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35 posts from February 2009

February 27, 2009

Streeter shines on third day of spring

Each time I think about my trip to Dallas two years ago to watch Miami Northwestern take on Southlake Carroll, the first image that always pops into my mind is the one of receiver Tommy Streeter racing down the field underneath a long, rainbow pass from Jacory Harris for a touchdown. It was the highlight of one of the most impressive high school football games I've ever watched. 

StreeterTommy Streeter was the star of the day at Thursday's practice Friday afternoon during the University of Miami's third practice of the spring at Greentree Practice Field, Tommy and Jacory treated us to a replay of those long touchdown connections again. Only this time, they were wearing Canes colors. Streeter, who missed his freshman season with a wrist injury, made the play of the day Thursday. Not once. But twice! First, he hauled in a 75-yard touchdown pass during 11-on-11 drills, beating newly converted cornerback Sam Shields down the sideline on a long pass. Then, Streeter used all of his 6-5, 207-pound frame to stretch out and make a diving touchdown catch in the back of the end zone during red zone drills.

There shouldn't be MVP awards for spring practices conducted in shorts, shoulder pads and helmets. But when you consider how good Streeter looked in only his third practice back from wrist surgery, you got to give him something (at least a helmet sticker).

"It really surprised me to see him fly around like that,'' former Northwestern teammate and fellow UM receiver Aldarius Johnson said. "He looked pretty good for a guy coming off injury, being out all that time after surgery and having therapy. He talked a lot of smack before today's practice. Then, he came out and did what he said he was going to do. He stepped up today. It was like old times."

While Streeter definitely has to put on more weight to take the type of licking safeties will be sure to try and deliver on him, his emergence at receiver bodes well for the Canes. As Aldarius pointed out, "He can stretch the field," Johnson said. "That gives me and Laron and the other guys the underneath stuff. He can make a big impact."

> Streeter was the only player to a touchdown during full on 11-on-11 work, but he wasn't the only player to score Thursday. During red zone drills the following guys scored during red-zone work: Running back Graig Cooper scored on a 12-yard run, fullback Pat Hill on a 15-yard pass from Harris, tight end Richard Gordon on a 10-yard pass from Harris, and receiver Leonard Hankerson (who had a bad case of the drops for most of practice) hauled in a 15-yard jump-ball pass from Cannon Smith on a broken play.

> Other standouts from Thursday's practice included: Linebacker Kylan Robinson (who intercepted a deflected pass intended for Cooper and made a nice tackle of Javarris James after shedding a block); defensive tackle Allen Bailey (who also broke free from a block on a screen pass and drilled James); and defensive tackle Marcus Forston (who showed his speed chasing down Cannon Smith from behind).

> I've got to admit I've enjoyed the extra access coach Randy Shannon has given us for the first four practices this spring. Being on the sideline has allowed the media to really get a good look behind the scenes of who the real leaders, trash-talkers and effort guys are. During running drills today, we got a real good opportunity to listen in on how Orlando Franklin antagonizes opponents. During the entire drill he kept challenging defensive end Adewale Ojomo and clapped when Ojomo and Forston were given extra up-down drills for jumping offsides. Left tackle Jason Fox is another guy who likes to talk smack. He went over several times to the defensive players to ask them what was wrong. It was pretty funny. 

> Speaking of Shannon, he wasn't at practice Thursday because he was participating in a Nike Camp in Pittsburgh according to UM's sports information staff. We were told he'll be back for Saturday morning's practice, the first in full pads.

> I don't have a lot more to share in terms of interviews after practice, but I did learn a little about the offensive line from center A.J. Trump. Don't be shocked this season if you see Trump snapping with both hands. The left-handed Trump says when quarterbacks in the shotgun, he'll snap left-handed. But when QBs are under center, he'll do it right-handed because that's how they prefer to receive it. It hasn't really caused any problems in practice yet that I've noticed. 

As for potential backups, it's obvious Tyler Horn will be behind Trump when the season starts. But it was interesting to hear who UM is working in with Matt Pipho as the team's third and emergency center. According to Trump, freshman Brandon Washington is getting a look there. "He's a smart kid and he's picking up on things quickly," Trump said. "We need a third center right now, so why not."

The lesson Bryce Brown taught us

Wednesday afternoon, instead of being out at the University of Miami for the second practice of the spring, I was inside The Miami Herald filming our newest installment of The Recruiting Report (a new webcast set to be released in two weeks). During our show, I got a chance to sit down and talk with the No. 1 recruit in Miami-Dade County for 2010, Miami Northwestern defensive tackle Todd Chandler.

Northwestern defensive tackle Todd Chandler is one of two of UM's 2010 commitments. By first impressions, Todd was one of the most polite and personable kids I've interviewed recently in the 13 years I've been following recruiting and covering high school football in South Florida. Everything out of Todd's mouth began with 'No Sir' and 'Yes Sir.' He was funny, engaging and had a lot of interesting things to say about himself. For starters, he fought obesity an early age (weighing 167 pounds when he was only 7 years old). He's also the nephew of former Cane Earl Little. But the most interesting stuff to come out of Chandler's mouth during our interview -- on and off camera -- was the reason why he decided to commit to the University of Miami before his junior season was even over. At first, everything Chandler said sounded great, the type of response you want to hear from a high school recruit.

"It just feels like family," Chandler said of UM. "I know Jacory [Harris], Marcus [Forston], all those guys. We all won a championship together. Plus, it's home."

And then, the word BUT got into our conversation. "But, I've been really beginning to feel the love from other schools," Chandler said. "Oklahoma, Florida State, they're really coming hard after me. I'm going to have to give those guys a look."

Before the conversation went any further, I'll admit I lost my cool. 'But aren't you committed to Miami?,' I asked. 'Did you say you were done with recruiting?', I continued. 'Or,' I stammered, 'Is this going to be another Bryce Brown situation?'

Chandler quickly backpedaled. "No way, Sir," Chandler responded. "With all due respect to Bryce and his decision making process, I'll never handle it like that. I'm committed to Miami. When I make up my mind, it will be over. I'm not going to create a circus like that."

Willie Williams took us for a ride in 2003, but even he had more respect for the recruiting game than Bryce Brown. Chandler isn't the first kid I've interviewed whose been committed but still isn't done with his head-scratching process. Bryce Brown wasn't the first either (Canes fans remember the Patrick Johnson show in 2007). Still, the phenomenon of being "committed while looking elsewhere" is relatively new to the recruiting world. Sure, kids have made dramatic last minute switches before. There were stunners on National Signing Day long before Bryce Brown ever became the nation's No. 1 recruit and running back. 

But there is no denying the way the recruiting game is being played nowadays is much different than it was just a few years ago. A month before national signing day 2009, nearly 90 percent of Top 150 players in the country were committed -- and still taking other visits. It seemed like there were really just a few players who might make things interesting. Then, when it came time to sign the paperwork, stunning stories began to take place across the country as longtime commitments jumped ship, and others like Brown decided to hold off on signing. I was at Monsignor Pace for one of those stunning moments when defensive back Kayvon Webster (a longtime UM commitment) didn't even call Hurricanes coaches to let them know he was going with USF. He just bolted, did them dirty.

Somehow, NSD 2009 just felt very dirty to me too -- even more filthy than what I thought was the scummiest recruiting story I had been around. You know the one I'm talking about. The year was 2003. Me and more than a dozen reporters were sitting in a library at Carol City High, waiting for the then national recruiting story of the year then to make up his mind. We'd find out later a lot more about Willie Williams not long after that. But what I appreciate now (even after the circus that story turned into) was  the genuine level of suspense and honest build up of emotion of it. Nobody knew where Williams was going to UM before that day. Nobody knew because even Williams (somebody with a lengthy police record) treated his recruiting process and the colleges chasing him with more respect than most kids do nowadays (even with his laugh out loud commentary in his recruiting diaries). Why? Because he didn't lie to anyone about his feelings. He didn't commit to Larry Coker or Bobby Bowden or anyone else and then change his mind. He spoke the truth when he was asked about where he wanted to go to school, telling reporters all the time 'I don't know.' High school athletes nowadays ought to know (whether their mentors want them to say it or not) there is nothing wrong with saying 'I don't know where I want to go to school.' 

