Here's a quick preview of what could be in store next Wednesday, National Signing Day.
> NOTE: I wore the old Cubs jersey in honor of the late great Ernie Banks.
Rumors began spreading this afternoon on University of Miami fan internet message boards that receiver Thearon Collier and defensive end Steven Wesley have been dismissed from the team for academic reasons.
The Miami Herald has made multiple phone calls and sent text messages to UM officials regarding the matter, but had not received an answer from anyone at the school as of 9 p.m. Friday. UM spokesman Kerwin Lonzo said he was looking into the matter.
However, we've learned through sources, Collier, a junior from Miami Booker T. Washington High, is expected to meet with the coaching staff on Monday regarding his future. We are unsure if the issues are related to academics or other matters. Booker T. Washington coach, Earl Tillman, said he hadn't spoken to Collier since February but had heard he had been battling some personal issues in the offseason.
Collier (5-9, 191) caught 18 passes last season for 250 yards and a touchdown. But he made his biggest impact on special teams, returning two punts for touchdowns. He caught 26 passes for 324 yards and two scores as a freshman.
Wesley, a 6-2, 250-pound senior from Bartow, Fla., has made 17 starts the last two seasons and has 44 career tackles, 10 for loss. He had three sacks last season.
Here is the All-ACC Preseason Team. No Hurricanes on offense made the team. Allen Bailey and Brandon Harris were selected to the defensive team. Matt Bosher was picked as the kicker.
QB: Christian Ponder, Florida State (35)
RB: Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech (45)
RB: Montel Harris, Boston College (30)
WR: Donovan Varner, Duke (27)
WR: Torrey Smith, Maryland (19)
TE: George Bryan, NC State (21)
OT: Anthony Castonzo, Boston College (43)
OT: Chris Hairston, Clemson (21)
OG: Rodney Hudson, Florida State (43)
OG: Thomas Claiborne, Boston College (21)
OC: Sean Bedford, Georgia Tech (25)
DE: Robert Quinn, North Carolina (47)
DE: Allen Bailey, Miami (31)
DT: Marvin Austin, North Carolina (32)
DT: Jarvis Jenkins, Clemson (27)
LB: Alex Wujciak, Maryland (34)
LB: Quan Sturdivant, North Carolina (32)
LB: Luke Kuechly, Boston College (25)
CB: Kendric Burney, North Carolina (27)
CB: Brandon Harris, Miami (26)
S: DeAndre McDaniel, Clemson (48)
S: Deunta Williams, North Carolina (41)
PK: Matt Bosher, Miami (32)
P: Matt Bosher, Miami (20)
SP: Torrey Smith, Maryland (24)
> I'm working on our Metro News desk this week (part of those budget cutbacks) and wasn't able to head over to UM today for interviews with Joel Figueroa, Demarcus Van Dyke or Sean Spence. But our Susan Miller Degnan was there. Look for a story from her later today.
They're just preseason predictions by dorky writers like me, but Virginia Tech was picked to defeat Florida State in the ACC title game later this year. Your Miami Hurricanes were picked by only 10 of the 98 voters to win its first ACC title.
Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder was the overwhelming favorite to capture the ACC Player of the Year. UM quarterback Jacory Harris received two votes.
> ATLANTIC DIVISION (first-place votes in parentheses followed by overall votes): 1. Florida State (78) 565; 2. Clemson (16) 479; 3. Boston College (4) 389; 4. N.C. State 283; 5. Wake Forest 203; 6. Maryland 139.
> COASTAL DIVISION: 1. Virginia Tech (62) 532; 2. Miami (20) 444; 3. Georgia Tech (11) 408; 4. North Carolina (5) 379; 5. Duke 169; 6. Virginia 126.
> ACC Player of the Year: 1. Christian Ponder, FSU 45; 2. Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech 16; 3. Tyrod Taylor, Virginia Tech 11; 4. Russell Wilson, N.C. State 6; 4. Robert Quinn, North Carolina 6; 6. Joshua Nesbitt, Georgia Tech 4; 7. Kyle Parker, Clemson 3; 8. Mark Herzlich, Boston College 2; 8. Jacory Harris, Miami 2.
