The one complaint I've heard more than any other since Miami lost to North Carolina Saturday isn't that the Canes secondary imploded or that the pass rush didn't do a good enough job getting in Cameron Sexton's face. It wasn't that UM offensive coordinator Patrick Nix did a bad job calling plays late in the game (although that's becoming another big complaint again). Nope, what Canes fans are most concerned about is the way Randy Shannon is handling his quarterbacks.
The complaint is simple: fans feel sticking in freshman Jacory Harris for a series is killing Miami's offensive momentum. Coach Randy Shannon has said time and time again this season he wants to get Harris in the game to make sure he's ready to go should starter Robert Marve go down. Tuesday, during his meeting with the media for the Florida State game, Shannon addressed it again and defended the decision. "The last two times we put Jacory in he went down and got three points. So we're scoring points," Shannon explained. "It helps Robert out to see what the defense is doing since we've been moving the ball, are they changing their defensive scheme? When he comes back he doesn't miss a beat."
For his part, Harris has done well when he's been in. He certainly hasn't hurt the team. He hasn't turned the ball over and he's moved the offense down the field. Marve, meanwhile, has still been able to move the team downfield and score points when he comes back in.
"I don't think it throws me out of my groove – I came back and completed balls," Marve said Tuesday. "I didn't feel out of groove. I felt good when I came back in (vs. UNC)."
The bottomline is there is more to this story than just 'Jacory needs experience.' I spoke with one of Harris' former position coaches at Northwestern Monday night who told me a big reason Harris decided to come to Miami in the first place was because Shannon promised him playing time -- regardless if whether or not Marve was healthy. If that's true, it might explain Shannon's commitment to his playing time. If you think about it, Shannon is in a tough spot here no matter what. Not only does he need Harris to be ready if needed, but he needs Harris to be here at the University of Miami and happy should anything happen to Marve. Neither of UM's other backup quarterbacks, Cannon Smith or Taylor Cook, look like they'll be ready any time soon to run this team. If Shannon doesn't play Harris like it has supposedly been promised, what's to stop Harris from leaving?
Privately, Jacory's former position coach told me Harris' family is anxious about Jacory having to wait three years to become the starter on this team (something Jacory mentioned to us last week). According to his position coach, other schools have continued to tell Harris' family and friends he could come in and start if he transferred. Miami obviously can't afford that. There is no star quarterback coming in with UM's 2009 class. Although AJ Highsmith plays quarterback in high school, he is likely headed to another position when he gets to UM. Locally, Miami has a real good shot at getting the next great QB in South Florida in Miami Central's Jeffrey Godfrey in 2010 (UM's Corey Bell was his head coach at Edison and Godfrey has known Tim Harris since he was a kid playing optimist ball in Overtown). But that's two years away. Harris, meanwhile, continues to put his best foot forward and maintain a positive attitude. "I just have to be ready," Harris said when asked of what's it like waiting to see if and when he'll come in and play. "If I'm not, there'll be a lot of mess-ups."
> While the hot topic this week has been the quarterbacks, the real area of concern for the Canes in all honesty is its secondary.
Before Tuesday's practice, UM coach Randy Shannon told reporters he expects Florida State to try the deep ball because "we haven't been able to stop it" and that there would likely be some changes in the Canes secondary this week. Looks like the first one could be moving freshman Brandon Harris into the starting lineup at cornerback.
Harris, who has been playing about 35 snaps a game in nickel situations, told us after practice he's been elevated to working with the first team with Chavez Grant. The depth chart lists Grant behind Bruce Johnson, but Harris said Grant is now playing more at nickel and DeMarcus Van Dyke, Johnson and Carlos Armour are splitting time at the other corner position.
Shannon said earlier in the day Tuesday that safety Anthony Reddick visited him in his office this weekend and told him he thought guys were pressing, trying to make plays. UM's secondary has yet to produce an interception and has given up eight touchdowns through the air. Brandon Harris said another problem is "guys peaking into the backfield and worrying about the run." Harris said "guys have to train their eyes and be disciplined" and that position coach Wesley McGriff is doing that in practice this week." But the big problem is urgency.
"I think that's the big problem, guys really want to make the big play and sometimes we go out of our territory to make the big play and we leave our zones open," Harris said. "I think if we just focus on our assignments, everything will come together."
