Ryan Hill doesn't want to be known as Bubba Gump. But when it comes time to throwing down shrimp, there might not be a better cook on the Hurricanes team.
It's why on Saturday nights during the summer, the entire team flocked to his place about as often as they did to Colin McCarthy and Jason Fox's house for "Fish Fry Night." So, who is the best cook on the team?
"My vote would have to go with Ryan Hill," sophomore cornerback Brandon Harris said. "His shrimp, he's got something special on that. He'll fry it, bake it, sautee it, grill it, we'll have a shrimp party all night."
Hill, a senior, actually shared his special shrimp recipe with me Monday: "The one the guys really love is the barbeque grilled shrimp I do. I do it on a shish kabob stick, put some lemon pepper spices and then add the Sweet Baby Rays BBQ sauce. And then, I stir fry some on the stove. I give them the best of the best."
Whether its cooking, hosting parties or playing designated driver, Hill has always aimed to be a good teammate off the field about as often as he's been one on it.
When he signed with UM in 2005, the Tallahassee native thought he was destined to follow in the footsteps of Antrel Rolle and become the Canes next great cornerback. But when he got to UM, Larry Coker had a different plan for him. With the Canes short on receivers, Hill made the move to offense and in two seasons caught 19 passes for 182 yards and two touchdowns. Last season, he made the move back to defense -- but was learning how to play safety. He did OK, starting five games, making 34 tackles and deflecting two passes.
But now, as he enters his final year at UM, the 6-foot, 205-pounder is happier than he's ever been. Why? Because he's finally back where he was meant to be -- corner. This spring, he split time at corner and safety. But with UM still a little short at corner, the decision was made this offseason to let him return to corner full time -- with the possibility he could slide back to safety if needed.
"One thing I wanted to do is get better in shape and fine tune myself," said Hill, who ran the fourth fastest 40 time on the team this spring (4.40) and ranked in the Top 20 in all five testing categories. "With coach Swasey and his program, I think I took full advantage of it. I'm healthy, big and as fast as I've ever been. I'm going to take it to the field. Whether I'm at corner or safety, I'm comfortable. I'll do whatever it takes to win a national championship."
Through UM's first three practices, Hill said he's been working primarily at field corner with freshman Brandon McGee and junior Demarcus Van Dyke. That would leave Brandon Harris, Sam Shields and Chavez Grant working at boundary corner. Hill said Monday he worked with the second team during 11-on-11 drills and with the first team during 7-on-7s. "We have three groups and we're all rotating," Hill said.
Last season, the Hurricanes finished with just four interceptions (tied for fewest in team history). Hill said he wished media and fans would also give the Canes more credit for finishing seventh in the nation in pass defense (165 ypg). "It's tough when people grade you just off turnovers and interceptions," Hill said. " To me, we finished seventh in pass defense and only had four INTs. What if we get 19 or 20 this year? We could be No. 1. People shouldn't underestimate what we can do with this secondary. We have a lot of great athletes and a lot of guys who are no longer freshmen."
MCGRIFF EXCITED ABOUT SECONDARY
I had a chance to sit down for a one-on-one interview with defensive backs coach Wesley McGriff Tuesday and here are some nuggets from our conversation.
> I asked McGriff to explain what exactly a boundary corner and a field corner is and what is needed to play those spots. He also let me in on his philosophy coaching his players.
"In football, the majority of the game is played at the hash [mark]. The boundary coner covers the short side, sideline in. The field corner has got to cover a lot more ground, and a lot more routes are thrown at him. The field [corner] needs to have good feet, but more vertical speed because that's where you have to cover more ground. You may get more throws into the boundary, but the routes in the boundary are going to be in a smaller area. So, you have to have really quick feet and be good against the run. You usually cover more physical guys there.
"Brandon Harris, and Chavez Grant are more boundary guys. A guy like DVD can play both, but he's a big asset to the field because of that speed. Ryan Hill too. Sam Shields could play both also. But the key is you can't limit yourself. If you are my third best corner, you have to get into the game. You strive to get those guys in field and boundary to learn both and then try to train them for a particular area. But ultimately you got to get your best on the field, the combinations that work."