Bryce Brown committed to UM in February 2008. 13 months later, nobody is still sure where he is going Now, just as I felt then when the Willie Williams diaries changed the game (it certainly did change the way colleges spend lavishly on recruits during their official visits), I feel this Bryce Brown saga has changed recruiting again. Maybe for the better (maybe the next high school superstar will stop short of committing when he knows he wants to take visits) or more likely for the worst (maybe it's the start of a permanent, new trend). At the very least, we know this: it's rendered commitments meaningless. Now, instead of being excited about a high school star's decision and the college choice they've made, fans are going to be wondering if any of it is true. We are going to judge them -- fairly or unfairly -- the moment "BUT I'M TAKING MY VISITS" comes out of their mouth.

Bryce Brown should not take all the blame for ruining recruiting and the word commitment. The media has done its part in further glorifying the "commitments" of high school players to prospective colleges. Rivals and Scout have certainly made a nice living off it. So has The Miami Herald, and every other struggling newspaper in the business. I've been a part of it, too. I've been just as guilty in trying to be the first reporter to tell you who the next high school superstar is to choose the Canes. Earlier this week, I dedicated an entire blog to a pair of high school players coach Frank Haith reeled in 'commitments' for in Miami's 2011 and 2012 classes.

But the truth is we've made this story much more than it needs to be. We've turned it into a yearlong odyssey. Blue-chip reporters from top-notch newspapers like the New York Times, magazines like Sports Illustrated and TV and radio stations have covered Bryce Brown nearly as much as the Alex Rodriguez steroid scandal. They've done it all because they want to be the first to tell you whether or not Bryce Brown's letter of intent was pulled by UM, or, if he may or may not make an official or unofficial visit to watch the Canes practice next week. Frankly, it's pathetic. 

Ultimately, nobody will ever really know until March 16th what Bryce Brown is going to do. What I can tell you is I'm done using the word 'commitment' loosely when it comes to recruiting. I now fully understand why coach Randy Shannon doesn't believe in it. No matter what a kid can tell you about his heart, his feelings, his dreams and where he would like his future to be, it means absolutely nothing until he signs that scholarship. I think we can all agree, Bryce Brown has taught us that. From now on, when I talk recruiting with any prospective high school star and he mentions the word commitment, I'll follow it up with the obligatory question if he mentions taking other visits. You know what it is... Is this going to be another Bryce Brown situation?

February 26, 2009

Jack, Canes get job done at Virginia

I wasn't in Charlottesville for tonight's must-win game for the Canes, but I did catch UM's 62-55 win over Virginia at home and wanted to share a few observations...

> Before we get to the highlights, here's what Thursday's win means: Miami's NCAA Tournament hopes are still alive. UM has now improved to 6-8 in ACC play and moved up one spot in the conference standings after N.C. State fell to 5-8 with a loss to Wake Forest Thursday. What the Canes would love to do by the end of the season (at the very least) is move into eighth place in the ACC standings. Maryland is the next team ahead of UM, a half-game in front with a 6-7 record. The Terps have N.C. State, Wake Forest and Virginia left on the schedule.

Jack McClinton > Thursday night's performance for Jack McClinton wasn't spectacular. But it was still special. The Cavaliers ripped the defensive playbook from Florida State and played McClinton face-up the entire night, denying him any breathing room when he got the ball. But when the going got tough, Jack still did what he had to do to put Miami over the top. People will point to his three-pointer with 46 seconds left, which put UM up 60-55. But his steal on Virginia's possession right before it was an ever bigger play. Most people weren't aware of this, but apparently McClinton was playing with a brace on a recently sprained left knee. He didn't practice all week because of it. McClinton's final stat line says he finished with 11 points on 3-of-10 shooting to go with three turnovers. But he still was the reason UM was able to come away with a good road win.

> While Dwayne Collins has disappeared down the stretch this season (he had 6 points and 4 rebounds in 18 minutes Thursday), senior Brian Asbury deserves a lot of credit for stepping his game up and being the second leader UM has needed. In my opinion, AB has been the second-best player on the court in ACC play for UM night in and night out. He led the Canes with 13 points Thursday and had four rebounds to go with two assists. His numbers aren't eye-opening, but he does all the little things UM has needed from him to win these close game. His offensive rebound and put-back with 2:41 left gave UM a 57-55 lead. He made plenty more big plays before that, too.  

> The Canes have two games left and a nice little break before their next game -- at Georgia Tech on Wednesday. That's a nice six day break for McClinton, who obviously could use more time to get over that sprained knee. 

February 24, 2009

Jacory Harris: 'New playbook like a dictionary'

Hurricanes football is back in session. Day 1 of spring practice is in the books. What happened? What was said? What did we learn about Randy Shannon's football team after getting a chance to watch them run around in shorts and helmets for an hour and a half at Greentree Practice FIeld?

Freshman tackle Jermaine Johnson (wearing 78) and running back Lee Chambers (32) make their way to Greentree practice field Tuesday for the start of spring drills. > All six freshmen who were early enrollees made their debut and did good things according to coach Randy Shannon, who said the first few days of spring practice are really intended for receivers and defensive backs to work hard while linemen and running backs wait for the pads to come on (Saturday).

Cornerback Brandon McGee, one of those six freshmen, described the day as a great experience. McGee is seeing most of his time at right cornerback behind junior Demarcus Van Dyke. McGee said he spends a lot of time going to senior Randy Phillips for advice. You can tell McGee is already fitting in just fine. During his interview, linebacker Sean Spence came by and pulled his shorts down. McGee laughed, but kept his composure and lifted them back up.

> If there is a freshman who is making an early impression consider it running back Mike James, who had sophomore quarterback Jacory Harris raving Tuesday. 

"I could go into the city, go home and people will be like I can't wait for Lamar Miller [to get there]," Harris said. "I'll be like 'I can't wait for you to see Mike James.' This guy really impressed me. He would call me to come out and throw on Saturdays when nobody was out here. He would tell me I got to be like [former Georgia running back] Knowshown Moreno. He sits up there and admires everybody. He's just so hardworking and determined, he wants to make it. The man, for a freshman, is super strong. Today, he maxed out at 350 [pounds]. I forgot what he squated, but it was like 400, 500 pounds. He's a man."


> No one was a more popular man after practice with reporters than new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple, who was made available Tuesday to the media by Shannon for this one and only time (that is of course unless we decide to do a quarterback feature). Whipple didn't shed a whole lot of new information on the offense he's installing, but from what we heard from players there is definitely a lot of excitement surrounding the new offensive boss' creativeness. 

For starters, they are no longer studying film at the college level. Whipple has them breaking down NFL film.

"The new playbook looks like a dictionary," Harris said. "When I first saw it, it was stacked 10 inches high. But to be honest, it's not that hard to figure out. Once you learn the concepts, everything comes into place and that playbook shrinks...

"You can definitely sense the creativity in some of the formations. It's something he was telling us is not his offense, but bits and pieces of everything he's learned from being in the NFL. That's his style."

Jacory Harris takes a snap before the start of practice. > Harris said a big difference in the way quarterbacks play in Whipple's offense is how quickly they make their reads. He said it feels more like the offense he ran at Miami Northwestern because how quickly he gets the ball out of his hands. 

"It's kind of a big difference," Harris said. "If your No. 1 option is not there on your third step, you move quickly to No. 2, No. 3, No. 4. Your eyes are constantly scanning so that as soon as you see a linebacker move here or a safety or a corner, somebody is open. The ball should be out quick. Basically, I'm not there to be the one to sit in the pocket and run around. I'm just here to deliver the ball to the playmakers."

> Harris (who separated his shoulder at the Emerald Bowl) told us he's still experiencing some slight pain in his throwing arm and has continued to participate in rehab twice a day. Tuesday, he was wearing a long sock taped to his arm. But that was more for style than protection. Jacory by the way is up another three pounds and says he weighs 189. 

