« January 2010 | Main | March 2010 »

15 posts from February 2010

February 24, 2010

Whipple not your ordinary scout team QB

Spencer Whipple can't remember how old he was the first time he peeked into his father's playbook. But the 6-2, 210-pound junior knows his desire to learn how to beat defenses began long before he followed his father to the University of Miami last August. It probably started in his mother's womb.

Spencer Whipple "When I was little, I watched a lot of football. I always understood what was going on, who was winning. When I got a little older is when I started asking my dad questions," said Whipple, whose father Mark, a veteran NFL quarterbacks coach, has been UM's offensive coordinator since last year.

"He started talking to me more about offensive schemes, why teams run certain offenses. When he was [coaching in] college [Whipple was at Brown and UMass from 1993 to 2003], I'd hang around the practices, go to the meeting and just listen. When he was with the Steelers [2004-2006], I'd look at the playbooks, the schemes, X's and O's. I feel like I've learned a lot just being around my dad."

Truth is, Whipple (6-2, 210) is not your ordinary scout team quarterback. Set to turn 21 next month, he's been exposed to a lot of football in just three years at the college level and his grasp of different offensive schemes expands beyond what he learned just from his dad. While his father was coaching for the Steelers, Whipple led his high school team to an undefeated season. After receiving offers only from Football Championship Subdivision schools [formerly Division I-AA], he decided to walk on at the University of Pittsburgh as a freshman. 

There, he spent a season learning from Matt Cavanaugh, a veteran NFL offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach now with the Jets. A year later, Whipple transferred to UMass where he learned an entirely different system. Now, a year after transferring to UM, he's on scholarship and learning from dad once again.

"I look at it as being fortunate because I've learned so many different schemes," Whipple said. "Everybody likes to teach different things. I'm hoping I can put them all together so one day if I become a coach, I'll have all this past experience with different coaches, different playbooks and be able to pass it on."

Whipple, last season's Scout Team Offensive MVP, is already doing some coaching with his young UM teammates. Even though he's competing directly with true freshman Stephen Morris and sophomore A.J. Highsmith for the backup job, Whipple said he often "slows thing down" for Morris and Highsmith if they struggle to pickup what his father is teaching them.  

"Whenever they see something different than what my dad wants them to see, I'll point it out to them," said Whipple, who got in for one series (three plays) at UMass and completed his only pass attempt for 16 yards. "But I don't want to be on them every second because I know how that is. I just let them know I'm always there for them if they want to learn something or if they have to ask me something or need some help."

How much Whipple will be able to really help the Hurricanes remains to be seen. But there is no reason to think the left-handed quarterback can't win the backup job. He definitely believes he has a chance and that he can provide the Hurricanes with a steady hand if needed.

"I just try to pride myself on being a leader, controlling the game, making some plays with my arm and making some plays with my feet," Whipple said. "I might not have the biggest arm, but I know my plays and can make all the right reads."

> GUNN TRUMPS BAILEY: If there is one thing defensive end Allen Bailey took pride in off the field last year it was his dominance in trainer Andreu Swasey's weight room. The 6-4, 288-pound senior was more than happy about having four of his photos hanging from the Canes' famed Strength and Conditioning board. 

But according to Bailey, after Swasey's first round of testing for the 2010 season (the Hurricanes will test again after spring football) he's now owns just three of the six categories in the offensive line/defensive line division. Blame junior offensive lineman Harland Gunn. According to Bailey, Gunn overtook him recently in the squat when he raised his maximum weight up to 620 pounds. Bailey said he still owns the power clean (405), the bench press (415) and 20-yard shuttle and plans to retake the title in the vertical leap (he won it last year with a 38 1/2 inch jump).

> The Hurricanes will begin hitting this afternoon, but will still be wearing shorts. The real hitting in full pads begins Saturday. 

February 23, 2010

Spring Football Questions: Defense/Sp. Teams

Spring football is officially here. The University of Miami will host the first of 15 spring practices at 3 p.m. this afternoon at Greentree Practice Field. If all goes well, UM coach Randy Shannon plans to have a tougher football team come the fall.

Defensively, they might also have a few answers to the following questions...

> Will redshirt freshman Shayon Green step up and fill a huge need at middle linebacker?

Shayon GreenReplacing a starting middle linebacker and leading tackler can be problematic for any college football team. Calling on a redshirt freshman to do it who hasn't played a single down of college football? Well, that just sounds insane. But that's exactly what Shannon and his staff are hoping to accomplish this spring with Shayon Green

The 6-2, 235-pounder from Tifton, Ga., suffered a severe knee injury that knocked him out before he could even really get on the practice field last fall. But now, with All-ACC Second Team linebacker Darryl Sharpton getting ready for Draft Day, it is Green who is slotted to run with the first team over the next month. Not senior Kylan Robinson, a highly-touted player in high school who has spent his entire career on special teams. Not Arthur Brown, the nation's No. 1 high school linebacker from two years ago (now back home in Kansas). Not even veteran outside linebacker Colin McCarthy.

Shannon said Monday he plans to give Green every opportunity this spring to impress. But the clock will be ticking. If Green simply can't pick things up fast enough, then UM will likely have no choice but to slide McCarthy or even junior Sean Spence over, which Shannon has made clear he doesn't want to do. The Hurricanes will be without juniors Ramon Buchanon and Jordan Futch in the spring. But if true freshman and early enrollee Tyrone Cornelius (6-2, 195) or sophomore C.J. Holton shine, then there might be a chance sliding McCarthy or Spence over becomes a little easier for Shannon to swallow.

> Will new defensive line coach Rick Petri make an immediate impact and help a sub-par pass rush from a year ago look a lot more like the scary defensive fronts of Canes seasons long past?

The numbers for UM's defensive line last season weren't pretty. 23 sacks in 13 games -- seven fewer than the year before. While injuries took their toll, there were moments when opposing quarterbacks had enough time to order pizzas and have them delivered before getting rid of the football. The lack of a pass rush caused what seemed like an improving secondary to get torched at times.

Allen Bailey Petri, who coached some of the better pass rushers in Canes history during his time with the team in the 1990s, will provide a veteran coaching presence that has lacked at the position over the past couple seasons. Although defensive coordinator John Lovett would prefer having senior Allen Bailey at tackle, the Hurricanes' leader in sacks from a year ago with seven will play mostly at end this spring per Shannon's orders. He, along with a healthy Adewale Ojomo (back from a broken jaw), junior Marcus Robinson and sophomore Olivier Vernon should provide the Canes with a quality quartet of experienced pass rushers on the outside with run-stopping senior Steven Wesley and junior Andrew Smith. Redshirt freshman Dyron Dye, back from injury, will be the new face to watch.

On the inside, UM is as deep as it has been in years. Senior Josh Holmes is the veteran. Sophomore Curtis Porter came on strong late last year for the injured Marcus Forston, who is hoping to rebound. With juniors Micanor Regis and Jeremy Lewis also in the mix, it should give redshirt freshman Luther Robinson more time to develop.

> Will the Hurricanes find themselves another dependable, playmaking cornerback to compliment All-American Brandon Harris?

There were times last season when Harris seemed to make every play in the Hurricanes secondary. He finished third on the team with 58 tackles, tied for the team lead with two interceptions and was among the country's leaders with 15 pass breakups and three forced fumbles. The rest of Miami's cornerbacks? Outside of Sam Shields' 41 tackles, we barely heard a peep from anybody else.

Shields is now gone along with veteran nickelback Chavez Grant. Shannon has made it no secret: it's time for senior Demarcus Van Dyke to shine. He was the only other cornerback to intercept a pass last season. The other six belonged to linebackers, safeties and defensive linemen.