> Although we don't get to see practice -- all reporters must get accounts from players and coaches as to how practice went -- we've definitely been hearing about the secondary creating more turnovers through the first three days of camp. McGriff said its a result of a maturity. "Once you get older as a unit, those things start coming," McGriff said.
"When you are young, your just trying to line up in the right spot. Now, they're going to take the next step. We were 7th in the country [in pass defense]. But that wasn't good enough for the University of Miami. That's just the starting point. We have to affect the game, we have to take the ball away from the opponent. That's all we keep stressing to these guys. Don't be afraid to make plays."
> McGriff said moving Hill to corner full time was necessary for depth. "We needed some knowledge there. Ryan is going to help us at that spot. Ryan could be a really great corner. He has all the tools and abilities to be a great corner. I think it's a benefit to have a guy we can move to the edge and cover man to man and has all the change of direction, the ball skills. That kid really, really works hard. He's going to be a good kid for us."
> As for safety Ray Ray Armstrong, McGriff said its too early to judge how much of an impact he could make as a freshman. "He's got to get more comfortable in the scheme," McGriff said. "He may not be playing fast because he's not sure. Just like Brandon [Harris] and Vaughn Telemaque had to get past that freshman stage. It's hard to come in as a true freshman and make plays. How much training did they get in high school? Was he a fulltime DB? No. Now, he is. What I like is his attitude, his size, he's a winner. He's really smart and he just loves the game."
> I asked McGriff if some of the expectations for Vaughn Telemaque, whom Shannon compared to Ed Reed last season, are too high for a player who played in just three games last year. "He's got to play good for us. He's one of our guys for us," McGriff said.
"I don't think anybody could put higher expectations on Vaughn than Vaughn himself. He's really critical of himself. He has to play good for us. He's worked hard all summer to get himself in that position. He'll live up to his own expectations. He knows he has to watch film over and over again. I tell him all the time he has to be the QB on defense. He wants to be good. The one thing about Vaughn is he's going to use all the resources around him to make sure he's great. Whether its an NFL player, coaches, film, he's going to use whatever. I know he spent one day with Ed Reed this summer, asking him questions. I told the guys when they're walking around the building, you have to ask guys these questions. He did."
> As for freshman Brandon McGee, McGriff said the Plantation High star needs to pick up schemes more. "Brandon's biggest thing is he's not 100 percent comfortable and sure of what he's doing. Once he does, he's going to be a great corner. He and I talked about it yesterday. Let it go and stop worrying about making a mistake."
> I caught up with redshirt freshman Ben Jones. He told me he's been moved back to left tackle, after playing only right tackle in the spring. That means Jermaine Johnson has moved back to right tackle, where he started out in the spring before moving to the left side.
"At first it was kind of a weird adjustment because I was so used to the right side and I'm right handed," Jones said. "But I'm learning from [Jason] Fox and he's teaching me, correcting me when I make mistakes."
Jones, who said he shed 10 pounds in the summer and now stands 6-5, 290, said he realizes the importance of playing well on the left side because it protects the blind side of quarterback Jacory Harris. "You have to be on your Ps and Qs on your left side. You have to be on your A game when your blocking for Jacory. I'm treating it like I was in high school, protecting him like he's my baby."
> UM coach Randy Shannon complimented the play of tight end Jimmy Graham Monday, saying he ran routes well with shoulder pads on. He also had good things to say about receiver Leonard Hankerson, saying he's become a leader and is "much better."
Hankerson spent this summer working with former Miami Dolphin great Mark Duper on catching. "It was fun and exciting," Hankerson said of working with Duper. "I just worked on catching the ball, looking it in, running routes better and concentrating on the ball. Now, I'm just looking at catching the point of the ball." Hankerson said its worked so far in practice. "I'm catching everything now," he said.