"Basically, I've been taking protein shakes and eating more," Harris said. "I don't have classes on Tuesday and Thursdays, so I go to the MLK restaurant on NW 62nd and 27th Ave. I go down there and get a big breakfast, come back go to sleep and go to meetings. I'm eating a lot."

> As expected, Harris took all of the snaps with the first team Tuesday and looked solid in a variety of drills, getting the ball quickly to his receivers, tight ends and running backs out of the backfield. He was often firing the ball before receivers even made their break, which allowed them time to react to the defense in open space.

> Redshirt freshman Taylor Cook certainly looked like the more impressive the two backup quarterbacks to me. Cannon Smith (5-11) can barely see over the offensive line and at times -- I thought -- had trouble finding receivers. Cook showed me he has a strong arm, but if you ask coaches, he has a ways to go. 

TOP PLAYS: UM didn't run 11-on-11 drills very long and spent most of the day working on 7-on-7 drills. There were no touchdowns, long completions or turnovers -- just like there was no real hitting. But there were a few nice plays made by Graig Cooper, Javarris James and freshman running back Mike James. Baby J brought the loudest roar to the sideline when caught a ball in the flat and made a move on linebacker Kylan Robinson, shaking him out of his shoes, en route to a big gain upfield.

WHERE THEY WERE WORKING: As far as how players lined up, there were no surprises. The first team offensive line featured Jason Fox at left tackle, Orlando Franklin at left guard, A.J. Trump at center, Harland Gunn at right guard and Matt Pipho at right tackle. They were backed up in order by freshman Jermaine Johnson, Ian Symonnette (who did look a tad slimmer), Tyler Horn, freshman Brandon Washington and redshirt freshman Ben Jones (who is wearing Xavier Shannon's old No. 55).

The receivers constantly rotated with different units as did the running backs. The defense's back seven looked like this -- first unit: Demarcus Van Dyke and Chavez Grant at corner, Vaughn Telemaque and Jojo Nicholas at safety; Darryl Sharpton (middle), Sean Spence (weak) and Kylan Robinson (strong) at linebacker. The second team unit in the same order featured Ryan Hill and Brandon McGee at corner, Joe Wylie and C.J. Holton at safety and Jordan Futch (strong), Arthur Brown (middle) and Ramon Buchanon (weak) at linebacker.

INJURIES: Defensive end Gavin Hardin suffered some cramps near the end of practice, but other than that there were no injuries. Receiver Kendal Thompkins and tight end Tervaris Johnson wore green jerseys to designate they could not be hit during practice since they are both still returning from injury. 

Spring football underway

CORAL GABLES -- The 2009 season officially got underway moments ago with the start of 15 spring practices at Greentree Field.

The media is getting a rare opportunity to watch the first four practices of the spring -- normally we only get to watch the first 15 minutes. I'll have a full report once this one is over  But I do have a few quick notes to pass along...

> Several veteran players are wearing new numbers. Sam Shields, who has been moved from receiver to cornerback, is now sporting No. 9. He's worn No. 83 his entire career here.

> Sophomore receiver Travis Benjamin is now wearing No. 3 instead of No. 81, which he wore last season.

> All six of the new incoming recruits are here and were practicing, cornerback Brandon McGee (No. 21), defensive end Olivier Vernon (No. 35), defensive tackle Curtis Porter (No. 96), offensive tackle Jermaine Johnson (No. 78), offensive guard Brandon Washington (No. 72) and running back Mike James (No. 22).

> FYI, several players we thought would miss the spring are out here participating in some capacity. Linebacker Colin McCarthy, sporting a new mohawk, is running and participating in drills. So, too are track standouts Brandon Harris, Travis Benjamin and Davon Johnson.

Before practice began, Randy Shannon met with reporters earlier Tuesday to discuss several topics before the start of the spring. 

> On the new role of former linebackers coach Micheal Barrow: "Coach Barrow is more of our special assistant on defense and offense, special teams. His role is assisting everyone on defense. Most people think it's a demotion. It's not a demotion. It's giving him more responsibilities to keep going and further his career. It's a big change for us."

> On why sophomore Arthur Brown was moved from outside linebacker to middle linebacker heading into the spring: "For four years we had Tavares Gooden at outside, he wasn't productive. We put him in the middle his senior year, he was. You have to move guys around and eventually they'll show what they can do. I think by moving him in the middle he seems more comfortable, quicker reacting, can diagnose plays faster than before.

> On what excites him about new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple: "Coach Whipple brings a lot to our offense, developing quarterbacks. We have young quarterbacks, and he's proven he can develop young quarterbacks. When he was at UMass and Brown, the offense scored points. Sometimes you have to outscore people. That's something coach Whipple has always been able to do."

> On what he's told tight end Richard Gordon about his opportunity to steal the tight end job with other players out: "I told Richard it's his time now. We have guys out that are out, are going to come back in the fall. This is his opportunity to put his stamp on the tight end position – you're big, fast, can run, now it's up to you to get it done. He's been fine catching the football. How many balls are thrown to him?"

> On the seniors he's expecting to step up: "Darryl Sharpton, Javarris James. You go back to Javarris' first year, and I told Javarris this, he was hungry. He came in as a true freshman, wanted to play. He had 800 yards. Then the next two years null and void. Did he slack off his work habits, doing the little things? I told him if you want to be the great running back here this is what has to happen. Now if you don't, we always bring in guys to have competition. He knows I care for him, but he understands the big picture is if you want to be a great football player what did you do as a freshman and what do you need to be doing now? If you go back to those ways, we're going to be a great football team. Darryl, it's time for him to be the Jon Vilma, DJ, Ray Lewis. It's Darryl's time, and that's the reason we recruited him."

> On what he likes about backup quarterback Taylor Cook: "He really does have a strong arm. He's 6-7, gets back, good rhythm, and when he releases it now it has a lot of velocity on it. His short throw are nice touch passes. When he wants to throw it downfield he can throw it downfield."

February 23, 2009

Haith lands commitments for 2011, 2012

The Miami Hurricanes might not be done with their 2009 singing class yet, but that doesn't mean they're waiting to get started on 2010, 2011 or even 2012.

Frank Haith landed two 6-10 players Monday for the future. Monday afternoon, Frank Haith's team picked up two verbal commitments from players not only highly regarded, but who came to the U.S. recently from outside the country. They are: 6-10, 200-pound, Rwandan-born wingman Yvan Ngirabuakunzi (a 2011 commitment) and 6-10, 220-pound center Ismalia Dauda from Nigeria (a 2012 commitment).

Both phoned UM coaches to tell them they wanted to be a part of the Hurricanes future recently -- even if that future is several years away. Dauda, a freshman at Miami Choice Academy, is considered by some publications to be the best 15-year old freshman in the state of Florida. He hasn't even played for his high school team yet. According to his coach, former FIU and Miami High assistant Bernard Wright, UM coaches didn't need to see Dauda play to see what they liked. They only had to watch one practice.

"Coach [Jake] Morton came down here to see some of our upperclassmen. He saw Ismalia practice once and it didn't take Miami very long to offer," said Wright, who said Dauda also received an early offer from Arkansas. "[College] coaches aren't waiting anymore to jump on kids. They see the size, potential, they want to be in position to get a talent like him early. He went to the North Carolina game recently and came back and told me, Miami is where he wants to be."

Dauda played for the Nigerian Junior National team last year and plans to play for Global Elite, a Nike-sponsored summer travel team based out of Atlanta in the offseason. Wright said Dauda has an older brother who played professional basketball and lives in Fayetville, Arkansas. But he doesn't expect that to play a role in the recruiting. 

"He visited Arkansas unofficially in December," Wright said. "He came back saying it was way too cold for him. He wants to play and live in the warm weather. I'm pretty sure Miami is where he wants to be for the long haul."