The Hurricanes aren't exactly deep at corner. Ryan Hill, coming back from a season-ending injury, will be back. But sophomore Brandon McGee will get a push from walk-on Corey Nelms, whom Shannon said Monday has earned the chance to compete for playing time. Outside of that, the rest of UM's reinforcements at corner arrive in the summer. We don't know if Devont'a Davis, Kacy Rodgers or Keion Payne will be able to help come the fall. But chances are slim considering the learning curve for corners in college.

> Will Vaughn Telemaque and Ray Ray Armstrong cement themselves as the cornerstone safeties of the future?

Vaughn Telemaque We've heard all about the VT and Ray Ray and how great both will be. But 2010 would be a great time for the word potential to be dropped when referring to either of them. Telemaque had a solid sophomore season with 48 tackles, four pass breakups and a fumble recovery. But he was expected to provide a lot more than solid numbers. He's supposed to be special, a player who creates turnovers in big numbers.

Armstrong made his presence felt as a freshman with 21 tackles -- and a few big hits (look for his Oklahoma highlights). But coaches definitely are hoping for a super sophomore season from Ray Ray, who has the ability to make receivers do more than flinch or develop alligator arms over the middle. If things go well, senior Jared Campbell and junior Jojo Nicolas will be serviceable backups to both Armstrong and Telemaque while helping redshirt freshman Jamal Reid to continue to progress slowly.

> Will Jake Wieclaw do anything to make us believe he can help the team in one of the three kicking phases?

With Matt Bosher out for the spring, Wieclaw will handle all the kicking duties. It has almost become do-or-die time for Wieclaw, who was unable to wrestle away any of the kicking duties in his second season. Special teams coach Joe Pannunzio said last season Wieclaw was improving on field goals and kickoffs. We should know once and for all where he really is in terms of development or if UM will have to search hard for a replacement. 

February 22, 2010

Shannon's Spring Goal: "Get tougher"

Remember what the University of Miami football team looked like the last time they were out on the field? On the sidelines, players were huddled next to heaters. On the field, the Wisconsin Badgers were pounding the Hurricanes on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Flatly, the Canes looked like a wimpy team in their 20-14 loss in the Champs Sports Bowl.

Randy ShannonHurricanes coach Randy Shannon doesn't want any more of that. He wants the Hurricanes who took joy in slapping around ACC champion Georgia Tech and out-muscled big, bad Oklahoma. So the goal this spring, according to Shannon, is simple: "Get tougher."

"It's going to be physical football this spring," Shannon said during his half hour meeting with the media Monday to preview the start of spring football. 

"I want to see us take our next step on improving in a lot of different areas. We need to cause a lot more turnovers on defense, cut down on turnovers [offensively]. Our running backs did not fumble the football last year, I don't think a receiver fumbled the football last year. So we do a great job running the football; we have to cut down on other aspects of it. And finishing is the biggest thing. Some games we finished strong; some games we didn't have that extra oomph that last two minutes of the game to get us where we needed to be. At the end of practice we'll put them in situations that `offense we need this done, defense we need this done.' And whoever doesn't get it done we'll know and we can evaluate on who we can really rely on at those critical times."

In essence, Shannon said, the kid gloves are coming off for most of the players who were brought in as part of the nation's No. 1 recruiting class two years ago. 

"It's time for them to take that jump," Shannon said. "The big-time players, their third and fourth year, they really respond. Like [Leonard] Hankerson, his first two years everybody was down on him. But it's just the process of it. Now, last year, his third year, he had a breakout year. Now it's time for Sean Spence to step up, Andrew Smith, Marcus Robinson. All of those guys who have been here two years, now it's their third year. You can see the improvement from their first and second year. Now, we got to see the jump."

> Shannon said he plans to be harder on his offensive line and defensive lines than he's ever been, especially because of the amount of depth both positions have entering the spring. 

"By the end of the spring, those guys are going to hate me," Shannon said. "But it's what we have to do. When we've been at our best, when we beat Oklahoma, when we beat Virginia, those guys were knocking heads on both sides of the line. When we lost to Virginia and Oklahoma, we got our butts kicked. I'm going to get after those guys this spring. I'm going to tell you if they aren't doing well and if they're struggling. We have to be a physical football team all the time." 

Orlando Franklin  > Ultimately, Shannon says, the best five offensive linemen -- regardless of position -- will be who starts and who plays come September. Other than left tackle, where senior Orlando Franklin is anchored, spots will be won and lost over the next seven months for the other four positions. 

Shannon said Ben Jones will enter the spring as the starting right tackle. Redshirt freshmen Jermaine Johnson, Stephen Plein and Cory White will rotate as backups at both tackle positions. On the inside, junior Tyler Horn will run with the first team at center with sophomore Brandon Washington and junior Harland Gunn at the guard positions. Backups in the interior will be redshirt freshman Jared Wheeler and true freshmen Malcolm Bunche and Shane McDermott

"It's a starting point on what [we] want to get done," Shannon said. "Whoever develops will play... If we happen to get three offensive tackles that are the best guys on the offensive line, one of them will go in and play guard. I'm going to tell you that now. If the guards are playing best, someone will go to tackle. We have the numbers to say whoever are the best five, those are the best five we're going to play no matter what position they are."

Corey Nelms > Shannon said walk-on and 2009 special teams standout Corey Nelms will have every opportunity this spring to impress at cornerback and expects him to push sophomore Brandon McGee for the team's fourth cornerback slot. Nelms, a 6-1, 195-pound senior, hasn't played cornerback since arriving at UM on a partial track scholarship. "Look at it this way: the best guys off special teams usually become your real good players," Shannon said. "When you see a guy who really does well on special teams, he will eventually be able to help your program out."

Junior Brandon Harris and seniors Demarcus Van Dyke and Ryan Hill will begin the spring in the top three slots at corner. Despite losing three seniors from the secondary, Shannon said he's pleased with the experience in his defensive backfield and expects UM to create more turnovers in 2010. Sophomores Ray Ray Armstrong and Vaughn Telemaque, senior Jared Campbell, junior Jojo Nicolas and redshirt freshman Jamal Reid are the safeties. Shannon said baseball coach Jim Morris inquired about having Reid, a standout baseball player in high school, play baseball after spring football is over.

> Shannon insists senior Colin McCarthy will only see time at middle linebacker in nickel situations. Redshirt freshman Shayon Green, coming off a season-ending knee injury, will start in the middle and will be backed up by senior Kylan Robinson. Sophomore CJ Holton, true freshman Tyrone Cornelius and two walk-ons will backup Sean Spence and McCarthy at outside linebacker. 

"We're giving Shayon his opportunity to play that position," Shannon said. "After 15 days of spring football we'll assess it and reevaluate what we need to get done... He's a hard worker, a big, big guy that has athletic ability, can run. You miss a year of football, now you have to re-teach the part about tackling, the coverages. Those are the intricate parts he missed that he has to catch up on. Will it come by in the first week? No. But he should get it by the second or third week because he'll get a lot of reps at it."

Damien Berry  > Senior Damien Berry has assumed the team's leadership spot at running back and Shannon said his next step is improving his pass protection, calling Berry's pass blocking skills "okay."  Shannon said Berry, a special teams standout, will continue to participate in special teams drills even if his workload increases at running back.

"He's improved every year he's been at running back, but now he has to take that next step of being 'The guy,'" Shannon said. "He's been a great team leader this off-season. He knows Mike James is back, you have Storm [Johnson] and Lamar Miller, guys just as good as he is. That's what makes a great football player, that he accepts those challenges but also doesn't make it a personal vendetta."

> Junior Chris Ivory, last year's long-snapper on field goals, will handle both punting and field goal duties. He will be backed up by redshirt freshman tight end Billy Sanders

> Shannon said he never gave pushing spring football back any thought even after quarterback Jacory Harris had thumb surgery.  "You can't let one person dictate what you have to get done. You get your six weeks of lifting in, then get spring ball in, finish up," Shannon said. "We look at it as a standpoint of get spring football in, find out who took that next step, but also if someone gets nicked or injured you can get them back in August. August is the key."

