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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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if we win the acc, it really doesnt mean anything. we lose 3-4 games against one of the worst conferences and thats our goal? thats not saying much. miami doesnt need to BACK into the title by a tie breaker, all the talent that we have should be winning consistently by now. last chance for this staff. win or go home

The U needs to get rid of Shalala!!

That MUST be the #1 priority. Afterwards consideration on Shannon's future is the task at hand.

WE need a University President that wants to bring back our Football Team to Greatness. Shalala is NOT that person.

I see quite possibly another 9-4 season ahead of us. The O-line will not have the experience to take this team to the next level. I envision another year of Jacory running for his life and 20+ sacks. On the bright side, the D should be improved with another year in Lovett's system, some guys back from injury and a new D-line coach. If we are lucky, we could finish 10-3 but I don't realistically see us being better than that. Maybe in 2011 we can talk about ACC crown and a BCS bowl but not in 2010.

Randy Shannon- Listen to your fans. Read this blog ( I know he wont).

If you dont want or like people talking smack about football, especially since we are no experts like you are, then speak to us. Dont give us one liners. That insults us. I know youdont "owe" us any explanantion, but many of us actually donate to the U. And some of us havebeen fans even before YOU stepped on campus. In fact, I was a U fan while you were being yelled at by your Pop Warner coaches.

Blogs here are mostly right- You and the players went to the Champs bowl and plyed like CHUMPS. No emotion (except for the first 15 seconds of the game), No energy, no swag. There goes that word again. Swag. Some of us realize that Shananana de-masculated you and the canes. She cant even throw up a U the right way (see the UM commercial). She is a fake a44 commy socialist who belongs in DC, not in the gables.

Thts right. You de-swagged the canes. Even Coker allowed the canes to have swag. There was swag even up in frigid Boise Idaho in 30 degree whether in a bowl that most players could gcare less to be at, in order to pull off a win against Nevada with Kirby Freeman at the QB. But when you took over, first with the no names on the back, then with the no celebrations, and then with the non answers during press conferences, and thenwith the 5am work outs... Randy. Randy... What the?>>??????

Yeah some of you so-called fans are getting way out of hand. Randy's tenure has been: 6-7, then 7-6, then 9-4. That's IMPROVEMENT every year, and that's what you want. With alot of injured guys coming back, and the OSU and Pitt games early in the season, that bodes well for us.

To Roger Lewis in Columbus:

Excellent synopsis Roger. I agree. See U in Columbus, God willing and the creek don't rise.

Never been a Randy fan. I think he was hired for the "Peter Principle". Everyone blamed Coker for the fall off in recruiting but guess what...Randy was defensive coordinator and picked those defensive recruits. I'm not sure if we has what it takes. It has been extremely disappointing the last 5 years. Why can't we get a proven winner. Is this all EEO? Like many disappointed Cane fans we have no choice in the matter. I hope they can turn it around this year.

I think we are starting off 1-3.

Canes will be good this year! They just need to work together because it is a TEAM game. Streeter is not ready to start. Byrd and Benjamin should start until A Johnson proves he should be there. Berry should also start. I am excited about this upcoming year. I also hope that Storm Johnson takes a redshirt year to learn. Also we need our fans to fill the seats at the stadium to give us a real home field advantage. I got season tickets. Do your part. GO CANES!

I see three things that can make or break us in 2010. Our O-line has to play better. The D-Line has to get pressure on the Q.B. We have to create way more turnovers, than we've seen the last 2 years. We can win the National Championship if all 3 of the above happen. Our defense should be national champ caliber. Maybe a fourth thing we have to keep players off the injured reserve list.

I agree with Chicago- the spring is for question marks.

Right tackle is the only thing that scares me. I see Ray Ray Armstrong and Allen Bailey take the defense to the next level.

I also agree with everyone demanding an ACC Championship. We are in a weak conference and with our recruits, we should be in the championship game every year.

Now all we need is some more fans in the seats!


What a bunched of spoiled, crybaby, whimpering, bandwagon, johnny-come-lately fan(s)...or I think it's mostly one or two GATAS trying to stir up trouble, or a combination of the above.

A real Canes fan knows that Randy has at least two more years to get to the promised land. 8-4 or 9-3 or even 7-5 DOES NOT get Randy fired next year. There has been marked improvement every year and while an ACC championship is possible in 2010; 2011 will be the bustout year.

So all you "Randy better put up or shutp in 2010" so-called fans can stick it up your nose. It's probably just a couple of bitter Gatas anyway, that know that 5>3 and pretty soon it will be 6>3

One thing is for sure. If it were not for the O-lines inexperience we would be pretty loaded at that position. Injuries, inexperience, lack of playing time for key players, etc. are all obstacles facing the "U" next year. But in my opinion, the Canes biggest obstacle going into 2010 will be their very tough schedule and lack of depth at key positions. But no excuses. Win ACC. Go to BCS Bowl Game or Bust in "2010". GO! CANES!

Its not a matter of being a Randy fan or not. Had UM done this:

- NOT folded so terribly against Virginia in the 2007 season in the last game at the OB.

-NOT done all the stoopid time out and personnel things that cost us the FSU game in 2008

-NOT done the stoopid QB exchange between Marve and JH

-Had he shown up against VTech and adjusted somehow and somewhat

-had they not blown the Clemson game out of sheer stubborness and unwillingness to go with what had worked (i.e. given the ball to Berry on 2nd and 3 instead of JJ).

-Had he shown up at the Champs bowl and played some semblance of a game

-If he communictaed better to the fans and media.

-had UM played (not necessarily won) the ACC Ch.

H-ad UM won 10 games last year

then many of us wouldnt be up Shannon's you know what so much.


Let's just leave it as your clueless and call it a day.

What I want to see is a more aggressive approach at the end of games. That 4th qtr. against clemson was brutal. I'd like to see better clock management too. Face it the talent is there, now can the staff bring it out on the football field ? Shanon is on the clock.

we need the work ethic from the 98-99 canes, put the offense of line on the back of a pick up and have the one lineman push!

it takes time to build a solid foundation. We need Jacory Harris to be a product of the system like ken dorsey, there is enough talent around jacory to make him put up better numbers.
and for you so called fans, Shalala was the one who let WILLIE Williams get in the university

I think "Jaime" adds interesting commentary regarding Coach Shannon's perceived arrogance and poor communication/public relations skills with the media and the fans.

If you take a lion and cut off his gonads, you have turn him into a kitty cat. Let the fellas play with swagger and confidence. Let them be brash as long as they can back it up on the field. This is The U and opposing teams and fans have learned what to expect from this university. Don't play dirty or be disrectful to the opposition or its fans (aka Louisville years ago), but play with that U mean streak with the mentality of us against the world. Then when the game's over, show sportsmanship regardless of the outcome.

Miami is definitely at the top of my dark horse list this year. I know everyone is already predicting an Ohio State/Alabama championship game, but don't be surprised if you see Miami there.

The schedule is strong enough to warrant it. Ohio State, Pitt and South Florida as non-conference games, throw in V tech, G tech and Clemson from the ACC. I think they could lose a conference game and as long as they win the ACC championship they could go to the title game if Boise State and Alabama aren't both undefeated. Going to be interesting.

Great update!

I think getting the players on the pratice field early is a great idea, it does two things, it makes them go to bed early and stay out of trouble and it gives them the rest of the day to be productive in there schooling and more. I like it the early bird gets the worm.

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