Ngirabaukuzi, who arrived in the U.S. this past summer, has gotten a chance to play to high school basketball in the states at Piney Woods School in Mississippi. The former member of the Under-18 national team is averaging 13 points and seven rebounds this season and is a very good three-point shooter according to his coach Lemuel Jones. 

Eye on Spring Football: The Storylines

Spring football practice begins Tuesday at the University of Miami. In order to prepare you, I've compiled a list of important story lines and players to follow throughout camp, which ends March 28th with the BankUnited Canesfest at Lockhart Stadium.

Randy Shannon This year, unlike the previous two under coach Randy Shannon, the media will be allowed to watch some of what goes on behind the scenes as the first four practices (Feb. 24-25, 27-28) will be open to the press. Two practices will be open to fans (the spring game March 28th, and a scrimmage at Traz Powell Stadium in Miami at 6:30 p.m. on March 12th). The team will sandwich some time off from March 13-23rd for spring break, but will basically practice on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. On the days I'm in town (and not following Frank Haith's basketball team) I'll be around to provide updates from football practice.

One thing I think needs to be understood about spring football (and all of the reports you'll be reading in the next few weeks) is that this time of year is really used by coaches to create depth and to experiment with their players more than anything else. Anything you read in the next couple of weeks should be used simply as a progress report heading into the fall. In nearly every case, it's fall camp where positions are really won and lost. So, just because you might hear Randy Shannon say Kylan Robinson is practicing with the first team at outside linebacker should by no means be taken as Robinson is going to be a starter in the fall. A lot of what is said by coaches this time of year is used to feed their players motivation (not only for the guys healthy and who have served as backups for most of their career, but for the guys who are hurt and need a little push when they return in the fall). 

Anyway, here are the important storylines/questions the U will be trying to solve during the next few weeks of spring practice. 

> 1. Does UM have the talent on the team right now to patch up the holes on its offensive line? According to the coaches I've spoken with the answer is yes. Here's what UM wants to accomplish this spring: find an everyday center, at least two solid rotating tackles to start alongside and backup captain Jason Fox and find at least three guards to rotate in the interior. That's not an easy task for position coach Jeff Stoutland, who really got average at-best performance out of Xavier Shannon, Chris Rutledge and Reggie Youngblood last season before they graduated. 

Orlando Franklin will start at left guard, but if others emerge he may be given a shot to move to right tackle The center job will most likely fall to senior A.J. Trump (6-3, 300), who is more experienced and more talented than redshirt sophomore Tyler Horn (6-4, 289). Trump, who has plagued by injuries most of his career, started nine games at guard last season and is definitely considered one of the top five linemen for UM behind Fox and junior Orlando Franklin. So, if Horn were to emerge at center, there is a very good chance he would move back to guard and remain in the starting lineup.

As for the interior, Franklin will begin the spring at left guard, where he started 11 games last season. But the ideal place the 6-7, 328-pound behemoth would like to play is at right tackle (where he could get a shot if others step up). The question is will they? Redshirt sophomore Harland Gunn, highly-touted freshman Brandon Washington and 6-9, 351-pound junior Ian Symonette will all be given an opportunity to show what they've got inside. Washington, a former standout at Miami Northwestern, is the most likely to emerge although Gunn will reportedly begin with the first team at right guard with junior Joel Figueroa (shoulder surgery) out for the spring. 

The right tackle position will begin with a battle between senior Matt Pipho (6-7, 307) and redshirt freshman Ben Jones (6-5, 310). But as I said earlier, ultimately, Shannon wants the best five on the field come the fall. Look for prep school freshman Jermaine Johnson, slated to backup Fox on the left side, to get a shot in that rotation too. 

Is Demarcus Van Dyke (up to 180 pounds) ready to play like an everyday starter? > 2. Who will emerge in a secondary loaded with question marks? Ask Shannon to give you a depth chart at cornerback and safety and he simply can't. There is no area with greater unknowns on the team than here where every starting position is really up for grabs heading into the spring. While six veterans return with defensive back playing experience, each has plenty to prove. At corner, sophomore Brandon Harris, junior Demarcus Van Dyke and senior Chavez Grant will be joined in competition by seniors Ryan Hill (moving down from safety to corner) and Sam Shields (moving over from receiver) and true freshman Brandon McGee

At safety, senior Randy Phillips is back after missing nearly all of last season, along with junior Jojo Nicholas among the veterans. But the name everyone expects to see a lot from is redshirt freshman Vaughn Telemaque, whom Shannon compared to Ed Reed at the end of last season. Those three are likely to be in the mix with the first team while redshirt sophomore Jared Campbell, redshirt freshmen C.J. Holton and Joe Wylie compete behind them. While more help will arrive in the fall in the form of players like Prince Kent, Ray Ray Armstrong and Jamal Reid, it's often very hard for true freshman to see the field immediately and beat the guys who have been competing since the spring for starting spots. But in this case, where so many guys have yet to prove they are the man, I would be surprised if it happened this year. 

Are the Canes going to be able to count on Arthur Brown more than just on special teams this season? > 3. Whom, besides sophomore Sean Spence, is going to prove he is worthy of playing time at linebacker? Say what you want about the lack of big-time playmakers in UM's secondary last season, I thought the bigger problem was finding guys at linebacker who could make the basic plays (like tackling and stopping scrambling quarterbacks from carving the Canes defense). With John Lovett taking over for Micheal Barrow (who is now classified simply as a defensive assistant), task No. 1 will be finding guys who not only consistently wrap up, but have the speed and ability to make those special plays. The talent is said to be there with sophomores Arthur Brown, Jordan Futch and Ramon Buchanon, but we'll have to see how much they've really grown. 

As it stands, the loss of Glenn Cook, Spencer Adkins and Romeo Davis means UM only has Spence (weakside) and senior Darryl Sharpton (middle) as healthy players on the roster this spring who have played actual real minutes at linebacker in games. Shannon said seldom-used junior Kylan Robinson (strongside) will get an opportunity to compete on the outside along with the young guys. The ideal goal for UM is finishing this spring knowing they've got playmakers behind Spence, Sharpton and Colin McCarthy (when he returns from his shoulder injury in time for the fall). 

> 4. Will Richard Gordon get his act together or will the tight end position at The U disappear until real help arrives? Since the day he arrived at UM all we've heard about Gordon is what an athletic freak he is. At 6-4, 260-pounds, he's been used just about everywhere. He even handled a job as a kick Will Richard Gordon emerge at tight end? returner for a few games two seasons ago. The bottomline is Gordon simply still hasn't found a place to contribute. This spring, with Chris Zellner gone (graduation), Dedrick Epps out until September at the earliest (torn ACL) and Tervaris Johnson battling injury woes, Gordon will have every opportunity to work with the first team and try and impress a new coordinator. When he needs some rest, sophomore Daniel Adderley, a recruiting bust, and Steven Wesley, who could move over from defensive end, are expected to share the snaps at tight end. Still, it's Gordon who is the only healthy Cane who has any of the ingredients to be a legit tight end. Last season, he had only three catches for 24 yards. Gordon's biggest problem according to position coach Joe Pannunzio has been route running. There's a chance new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple could devise an easier way to utilize Gordon. But if that doesn't happen, I seriously wonder if UM might just go into the fall deciding to abandon the tight end position until real help arrives. 

> 5. Who will take a step forward as the backup quarterback to Jacory Harris? A year ago we went into the spring knowing Robert Marve would likely go into the fall with Harris as his backup. This year with Robert Marve gone, we know who the starter for The U will be for the next two seasons. But one of the biggest keys according to Randy Shannon this spring will be finding a backup to Harris. The candidates are the two guys who were red-shirted last season as freshmen, 6-7, 225-pound Texas native Taylor Cook or 5-11, 200-pounder Cannon Smith. Most expect Cook, who has the stronger arm and ideal size to emerge as the frontrunner to backup Harris heading into the fall. But we'll have to see how far along he's come since last year when the former option quarterback looked like he was struggling with his basic mechanics. For what it's worth, Smith actually took a few snaps last spring before getting injured on the scout team in the fall.