Shannon said sophomore A.J. Highsmith will debut as the first team quarterback Tuesday, but could get passed up by true freshman Stephen Morris if he doesn't show improvement. "You can't stay the same. He knows that, is excited about it," Shannon said. "The other two quarterbacks are excited about it. Spencer [Whipple] is excited about it and Stephen is excited about it. The NCAA gives us two hours a week to meet with the guys and we've been meeting with them. They're kind of biting at the bit. You want to a guy to manage the game, score points, and do what we ask offensively to get it done."

As for Morris, Shannon said he wants the freshman to "just go out there and be himself." "The one thing you don't want is have guys try to be above and beyond what they're call of duty is supposed to be," Shannon said. "You go out and do your job and you'll be successful. You try to do above and beyond the call of duty, you tend to make mistakes that way. Any great player at any position, they do their job.

> Shannon said he's excited about the return of defensive end Adewale Ojomo. Shannon said the 6-4, 253-pound junior, who missed all of last season with a broken jaw, has matured. "He sees a lot of different things from a coaches standpoint that as a player he did not see before," Shannon said. "His weight is up to 255, 260, he's been running, lifting, looks strong like before. I'm excited to see where he's at. Ojomo plays with a lot of enthusiasm, excitement."

- For those of you that missed it, I had a write up and video from Sunday's Under Armour Combine at the Dolphins practice facility.

- Here is the link to the complete audio interview from Coach Shannon's press conference on Monday.

February 19, 2010

Spring Football Questions: Offense

Technically, the first day of spring in 2010 is March 20th. But around The U, where football rules the calendar, spring really begins on Tuesday. That's the day Randy Shannon's football team convenes for 15 days of practice and preparation (non consecutively) for the 2010 spring season.

Why so early? We're not exactly sure. But Shannon is a guy who likes to get an early start on everything. His team began practicing at 5 a.m. for about the first half of the 2009 season. He said it was to avoid afternoon thunderstorms. These practices will begin at 3 p.m. (except for two Saturday 10 a.m. workouts and the team scrimmage on March 27th).

So what do we hope to learn/see from this football team from Tuesday until March 27th? Shannon has his list. I've got mine.

Here are my five questions entering the spring in regards to the offense.

> Will A.J. Highsmith or Stephen Morris perform well enough to make us feel like either could quarterback this team should Jacory Harris miss any time in 2010?

AJ Highsmith  Harris, as you know, won't be involved in any team drills this spring. His injured thumb, which required surgery, hasn't healed in time to see him take any meaningful snaps with his teammates. That leaves more time for Highsmith, Morris, and scout team quarterback Spencer Whipple, the son of offensive coordinator Mark Whipple, to split snaps equally. You can't say that's a bad thing, especially when you consider Harris took every meaningful snap in 2009 and probably played through injury when he shouldn't have.

Like it or not, the Hurricanes were more than fortunate Harris was able to do that in 2009 despite being hit hard several times and getting sacked 35 times. There is no guarantee that in 2010 that won't happen again, especially with three positions on the offensive line featuring new starters.

Highsmith, listed at 6-feet, 195-pounds, played in three games as a true freshman and completed four of his six pass attempts for 53 yards and a touchdown, mostly in garbage time against Virginia and Florida A&M. Despite playing quarterback in high school, even his old man, former Cane Alonzo Highsmith, has long felt his son would be destined to play defensive back at this level. While Highsmith performed well in spot duty, we still don't really know for sure if he could handle the job in any serious capacity.

Morris (6-2, 183) is fresh out of high school, a player who was hand picked by Whipple out of Monsignor Pace. Morris has a strong arm and is athletic. But most recruiting analysts don't believe he is college-ready enough to become an instant contributer like Harris, who obviously was able to do more than just backup Robert Marve as a freshman. Could Morris learn enough being on campus over the next seven months to be ready come September should anything happen to Harris? There's definitely a chance.

But this is where you really would have hoped a guy like Taylor Cook was around. In the end, I think the Canes are simply going to have to cross their fingers and hope nothing serious happens to Harris again in 2010. The likelihood of any UM backup being able to come in and run this offense at an optimum level is slim.

> Will Damien Berry or Mike James show us they can be the featured back?

For all the Berry! Berry! Berry! chants at Sun Life Stadium this past season, we never did see the 5-11, 217-pound Glades Central standout -- or his 5-11, 220-pound freshman phenom counterpart -- headline the Hurricanes rushing attack. But after three years of the Javarris James-Graig Cooper show, we will finally see somebody else in the leading role.

Damien Berry Berry seems like a natural to fill it, considering he finished second on the team in rushing with 628 yards and 8 touchdowns despite the fact he only carried the ball 93 times and didn't have a single carry in the team's first four games. Still, the fact remains he only led the team in carries once this season (16 rushes vs. Duke) and he only reached double digit carries in five games. When asked late in the season why Berry wasn't carrying the rock more, Shannon basically told us 'some guys can only be given so much work.'

Mike James, meanwhile, has all the makings of a special back. He wowed us last spring with his ability to shed blocks and breakaway from defenders. But he only carried the ball 15 times for 48 yards (he caught 15 passes for 105 yards) and spent most of the season playing fullback after Pat Hill went down.

Lee Chambers (upper extremity) is going to miss the spring and a chance to make some noise after tallying 60 carries for 272 yards and 1 touchdown in two seasons.

That leaves two other intriguing participants to also impress us this spring: redshirt freshman Lamar Miller and true freshman Storm Johnson (6-0, 212). Miller, a standout at Miami Killian, has been all the rage from my conversations with different members of the staff at UM. Johnson is widely considered UM's best skill position player in the 2010 recruiting class.

No matter which backs emerge as the lead candidates to carry the ball in the fall, the good news for UM is all four of the healthy backs in camp this spring appear talented and capable. And you don't know if Cooper does make it back in time to play. In the end, I think UM is going to have two or three backs in its system next fall carrying the football no matter what. It's just going to come down to who is healthy and who doesn't fumble -- like it always has.

> Will Aldarius Johnson make a strong return from a subpar sophomore season? And will Tommy Streeter finally emerge as a consistent receiving option?

Even though his teammates were saying it all along, I don't think many of us believed going into the 2009 season that Leonard Hankerson would put together the type of breakout junior year that he did. He caught 45 passes for 801 yards and 6 touchdowns and really stole the show from the underclassmen we all expected to push past him. That was surprising -- so was his return for a senior season (OK, a mild surprise).

Aldarius JohnsonBut the disappearance of Aldarius Johnson? Nobody was really expecting that. Instead, someone should have sent out an amber alert for the 6-3, 208-pounder during his sophomore season. After leading the team with 31 catches as a freshman, he had a rather unimpressive 16 catches for 276 yards and one score in 10 games. Sure, he hurt himself against Florida State. But he was the player nearly everyone thought would be entering his junior season with the NFL hype, not Hankerson. Instead, he has to push himself hard this spring to prove he's back.

In a lot of ways, it was a disappointing sophomore season for most of the Northwestern Bulls (look up linebacker Sean Spence, defensive tackle Marcus Forston). Injuries were a big part of it. But there was nothing unhealthy about Tommy Streeter, and its still a wonder to me how the 6-5, 209-pounder finished with only five catches for 114 yards. I don't know if you missed his 47-yard catch in the bowl game. But I sure didn't. It's more than obvious that just like Damien Berry, Streeter needs more playing time. Maybe, that can be the chant this year when FAMU visits: Streeter! Streeter! Streeter!

And what about LaRon Byrd and Travis Benjamin? Byrd finished with 33 catches for 460 yards and one touchdown. Benjamin had 29 catches for 501 yards and four touchdowns. Those are pretty good seasons when you consider how much UM spreads the ball around. But neither cracked the nation's Top 100 in receptions, receiving yards per game or total receiving yards. Surely, we all know, they have to be among the nation's Top 100 players at the position. Translation: Maybe, it is time to get them more touches.