The All-ACC Preseason Team will be released Wednesday.
A common theme during the University of Miami's struggles for most of the past decade has been the failure of some highly recruited players to develop into quality contributors by the end of their college careers. Some suffered injuries that sent them off course, a handful bounced around at different positions and just never really found a home, and others were just flat out disappointments.
But for all the four- and five-star kids who floundered, some got it together late and turned out to be late bloomers. Four of the five guys in this installment of our Top 60 countdown would love to be just that -- players who survived any and all of the ailments above and left UM on the right foot.
Last season, Randy Phillips and A.J. Trump were two of those examples. After being recruited out of Glades Central as one of the top recruits in the state, Phillips floundered as a cornerback for two years before being moved to safety. Injured his senior season, he received a medical hardship and came back last year to finish fourth on the team in tackles. Trump, one of the nation's top linemen coming out of Clearwater Central Catholic, missed two seasons and started only two games before his senior season. But he started all 13 games at center last season. So is there another Phillips or Trump among the seniors this group? We'll see.
> 46. Ryan Hill, CB, Sr.: Hill came to UM from Tallahassee Rickards as the top recruit in the 2006 class and one of the consensus top 10 cornerbacks in the country. But with the Hurricanes in dire need of help at receiver, he spent his first two seasons at UM catching passes. In 2008, he moved to safety and finished ninth on the team in tackles. Last season, he was supposed to make the transition back to corner but was injured early in camp and was redshirted. Now, he'll go into his final season at UM hoping to fill a huge need at corner, competing with sophomore Brandon McGee for the starting nickel job.
> 47. Kylan Robinson, LB, Sr.: When Robinson signed with UM out of Tampa Chamberlain in 2005, he was tabbed as consensus Top 20 running back in the country. But he's never received a carry at UM and has been learning how to play linebacker for the past two seasons, playing mostly on special teams. But he could be destined for much more in 2010. At the end of the spring, UM coach Randy Shannon had Robinson (6-1, 235) working with the first team at middle linebacker, saying it was his job to lose come the fall. With Sean Spence and Colin McCarthy penciled in as starters at outside linebacker, Shannon has said he doesn't want to have to move either to the middle. But he has also said he will ultimately start the three best players available. Considering redshirt sophomore Jordan Futch and junior Ramon Buchanon are improving, Robinson is likely more the underdog than the front runner to be that third guy.
> 48. Cory Nelms, CB, Sr.: Nelms, who came to UM on a track scholarship, turned into a special teams standout last season, delivering several big hits on kickoff returns. Now, the 6-1, 195-pound senior will try to become a bigger force in UM's secondary. This spring, he was one of only a few healthy corners around and will compete to work his way in on nickel and dime situations while likely replacing the departed Sam Shields as a flier on punts and kickoffs.
> 49. Richard Gordon, TE, Sr.: Gordon, a sixth-year senior, was recruited out of Miami Norland in 2004 and has been all over the field for UM during his college career. He started out at tight end, moved to defensive end, then defensive tackle before going back to tight end as a sophomore. In 2007, Gordon (6-4, 270) was put on the kickoff return team for two games. Last season, he was hoping to become more involved in the passing game as a tight end. But after playing in the season opener against Florida State, he sat out the remainder of the season and earned a medical hardship to return this year. Newcomer Chase Ford, a transfer from Kilgore Junior College, is expected to be UM's primary pass catcher at tight end. Gordon will likely be the second option and involved heavily in blocking schemes.
> 50. C.J. Holton, LB, R-So: A standout safety at Crawfordville Wakulla (a high school in Florida State's backyard), Holton played in all 12 games last season as a special teams contributor. He finished with seven tackles (four solo, three assists). But at linebacker, he's pretty far down the depth chart. With Jordan Futch returning from injury and redshirt freshman Shayon Green enter the year relatively fighting the final backup spot on the linebacker depth chart. But if Kevin Nelson shines or one of the other incoming freshmen make a splash, Holton (6-1, 215) could be relegated to just more special teams work this year.
For three seasons, Jonathan Vilma was the brains and the braun in the middle of some great University of Miami defenses. Now, 28, and a two-time Pro Bowler, Vilma is a Super Bowl champion and role model for up-and-coming football players in his native Miami-Dade County.