February 21, 2009

Courtside blog: UM 69, BC 58 (F)

BANKUNITED CENTER -- As usual, I'll be here to watch Frank Haith's basketball team try and save its NCAA Tournament hopes with a win today against Boston College.

Haith told us in his pregame press conference Friday he was going to shrink his rotation a little bit to get the best players on the floor more. We'll have to see if that happens today. The starting lineup certainly features UM's best five in my opinion: Jack McClinton, James Dews, Brian Asbury, Dwayne Collins and Jimmy Graham.

> Canes jumped all over Boston College and had as much as a 17-point lead in the first half thanks some terrific shooting. UM connected on 9 of 13 from three-point range, including four from James Dews who had 12 points. Brian Asbury and Jack McClinton each have 10 points. UM shot 58 percent in the first half and held everyone but Joey Trapani (8 pts) scoreless for the first 10 minutes of the game.

I had a couple of other quick notes I wanted to pass along from conversations I've had in the past week and from some of my personal experiences...

> Like most of you, I think its more than unfortunate the University of Miami's baseball stadium has been renamed in honor of an admitted steriod user. But I definitely liked the upgrade to the facilities. The new press box, locker rooms, media interview rooms, everything associated with the final phase of the $14 million facelift looked great. A program that has won four national championships was long overdue in receiving facilities on-par with just about every other major Division I school in the country.

But, I've got one complaint: Where is the ATM machine? If you don't come to Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field with cash, you are basically screwed. Only one of the vendors (the pizza line) takes credit cards and you have to pay a minimum of $10 to be able to use it. Not cool. Also, don't make the mistake of getting in one line and thinking everything on the menu is on the menu. InsideTheU's Chris Stock thought he got in line for chicken fingers and fries. He found out 10 minutes later, it was only the line next to him that was serving it.

> Associate Athletic Director Jim Frevola told us late last night he expects the final finishing touches on the stadium (2,000 bleacher seats along the left field and right field lines) to be in place before UM hosts Florida State at the start of April.

> For those of you wondering if UM's basketball team is done recruiting, the answer is no. Haith can't talk specifics about unsigned recruits but basically confirmed his team still has a scholarship available to use in April. I've heard point guard Lisandro Ruiz-Moreno is no longer being recruited by Miami because of academics (most of his transcripts are still in South America) UM would probably like to get a point guard considering none of the three guards they have signed or lined up to come (Durand Scott, Antoine Allen or Garrius Adams) are not natural point guards.

February 19, 2009

Brian Butler makes radio appearance

TALLAHASSEE -- Just a couple quick messages to pass along. Got a text message on my way up here earlier today from 790 The Ticket radio personality Jorge Sedano to pass along that he's supposed to have Brian Butler (Bryce Brown's mentor) on his show tomorrow at noon. UPDATED: I'm not sure if Sedano did finally get Butler on his show, but here is the link to an interview with Evan Cohen on 760 ESPN in Palm Beach.

> Friday night before the baseball season opener against Rutgers, UM will induct Baltimore Orioles first baseman Aubrey Huff into the Hall of Fame. Jim Morris, along with Pat Burrell, will present Huff with his Hall of Fame ring and jacket in an on-field ceremony before the game. Huff hit 21 home runs and drove in 95 RBI his final season at Miami in 1998. He hit .400 in his career (2nd all-time) and had a career .719 slugging percentage. For more information on a Parrott Jungle Banquet and the UM Sports Hall of Fame golf tournament on April 24th, go to UMSportsHallofFame.com.

February 18, 2009

Courstide blog: FSU 80, UM 67 (F)

TALLAHASSEE -- It took me awhile to finally settle in at the Donald L. Tucker Center (I had to fly into Jacksonville and drive) but I'm here for tonight's big Canes-Noles basketball tilt. We know Miami needs a win badly. I'll be here to provide you with a halftime update and postgame update.

> For you football fans, the Palm Beach post and Sun-Sentinel got a chance to talk to coach Randy Shannon "exclusively" today and collected some good nuggets before the start of spring next week. The most eye-opening news to come out is that Micheal Barrow is no longer the linebackers coach. Defensive coordinator John Lovett will now handle the linebackers and Barrow will be allowed to roam freely as a defensive assistant. The positive? Barrow is without question an excellent recruiter and this may allow him more time to go out on the recruiting scene.

> Sam Shields is indeed moving to cornerback as Canesport first reported last week. Shannon told the Sentinel he wanted more bodies there. My question is can Shields honestly help the team there or was this move simply made so he stops running out on the field at the wrong time on offense? I'm convinced the only place we are really going to see Shields on the field anymore is as a flier on punts and kickoffs.

> Well, the day has come and gone and Bryce Brown did not sign his National Letter of Intent. While UM has obviously told several reporters (including me) they will not renew the offer, I'm not going to buy it totally until I hear Bruce Brown, Brian Butler or someone from the Brown family say that's the case. The one thing I've learned covering this team is that things change quickly. And if Brown was told his scholarship offer was no longer available to him, he wouldn't be carrying on like normal. We would have had to have an update on potentialplayers.com, right? 

> Almost forgot: I've been told The Miami Herald will have its "exclusive" day with Shannon on Monday. Feel free to begin leaving me some questions you would like for us to ask if we indeed get the interview. 


> Dwayne Collins apparently did enough in practice Wednesday to convince Frank Haith he deserved to play tonight instead of resting his sprained left ankle one more day. Haith is glad he did. Collins has come out strong with seven points, four rebounds and two assists. 

> The bigger news is that Jack McClinton finally has some help. James Dews leads the team with 8 points at halftime. Dews replaced Lance Hurdle in the starting lineup and is showing us why. He's done a good job defensively. Hurdle by the way has obviously gotten a boost from being benched. He had 6 points in 13 minutes and was effective.


> Tough loss for the Canes. Jack McClinton gets held to 13 points. I'll have more for you tomorrow. I've got to drive to Jacksonville and fly home from there in the afternoon.

February 17, 2009

Haith: "Collins 50-50 decision for FSU"

For those of you Canes basketball fans, I got off the phone about an hour ago with UM coach Frank Haith right after his team's flight landed in Tallahassee and have some news to report.

> Forward Dwayne Collins, who suffered a sprained left ankle in practice last week, is expected to be a game-time decision for UM (15-9, 4-7) Wednesday night at FSU (19-6, 6-3). Haith said Collins, who missed Sunday's game and had a 32-game starting streak snapped, practiced some on Tuesday and the decision will come down to how he looks in practice Wednesday before the game. The one thing Haith said he doesn't want to do is make it worse. Miami does have four more ACC games after Wednesday.

> If Collins doesn't start, look for redshirt freshman Julian Gamble to be in the lineup instead of Cyrus McGowan. Haith said Gamble has really been coming on of late and probably deserves his first career start. "Julian needs court time," Haith said. "He has to get on the court. I think Julian is going to be good. He really has played well in limited minutes. He's got a good feel now."

> Lance Hurdle is going to the bench. Haith said he's trying to do whatever he can to get Hurdle going and has decided to bring James Dews back into the starting lineup. "Lance has to be better. Point guard has been our achilles' heel," Haith said. "The better he plays, the better we're goign to play. We got to do what we can to help him get his confidence back.

Bryce Brown says UM will get last visit

The drama continues. The nation's No. 1 recruit has announced on his website (potentialplayers.com), he'll take his final official visit to UM on the weekend of March 3rd.

The question is: Do the Canes still care? According to a UM source I've exchanged text messages with tonight, "That may be their plan. But it ain't ours." We'll have to see if UM stands its ground and decides to pull the scholarship from Brown, whose national letter of intent expires Wednesday like reports suggest. Or, if they let Bryce visit and try to patch things up.

Stay tuned for all the drama.

Is Bryce's offer to The U getting pulled?

Late last week I was told by a source close to the situation there was a chance the University of Miami might end up passing on Bryce Brown, opting to go into the spring without waiting for the nation's No. 1 recruit to make up his mind.