> Is Dwayne Collins willing to give football -- and the tight end position -- a shot in the fall?

For those of us who were worried about the tight end position last year and called it the biggest question mark on the team entering the 2009 season (I did), consider it a premature evaluation. What we really meant to say was that it would be the big question mark heading into 2010.

Richard Gordon Jimmy Graham turned out to be more than just a feel good hoops to gridiron story. The 6-8 former power forward showed us he could play and brought an added dimension to the tight end position with the healthy return of Dedrick Epps. The duo combined for 36 catches for 460 yards and 8 touchdowns and provided plenty of big catches -- and lifts -- throughout the season.

The Hurricanes tight end position entering this spring? A sixth-year player in Richard Gordon who has four career catches for 32 yards and is returning from a season-ending injury. And redshirt freshman Billy Sanders (6-4, 248), whom the coaches have high hopes for but we've heard very little about on the scout team.

The Hurricanes signed three players who are expected to play tight end in its 2010 class -- none who will arrive until the summer at the earliest. Asante Cleveland (6-5, 240) and Clive Walford (6-4, 215) are big, athletic targets who will likely need time to develop. Junior College signee Chase Ford (6-6, 245) is expected to play and contribute right away.

But it's hard to feel optimistic about this position providing as much help as it did in 2009 right now. There is a lot that has to happen over the next seven months to make us feel better.

> Who, other than Orlando Franklin, will prove to us they can be a consistent, solid starter on the offensive line heading into the 2010 season?

Say what you want about the 35 sacks the Hurricanes gave up last season, the struggles of Matt Pipho and so on. But there is a chance, if things don't go well, you'll be wishing Jason Fox, A.J. Trump and even Pipho were back in 2010.

Orlando Franklin The Hurricanes have to replace all three of those starters on the offensive line. Franklin, who played well in Fox's place at the end of the season, appears to be a solid option for UM at left tackle. But when you start to go down the rest of the line, you start to see a lot places where guys have to really prove themselves over the next seven months and hope -- that just like last year -- there aren't many injuries.

At left guard, the future looks bright with sophomore Brandon Washington (6-4, 330) returning. He played in all 13 games (mostly on the special teams unit), but did start the final two regular season games and showed plenty of upside.

The center position is supposed to be won by 6-4, 300-pound redshirt sophomore Tyler Horn, who played in six games and made snaps at center against Florida A&M, UCF, Virginia and USF. But like I said, he has a lot to prove. His backup could be true freshman, Shane McDermott, an Under-Armour All-American `who will participate in the spring.

At right guard, the often injured Joel Figueroa will miss his second straight spring with a shoulder injury. Figueroa has made 13 starts and played in 32 games in three years. Harland Gunn (6-2, 315) started five games at right guard and now has plenty of experience under his belt. But will he prove to us he can be consistent this spring and dominate?

Right tackle is where the biggest mystery lies. Last year, UM handed the job to Pipho by default. He was the senior with the most experience and the most ready to handle the pressure. In 2010, three young players figure to compete for the spot -- redshirt sophomore Ben Jones, redshirt freshman Jermaine Johnson and true freshman Malcolm Bunche, a 2009 signee who spent last season at prep school. Much like Pipho did a year ago, none will enter starting college experience whatsoever.

There are six more offensive line recruits set to arrive in the summer, headlined by U.S. Army All-American Brandon Linder. And we've heard lots of good things about redshirt freshmen Jared Wheeler and Cory White, who were on the scout team last season. But like I said, there will be a lot to prove for this unit over the next seven months.

February 18, 2010

Two aces anchor UM pitching staff

Jim Morris knows you can win with speed and you can win with power in your lineup. He's done it both ways with the Hurricanes. But the one ingredient the veteran of 27 seasons knows he can't win without is pitching. And at least on paper, the 2010 Hurricanes appear to have one of the strongest veteran staffs in the country.

Eric EricksonIt's headlined not by just one ace, but two veteran Friday night starters: left-handers Eric Erickson and Chris Hernandez. Erickson, back after having missed the 2009 season following Tommy John surgery, has a career 19-5 record with a .327 ERA, 131 strike outs and 34 walks in 30 starts. Hernandez, Collegiate Baseball Newspaper's National Freshman of the Year in 2008, is 18-5 in his career with a 3.20 ERA with 210 strikeouts and 49 walks in 33 starts. 

And their teammates can't stop raving about how good they've looked -- especially Erickson, who spent the 2009 season watching his teammates struggle without a consistent No. 2 option.

"He's way better than he was two years ago," All-American catcher Yasmani Grandal said of Erickson. "He's always had his control. Right now, he has control with a better fastball, better stuff. He's worked on his offspeed and that makes him that much better. Overall, he's just a better pitcher."

Said sophomore third baseman Harold Martinez of Erickson: "He's just as good as everyone said he would be. He spots the ball perfectly, a lot of good off-speed stuff that stays low. He gives you nothing good to hit."

Hernandez, last year's Friday night starter, has received similar compliments after failing to live up to his stellar freshman season when he went 11-0 with a 2.72 ERA. He said he plans to how Erickson pitches on Friday nights and to take plenty of notes. 

“The way we throw, we feed off each other," Hernandez said. "We work together. I’m going to get that great opportunity to watch him throw on Friday nights and really see what the weaknesses are on the other team.”

Chris Hernandez UM pitching coach J.D. Arteaga said both will be on a strict 85 pitch count early on, but believes there is no reason to be concerned with either of his aces getting tired. "All we can go by so far is what he's done in intrasquad and he's had no setbacks," Arteaga said of Erickson. "His arm has been great. His velocity is good. Both him and Hernandez threw five innings last week and showed no signs of getting tired. Like any pitcher, he's going to get tired at some point. If we have to get him out early, we'll get him out early. But I wouldn't think he needs any special treatment than any other pitcher."

> Arteaga said he and Morris "could have gone either way" in deciding which of the two aces got the Friday night starter's role. Morris said Erickson simply showed more consistency. "His stuff is great," Arteaga said. "From the first time E's been on the mound, he's been throwing strikes, which is what makes him who he is, makes him successful.

"He just has to be very consistent in what he does. He doesn't throw real hard, but he throws hard enough. His curveball is not great, but it's good enough. The changeup is a very plus-plus pitch and he throws them for strikes with any count. That's always going to win in baseball."

> Arteaga said Hernandez's struggles last year (7-5, 4.76 ERA) had more to do with the stress he put on himself than the effort he was giving. Still, Arteaga admits, adjustments had to be made. And it appears Hernandez has made them. "He's doing a much better job getting ahead of guys and really being able to use his pitches as an advantage," Arteaga said. "His velocity was down a little bit last year. It's back up to what it was before. The biggest thing with him is not doing too much and just being Chris. Not trying to get everybody out with every pitch he throws. That's what got him in trouble last year."

> The third pitcher in UM's rotation will be sixth-year senior Jason Santana. The 6-3, 215-pound right hander has had three arm surgeries between high school and college. Yet, after going 6-1 a year ago with a 5.40 ERA, Morris said Santana has been as consistent as anyone in the spring and fall. "He's going after people, got a great strike-walk ratio, has pitched well enough to be in there," Morris said. "To me his only question is can he hold up physically, and hopefully he will."

> Freshman left-hander Steven Ewing won the battle with freshman right-hander Eric Whaley for the midweek, No. 4 starter's role. Arteaga said Ewing would likely see some middle relief work this weekend against Rutgers along with Whaley.

> The closer's role was won by senior David Gutierrez, who has big shoes to fill after the departure of All-American Kyle Bellamy. Gutierrez, whose older brother Carlos was UM's closer in 2008, has started 20 games in his career and gone 11-6 with a 4.33 ERA. Arteaga and Morris said he has the ingredients to handle it. Junior left-hander Iden Nazario, who went 7-6 with a 7.26 ERA in 15 starts a year ago in the No. 4 role, will be his setup man. 

