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.
Hurricanes 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."
> 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."
> 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."
> 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.