpton said. "I've been with Spence and Brown. From the spring until now, they've progressed into regular guys. I think they definitely know it well enough to teach other guys."
> There were rumors heading into fall practice Telemaque, who played safety at Long Beach Poly, could see time at cornerback. When I asked him Monday to clarify his position, he said "defensive back," but admitted he's spending most of his time at safety.
Telemaque, who was kind of shy during our interview, said he's comfortable in Miami and that his teammates are doing a good job helping him with the transition from the West Coast to the East Coast. But he said he still spends a lot of time every day calling his mother.
"I talk to my mom daily because I love her a lot," Telemaque said. "But I'm comfortable here. I'm looking forward to the next four years of my life here."
> Although defensive end Eric Moncur and Allen Bailey continue to be held out of contact drills, redshirt freshman defensive end Adewale Ojomo said they were "involved a little bit more today."
"We need Allen Bailey," Ojomo said. "Right now we're taking a lot of reps, and we need him to come in so he can take some of the reps off our back so we can last throughout the camp and throughout the season.
"Eric is a big leader on the d-line in general. We really need Eric back. If he's not healthy, we'll go without him. But we really could use him."
Ojomo said he's up to 250 pounds -- gaining about 3-4 pounds, but said he's upped his stamina and strength in the offseason. He was the MVP of the Scout team last season. "I can pass rush," Ojomo said. "But I also take pride in stopping the run. I don't want to only be known as a guy who can only pass rush on third down, I want to known as an all down guy."
Ojomo said he had two sacks Monday and said freshman Marcus Robinson batted down two balls and had "a few sacks."
Other quick tidbits...
> Coach Randy Shannon told reporters the freshmen who reported in the spring will definitely see playing time this season and said because of attrition, at least four freshmen receivers "in some way, form or fashion will help us this year."
> When asked what's he's looking for in the quarterback competiion Shannon said: "Time management. With the new clock change, the way it is now, they have to run the offense and not panic. Be calm, stay calm, get in and out of the huddle, set the plays, be able to execute the offense – don't give us a negative play. If we do those things we're going to be fine."
> As for the other five freshmen signees still not at practice, defensive back C.J. Holton was seen on the sidelines Monday with his family. Shannon preferred not to talk about it when pressed on whether Holton or any of the other five signees had been cleared yet.
VIDEOS AVAILABLE: For those of you who haven't seen any of the videos I've been posting yet, be sure to check them out. Today, I finally uploaded my interviews with freshmen receiver LaRon Byrd and cornerback Brandon Harris. I'm trying to post a few a day with highlights from Saturday's practice, the only one open to the public and media.