"We didn't know what his brother was going to do a couple years ago and he went from the starting role to the closer role," Arteaga said of Gutierrez. "He throws strikes, has good movement. He can field his position, hold runners, do all the things you ask of a closer. As far as whether or not he's going to do a great job, we really don't know until he goes out there in the ninth inning, it's a one run ball game and its a pressure situation. Without a doubt, the toughest inning to throw is the ninth inning. But he's got all the things you need to be successful. So, we'll see once he gets out there."

If Gutierrez struggles, the Hurricanes might turn to freshman right hander E.J. Encinosa. "Stuff wise, he has the best stuff to be the closer on our team," Arteaga said. "It's a matter of getting his feet wet early on. Hopefully, he responds well to pressure in certain situations. If not this year, very soon I could see him being the closer. the guy throws 90-94 with great sink and a big time slider. If he throws strikes and handles the pressure well, we're going to have a good closer on our hands the next couple of years."

> Three pitchers are returning from offseason surgery according to Morris. But only two will likely be back in time for this season: right-handed reliever Taylor Wulf (2-0, 3.24 ERA) and sophomore right-hander Travis Miller (3-0, 4.33 ERA). Morris hopes to get both back by next month. It will probably take a little more time for senior right-hander Michael Rudman, who was 3-0 with a 1.71 ERA last year out of the bullpen. "Wulf is throwing long now, coming on good," Morris said. "[Miller] had [elbow nerve] surgery, but it's a lot less complicated than elbow or shoulder surgery. He's throwing now. We need him in the rotation."

Does UM have right chemistry to return to CWS?

Scott Lawson wasn't happy with the way the 2009 season ended for the University of Miami baseball team. It wasn't just the fact the Hurricanes were eliminated by the Gators or failed to make it out of the regional round for the second time in the last three years. Lawson felt there was something rotten at the core of the Canes. 

Scott Lawson  He was upset with the same thing coach Jim Morris said plagued UM down the stretch in 2009 -- a lack of team chemistry. It was more than obvious role players weren't happy with their roles and guys on the bench weren't happy riding the pine. It caused friction, especially as the season spiraled away with seven losses in the month of May.

"Once adversity hit, everyone started panicking. People's attitudes started going different paths,'' the All-ACC second baseman said during the team's media day on Wednesday. "I think everyone last year was too uptight and too serious about everything. Some guys couldn't take jokes. Baseball, you can't be serious and emotional. You have to relax, have fun and play the game. It just seems like this year, everyone has that swagger that we're going to beat people and have fun.

"It seems like every day we're goofing around in the locker room and having a ball. But when we get on the field, everyone is so serious. We're all focused to get better in practice and focused on every little drill that we do. Coach puts out a big practice schedule, we're not complaining. We're working to get better."

The 2010 Hurricanes get started on what they hope will be a return trip to Omaha Friday night when they host Rutgers at Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field. Coming off a 38-22 season, the roster is sprinkled with plenty of veterans (especially in the pitching staff) and more than a few new faces. All-American catcher Yasmani Grandal, one of two Canes named to the Golden Spikes Award Watch List on Thursday (pitcher Chris Hernandez is the other), is the big bat in the middle of the lineup. But the foundation is speed throughout the lineup and an experienced and talented 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation.

"I don't think we're good enough right now to say we're a shoe-in to be Omaha bound. But we have good talent, good athletes who want to get better," Morris said. "And the bottom line is whether you're a great athlete or not is, CYP. Can You Play? Can we get these guys together to play as a unit and can they get better? Once you get to Omaha, it's proven by many schools its all about who gets hot."


Morris didn't share an exact batting order with us Wednesday, but he did talk about who will be in the mix at each position and where they would probably be hitting in the lineup. Here a few notes...

Jim Morris > Freshman Stephen Perez, who played for former Hurricane Javi Rodriguez at Gulliver Prep, is slotted to start at shortstop and leadoff Friday. Drafted in the 18th round by the Reds, Perez is player Morris likens more to his high school coach than former shorstop Ryan Jackson. "He's a guy who can steal bases, bunt, play very solid defense," Morris said. "He's a switch hitter who can get on base.

> Scott Lawson, who hit .333 last season with four home runs, 34 RBI and 10 stolen bases, will start at second and likely hit behind Perez and in front of Grandal. Morris expects Lawson to steal more bases and benefit from hitting in front of Grandal, who hit .299, but belted 16 home runs and 45 RBI while walking 33 times and striking out 37. There could be times, Morris said, when Lawson moves to first base to allow freshman infielder Frankie Ratcliff to get in the lineup and play second. "I have no problems playing first," Lawson said. "It's just a bigger glove with the same ground balls."

> The team's most improved player according to Morris is sophomore catcher David Villasuso. He'll bat in the designated hitter spot when Grandal is behind the plate and switch every so often. The 5-10, 200-pound former Florida Christian star tore it up in the fall and is expected to hit much better than his .233 average with 6 RBI a year ago.

> Sophomore Harold Martinez, who hit .270 with nine home runs and 47 RBI, will be starting at third base and likely hitting behind Villasuso. Martinez, who made 19 errors last season, said he made defense his offseason focus. "I've worked hard getting bigger, stronger, faster," said Martinez, who has gained eight pounds of muscle in the offseason and is now listed at 6-3, 208. "I think I improved a lot from last year. Hopefully I'll have a better year." 

> First base is likely to become a spot of rotation with the hot bat staying in the lineup the longest. Senior Ryan Perry, who received a medical hardship waiver after missing the 2009 season, will get first crack after hitting .250 with 8 RBI in 23 game in 2008. He'll rotate with sophomore Rony Rodriguez, who hit .270 with two homers and 10 RBI at Miami-Dade last season. If both struggle and Radcliffe swings a better bat, Lawson could become the team's regular first baseman.

> The outfield: Sophomore Nate Melendres, who hit .272 with 20 RBI and 7 stolen bases in 51 starts last year, is the lone returning outfielder from a year ago. He'll move to right to allow speedy freshman Zeke DeVoss (who hit .518 with 18 RBI, 19 steals at Titusville Astronaut High) to take over in center field. "Zeke's the fastest guy on the team," Morris said. "He just has to learn to make better contact." Junior College transfer Chris Pelaez, who played at Louisville during the Cardinals run to the 2007 College World Series and sat out the 2008 season, will start out in left field. He hit .393 with five homers and 39 RBI at Miami-Dade last year. 

> Freshman Michael Broad a standout at Nova High and a Little League World Series star, could push for playing time in left or see time at short, third and second base because of his bat.  "Mike is a guy that can hit," Morris said. "That's his biggest asset. He can swing the bat. He knows how to play the infield. He's learning how to play the outfield. Probably initially his best shot to get in the lineup is in the outfield. If he hits, he'll play. But we're going to find a place for him. He's played some second, some short, some third and some left field. He's a guy if he hits, we'll have him in the lineup."

For more on the pitching staff, check out the next blog which should be up by Friday.

February 17, 2010

Spring Injury Report

UM released its list of injured players who either will miss all 15 spring practices or be limited with injuries earlier this evening. Practice begins next Tuesday and ends with the spring game on March 27.

P/PK Matt Bosher (upper extremity)
LB Ramon Buchanan (upper extremity)
RB Lee Chambers (lower extremity)
RB Graig Cooper (knee)
OL Joel Figueroa (shoulder)
LB Jordan Futch (knee)
QB Jacory Harris (hand)
DL Levi Paalua (upper extremity)

DL Marcus Forston (shoulder)
DB Ryan Hill (shoulder)
DB JoJo Nicolas (shoulder)

McClinton: 'It is a blessing' to be honored

Jack McClinton has a feeling something special is going to happen tonight when the Hurricanes host sixth-ranked Duke at BankUnited Center.

