CORAL GABLES -- Part of what makes spring football exciting for college football players across the country is that it is an opportunity to put what could have been a bad regular season behind you. It's a chance to show coaches you are going into the fall -- when it matters -- with something positive to build off of.
Consider Hurricanes cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke on that list. After a freshman season in which he started eight games, Van Dyke took a step back as a sophomore. He started only twice and often found himself lost in former defensive coordinator Bill Young's coverage schemes. When he had chances to make plays, he didn't make them. He dropped at least two interceptions and got beat for the winning touchdown catch in a loss to North Carolina. At one point during the season, he was relegated to playing only in dime coverage situations.
"The one thing I think did well my freshman year was that I played with confidence," said Van Dyke, who has yet to record an interception "People thought my freshman year I was going to go out there and play scared. But I did what my coaches wanted me to do. My second year, it really didn't go that way, but I'm not worried about it, that's last year. I'm moving forward."
Consider Van Dyke ready to rebound.
He says likes the new coverage schemes in new coordinator John Lovett's defense because "we're doing a lot more technique stuff and playing from top down instead of bottom up."
Whatever new things the defense is doing, consider Van Dyke in dire need of doing them well. UM needs him to. The cornerback position is wide open -- and thin. Aside from Van Dyke, the only veteran corners are senior Chavez Grant (whose played nickel his entire UM career) and sophomore Brandon Harris. There are other veterans. But seniors Sam Shields (converted wide receiver) and Ryan Hill (safety last season) played other positions before this spring. The other guy in the rotation is freshman Brandon McGee (who is still practicing by the way despite reports of his broken finger).
The good news for Van Dyke (who missed the first week of spring with a knee strain injury he suffered during a track meet in January) is he's facing one heck of a receiving corps day in and day out.
"They can become the top receiving crew to ever come through Miami," Van Dyke said. "They have so many different styles. Laron Byrd can go deep and be physical. Aldarius [Johnson] too. Leonard Hankerson, he's big and fast. Tommy Streeter is tough. Kendal Thompkins, I call him the Roscoe Parrish of the group. Going up against them definitely makes you better. They're probably the best receiving group in the nation."
Van Dyke didn't make any interceptions at Tuesday's practice (the first since the team's second scrimmage of the spring on March 12). But he did bat a few passes away during the light workouts at Greentree Practice Field (which took place in shorts and helmets). Here are some more notes/observations...
> THE NEWS OF THE DAY: Running back Javarris James will not be participating in the Spring Game this Saturday. James was working off to the side with trainers and appeared to be focusing on his left shoulder. The injury might have happened in the team's last scrimmage. UM Sports Information office didn't tell us what the injury was. It's definitely bad news for Baby J considering injuries have ruined his previous two seasons. A bum shoulder would be a new place for him. A neck injury slowed him as a sophomore. A high ankle sprain and sore groin slowed him even more last year.
> TOP PLAYS: Freshman running back Mike James continues to impress. He made a great catch on a pass over the middle deflected by safety Jojo Nicholas. James kept his eye on the ball and caught it in stride before racing into the end zone during 11 on 11 work; cornerback Ryan Hill made a nice interception reaching out with his back facing the quarterback to steal a pass away from receiver Davon Johnson; Johnson made up for it a few plays later when he broke free for about a 30-yard touchdown catch when both Chavez Grant and Sam Shields followed Laron Byrd over the middle, leaving Johnson wide open.
> Yes, I'm back on the beat. For those of you wondering where I was I had a double whammy when I got back from Providence Thursday. My best friend got married (I'm not making it up) and I moved into my new home. The Herald was nice enough to give me five days off in a row. I had to take advantage of every minute to get through both of those hurdles. I'll have my interview with athletic director Kirby Hocutt tomorrow.