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Top 60 Countdown: No. 32, OL Joel Figueroa

As we move ahead in our countdown of the Top 60 players at Miami, we take a look at another one of the few players who have overachieved their lately with the Canes. That would be No. 32 on our list: Offensive lineman Joel Figueroa. He wasn't highly touted coming in. But he could prove to be one of the most valuable offensive lineman in the system over the next two years -- including possibly at a new position.

Joel Figueroa could be one of UM's biggest keys to the season > What we heard about him on Signing Day '06: When Fig was playing at North Miami High, there weren't many scouts who were high on him. Rivals and Scout.com both had him tabbed as a two-star recruit. Even the UM media guide said "an athletic lineman who has good strength but needs to work on his technique." Figueroa made the Dade-Broward All-Star Game but was just an All-Dade Third Team selection.

> What he's done as a Cane: After being redshirted in 2006, Figueroa worked his way into games faster than players all rated higher than he was -- Ian Symonnette, Chris Barney, AJ Trump and Matt Pipho. As a redshirt freshman in 2007, he played in seven games and saw an increased role toward the end of the season at left guard. Last year, took another step forward, starting the first four games of the season before playing in the rotation at guard the rest of the way. This spring, he injured his right shoulder. But he's expected to be healthy to start fall camp.

> What Eye On The U expects from him in '09: Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland loves what the 6-5, 344-pound junior brings to the table -- a mean streak and mentality that he has to constantly prove himself. Although Fig missed the spring, opening the door for Harland Gunn, Stoutland made it sound like when Fig got back the starting right guard job was going to be his. "I can’t wait to get back to coaching Fig again. I believe he’s going to be a force," Stoutland said back in March. "I think the best thing to happen to Harland was Fig not playing. Now we’ve established some depth. But Fig is really going to have to drop in a bucket [for him not to start]. I have a lot of confidence in that guy. I think all of our players do. Still, our guards have always rotated. So, Harland Gunn is going to play." 

Gunn could end up playing even more if Figueroa ends up giving tackle a try. Two staffers I spoke to last week said the idea has been floated around about having Figueroa compete with Matt Pipho at right tackle. According to those staffers, coaches simply don't want to break up the left side of the line that features Jason Fox and Orlando Franklin. If Fig can handle it, he might be able to ease the concern of a lot of Canes fans, who know the right tackle position is one of the biggest question marks on the team.

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