"For some reason, I think we’re going to win today," the two-time All-ACC selection said Wednesday afternoon, two years after he was at the heart of UM's first win over the Blue Devils in 45 years. "Duke’s a great program, but when you play against a better team you always get up for it. As much as people don’t think we can do it, I believe we’re going to pull it off today."

Jack McClinton The Hurricanes (17-8, 3-8 ACC) will need a special effort to knock off the Blue Devils (21-4, 9-2 ACC). But win or lose, it will still be a special night for McClinton and die-hard Hurricanes basketball fans. At halftime, McClinton's No. 33 will be raised to the basketball arena's rafters along with Don Curnutt (1967-70) and the late Dick Hickox (1958-61). Only two other UM players have received that honor before Wednesday: Rick Barry (1962-65) and Tim James (1995-99).

McClinton, just one year removed from wearing the orange and green, said it is an honor just to be honored.

"It definitely means a lot, especially to me and my family," said McClinton, who led UM in scoring for three seasons (2006-2009) and left the program as its most prolific three-point shooter."Having my name with these great players at the University of Miami, it’s just a great blessing to be here and a blessing having it happen so fast. I met Mr. Barry yesterday. He’s a legend man. It’s like talking to Jordan. It was just a great honor to meet him."

Barry, named one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history, would love to see McClinton follow his footsteps as a pro. But Jack has work to do. A second round pick by the San Antonio Spurs last June, McClinton was unable to land a roster spot with the Spurs or Minnesota Timberwolves and signed with the Aliaga Petkim in the Turkish Basketball League, where he's been since the season began Oct. 17.

Little by little, McClinton says, he's adapted to the European game, where zone defenses "stress getting your fundamentals down."

"Things are going well," said McClinton, who ranks 12th in scoring (16.28 ppg) and is averaging 3.3 assists while shooting 32.3 percent from three-point range for an 8-11 team. "I had nine assists last game. I feel like I'm really transferring my game over there. I’m really becoming a total player. I’ve learned how to read the defense more, be a better point guard. It’s definitely helped my game for sure."

Living overseas, McClinton says, has its perks. Aliaga, located on the west coast of Turkey, is a small town of about 44,000 people -- most who love basketball and have grown to love McClinton. The tough part? No fast food.

"There's been a lot of different things that have happened that I haven't gotten used to yet," McClinton said. "The fans are great, but they're tough. They'll throw stuff on the court if they're not happy. But other than that, the biggest thing I miss is being able to go to McDonald's whenever I want."

McClinton, who lives in a small apartment, said he keeps up with his former team when he isn't playing or practicing and watches Canes games online. Many times during games, he'll broadcast his thoughts on Twitter. Of his former teammates, whom he keeps in contact through email and AOL instant message, McClinton said he communicates most often with point guard Malcolm Grant.

"They're a young team man," McClinton said. "Winning on the road in the ACC isn't easy. But if you look at their home record, it's real good. I tell Malcolm all the time he’s doing a great job."

> The ACC released its All-Academic football team Wednesday and the Canes had two players among the 42 selected: tight end Jimmy Graham and offensive lineman Matt Pipho. To be eligible for consideration, a player must have earned a 3.00 grade point average for the previous semester and maintained a 3.00 cumulative average during his academic career. All 12 ACC schools were represented by at least one selection on the team. The ACC has selected an ACC All-Academic Football team every year since 1954.

> It was Baseball Media Day on Wednesday. I'll have a few interviews and notes to post in the coming days.

> Spring football practice begins next week. All regular practices are closed to the public and the media only get to see the first 15 minutes of stretching. Here is the complete practice schedule (all practice times are at 3 p.m. unless noted):

- Tuesday, Feb. 23
- Wednesday, Feb. 24
- Friday, Feb. 26
- Saturday, Feb. 27 (10 a.m.)
- Tuesday, March 2
- Wednesday, March 3
- Friday, March 5
- Saturday, March 6 (10 a.m.)
- Tuesday, March 9
- Wednesday, March 10
- Thursday, March 11 (scrimmage)
- Tuesday, March 23
- Wednesday, March 24
- Friday, March 26
- Saturday, March 27 (Spring Game - TBA)

February 11, 2010

Barrow to coach UM's linebackers again

A few internet reports surfaced Thursday saying UM assistant Micheal Barrow had been flown up to Gainesville to be interviewed for the Gators' co-defensive coordinator job. No word yet if it really happened, or if Barrow has been offered any job with the Gators. 

Micheal BarrowBut as far as the Miami Hurricanes are concerned, Barrow will be coaching linebackers in Coral Gables when spring football begins Feb. 23. The Palm Beach Post's Jorge Milian first reported Thursday that Barrow, who was UM's linebackers coach in 2007 and 2008, was returning to those duties after spending last season as a defensive assistant. Defensive coordinator John Lovett, who coached the linebackers while Barrow worked with the defensive ends and special teams last year, will concentrate solely on his primary job. 

I spoke to someone at UM Thursday night who told me Barrow's move last year was made in attempt for him to learn more facets of the defense, and make him a stronger candidate to become a defensive coordinator down the road. Barrow spent 13 seasons in the NFL after winning two national titles at UM in 1989 and 1991 and was the defensive coordinator at Homestead High in 2006.

> The Arizona Cardinals team blog reported earlier Thursday that defensive backs coach Teryl Austin had accepted the job as Florida's defensive coordinator, although UF has yet to formally announce it. 

> For those of you wanting a taste of Canes baseball, the team will be hosting FanFest Saturday at Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field at 3:30 p.m. A home run derby at 5:30 p.m. will be followed by the alumni game at 6:15 p.m. 

> I'll be taking a few days off over the next two weeks as I prepare to cover the Florida Marlins and Spring Training. Our Susan Miller Degnan will continue to cover the football team throughout spring football. I'll be popping my head in from time to time with practice reports. Adam Beasley will be covering Canes basketball. 

February 08, 2010

Shockey, Vilma join elite UM Super Bowl frat

The University of Miami's rich NFL history is nothing new. New Orleans Saints tight end Jeremy Shockey, a four-time Pro Bowler, and linebacker Jonathan Vilma, a two-time Pro Bowler, have helped add to it over the past decade. 

Jeremy Shockey  Sunday night, though, in helping the Big Easy to its first Super Bowl title, the two prominent members of the last UM team to win a national title (2001) joined a pretty elite list among those in the Canes' pro fraternity. That would be Hurricanes who have won not only a national championship ring, but a Super Bowl ring too. The list, before Sunday, was only 13 strong (according to the UM media guide). That included:

> Quarterback Bernie Kosar (1983, Super Bowl XXVII)
> Defensive back Robert Bailey (1987, 1989, Super Bowls XXX, XXXV)
> Defensive tackle William Joseph (2001, Super Bowl XLII)

> Receiver Michael Irvin (1987, Super Bowls XXVII, XXVIII, XXX)
> Defensive end Kevin Fagan (1983, Super Bowl XXIII, XXIV)
> Tight end
Coleman Bell (1991, Super Bowl XXVIII)
> Receiver Kevin Williams (1989, 1991, Super Bowls XXVII, XXVIII, XXX) 
> Punter Jeff Feagles (1987, Super Bowl XLII)
> Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork (2001, Super Bowl XXXIX)
> Defensive end Daniel Stubbs (1987, Super Bowls XXIII, XXIV)
> Tight end
Alfredo Roberts (1987, Super Bowl XXVII)
> Defensive tackle Russell Maryland (1987, 1989, Super Bowls XXVII, XXVIII)
> Linebacker Darrin Smith (1989, 1991, Super Bowls XXVIII, XXX)
> Defensive tackle Jimmie Jones (1987, 1989, Super Bowls XXVII, XXVIII)

It seemed only fitting that as I was walking to the media bus close to midnight, I spotted Vilma and Shockey sitting next to each other on the Saints team bus, soaking in their greatest professional accomplishment. 

