Jason Fox's streak of 21 consecutive starts at left tackle is looking dangerously close to coming to an end Thursday night against Virginia Tech. And that's not good news for a Hurricanes team hoping to rebound from their minus-2-yard rushing performance against the Hokies last year.
Fox, who has started 33 of the 34 games he's played at Miami, had his right ankle heavily taped during Monday afternoon's practice at Greentree Practice Field and could not backpedal during their stretching and jogging exercises. While other linemen backpedaled, Fox came back jogging forward. Coach Randy Shannon said during Monday's press conference he didn't know if Fox would play this week. Miami does not release its injury report until two days before kickoff when it plays on Saturdays. But it's unclear whether or not it will be released two days prior to kickoff this week.
Two weeks ago against Virginia when Fox went down late in the first quarter, he was replaced by senior Reggie Youngblood -- who moved over from right tackle -- and junior Matt Pipho, who shared snaps in his absence. Senior Chris Rutledge has started the last six games at right tackle and also got hurt against Virginia, but is expected to play this week. If Fox doesn't play, Miami will likely start Youngblood in his place. Youngblood has started 18 games in his career -- including two this season. But he's playing injured. The Canes should count their blessings he's around. Shannon talked Monday about how Youngblood had an opportunity to take a redshirt this season after going down in the North Carolina game. But he elected to go against it.
"He's not where we need him to be at yet," Shannon sad. "But the more reps he gets the better he's going to be. He did a great job coming in the Virginia game and doing a tremendous job for us when Fox got hurt. Last week was a lot of ones vs. ones and now he's starting to get back in the trend of it. Anytime you are a senior, it's tough when you get nicked, come back off nicks. He's responded well, had a great attitude. It's a pleasure to see him move around, do the things he's doing."
Youngblood came to Miami with a lot of hype. He was a member of the USA Today All-USA High School Team and rated the No. 2 tackle in the nation by Rivals.com, choosing the Canes over Oklahoma. But his career certainly hasn't panned out the way he wanted. He's admitted to taking plays off. But Shannon and Youngblood's teammates are proud he's decided to stick through this season.
"He's progressed a lot," Shannon said. "[Offensive line coach Jeff] Stoutland has done a great job making him understand what it takes to be a great football player. Sometimes, guys who have a lot of athletic ability, come in with a lot of praise and say, `I can go and take this off.' You're not giving it your all. This year he's giving it his all. He had an opportunity to redshirt, said `Well I'll forget about this year and I'll come back.' But he wanted to come back for this team. He stepped up, showed I want to be with you guys and finish this off the right way. That says a lot about his character. It's unbelievable for a guy who was nicked, is still nicked, but says `I can sit out but I want to play with this football team.' It shows players on this football team no matter what happens we all have to make sacrifices, do what has to get done."
Said junior A.J. Trump who has started the last five games at right guard: "I got a lot of respect for that guy, fighting through that injury. It's huge for us. It would have been easy to say this is it, I'll wait until next year and improve my draft stock. But he's said my teammates need me. You can't give that guy enough respect."
> Before rushing for 197 yards against Virginia, Miami's running game had disappeared for the most part in wins against Wake Forest and Duke. Then, Miami ran the ball well against the Cavaliers, but drew seven false start penalties -- one more than than their season total (6) in their first eight games.
Trump drew three false starts himself and said coaches are certainly getting on their case about it this week. "It's something we definitely want to get right," Trump said. "Not to make excuses, but we're jumping early and I'd rather be doing that than starting late, getting beat and giving up a five yard loss and a down."
> One thing the Hurricanes definitely want to do is continue to get off the field on third downs. After their season opening win against Charleston Southern, UM's third down defense was giving up first downs 55 percent of the time (34 or 62). Since the loss to Florida State, though, Miami has only allowed opponents to convert at a 24 percent clip (15 of 62). The Hokies are converting at a 36 percent clip.
Linebacker Glenn Cook said the improvement there -- as well as Miami's improved play in the second half -- has little to with halftime adjustments defensive coordinator Bill Young is making. He says it has to do with guys doing a better job tackling. "I think it's just a matter that we calm down and start doing what we're supposed to," Cook said. "For some reason we haven't started well. But we've learned how to finish."
> Thursday night, UM will induct five new players into its ring of honor -- quarterbacks Jim Kelly and Gino Torretta, offensive lineman Jim Otto, defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy and running back Edgerrin James. Javarris James said he hopes to honor his cousin with a big game Thursday -- especially since his mother and a lot of folks from back home in Immokalee will be coming for the game.
"Since I got here that's always been my motivation to come out and out-do my cousin," Baby J said. "He did a lot of great things here. He's going to be the youngest guy to go up in the Ring of Honor. Following in his footsteps is just a privilege. I think I just want to showcase as much talent as I can when he gets honored."
> Shannon talked a little bit about the selection process and why UM waited 11 years to honor more of its great players. "There's a lot of things involved in picking those guys. You can make a pick for anybody. Those guys are from different eras we felt should be honored. There'll be more Ring of Honors later on in the future. The last time we did it was Vinny Testaverde in 1997... When [athletic director] Kirby [Hocutt] came in he brought it up to me. We talked about it. He said this would be a great time going into a new facility, new stadium. This was an appropriate time."
Shannon said several criteria were used including character off the field. He said the fact Kennedy returned to school and finished his degree three years ago played a factor. "You have to go from each era. Everyone says Jim Otto. Well, he did a great career at the University of Miami. He's the only center that played in the NFL, AFL that was an All-Pro in both and played in the Super Bowl games. Why not Dennis Harrah? That era. Why not Mike Irvin, Eddie Brown? You can go back and forth all the time. There were 75 All-Americans that were on the list at one point in time. Somebody's going to get upset, get mad at you. We just have to take our time and pick who is best at that time. It wasn't a deal, `Here's the five guys.' It was 100, 75, then 50, 25, 10. It kept going down and down and you have to pick eventually. Someone's going to be upset."