The Miami Hurricanes practiced in full pads Wednesday for the first time since the end of last spring. For linebacker Colin McCarthy, it had been a little bit longer than that.
The last time McCarthy was in full gladiator mode was 11 months ago. That day, against North Carolina, he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. So, how did the first real lick McCarthy's taken since then feel on Wednesday? Well, it didn't hurt.
"The first hit, I was a little nervous," McCarthy said. "But my shoulder felt great. All summer I’ve been hitting bags with my shoulder getting ready for this. I really didn’t have any problems. Knock on wood, hopefully, it stays strong."
There isn't a player who more profoundly affected UM's run defense last season than McCarthy (in case you missed the Top 60 profile I used the following stat the other day). When McCarthy was in, the Hurricanes were good at stopping the run. UM's run defense led the ACC and ranked seventh nationally (65 ypg) through its first four games. But once McCarthy went out -- along with defensive end Eric Moncur -- UM had to turn to its younger players to hold the fort. Miami's run defense slipped from finishing 40th nationally in 2007 (133.75 yards per game) to 75th last season (151.85 ypg) and last in the ACC.
Wednesday, what UM focused on primarily was inside running drills. McCarthy said he was in the middle, learning and listening to defensive coordinator John Lovett closely. From what we heard, the offense had a nice day. But the fact McCarthy, who has played outside linebacker the majority of his career, is spending more time in the middle these days tells you two things: One, coaches probably aren't 100 percent confident Darryl Sharpton can handle being the sure-fire tackler in the middle they need. Two, Ramon Buchanon and Jordan Futch are probably making strides on the outside.
Needless to say, having a healthy and strong McCarthy in the middle will be huge for this defense. And at least after one day of hitting, that shoulder is still OK.
GRAHAM HANDLES HITS: The other player I wanted to hear from Wednesday as far as hitting goes was power forward turned tight end Jimmy Graham. Like McCarthy, so far, so good.
“It felt great. It was what I was anticipating,” Graham said. “We got some big hitters on the team. They’re real quick. You just have to put your head on a swivel.”
Graham said he took several licks. But nothing as hard as what he took Monday when he was hit by a trio of defenders on a crossing route over the middle. But he said he popped right back up and ran to the huddle.
“I was hit pretty hard out there. But I’ve been hitting guys in basketball like that for four years,” Graham said. “It doesn’t bother me at all. Next time, I’ll point at them and tell them to keep on coming.”
At 6-8, 260 pounds Graham can lay the wood himself. And he said he has. He said he’s been learning two positions – H-back and tight end and is practicing about 15 new plays a day. He said although it feels like “50” he’s coming in early in the morning to watch extra film and he feels he’s getting a grasp of it. Wednesday, he made a sliding catch in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. It was his second touchdown of the spring.
“It’s like dunking on somebody,” Graham said. “But in college, there is no showboating. So, I just toss it to the ref and keep running. Hopefully, there will be more to come.”
> Be sure to check out Susan Miller Degnan's feature on Graham in Thursday's paper.
Here are Wednesday's pactice highlights according to UM's sports info staff...
> BIG DAY FOR PICKS: Brandon Harris and Colin McCarthy each recorded two interceptions on the morning. Harris made the first pick of the morning in 11-on-11 action before McCarthy recorded his first in 7-on-7. Both players then wrapped up the morning with back-to-back INTs during the two-minute drill in 11-on-11 play towards the end of the session. Vaughn Telemaque (7-on-7), Ryan Hill (11-on-11) and Brandon McGee (11-on-11) also recorded interceptions.
> GRAHAM, BERRY SCORE: Jimmy Graham and Damien Berry each scored during red zone drills... Leonard Hankerson made two catches of 30+ yards in 11-on-11 action... Jacory Harris connected with LaRon Byrd for a deep ball in 11-on-11... Damien Berry, Graig Cooper and Mike James all picked up significant gains in middle drills... Dedrick Epps, Tervaris Johnson and Aldarius Johnson all recorded catches of 20+ yards in 7-on-7 play.