That's what happened to Van Dyke, who said he received phone calls from several former players including Kenny Phillips and Mike Rumph over the weekend. He said Rumph told him he made the same mistake against Penn State years ago in the Orange Bowl and bounced back from it.
"I was trying to make a play and undercut the rout," Van Dyke explained of giving up the winning score to Brooks Foster with less than a minute to play Saturday. "I saw the man run a corner route and I tried to make a big play for the team, but it didn't quite happen. I learned from my mistake so next time it won't happen. I'll go for the tackle or the breakup and save my team a W instead of an L.
> Shannon said he's been really encouraged by the play of freshman Travis Benjamin on punt returns and is expecting him to "break one soon." Benjamin is averaging 17.7 yards a return this season and had a 36-yard return against North Carolina and a 44-yarder against Texas A&M. Benjamin has gotten some big blocks to spring him on those returns. Colin McCarthy has been in on both of them.
"I feel like every game my ability to catch the ball and follow my assignment, eventually I'll break one pretty soon," Benjamin said. "Before I even go on the field, I look at Chavez and Colin because they are my keys on which way I'm supposed to go. They say if I got them, they got me."
Benjamin is the next freshman I expect to have a breakout performance -- ala Thearon Collier. Last week, offensive coordinator Patrick Nix called for two runs for Benjamin, who played in the backfield in high school, too.
"Coach told me last week they got to find a way to get the ball in my hands because of my speed and my ability," Benjamin said. "Because to them, when I get the ball in my hands, there's no telling what I can do."
> Shannon defended offensive coordinator Patrick Nix Tuesday morning saying he believes Nix has done a great job with his young quarterbacks, managing Graig Cooper (who has 2 100-yard games) and creating great balance. Shannon pointed out UM ran the ball 33 times and threw it 33 times against North Carolina.
> Running back Javarris James is out of his walking boot, but Shannon told reporters to still not expect James back yet this weekend. He said James would likely start working on a bike this week. The expectations are he could be back on the practice field at some point next week as UM prepares for UCF. But my guess is James would likely be questionable at best whether or not he plays that week as well -- especially considering UCF is a non-conference opponent and Randy's new philosophy with injuries.
"Javarris was running around today, but he won't go this week," Shannon said after Tuesday's practice. "But he's out of the boot. He ran around a lot with the trainers today, did some sled work. It will probably be next week that he'll be back into it. I'm hopeful for the UCF game."
> As for the other injuries, freshman defensive tackle Marcus Forston is back this week after his shoulder injury caused him to miss the North Carolina game. Backup running back Derron Thomas was also back out at practice after leaving the UNC game early, which is a good sign.
> Receiver Thearon Collier is another story. I saw him walk off the field today (he wasn't wearing pads or practicing) wincing and holding his side as he walked off. Shannon told us Collier was taken to the hospital Saturday and released after being treated. Rumor is its either his ribs or even his spleen. There's probably no way Collier plays this week. "Thearon, I doubt if he'll be going this week," Shannon said. "Maybe if he works some mojo he'll be back. But I doubt it."
> As for Miami's other star running back, Shannon reiterated this week he's trying not to overuse Cooper. He said again Tuesday he wants to keep Cooper fresh. Cooper played mostly in the first and fourth quarters against North Carolina.
"We need Cooper fresh in the game," Shannon said. "That last three minutes of the game when Cooper slipped on the ground, we were about to get what we needed to take the game over. We can't go in the game and say use Cooper the first three quarters and the fourth quarter comes and he can't do those things. That's why we do the things with Cooper and Derron [Thomas] to spell him. We're going to continually do that and make sure we don't spend Cooper out the first half and now the fourth quarter we don't have one of our best players on the field."
> Shannon said he's not ready yet to announce who he'll be redshirting this year. "You've still got time. Injuries can happen. If they can help us, we won't redshirt them."
Here's my guess as to who will redshirt (games played in parenthesis): RB Damien Berry (1), fullback John Calhoun (1), safety Jared Campbell (1), defensive end Gavin Hardin (1), defensive tackle Jeremy Lewis (1), quarterback Cannon Smith (1), receiver Kendall Thompkins (2), safety Joe Wylie (1), quarterback Taylor Cook (0), kicker Jake Wieclaw (0), safety Ramon Buchanon (0), receiver Tommy Streeter (0), offensive lineman Ben Jones (0) and defensive end Andrew Smith (2).