This afternoon I got a chance to catch up with the 6-1, 230-pound former Coral Gables High star, who still lives in South Florida not far from his parents during the off-season. We got a chance to talk about the Canes, his favorite Randy Shannon story, his own relief efforts in Haiti and how the Saints plan to wear the bulls-eye on their backs this coming season. Enjoy.
Q: What have you been up to since the Super Bowl? Has your life changed much since you added Super Bowl champion to the resume?
Vilma: "Life has changed for the better. It was a real fun ride when we won it. That first month, the rest of February and March, we pretty much celebrated. It's been a little down since. Now, it's about getting ready to do it again. In the off-season programs, I could tell we were real focused in. We had about 95 percent attendance. Everybody was fired up, ready to go."
Q: You're 28 years old now. Are you married, do you have kids or is there still time for that?
Vilma: "There's still time for that [laughter]. You got to enjoy your youth."
Q: How much is Haiti still on your mind?
Vilma: "It's still very much on my mind. I'm planning a trip down there during my bye week in November. I hope to get some of my teammates to come down there with me to help build some schools and help rebuild. They still very much need our help."
Q: A few players at UM told me Wednesday you've been out there during workouts this summer trying to deliver a strong message to them about team unity. Have you felt the need to be a little more vocal than usual with them this year?
Vilma: "No. I guess I'm just really excited with what I saw and have been seeing from them. The group they have out there looks really good. They look like tough guys. I thought they were playing real good ball last year. Not the last game against Wisconsin. But I feel like they're real close to where they need to be. I think if I was speaking a little bit more, it's me being excited."
Q: You played on some of the most talented UM teams ever. How close do you think this year's Canes team is to winning another national title? Or, are they still missing something?
Vilma: "I think if they're missing anything it's that they need a little experience. Nobody on this team has won an ACC title or a national title. It's all going to be new to them. Once they hit the 6-0 mark, 7-0 mark, that will be new to them. I think they have all the talent in the world. It's entering the new territory, when you become the hunted. How will they react to having real success?"
Q: Is it just me or does it seem like a lot of those young guys who came in that special recruiting class of 2008 have really become more vocal?
Vilma: "No. I noticed the same thing. I have found a lot of guys wanting to take that role. Guys who were freshman who didn't know the ropes have grown up. You see guys like Jacory [Harris], a QB, a natural leader, really stepping up even more. [Sean] Spence, Colin [McCarthy] are sending the right messages. I've been there with the 6:30 group with [trainer Andrew] Swasey. I see those guys, the linebackers, trying to run with the DBs, pushing themselves to be even better. All they talk about is wanting to win. I'm real excited to see what they can do especially against Ohio State."
Q: Can you share your best Randy Shannon story?
Vilma: "I've known Randy for so long. He had me when I was a puppy. One of the best stories I have with him is when he let me stand out on my own as a football player. We were going up to face Tennessee. He had so much confidence in me and the defense he actually let me call the defense the first two series. We went three and out twice. It was exciting for me. I thought he was joking at first when he told me, but he was dead serious. I think he wanted to prove to me and to everyone on our defense it doesn't matter what you call. As long as you hit people hard, do the things you're supposed to, you can be great."
Q: He coached you as a coordinator. How do you think he's done as a head coach?
Vilma: "Right now where the program is heading is great. I think at first, he had to battle two things. One, was the pressure of winning. The other was getting the program the way he wanted it to be. Sometimes you have to take a step back before you can move forward. He had to get out the bad apples and keep the guys who were the team players. Now, you see the program turning around. You see guys who care about wanting to win. I think all of that is because he has a grand scheme. He's won national championships and he knows what it takes. He's trying to get us back there."
Q: I've had players in the past tell me how he has 'eyes everywhere.' They've said how he'll go into meetings and tell guys, 'I know you didn't make it back in last until 1 a.m. I heard you were here or there.' Was he like that when you were here?
Vilma: "[Laughter] Yes. I don't know how he knows the things he knows. He's always been well connected. All I know is he really cares about his players as individuals. He wants them to grow up as men, be good people. And it's not just when you play for him. It's after to. The way we talk to each other now is different. The conversations are more about life. It's great. He cares about you for life."