Jonathan Vilma Shockey didn't have a spectacular night (3 catches for 13 yards), but still hauled in what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown pass, a 2-yard slant pattern he hauled in at the goal line. 

"It's a great feeling right now," Shockey said. "I don't care about the catch, I just care about the team. Ever since you start playing football, you're dreaming about playing in this game. I dreamed and prayed all day and night about being in the situation I'm in right now. And that's what happened."

Vilma played a bigger role at middle linebacker. He led the Saints with seven tackles and was credited by defensive coordinator Gregg Williams for making checks/audibles "on at least 20 plays" that got the Saints "into the right defenses." No small achievement considering he was going against Peyton Manning, the Jedi master of audibles and checks at the line of scrimmage.

Vilma's biggest play came with the Saints down 17-16 and the Colts facing a third and long at the Saints 33-yard line. Vilma, who was supposed to blitz on the play, checked off and ran back in coverage to bat away a pass intended for Austin Collie near the goal line. If he's not there, Collie catches it and scores.

"There aren't many times when you see a defense actually beat Peyton Manning, especially at a time like this, the magnitude of this game," Vilma said. "But this was one of those rare times and I'm glad I was a part of it."

February 04, 2010

Seantrel Henderson waiting on USC investigation

Wednesday evening in front of a national audience, Seantrel Henderson, the nation's No. 1 offensive tackle announced he had chosen USC over Ohio State and the University of Miami.

Seantrel Henderson Turns out, Henderson picked the Trojans, but still hasn't signed with them yet. According to an interesting New York Times article, Henderson's father said the family is waiting to see what happens with a pending NCAA infractions committee investigation into USC.

No word if that means Henderson would switch to UM or Ohio State if the family doesn't like what it hears when the infractions committee meets with USC officials Feb. 19-21. But you have to imagine the Hurricanes would have a shot -- especially after the way they reportedly treated Henderson on his trip. He has until April 1st to sign a National Letter of Intent.

According to the article, Henderson's trip to UM supposedly included limo rides and trips to night clubs where he hung out with Pro Bowlers Willis McGahee, Ed Reed and Bryant McKinnie. It is a must read.


>  Shannon said six recruits are currently enrolled at UM: OL Malcolm Bunche, QB Stephen Morris, LB Tyrone Cornelius, WR Allen Hurns, RB Storm Johnson, and OL Shane McDermott. Shannon said Booker T. Washington running back Eduardo Clements has until today to enroll at UM. Clements told me last week he was waiting on his transcripts to get in and was confident he would make it. But it doesn't appear to be the case.

> Shannon was asked about running back Graig Cooper's health on Wednesday. All Shannon said was that Cooper was "rehabbing."

>  Receivers coach Aubrey Hill has added recruiting coordinator to his title. Hill takes over for Clint Hurtt, who left UM in mid December to take a position at Louisville. Hill has experience with the responsibilities having done it while he was the University of Pittsburgh.

> Shannon told the Palm Beach Post's Jorge Milian that linebacker Arthur Brown won't be coming back to UM. I've been told Brown's plan is to play at Butler Community College (Kan.) this season before jumping on in a year at Kansas State. Nobody from Brown's family -- nor his mentor Brian Butler -- have returned phone calls to address that.

> The ACC will release its schedule at 2 p.m. later this afternoon. We'll see if the Canes are given another tough month of September.

February 03, 2010

Canes land tight end, miss on 3 others

CORAL GABLES -- At 1 p.m. University of Miami coach Randy Shannon will meet reporters in the Edgerrin James room at the Hecht Athletic Center to discuss his 2010 recruiting class. 

Astante Cleveland Among the new players Shannon will be able to talk about is Sacramento Christian Brothers tight end Asante Cleveland, who picked the Canes over Washington State this morning. Cleveland (6-5, 245) becomes the third tight end in this class for UM, which is also bringing in Texas Junior College recruit Chase Ford and Belle Glade Glades Central basketball star Clive Walford.

Cleveland sort of carries the theme of this Canes class: he's another big, athletic body at a position of need. At 6-5, 230 pounds, he is considered the 15th best tight end in the country by Rivals.com. He combined to catch 45 passes for 674 yards and 11 touchdowns his final two seasons of high school. He also played some defensive end. 

Cleveland, a three-sport star (basketball, track), was committed to Washington State until he took a visit to UM two weeks ago.

"He's a great kid," his coach Andre Johansen said. "His dad played a little bit with the Dallas Cowboys back in the day. He was a defensive end. Asante has a little bit of that pedigree."

UM still has a shot at two more nationally-ranked recruits: Seantrel Henderson, a 6-8, 340-pound mammoth offensive tackle from St. Paul, Minn. who was named Parade Magazine's National Player of the Year and Fontana (Calif.) linebacker Josh Shirley, a 6-2, 225-pound All-American. Henderson will announce his decision on CBS College Sports Network at 3 p.m. 

Miami struckout on three other players they had a chance at landing Wednesday morning. 

Miramar High receiver Ivan McCartney, a U.S. Army All-American, went to the podium with a UM hat in hand. But right before he made his announcement in the school auditorium, his younger sister, Tanika, ran on stage and handed him a Mountaineers cap, which he promptly put on his head.

McCartney said while he had developed a strong relationship with UM quarterback Jacory Harris on his visit, ultimately, his relationship with former Miramar quarterback Eugene Smith, a freshman on the Mountaineers, and his belief in the quarterback West Virginia is bringing in this year swayed him. 

"I'm just looking to bring some Florida swagger up there," McCartney said. "I just chose what was best for me. I made my decision last night. After talking with coach, we did a little quiz and it really opened my eyes. I'm real happy with it. I told Gino last night. He's probably up in his dorm room bouncing around right now."

The Hurricanes were thought to be the favorite to land Chatham (Va.) Hargrave Military Academy defensive end Ego Ferguson. But the 6-3, 275-pounder who grew up in South Florida and whose father played at Miami Edison surprisingly chose LSU over the Canes, Florida State and a handful of other schools.

Olive Branch (Miss.) offensive tackle Shon Coleman, considered a long shot for UM, picked Auburn as most expect.

UM National Signing Day Blog (final update)

Good morning, it's the craziest recruiting day of the year. How crazy will it get for the Hurricanes? If all goes well, absolutely insane. UM (already with 27 commitments) is a finalist for six more of the country's top remaining recruits. 

I'll be on the road for most of the morning hitting South Florida high schools to grab video, audio and interviews with Canes recruits. My plan is to be at Miramar High at 9:30 a.m. when All-American receiver Ivan McCartney chooses between UM, UF and West Virginia. I'll be sending Twitter updates as I gather the news from around town regarding the locals and other future Canes around the country. Be sure to follow my updates. And if you like, join Larry Blustein over on our high school blog for a live chat throughout the morning and early afternoon.

For now, here's a guide to the Super Six UM is still after...

> WR Ivan McCartney, 6-3, 180, Miramar (9:30 a.m. announcement): The Under-Armour All-American receiver spoke with me Monday and said he loved his visit to the University of Miami over the weekend. But will it be enough to sway him from joining his former high school quarterback Eugene Smith and other teammates at West Virginia? Most experts don't think so.
- Eye on The U forecast: UM has a 35 percent shot of landing McCartney. Barring a surprise, I expect McCartney to follow his teammates to West Virginia and make his high school coach happy. Verdict: McCartney chose West Virginia.

> OT Shon Coleman, 6-7, 285, Olive Branch, Miss. (10 a.m.): UM knew it was a longshot when the U.S. Army-All American visited campus last weekend that they it could sway Coleman over SEC powers Auburn, Alabama and Ole Miss. Coleman has been quiet since his visit. But nobody expecting the Canes to pull this suprise out.
- Eye on The U forecast: UM has a 5 percent shot of landing Coleman. Look for Coleman to stick with Auburn or jump ship to Alabama. Verdict: Coleman chose Auburn.