Tuesday afternoon, the Associated Press quoted another source (someone recruiting Brown) saying that when Brown's scholarship offer expires Wednesday the Hurricanes would not renew it. Where does the truth lie? What is going to happen with Bryce Brown and could he still end up a Cane? At this point, I have no idea. Miami could change its mind and decide to throw a scholarship his way later on in this process. Or, as reports suggest, they've already decided to pull it and won't change their minds. What I do know is this: Days of Our Bryce has a new chapter.

Brown, who committed to UM a year ago, could not be reached for comment. But I did speak with his mentor Brian Butler moments ago, who told me he would be surprised if Miami backed off.

Bryce Brown committed to UM last February. But are the Canes losing patience? "We don't comment on rumors," Butler said. "But I can tell you we talked to UM this morning. Bryce talked to coach Shannon and none of that was said. He's still committed to Miami and he feels great about him. The conversation was very positive. He's looking forward to seeing what's going on with spring ball. He's definitely interested in making a visit there whether its official or unofficial. I know he's going to take a look at spring ball and see how the offense is doing."

Butler said he was about to update his website (potentialplayers.com) to inform readers of Bryce's recruitment and his visit last weekend to Tennessee. It is still unknown where Brown will be taking his final official visit. But Butler did say Brown has moved his announcement date to March 16 because of his visits. Brown was expected to announce on March 12. Brown has UM, Oregon, LSU, USC, Tennessee and Kansas State as his top suitors.

NCAA rules prohibit coaches from discussing recruits until they sign. I'll let you know what I hear "unofficially" from UM's end.

Baby J: "Whipple gave it to us raw"

With a week to go before the start of spring practice we got a chance Tuesday to hook up with three returning veterans -- offensive lineman Orlando Franklin, running back Javarris James and defensive lineman Allen Bailey. We learned a lot about injuries, transfers, potential spring battles -- and more importantly -- how The U's two new coordinators have begun to interact with their players.

Mark WhippleHere's what we know: Offensive coordinator Mark Whipple has made an impression. According to his players, he isn't going to stroke any of them and let them live off the past. According to James, Whipple's first meeting with the team wasn't full of pleasantry. It was all about getting down to business.

"He's a straight-on guy," James said. "He gave it to us raw. He kind of put us in our place, said a few words in the meeting that caught us by surprise. It was like tough love. That's different from what we were used to. We know this guy came here to win. That's what he's been used to."

The same way defensive players have begun studying their new playbooks this week, so too have offensive players. James told us receivers have been walking around excited, talking about the new routes in Whipple's offense. James said there are also new reasons for the running backs to be excited.

"It's great for us," James said of the playbooks' design for running backs. "It gives us the opportunity to get in the open field, get the ball one-on-one, line us up against linebackers. The whole offense - it's a tough offense to learn, but once we get it down all of us have a lot of confidence in coach Whipple. It's really a pro-style offense. You have different terminology to learn. But it's not too bad. Once you get a feel you'll be fine. The offense is going to be fun for us. It's a lot of different from what I've been used to since I've been here. I really expect big things from the offense."

James said the offense has a lot more it asks of running backs to do -- especially in blocking schemes. "The things you see guys in the NFL doing -- pass blocking, catching the ball out of the backfield -- that's what we'll be doing. You have to be the quarterback's eys as far as protections. You have to look at the safeties, pay attention to it all."

Joel Figueroa OFFENSIVE LINE IN FLUX: Without question, UM's offensive line is going to be the area where the most competition and movement will take place. We learned a few new things Tuesday about the line. One, it looks like offensive guard Joel Figueroa could miss signinficant time this spring. Two, senior Chris Barney has apparently decided to transfer (he hardly played at all in his career at UM).

Figueroa, who started in four games last season as a sophomore, had surgery according to his teammates. He was seen walking around campus Tuesday with his arm in a sling. It's unclear when he'll return. But when he does, he'll likely be back at guard.

In his absecne though we learned redshirt sophomore Harland Gunn will see time with the first team -- a good sign for a player who has spent two years developing on the scout team. Gunn came to UM ranked the eighth best center in the country. Teammates say Gunn is expected to be pushed by prep school recruit Brandon Washington.

Center, the position vacated by Xavier Shannon, will come down to a battle between A.J. Trump and Tyler Horne. Trump played a lot of backup center last season during practice, especially when Shannon was out on Wednesdays because of class.

Left guard still belongs to Orlando Franklin, who made 10 starts there last year. But Franklin said Tuesday he's been told he'll get a shot at right tackle (a position I believe he will be moved to permanently) two weeks into the spring. Franklin said junior Ian Symonnette is currently backing him up at guard. Left tackle of course is being manned by veteran Jason Fox and prep school recruit Jermaine Johnson.

"Coach Stoutland said I’ll get my opportunity to play tackle," Franklin said. "I just always wanted to play tackle in college. When I got here it was easier for me to get on the field early at guard, so they bumped me inside. Last year I took a couple reps and did a lot of one-on-ones [at right tackle] with faster guys. When you play tackle you play against a lot of faster guys. When you are playing guard everything is just right there. When you play tackle you got to see more, you got to be smarter I think."

Franklin said he finished last season weighing 337 pounds. He said he's already trimmed himself down to 328 and said he would like to weigh 318 when the season begins so he can be lighter on his feet. Still, weight isn't the only thing Franklin said he'll be working on. He said he was disappointed with his season last year and wants to improve his technique.

"Technique wise I feel like I grew up a lot," Franklin said. "But I didn’t feel like I dominated people like I needed to. I just want to be that guy. Fourth and 1, there shouldn’t be any questions asked where they’re running the ball. But they passed the ball sometimes. That shows you something."

Allen Bailey A MOVE INSIDE FOR BAILEY? The Canes defensive line obviously has less holes to fill and fewer questions. One question, however, that might not get answered this spring is where Allen Bailey's future is at. Is he going to be an end (where he played primarily last season) or is he going to make the move inside to tackle (where he played on third down situations)? Or will he just play both?

Bailey sounded Tuesday like coaches may ask him to move inside more often this year because of "the youth in the middle." Bailey said he can take the physical play inside (he's now up about pounds to 289-290), but he prefers playing on the outside."It’s way different than the end position," Bailey said. "You are in close quarters with everybody right there in front of you. You have to react quickly. It’s a little bit of a battle. I’m not a typical d-tackle, so there are some advantages."

Bailey said he's working at right tackle with Joe Joseph behind him. The left side is being manned by sophomore Marcus Forston and Josh Holmes. He said he expects redshirt freshmen Micanor Regis and Jeremy Lewis to contribute this season along with true freshman Curtis Porter. It sounds like left defensive end will be manned by Eric Moncur and Bailey. Sophomore Marcus Robinson, junior Adewale Ojomo and freshman Olivier Vernon are expected to rotate on the right side.

Bailey shed a little light on new defensive coordinator John Lovett's schemes."Seems like the defense will be a little easier," Bailey said. "No dropping back into coverage for the ends. It will be more basic stuff. It will probably allow us to do more rushing for the ends."

February 16, 2009

Questions abound for UM baseball at start of '09

The 2008 Miami Hurricanes had one of the best lineups in all of college baseball, a talented collection of power hitters who could light up the scoreboard and send balls flying out of the park on a nightly basis.  Barring a few unexpected surprises, coach Jim Morris knows his 2009 Hurricanes will not be that kind of team when they their new season at their newly reconstructed and renamed ballpark Friday night against Rutgers.

So what will the Canes do to win games this coming season? Morris is banking on pitching, defense, timely hitting and being the complete opposite of what his lineup was last year -- a successful small ball unit.

Despite the loss of six first-day MLB draft picks, Jim Morris says the goal for 2009 is to get back to Omaha "We're not going to be a team that hits for power like last year," said Morris, whose 2008 team belted 106 home runs and drove in 517 RBI en route to compiling the fifth highest winning percentage in UM history with a 53-11 record before sputtering in Omaha. "Our team last year bunted the least of any team since I've been at Miami. This team might be one that bunts more than anybody. We got to sac bunt. We got to be very fundamentally sound. We got to play good solid defense. We’re not going to be a big inning club – unless I’m surprised."