Q: How different is the defense John Lovett is running now at UM from what you did with Randy?
A: "Not much different. I like the defense actually, a lot. To me, [Lovett] understands the college game. I think he understands how to put players in the best position to make plays. It's probably the best thing you can do. I think the deal with the players is they need to have a good understanding of it. I think they're coming along. Having him for two years will make a big difference."
Q: Do you talk to any of the current Canes players often?
Vilma: "I text them all the time. I've always told them the only thing you're going to get from me is the truth. If they played well, I'll tell them they did their job. If they don't, I tell them they didn't get it done. For me, it's really about doing whatever I can to help them. Colin, Spence, C.J. Holton, they all want to get better. I tell them all the time to ask me about whatever they want to know."
Q: Have you been hearing a lot of hate from your fellow NFL brothers for the way The U has struggled the past couple years? I'm sure they're all trying to get back at you for when the Canes were on top.
Vilma: "Like you wouldn't believe. The other guys have certainly relished 7-6, the bowl losses. It's been tough. But I've been telling them all summer just wait and see them go on the field, whip up on the Florida State's and Ohio State's. I know things are going to get real quiet, real soon."
Q: I'm sure you've been hearing these stories about some players at some pretty prominent schools getting in trouble for their activities with agents before leaving school. What are your thoughts?
Vilma: "Times have changed for athletes today. I don't know if it is good or bad what's happening. I just think the players have to be smart about their decision making, look at the big picture and what they're accomplishing by getting involved in those things. The biggest thing to me is guys have to stop talking about their night on Facebook. They don't realize they're always going to being viewed in a different light. I think kids just have to be more aware of that, realize people are reading everything. I think from a big picture standpoint, it's what they're putting out there that's getting them in trouble. It's not just Facebook, it's Twitter, too. I mean I can't talk. I know when I was 19, 20, I know I always didn't listen. I would have loved to flown to the Bahamas, partied, had a great time and not worried about the consequences. But as an athlete, you have to realize you are under constant microscope. Even more today."
Q: Let's go back to the Saints. How does it feel knowing you and your teammates in New Orleans are going into the season with a big bulls-eye on your back? After all, the Saints have always been the underdogs until now.
Vilma: "The expectations are definitely different. But I think the best thing for us is we have a lot of guys that come from winning programs. Whether its college or the pros, we've had guys who have won Super Bowls with the Patriots. [Jeremy] Shockey was with me when we won a title at UM. We have a lot guys that have been successful. The Saints as a franchise haven't had a bulls-eye ever. So, honestly, we're kind of excited about it. For me, it takes me back to my college years. You live to be that guy everybody is gunning for."
> I know some of you remember Vilma's biggest hit as a Cane. Here it is for you on YouTube.
Damien Berry feels faster and stronger than he did a year ago. That's bad news for the teams on UM's schedule, because when Berry finally got a chance to carry the football last season he was pretty good at it.
Berry said Wednesday he's weighing 220 pounds, about 13 pounds more than he did at the end of last season. But added bulk isn't the only thing new in his life. Berry has added two new responsibilities to his plate entering his senior season: being a father and being leader. And both he believes will make him even better in 2010.
A day after the Hurricanes lost to Wisconsin in the Champs Sports Bowl, Berry rushed home for the birth of his daughter, K'mahri, on New Year's Eve. He said she's added a whole new perspective to his life.
"She's amazing," Berry said. "Now, everything I do, I think about her. I know I have to work hard to be able to support her."
Described by teammate Vaughn Telemaque as "a guy you once saw chilling everywhere," Berry says being a father has calmed him down. "All that going out, I can't do that anymore," Berry said.
Three times a week, Berry said, his ex-girlfriend will drop K'mahri off at his home for a few hours, where he'll get to be dad before he heads off for class and training.
"[Fullback] Pat Hill just said 'It's going to take a lot of patience'," Berry says with a grin. "I buy her shoes, play with her, feed her, change her diaper if I have to. But the diaper thing really isn't my forte."
