University of Miami coach Randy Shannon delivered a clear and concise message when he met with reporters Sunday morning inside the Edgerrin James meeting room. And it was basically this: The 2008 season is officially over. The 2009 season begins now.
Shannon told reporters he'll be on the road with his assistants the next two weeks, hitting the recruiting trail hard, searching for offensive lineman, defensive backs and tight ends to wrap up a recruiting class that already features 16 oral commitments. In two weeks, the team will get back together for practice and preparation for what will likely be a trip out to San Francisco for the Emerald Bowl and a date with Pac 10 team. That will likely be against either California (7-5) or Arizona (6-5).
While Shannon talked Sunday about making an improvement from 5-7 to 7-5 and reaching a bowl game, he fell short of calling this season a success. Way short. Shannon knows well that success at The U isn't measured by the number of wins in a season, but by national championships. And, he knows his team still has a long way to go before it can climb back onto that stage.
Two weeks ago, before the Canes were rocked in Atlanta and exposed yet again at N.C. State on Saturday, most of us believed Miami might have been a little ahead of schedule. But these Canes, the 7-5 Canes, are the real Canes. Not the one that was ranked for a week. The real UM team is the one with holes in its secondary, a lack of talent at linebacker and an offense plagued by inconsistency across the board. It's not the UM team that won five games in a row with smoke and mirrors. The question on everyone's mind should be this: Will 2009 really be the season Miami resembles those ranked, championship teams of old? Or, is this team still in rebuilding mode in '09? My gut tells me it's the latter.
Shannon, trying to explain what happened to his team in the final two weeks of the season, talked Sunday about how many of his young players "hit a wall." He speculated it happened because many of them were being used as the primary playmakers instead of being sprinkled in on rotations. I can buy that.
Sean Spence, Marcus Robinson, Marcus Forston, Aldarius Johnson, LaRon Byrd, Travis Benjamin, Jacory Harris, Robert Marve, Thearon Collier, Davon Johnson, Brandon Harris, Adewale Ojomo and Allen Bailey all had their first of many "wow moments" in their careers this season. But they also had plenty of those "young guy" moments, too. It's only natural. Those guys all did great for the first go-around. There is no question that collection of talent is an excellent base to build on for the next 2-3 seasons, an anchor if you will for a potential national championship caliber team down the road. And, there will be more freshmen and sophomores (guys like Tommy Streeter, Jeremy Lewis, Jordan Futch, Vaughn Telemaque, Arthur Brown, Ramon Buchanon, Gavin Hardin, Harland Gunn) who will provide us with a few "wow moments" next year, too. But that collection of talent alone -- even when those guys grow up a little -- IS NOT ENOUGH for this program to get back to that level of being among the nation's best.
What 2008 taught us as it ended was that this team still needs another 2-3 solid recruiting classes to get back to a point where it has the depth to win titles, play with the Floridas and win games it needs to late in the season when guys are banged up. It also taught us there is more tinkering to do with the foundation. Shannon hinted Sunday about waiting a week "when nobody was around him" to evaluate this team, from staff to players. Could we get an answer that quickly on the team's two major issues? Doubtful. But here's what I think will happen...
> 1. Will there be changes to the coaching staff? I think the coordinators are safe. Bill Young just got here last year and for Shannon to get rid of him after one season would make himself look really bad. Offensive coordinator Patrick Nix? I'd be surprised if it happened. The one thing Shannon has been adamant about in his two years as head coach is making sure his coordinator developed a good relationship with his young quarterbacks, a fallout from what he saw happen with Kyle Wright and Kirby Freeman. And the bottomline is this: Nix has numbers to support his effort. Miami put up better numbers across the board than it did a year ago. UM went up from 110th in total offense (315 ypg) to 88th (327 ypg) and in scoring from 20.58 points a game (101st) to 27.92 (48th). But a few assistants could be asked to leave, especially the ones whose units underperformed.
> 2. Will there be just one quarterback next season who takes all the snaps? While it worked to produce 7 wins this season giving Jacory Harris and Robert Marve playing time in each and every game, the experiment is likely over in 2009. My belief is Shannon simply wanted to give them each a chance to win the job for the future and develop should either of them get hurt. The battle will most certainly carry over through the spring and up until the final Tuesday before the team's season-opener against FAMU. But somebody will be the man next year. And somebody will be sitting unhappily on the bench. If I had to pick a winner right now, I'd say Jacory emerges as the leader. He's got the "it factor" for me.
This football team will lose as many as 25 seniors to graduation, even though a few (Eric Moncur, Anthony Reddick and Randy Phillips) we hear are trying to come back. We know there will be holes to fill because of it. But the truth is of those 25 guys, only a little more than a handful were real contributors -- MLB Glenn Cook, RT Reggie Youngblood, C Xavier Shannon, FS Reddick, CB Bruce Johnson, DL Dwayne Hendricks, DL Antonio Dixon. That's the good news. The bad news: Are there already guys on this team that can help fill those spots or will true freshman and potential JUCO signees have to do it? Here's what I think happens -- none of those seniors return -- and this is what Miami's two-deep roster looks like in 2009...
QB: Jacory Harris, So. | Robert Marve, So.
RB: Graig Cooper, Jr. or Javarris James, Sr. | Bryce Brown, Fr.
WR: Aldarius Johnson, So. | Sam Shields, Sr.
WR: LaRon Byrd, So. | Leonard Hankerson, Jr. or Tommy Streeter, R-Fr.
WR: Travis Benjamin, So. | Thearon Collier, So.
TE: Dedrick Epps, Sr. | Freshman or JUCO arrival
LT: Jason Fox, Sr. | Orlando Franklin, Jr.
LG: Chris Barney, Sr. | Brandon Washington, Fr.
C: A.J. Trump, Sr. | Freshman or JUCO arrival
RG: Joel Figueroa, Jr. | Harland Gunn, R-So.
RT: Orlando Franklin, Jr. | Matt Pipho, Sr.
DE: Marcus Robinson, So. | Courtney Harris, R-Jr.
DT: Marcus Forston, So. | Micanor Regis, R-Fr.
DT: Allen Bailey, Jr. | Joe Joseph, Sr.
DE: Steven Wesley, Jr. | Adewale Ojomo, R-So.
SLB: Arthur Brown, So. | Daryl Sharpton, Sr.
MLB: Colin McCarthy, Sr. | Jordan Futch, R-Fr. | Antonio Harper, Fr.
WLB: Sean Spence, So. | Ramon Buchanon, R-Fr.
CB: Brandon Harris, So. | Chavez Grant, Sr.
CB: DeMarcus Van Dyke, Jr. | Brandon McGee, Fr. or Jamal Reid, Fr.
S: Vaughn Telemaque, R-Fr. | Ryan Hill, Sr.
S: Jojo Nicholas, Jr. | Prince Kent, Fr.
> Over the next two weeks (as the team becomes unavailable to us), I've decided the best way to keep this blog going is to breakdown each position and how it did this season. I'll pick an MVP for each group and provide you with some thoughts on what to expect in 2009. I'll also provide you with my final Top 10 overall player rankings (a spin-off from our Market Watch) and select overall team MVP.