Expecting the Hurricanes to duplicate what they did a year ago with the number of superstars who left would be insane. One look at the roster tells you all you need to know about how much work the Canes have in front of them. Of the team's top 11 hitters, only four are back. Gone from UM's lineup: 78 of team's 106 home runs and 358 of the team's 517 RBI last season.

There are several All-American candidates back: shortstop Ryan Jackson (.360, 50 RBI, 4 HRs), left-handed ace, freshman pitcher of the year Chris Hernandez (11-0, 2.72 ERA) and budding relief pitcher and newly annointed closer Kyle Bellamy (6-0, 1.86 ERA). But aside from those three, there are simply a lot of questions. Morris could not complete a lineup when asked about it on two different occassions Monday, instead giving reporters a rough draft of where some guys will likely be playing.

"This is probably the team where I have the least number of starters returning in my college career," said Morris, who had three players (first baseman Yonder Alonso, second baseman Jemile Weeks and pitcher Carlos Gutierrez) taken in the first round of the June draft and three more (outfielders Dennis Raben and Blake Tekotte and third baseman Mark Sobolewski) take on the first day.

"With that said, I keep telling myself and reminding myself when we lost [Pat] Burrell, [Aubrey] Huff, [Jason] Michael and [Alex] Santos that the next year nobody gave us a chance and we won it [1999]. That’s how I go to sleep every night. This club is like that club. It’s a very young club, even though we did have a few more veterans returning in 1999 than we do this year. It’s still exciting."

> The first four spots in the order appear to be locked in at least according to what Morris told us. He said he envisions freshman Nate Melendres leading off and playing center field followed by JUCO transfer Scott Lawson batting second and playing second base, Jackson batting third and playing short and JUCO transfer Chris Hermann hitting cleanup.

After that, it gets a little hazy. Morris mentioned senior Jason Hagerty (who could play first base, catcher or left field) next, followed by freshman Harold Martinez (a corner infielder) and catcher Yasmani Grandal in the seventh or eight spot. It looks like senior Dave DiNatale (the team's top returning power hitter with nine home runs and a .295 average) will be starting in right field. Ther other spot -- left field -- is a coin flip. Morris said senior Jonathan Weislow, used primarily as a pinch-runner last season and with six career starts, would likely get the first crack at the spot Friday. But Hagerty and senior Ryan Perry, a utility player, would also get a look.

"There’s going to be a lot of combinations to try and figure out how to get those guys in there," Morris said. "We got to get our best nine players in the lineup."


Pitching coach J.D. Arteaga seems a little less worried about his group, which obviously returns one of the best in the country in Hernandez. Despite the loss of No. 2 starter and left-hander Eric Erickson (who will miss the season recovering from Tommy John surgery), Arteaga told me he's confident UM will find somebody very good to fill his spot in the rotation.

Right now, it looks like last year's alternate starter, senior right-hander David Gutierrez, is ready to assume the role. Gutierrez went 5-0 last season in seven starts with a 4.75 ERA. "After that we have a group of freshman that I feel are going to be very good, just guys who haven’t done it yet," Arteaga said. "But the ability is there without a doubt."

Arteaga mentioned four guys with the potential to fill the next two spots. They are: redshirt freshman left-hander D.J. Swatscheno, freshman left-hander Danny Miranda and freshmen right-handers Kevin Youst and Travis Miller.

“Danny Miranda and Kevin Youst are the same pitcher,” Arteaga said. “One is left handed and one is right-handed. Both have outstanding changeups. They both locate their fastball very well. Both are very competitive. The change is up what really sets them apart from other guys. DJ is a little different. He’s a left-handed power guy, who was the highest ranked left-handed pitcher in the state before he had an arm injury. We’re just getting him healthy, getting him ready. I think before they’re done they will all have very good careers here. It’s just a matter of getting them going.”

The closer's role as I mentioned earlier will belong to Bellamy. But it's not a position he has locked in. "He closed a few games last year," Arteaga said. "But it’s a big jump. Just because you had a great year as a setup guy doesn’t mean it’s going to translate. Pitching the eighth inning and the ninth inning are two completely different animals. He did it in the ACC championship game. He has done it. I have confidence he’s going to do it."

If Bellamy struggles, his most likely replacement would be newcomer and JUCO transfer Taylor Wulf. The 6-0, 235-pound junior right hander was a starter as a sophomore at Alvin Community College, but was a closer as a freshman. He has strong curve ball as a strikeout pitch and has the full backing of Arteaga. "He's got the mentality for it," Arteaga said.

> I'll have more to share with you in the coming weeks from baseball including interviews with the Canes' three biggest newcomers: the Texas trio of JUCO players, who are being counted on heavily to deliver right away. Plus, some good stuff from Ryan Jackson and Ryan Hagerty.

February 15, 2009

Beyond the Boxscore: North Carolina

BANKUNITED CENTER -- It is amazing how quickly things can change for you in college basketball. One minute, you are celebrated for beating a Top 10 team like Wake Forest by 27 points on your home floor. The next, some people want to roast you for losing by a combined seven points to Duke and North Carolina.

Ty Lawson In all honesty, Canes fans who have something negative to say rather than positive after what this team has accomplished the past two weeks ought to realize they know very little about college hoops. Sunday, Miami played without Dwayne Collins. They got very little help from the refs (Miami didn't get to the free throw line until 6:01 to play and only made it there once). And still, some how, the Canes were a Ty Lawson missed three-pointer away and another Jack McClinton basket from beating the team everyone picked this season to win it all. Instead, heartbreak, a 69-65 Tar Heels victory and now a new dilemma. The Canes must win at least four of their last five to get to 8-8 in the ACC and have a chance at reaching the NCAA tournament.

UM coach Frank Haith wasn't trying to sugar coat anything in his post-game press conference. He knows there are no awards for coming close to wins. But he realizes this has to end and his team has to start winning some of these down to the wire games. Miami has lost five of its past six. Three came in OT and the other two by fewer than five points. UM had two possessions with the opportunity to take the lead late. The first one, McClinton drove to the basket and had his shot partially blocked before Jimmy Graham missed a tip-in. The second, Brian Asbury was called for a charge with about 44 seconds remaining. I am not sure what Haith could have done to prevent the last turnover, one other than ask Asbury to pull the ball back out and giving McClinton a chance. But on the other hand, how can you fault Asbury for trying to make a play? Bottomline: another tough loss. 

Some more notes/thoughts...

> Ty Lawson finished with 21 points in 34 minutes. But those five three-pointers he made were a career-high and pretty much unexpected. Lawson has never been a big-time perimeter shooter. The game-winning three he hit with about three seconds left on the clock was basically a step-back prayer. Lawson, it should be noted, had been battling the flu since Thursday.

> Tyler Hansbrough's 8 points and 4 rebounds against UM wasn't a season-low (he had 8 points and 5 rebounds against FSU), but it was a tremendous effort for the Canes who were obviously short-handed without Collins. Jimmy Graham finished with 15 rebounds and five blocked shots in 27 minutes. He basically did it all without much help from Cyrus McGowan, who was held scoreless in just 15 minutes -- as much a redshirt freshman Julian Gamble (who scored four points and had five rebounds). 

> Jack's 35 points marked his third consecutive game with a season-high. He had 32 vs. Wake, 34 vs. Duke and now has eight career 30 point games. Prior to Sunday night, Eric Brown (1988-89) was the last Cane to score more than 30 in three straight games. McClinton is now second all-time at UM in 3-point field goals (one shy of tying the school record held by Steve Edwards 265).

> McGowan wasn't the only starter to put up a stinker for the Canes. Lance Hurdle was 2 of 9 from the field with 4 points, 2 assists and 2 turnovers. It's amazing to think where UM would be today if Hurdle, Collins and McGowan had managed to show up for the last two games. FYI, Brian Asbury was the only other Hurricane in double figures Sunday with 12 points. 