Being in the spotlight at UM has never been either for Berry. But with Javarris James gone and senior Graig Cooper trying to make it back from a torn ACL, Berry will enter camp on Aug. 5 expected to be the first person quarterback Jacory Harris hands the ball off to for the majority of the season. It wasn't until the fifth game of last season that Berry touched the ball at all as a Cane.
Brought in as a change-of-pace back for Cooper and James usually in the second half, Berry quickly became a crowd favorite for his straight-ahead, bulldozing-style of running. With Miami trailing Duke, fans at Sun Life Stadium began chanting "Berry! Berry!" in the second half and helped lead a Canes come-from-behind win. Berry finished the year with 616 yards (6.6 a carry) and a team-leading eight touchdowns.
But being the main man in UM's backfield? That's a label Berry, a team-first spokesman, isn't ready to accept even if sophomore Mike James (15 carries, 46 yards) and oft-injured junior Lee Chambers (60 carries, 272 yards) are the only other healthy players heading into camp who have taken a handoff at this level.
"I'm just going to try to be the best back," Berry said. "As far as being that [featured] guy I don't know. I still have to outwork Coop, Mike James and those young-ins, Lamar [Miller], Storm [Johnson], [Eduardo] Clements and Darion Hall. So, I still have to work hard. We'll push each other, and if I'm the No. 1 guy I'll be the No. 1 guy."
Berry, who was the No. 1 guy his senior year at Glades Central and led his team to a state title despite playing on a torn ACL, said his goal this offseason was to prepare himself for having to carry the load if needed. A big part of that, too, was pass blocking. "My pass protection has always been OK, but I want to be great," Berry said. "The less [quarterback] Jacory [Harris] gets touched, the better."
His main focus, though, he said Wednesday, is being a veteran leader and making sure the guys behind him can handle the job if anybody were to go down with an injury.
"What I learned from Javarris and what he learned from the guys before him is you have to teach the guys behind you everything, every detail," Berry said. "God forbid any of us go down, I want those young guys to be ready and not worry about being scared, or the bubble guts, or anything like that. I want them to be able to take my spot in an instant."
SOME MORE CANES NUGGETS...
> IS COOP REALLY GOING TO BE READY? Tino Thomas, the father of running back Graig Cooper, has been telling reporters for months his son is planning on being back in time for the start of the season as long as he doesn't have any setbacks following knee surgery. The way his teammates have been talking about Cooper the last two weeks, you almost have to wonder if it's really possible. Wednesday, all three teammates made available to reporters spoke as if Cooper would be ready to go.
"I wouldn't doubt him coming back this season at all," Telemaque said. "He's working extremely hard, always getting treatment, always around the team, always lifting weights, whatever it takes. He's not using his knee as an excuse for anything. We see it as if he's going to be with the team. He tells us through his work ethic that his plans are to come back and be the same as he was before. If you ask me, he's going to play and make an impact."
> WILL FIGUEROA SLIDE OVER TO TACKLE?: I first heard about this in the spring and I heard it again Wednesday -- do not to be surprised if senior Joel Figueroa ends up sliding over to right tackle and starting there if Jermaine Johnson, Ben Jones or even Seantrel Henderson don't prove themselves worthy of the job in camp.
Figueroa, who has played guard most of his career, is coming off shoulder surgery and has played some tackle in spot duties during games. Johnson and Jones were expected to compete for the starting job before Henderson headed for Coral Gables. UM has a history of starting the five best linemen, regardless of where they play.
Also heard true freshman Brandon Linder has been very impressive upon arrival in workouts and nobody would be surprised if he gave Tyler Horn a serious fight for the starting center job.
> VILMA DELIVERING STRONG MESSAGE OF UNITY: Having former Canes in the NFL come in for summer workouts and heart-to-heart conversations with current players is nothing new at UM. This summer, though, Vaughn Telemaque said players have been seeing a lot more of Saints Pro Bowl and Super Bowl winning linebacker Jonathan Vilma.
"He's been a really vocal guy," Telemaque said. "That's what coach [Andrew] Swasey said he was like when he was here. Swasey said he would always let his teammates know the importance of winning, the importance of coming together and being one unit."
Telemaque said Vilma spent a lot of time this summer sharing stories and comparing his time with the Jets and the Saints.