> DE Ego Ferguson, 6-3, 275, Chatham (Va.) Hargrave Military Academy (10:45 a.m.): When I asked CBS College Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming Tuesday night which player UM would land Wednesday, he pointed to the one he thought UM would hand, he pointed to Ego Lemming isn't alone. Four Rivals analysts think Ego goes with UM as well. The problem for UM late in the game is that Ferguosn's coach at Hargrave was recently hired at Texas Tech. Florida State is another strong option. You can watch Ferguson's announcement on CSTV.
Eye on The U forecast: He might be UM's best shot. It's going to be the Canes or Seminoles in my mind. Verdict: Ferguson chose LSU.

> OL Seantrel Henderson, 6-8, 340, Saint Paul (Minn.) Cretin-Derham Hall (3 p.m.): The nation's No. 1 left tackle told Canesport.com his recent visit was a perfect 10. Henderson's parents would like to live someplace warm. His hometown newspaper, The Twin Cities Pioneer press, say USC is the favorite with Ohio State second. Lemming and ESPN's Tom Luginbill say the Canes have a shot and call them a darkhorse. Ultimately, if the Canes win this, its because offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland blew Henderson away this past weekend. You can watch Henderson's announcement on CSTV.
- Eye On The U forecast: UM has a 25 percent chance and probably finishes third to USC or Ohio State. Verdict: Henderson chose USC.

> LB Josh Shirley, 6-2, 225, Fontana (Calif.) Kaiser (4 p.m.): Shirley has maintained a strong relationship with assistant Michael Barrow throughout the recruiting process. Ultimately, though, this comes down to whether or not Shirley wants to leave the West Coast for South Florida. He told Scout.com's Allen Wallace he was surprised how much Coral Gables reminded him of home. But will it be enough to sway him?
- Eye On The U forecast: Canes are the underdog. USC favored to win by about 60-40. Verdict: Shirley chose UCLA.

> TE Asante Cleveland, 6-5, 230, Sacramento (Calif.) Christian Brothers Prep: Since his visit to UM two weeks ago, Cleveland has been mum on not only his visit but his previous commitment to Washington State. The nation's 15th best tight end has to like the fact UM is in desperate need for help at tight end. But like Shirley, is he willing to leave the West Coast for South Florida?
- Eye On The U forecast: Cares have a 50-50 shot. Cleveland stays out west and goes to Washington State. Verdict: Cleveland picked UM.

February 02, 2010

Is Arthur Brown's Canes career over?

He came to Coral Gables as the nation's No. 1 linebacker in 2008. Now, Arthur Brown is leaving before even really getting on the field.

Arthur BrownAccording to UM's sports information deparment, Brown is not enrolled in classes this semester and has returned home to Wichita, Kansas. "It is unknown if he'll be returning, but he has not requested a transfer," UM SID Mark Pray told our Susan Miller Degnan moments ago.

Neither Brown, his father, or mentor Bryce Butler have been reached for comment. 

Brown (6-2, 200) played in all 13 games for UM this past season, mostly on special teams and finished the year with 13 tackles. He recovered a key fumble in a win at Wake Forest. 

He came to UM from Wichita East High as the top prospect in the country according to Scout.com. He was selected a Parade All-American and named to USA Today's All-American team. Despite starring in high school, Brown had trouble picking up more complex defenses in college. Junior Sean Spence told me earlier this season Brown had trouble recognizing when the run was coming and when the pass was coming and was often slow to react. 

Now, the question becomes will Brown return?

The Hurricanes have recruited five linebackers in this class and are losing just one starter at the position, senior Darryl Sharpton. Spence, Jordan Futch (returning from a torn ACL), senior Colin McCarthy and junior Ramon Buchanon saw the majority of snaps last year for the Canes at linebacker. Freshman linebacker Tyrone Cornelius is already on campus. 

February 01, 2010

McCartney: "I can't wait until Wednesday"

Miramar High receiver Ivan McCartney has been hiding out since his trip to the University of Miami this past weekend, trying to avoid the pressure and the questions from people who want to know if he's decided between the team he grew up rooting for (Miami), the team with his former teammates (West Virginia) and the program he said he had secretly chosen (Florida) early in the recruiting process.

So which one will it be? "I don't even know yet," McCartney said. "The trip to UM definitely made it hard for me. It was awesome."

Ivan McCartney McCartney, a 6-3, 185-pound U.S. Army All-American, said he spent his two days hanging out with host and potential future quarterback Jacory Harris. "We started cooking from the moment we were in each other's presence," McCartney said. "He's real down to earth. We went to the Grove, walked the strip, ate a lot, the usual. We hung out with the players, played games. You can tell the University of Miami is just a big family."

Still, he left without making a commitment, rather a promise to coach Randy Shannon he would make a sound choice. "He said no matter where I go, he'll be happy for me," McCartney said. "He said just make sure wherever I chose to go make sure that's where I want to go, that it's the place for me. Coach Shannon is real cool like that."

McCartney said any rumors of him having picked a school already are false. He said people saying he'd choose West Virginia because of his academic situation "don't know what they are talking about."

"As far as I know, you need the same ACT or SAT score to get into Miami as you do as West Virginia. I think you need an 18," said McCartney, who has raised his GPA from a 2.1 to a 2.7 and scored a 15 on the ACT exam. "Regardless of which school I pick, I know I have more work to do in the class room. This decision will be based on the best fit for me."

So what are his family members and friends saying is the best fit? According to McCartney, his teammates would love for him to pick West Virginia, but are not pressuring him at all. And his mom, who would like for him to stay home, has told him the same.

"Believe it or not, Gino [West Virginia quarterback Eugene Smith] tell me to pick the best school for me," McCartney said. "My mom told me as long as I'm comfortable and able to do something after football with a degree, she's fine with wherever I go."

McCartney said that choice would have been the Gators at the start of the season. Florida's need for receivers and its rich recent history were attractive early on. But he said the way Miami and West Virginia have come at him this year have made it "a three horse race."

"To be honest, in the beginning of the football season Florida was the school I was going to go to," McCartney said. "But I kept it quiet. There's something about Florida I don't feel for the other schools, a very strong, loving feeling. The atmosphere is wild. The campus is outrageous. They have swagger. A lot of people thought Florida was going to drop when Billy Gonzalez, who recruited me, left. But I learned early on you can't go to a school off coaches. Any coach can leave at any given time. You success depends on how you work as a player. Florida is an awesome place with whoever is coaching there."

As for West Virginia, where former Miramar quarterback Eugene Smith is waiting to throw him passes, McCartney said he believes its only a matter of time before the Mountaineers win a national title. "They lack receiver depth, which is huge for me," McCartney said. "The coaches are very down to earth and cool. They have a family over there, just like Miami. One thing I noticed, though, is they lack the swagger. If I go up to West Virginia, I'd love to bring some of the swagger up there. Because to me, they have a chance to go to the national championship soon. With Eugene, Noel [Devine], they have a chance to do big things."

The Hurricanes, he feels, are also close to winning a national title. And if he had to sit out a season, redshirt and learn on the scout team, he said he'd have no problem with that. "There's nothing left to say about Miami, really," McCartney said. "It's The U. Miami is just a home away from home. Players are cool. Coaches are cool. Of all the schools I've visited, they are the most close in a family way. And nothing makes you feel better than a family."

McCartney will announce his decision Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. "I'm going to do it real big, maybe bring in 10 hats to confuse people," McCartney said. "Honestly, I just can't wait until Wednesday."


> UM lost out on defensive tackle Jeffrey Whitaker from Warner Robins, Ga. on Monday. The 6-3, 295-pound defensive tackle picked Auburn over Georgia and the Canes. 

Word is UM feels better about its chances with Virginia prep school defensive tackle Ego Ferguson, who will announce his college choice on CBS College Sports Network Wednesday morning at 11 a.m.