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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.


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What's going on with Randy's contract? The program needs stabilty!

Every time you mention "7" months I cringe, can it really be that long? I prefer "200+" days, sounds like it's right around the corner!
Go Canes!

PS. No matter what happens on the opine this year, no Phipo is an upgrade!!!

work hard and it shows. if u lazy then whats the point of even getting out of bed.

Good stuff Manny. U are dead on about Berry,Streeter and the Bulls. Berry,Streeter,James,Benjamin and Collier all need more touches. A.Johnson,Fortson,Spence and L.Chambers all took steps back. Good news though. It's spring time and a chance for those guys to get the bad taste out of there mouths. Whipple must get the ball in the playmakers hand. There is to much talent on the sidelines.

Competition will bring the best out of any player. Get'em started early! Let's go Canes!

we need the o line to step it up. if they can control the pressure and give j 12 some time watch out. lets go canes. the turds are making me sick.

So we have questions at every position, with nothing sounding certain?

8-4 here we come...

This team scares me. I don't know I remember having more question marks. But what's the saddest part? That it seems that our coaching is our biggest weakness? Why? Because no team has more talent that seem to get WORSE with the coaches guidance. I mean, I've heard of sophmore slumps, but this is ridiculous. Name all the players that have gotten WORSE under our coaches? Travis Benjamin, Sean spence, aldarius johnson, Laron Byrd, jacory Harris (believe it), coop, just to name a few! Sick. And I'm not even naming all the injured ones (one of the worst conditioning teams? Sicker) if Shannon can't turn it around, I hope we stop the bleeding at the end of the year.

Lets go CANES

Cane offensive line will need to mature fast to handle the Buckeyes and Panthers on the road next year.

Awesome update Manny.

Let's get to work Randy. Fire up the troops and set the tone. Intensity, intensity, intensity. Go canes.

Thx Manny

it's here....

whoho go canes...


Jacory Harris...

He was terrible...a big drop-off from the start of the year.

Yeah, i know the thumb was hurt. But what's with all the freaking hail-mary passes? Is it against his religion to throw 10yrd passes??

I can't remember how many 3 & outs we had with 4-5 yrds to go, when he had to chuck it long...

They need to focus on short and middle range passes this year. Stop the bombs until we have consistent running and short passes down.

I can't believe this. The U is so far away.

Are we really "nervous" about playing Pitt and OSU? Are you kidding me?

I am starting to wonder about this coach. Listen to the response about Berry:

"some guys can only be given so much work"



hOW CAN YOU EXPLAIN THAT? Randy Shannon, I know you are the coach, but something has to give here and stooooopid responses like the one above just don't cut it!

Are you saying that Berry can't be given the ball more than 10 times a game? That's not what we saw!

Clearly, tough schedule or not, this is it for RS. Another 9-4, even 10-3 season and now ACC ch. or no BCS bowl and I am calling for him to be gone. I have been one of his supporters all along. But Now this is starting to annoy the --- out of me.

manny if i didn't know you i would think u wrote for the gators or the noles he ca be honest but up beat at the same time this article was such a downer such trend i think the team is going to have a great season i think these young men are going to step up and compete but i din't get that from your article u made it sound as if it was going to be along season.


what about andrew tallman at TE. He looks pretty good on film. maybe he could make an early statement.

If we can at least stay healthy, we can not only have a shot at the ACC title, we would have a shot at a BCS bowl or National Championship. GO CANES!!!!

Thanks Manny, but far as the Bull players, their down year was a result of not having a year (Red Shirt) to build their bodies up to handle the demands at the college level. All had injuries plague season. Despite the set back, these young men are very talented and competive; 2010 will be a good for them all.

Lyricane: All the players you mentioned with the exception of Cooper, played as true freshmen. Their bodies were still developing and was not ready for the physical demands of college football. As a result, they were plague with injuries as Soph. You will see a big differents this year. They will be bigger, stronger, and faster.

the offensive line doesnt come together very quickly and improve over last year we'll have a new coach this time next year. The line is really the only major concern. That line comes and getting more physical on both sides of the ball we could have a real good year...but realistically i see another 8-4 run at mediocrity

I have been a Canes fan since about '81 and the Shellenberger/Jim Kelly days and have never ever seen so many injuries to one team in my life!!! These Canes need to suck it up and dish out the punishment like the old days instead of getting hit and hurt all the time, my God this is really getting ridiculous!!

Manny, great article and you hit it right on the head, THE BACKUPS NEED MORE PLAYING TIME, ESPECIALLY AGAINST WEAKER TEAMS WHEN THE OUTCOME HAS BEEN DECIDED!!!!! Randy, instead of running out the clock with 10 runs into the middle, throw the football and run up the score!! EVERYONE ELSE IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL DOES IT ESPECIALLY THE HATED TURDS!! Why do you think they get all the great recruits, BECAUSE THEY GET TO PLAY IN THE GAME!!! It doesnt matter whether its 50-0, THEY STILL THROW DEEP AND they still play all 60 minutes, you play to win the game, stop being a wussy and run the score up!!! WE ARE THE CANES AND THEY SHOULD FEAR US!!!!!