Canes trail Heels 29-26 at half

Tremendous first half effort for UM defensively, holding No. 3 North Carolina to 36 percent shooting in the first half. It just wasn't enough to establish the lead. 

The Tar Heels finished the first half on a 7-0 run to take a 29-26 lead at the break. UM is obviously playing shorthanded without the injured Dwayne Collins, its No. 1 scoring option in the post. The problem for UM tonight is they can't get any offense generated inside the paint. Everything they are putting up is a tough shot. 

Jack McClinton leads all scorers with 12 points. Lance Hurdle is still struggling with his shot. He was 1-for-6 from the field in the first half. We'll see if Miami can continue to play this way and remain in the game.

Dwayne Collins out tonight vs. UNC

The Miami Hurricanes are going to be shorthanded tonight against third-ranked North Carolina. 

Forward Dwayne Collins, the team's second-leading scorer, suffered a left ankle sprain this week in practice and will miss his first game this season. Collins had started 32 straight games for UM.

UM sports information director Margaret Belch said Collins is listed as day-to-day. But his loss tonight is obviously going to hurt. Look for Jimmy Graham to start in Collins place when the game tips off at 7:45 p.m. -- and more minutes for redshirt freshman Julian Gamble, who hasn't played since he was in for four minutes against Maryland two weeks ago.

I will not be blogging tonight during the game, but will check in at halftime and once it is over.

February 12, 2009

UM still a coach's dream

The University of Miami may not have the budget to pay coaches top dollar or a recent history of success one would imagine enticing enough to make outsiders believe this is a place the best football leaders in the country want to be.

But there is something about The U (no matter what it is lacking right now in a 19-19, three-year span of ordinary football) that still makes it an extraordinary place for coaches to want to be. I believe its because it's a place where all the right ingredients are in place to hit the game-winning home run and be the hero.

New defensive coordinator John Lovett met the media Thursday. That's exactly what new defensive coordinator John Lovett meant when he used the phrases "very thrilled," "very fortunate," and "very lucky," to describe his feelings about getting the job. Lovett, 58, has been in a lot of other coaching huddles. Auburn. Clemson. Mississippi. And most recently, Butch Davis' up at North Carolina, a team most could argue is in a much better position than UM to succeed having won their last two meetings against the Canes.

But coming to UM? No way Lovett was going to pass that up, no matter how hard it was to walk into Davis' office and tell him he was leaving for another team in the ACC. The same could be said for offensive coordinator Mark Whipple. This is a guy who won a Super Bowl with Pittsburgh, was in line to move up the coaching ladder with a Philadelphia Eagles team that was in the NFC Championship game. But then, The U came calling. Didn't Bill Young say the same things a year ago before he returned home for the only job that was really better?

Lovett told us he's been eyeing the Canes a long time -- even before he stopped delivering furniture or driving a zamboni during hockey games at Mount Union College when he first got into coaching. 

"When I was a coach, one of the first places I visited was the place," Lovett said. "I visited Dave Campo, who had just taken a job here. I was at the University of Maine. He said come down here and talk some football. They had just beaten Oklahoma, won the national championship that year Because of that trip I also met Tommy Tuberville. Coach [Butch] Davis was working here at the time. I made a lot of good contacts. Every time you looked when I was a young coach, this was the U. They always had terrific players, were in the hunt for a national championship. It was a place that `Geez, it would be great to coach here someday.''

> Lovett has his chance now and he knows he'll have to act fast with less than two weeks before the start of spring football. He told us he still hasn't familiarized himself with the players and only recently started to watch film. The good news is he's going to make UM's transition to a fourth different coordinator in four seasons as easy as possible. Instead of learning a new language, Lovett said he'll try to keep the same terminology for most of the stuff he's implementing. "I'd rather one person learn it than 50 people learn it," he said. "To me that makes a lot of sense."

> His defense will also not stretch beyond the playing limits of his player's talents or smarts. "It'll be similar to what they've done here," Lovett said. "We'll base out of a four-man front, play some zone coverage, man coverage, some type of pressure. It's not like we'll come in and change the whole scheme, be blitzburg. It'll be in that format and style. Every place I go I try to find out what the guys we have can do and cater to them. If you don't have corners that can cover, defensive ends that can play inside, you have to adjust the personnel you have to make it fit, be successful."

> Credit special teams coach Joe Pannunzio for helping bring Lovett over. Lovett said the two are old friends and after Pannunzio asked him if he was interested, he passed it on to Shannon who did the rest. 

> While many of us think Randy Shannon might have a bigger hand with UM's defense in light of him telling us he might just do the job himself, Lovett expects to be running the show on his own. "Obviously everything we do I'll run by him, especially if it's something different," Lovett said. "I've worked for Tommy Tuberville, Butch Davis. Both those guys were defensive coaches. Neither really meddled in what I was doing. The big thing all of these guys want is they want to make sure what you're doing fits in their philosophy and that the kids are playing fast and hard."


In all, we got a chance to speak with four players Thursday: offensive tackle Jason Fox, linebacker Sean Spence, kicker Matt Bosher and defensive end Eric Moncur. We didn't learn a whole lot beyond the fact they're very excited about taking on what will be a very challenging start to the 2009 season. But there were some brief thoughts, notes to pass along.

Sean Spence > For starters, Canes fans need not worry about Sean Spence getting a big head after his big freshman season. The kid said his father, a Miami Northwestern assistant coach, still calls him every week to remind him where he came from and what he needs to work on. Spence said he's definitely taking on more of a leadership role with Glenn Cook gone, teaching fellow freshmen like Arthur Brown, Jordan Futch and Ramon Buchanon what he learned last year. Spence also told me he's gained six pounds of muscle from end of last season and is now weighing 213.

> Fox is stepping up his game, too. Fox said he can't believe he's already a senior (neither can I) and Spence said he's noticed Fox taking more of a leadership role in the weight room, getting on other players and holding them accountable. With several offensive linemen gone and several newcomers, Fox said he knows its going to be a challenge to fill some holes. When asked if he thought prep school recruits Brandon Washington and Jermaine Johnson might be able to help right away, he said it was up to them and their work ethic.

"I remember the first game I started at Florida State – it was an experience for me seeing the change in the speed of the game," Fox said. "If players don't see the field right away it's mostly learning the offense. The game is so complex. It takes as much time in the film room and studying the play book as anything else. It's harder than people realize. It can be extremely challenging to an incoming freshman who is not only trying to learn football, but get adjusted to college life. It's a whole out of body experience."

> As for Moncur, he said he was really worried he might not get a chance at a sixth-year of eligibility. ACC rules require players to wait until the end of the season to file for medical redshirts. Moncur's return next season should be a great influence on Adewale Ojomo, Allen Bailey, Marcus Forston and the rest of the talented linemen UM has. 

Linebacker Brandon Marti arrested

This isn't the type of news I like to write or pass along, but I have to because it's my job. 

Linebacker Brandon Marti, a member of UM's 2008 signing class, was arrested early Thursday morning on charges of battery and false imprisonment related to domestic violence. A police report has not been made available yet, so details are unknown. 

Brandon Marti Marti, 18, didn't play last season and was suspended while playing on the practice squad according to UM spokesman Kerwin Lonzo. He told me Marti was told after this past season he was no longer a member of the team.

But I spoke to Marti's older brother moments ago who told me Marti was in a trial period with the team and had been working out with players this week. Either way, this definitely signals the end of his Canes career. Marti was an All-Dade linebacker at Miami Gulliver Prep.

Although I'm sure everyone is going to jump on this story and start saying Thug U all over again, Marti's arrest is the first for a Canes player since former quarterback Robert Marve punched in a car window on Halloween 2007. Only two current or former Canes that we know of have been arrested since Randy Shannon was named coach.

> PS, I'll have plenty more for you from today's press conference with new defensive coordinator John Lovett and interviews with players Jason Fox, Sean Spence and Matt Bosher.