We might have the most talented offense in the nation this year but damn, if the guys aren't on the field then they can't show what the have. And can we please run the ball more this year with Berry, James, and Miller instead of throwing incompletes and int's, establish the run then throw, Jacory is very capable but don't make force him into 3rd and 15 every drive.

Shannon's contract won't be extended unless we win the ACC. Anything less is failure.

The canes need to stop being so cheap and cough up some real $$$ to bring in a real head coach. Randy's doing too much learning on the job. I get the record has improved but I agree with the earlier post that some of our star players regress under the current coaching staff. There is no reason why Tommy Streeter and Damien Berry shouldn't be starters this year. Unless Randy plays favorites which we saw this year with Javaris not performing and still getting the ball. Jacory also needs to improve. The Great QB Exodus of '09 has left us with no solid backup or heir to the UM QB throne. I'll also blame that on Randy.

i agree with much that you say. but for the offense, my concerns don't rest with needing some of our under the radar receivers or tight ends to pick up their game. its about how this O line does. less pressure on Jacory ( assuming he is healthy) means more touches for our receivers, allowing them to shine like they should be. along with that, if our Dline gets to their QB more, it will take additional pressure off the O, again allowing them to perform better. Like all the analysts say, it starts up front. Glad Randy really went after lineman this year.

The real question is will Shannon be fired before the 2010 season is over? My prediction is Miami will get stomped by OSU, then get out-physicaled and beat by Pittsburgh, they won'y stp GT's opition and coming home at 1-3 is un-excessible. The players will quit on Shannon and Miami will be 5-6 if lucky. This time next year we will have a new coach and a new attitude. GO CANES!!! FIRE SHALAYA and SHANNON

Good stuff Manny! Thanks for all U do!

By Miami standards the defense was terrible last yr, wake, clemson, fsu, va tech, nc games were very bad games for the defense by UM standards. The defense was so predictible and again played scared it was easy for other teams to game play the U defense. {basicly the U gave the short pass to other teams and other teams jumped all over the U with short passes}

Until the defense is coached up with a different mind set every good team will dog fight the U right to the end of each game. I would like to see that issue addressed but it has stayed the same under Randy. Time for Randy to put up or shut up on defense, that is suppose to be Randy's area coaching.

All you fans calling for Shannon to be fired as A-HOLES!! Last year it was Tuberville and now this year it already is Mike Leach the Closet-Coach!! If you can't support this team then go to Tralierville or Tallahassee. All of you are sounding like bandwagon fans anyway. When the Canes do win this year please stay of this blog with all your love for the Canes, because we don't need fair-weather fans!!! It's called Canes-4-Life for a reason!!!!

Lyricane: All the players you mentioned with the exception of Cooper, played as true freshmen. Their bodies were still developing and was not ready for the physical demands of college football. As a result, they were plague with injuries as Soph. You will see a big differents this year. They will be bigger, stronger, and faster.

Posted by: A True Cane Fan | February 20, 2010 at 01:40 PM

thats one possible explanation... but i think the more probable one is that randy shannon and company just cant develop or evaluate talent. miami as a team regresses as the season goes on... and the players regress as their careers go on. add to that the right guys are not in the game and getting enough touches... and you are left with mediocrity. this is what we can expect with randy at the helm... and its embarrassing!!

Are you guys sure Berry could pass block? Maybe that's the reason he saw less field.

Yeah, this is Shannon's waterloo. Either the Canes play in the ACC game or he's toast. The problem is, with that idiot Shalala running UM like a politically correct after school special, who are we going to get next as a coach? What outstanding HC would come to the U? Shalala is just happy with 8 win seasons, just enough to look 'respectable'. That commie cow couldn't care less if FSU rubbed our noses in it for another 15 years.
I'd love to see Shannon get the pink slip, he's crap and can't motivate an ice cube to melt on Biscayne Blvd. in July.
But who would replace him? It would only get worse...this problem is going to take YEARS before it gets better. Hope I'm wrong, tho'.


What's going on with Randy's contract? The program needs stabilty!

Posted by: PCola Cane | February 19, 2010 at 07:38 PM

Seriously, what's going on with that ?

No news, good news ? yo no say ... que

Both Brandon Washington and Malcolm Bunche are now playing RG, not LG and LT as they were listed at a few weeks ago.

as much talent as we have our O line is weak....and we are always out coached. Hard to see us beating osu, pitt, unc, or vt....fsu and gt games will hinge on the d....randy is sitting on the hottest seat in america

Same negetive speil. It was to be 0-4 last year and fired. Some people just don't like the coach. So go find another team to root for. I hope Manny do go write for the Gators or someone else because he doesn't seem to watch the game. You spread the ball around then you question why receivers do not have more cahtches. Come on how many balls do you have to go around here. Same with the rushes.

Cane fans Why are we still putting up with RS. this year is not going to be any better than 2009. dont get ur hopes high. there is no ACC title coming our way for 2010. look at randys mentality, to give guys who are showing great skills(streeter, Berry) less playing time. come on with that kind of thinking we are on our way to no wehre, just empty talk. FIRE R.S NOW....change the coach, change the attitude lets get back on track...

The main question on this team is the Randy Shannon. I'm sure the players are getting better physically.

tommy streeter was way at the bottom of the depth chart manny, and its still gonna be like that this year, unfortunately.

Leave Randy ALONE!!!

wahhhh, wahhh, wahhh...

Listen, the graduation rate for UM is through the roof compared to the top 10 teams. President Shalala likes that. You should too...

These kids need to get an education. Football is actually secondary to their lives. Only a few will make it to the big time.

Because of their educational requirements, they have it much tougher than Florida and FSU, who can recruit thugs (LIKE MIAMI USED TO DO), who can just focus on football...

Considering UM's academic standards, be happy they are where they are.

That's why Shannon aint going anywhere. Unless they get a new President who wants football championships more than academic achievements...

Blame Shalala, not Randy...





Great article! Look at the size of our O-line... they should be dominating everyone... lack of effort needs to step it up

I'll tell you the last time we had so many questions about our team going into the spring...it was the Spring of 2000. We had a defense that the year before got thrown over, around and through repeatedly, even in the season ending win against UCLA but definitely the week before when we got demolished buy Cuse. Our secondary was weak at best, and we had no confidence in rising junior Ed Reed, who had shown nothing at that point. And our corners all stunk. Why the hell hadn't Santana Moss and Reggie Wayne progressed in their second year? Butch was an idiot because they weren't even starting every game. Edgerrin James, our only real running back, had graduated, and we had little experience behind him. And we had no tight end because Franks had left! Only an inconsistent Ivan Mercer and some schlub JC transfer from Oklahoma. And worse, our starting QB had transferred, and how was Dorsey going to do after being thrust into the starting spot with no real backup around?

The Spring is made for questions, and everyone in the country has them. Fact is, our team hasn't shown so much promise in years, and the fact that we have positions with question marks and holes to fill just means we're a college football team, not that we're in the tank.

I agree with the rest, however, that a lot has to improve next year or it's finally time to really start doubting Shannon. If we're plagues with injuries again, them I'm looking at him. If we don't win the ACC, it's on him. If we keep falling behind teams like Duke and Virginia early in games, it's on him. And just once I'd like to finish some games with some time outs left unused.

But the team has done nothing but improve under him, so only the impatient or the ignorant can pass negative judgement on him yet. Next year, however, I might just be with the masses.

Go Canes!

This team has all the talent in the world. Now is the time for key player-leaders to emerge and for the coaches to coach all this potential.

I still have a sour taste in my mouth (to the players and the coaches) after that disgusting Champs Bowl performance.

We need to crush every opponent on every play in every game regardless of the score or circumstance.

The best players need to play. I saw very obvious favoritism last year. It hurt the team.

I'm a strong supporter of Coach Shannon and staff. I believe in them; however, if they can't rally all this talent they've recruited and at the very least win an ACC title, then they will have to be replaced come next year. I suppose that is why AD Hocutt is being very careful regarding Coach Shannon's reenlistment. I have to agree with that methodology if that's what Hocutt's think. The jury is out on whether Coach Shannon can keep this team stron and focused for a full season of football.

We should find out the character of this team very early this season. If we get bombed (as expected) by OSU and maybe even Pitt, then how will this team and this coaching staff respond in the remaining contests?

Thanks Manny. Looking forward to your spring reports.

Dear Coach Shannon,

How are you doing? OK, enough of that. I am a Canes fan living here in Columbus, Ohio. All I want to say is PLEASE do not bring that product up here on 9/11/10 that your coaching staff put on the field against Wisconsin in the Champs Bowl. I realize that it ain't all about me and that it's all about the U, but I can't stomach another lost like that. I can tell you that the Luckeyes may not have the speed and athletes The U has, but they are well coached, well prepared and will want the challenge to be PHYSICAL, AND ESPECIALLY IN THE TRENCHES. I was very excited about this game when I first saw it on the schedule, but my fire is now just a flame. I hope your guys are in the gym doing some serious, benchpressing, squatting, deadlifting, and cleanjerks. Stay off of the machines and go strictly deadweight, and concentrate less on SPEEDDRILLS. Right now this osu team is ready for the U, more than the U is ready for osu. The same type of team that was faced againt Wisc., Va Tech, and NC will be that much and more here in Sept. with one exception, 100k plus screaming fans. Get ready, THIS IS SERIOUS. Potentially againt the #2 team in the land, in their backyard. Can U handle it.

Go Canes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

go canes

I think that as canes fans. We focus more on negative input then positive input.Most of them don't even attend the games to support the kids. I think we have some areas of concern but, We will win the ACC this year.

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