"He told us how his time with the Jets, there were altercations, fights, people weren't doing what they were supposed to," Telemaque said. "He said during the championship year with the Saints, nobody had a problem on the team. Everybody was on the same page and they won the Super Bowl. He said we could be just like them."
"I think that's why a lot of us are trying to be more vocal, feeding off each other. It's like we all watch each other's backs."
CORAL GABLES -- The one thing Vaughn Telemaque was known for during his high school playing days at Long Beach Poly was his ability to create turnovers. Entering his third year at The U, the 6-2, 197-pound redshirt sophomore would like to be that kind of player again.
"I kind of lost it my first year [with the shoulder injury and redshirt]. I used to like to talk to quarterbacks, wide receivers, get in their head and play mind games with them," said Telemaque, who finished fifth on the team last season with 48 tackles, but didn't recover a fumble or grab an interception.
"I kind of lost that knack. I lost me, was trying to fit in, make sure I wasn't messing up. I want to talk to these quarterbacks, let them know I'm here, try me. That's the attitude I want to have. I want these guys to come at me."
When Ed Reed and the late Sean Taylor were roaming the field at safety for UM, the Canes used to create fumbles and interceptions about as often as they did first downs. But in the last few years, they've become one of the worst teams in the country at forcing the other team to cough it up. Last year, they forced 21 turnovers (good for 68th nationally). The team's nine interceptions (five more than in 2008) ranked 87th nationally.
So why will the Canes be better at it in 2010? Age and experience according to Telemaque.
"I think we were OK with trying not to give up the deep ball instead of jumping the short routes or jumping the medium routes," Telemaque said. "I think what's going to be a big plus for us is we have a lot of guys with experience. Guys are going take chances, play loose, play like you do with your brother in your backyard or practice."
Telemaque said he feels like he benefitted greatly from playing corner in the spring and believes it should help him break on the ball better.
"I got to speak to Ed Reed [this spring]. He said 'This can help you with what these corners are going through, where your vulnerable points are.' It carries your safety position to another level," Telemaque said. "You can understand routes, where the quarterback is trying to fit the ball. If you can do that, then you know where you can fit in the void as a safety."
MORE CANES NUGGETS...
> GROWING UP: One thing you could tell about all three Canes players who spoke Wednesday (running back Damien Berry and receiver LaRon Byrd were the others) is that they've all become bigger vocal leaders and a lot more confident in themselves. "I feel I can step in and be a vocal leader because I actually have experience now," Telemaque said. "So what I say isn't coming out of the air. And I'm just trying to take everybody in and make sure we all buy into this program."
"When I say buying in, coach Shannon is telling us we're not young kids anymore. We've developed into our own players, personalities, the personalities he recruited, molded to try and make this a national championship team, an ACC championship team. We understand what coach Shannon wants us to do, what our coaches want us to do, what fans want us to do, what us as a team want to do. We should come out fine. We just all have to buy in, understand this is what we want. If everybody doesn't worry about who gets the credit, we'll be the best team ever."
> BYRD ON JACORY: One story that will be huge all of fall camp is how exactly quarterback Jacory Harris bounces back from offseason thumb surgery. Last week, Harris admitted he wasn't exactly back at 100 percent even though he feels better and has been throwing the ball around in 7 on 7 drills since the end of May. Byrd, however, said Harris looks like his old self.
"In workouts he's doing great, is throwing the ball like the old Jacory," Byrd said. "I've never seen him miss a beat. We've completed a lot of deep balls. Everything is there."
> McGEE STEPPING UP: Byrd had high praise for sophomore Brandon McGee, saying, "He's stepped up real big. I don't know what he did, had surgery on those hips and got them flexible or what. But he's flipping his hips great."
> WHAT'S ON TAP: There will be one more media day on campus next week (I won't be there) before the entire team and coach Shannon meet with reporters for the start of practice on Aug. 5. Our Susan Miller Degnan will be at the ACC Media Days this coming weekend in Greensboro, N.C. where defensive end Allen Bailey and kicker Matt Bosher will be representing The U along with Shannon.
For the complete audio interviews from Wednesday, visit our UM audio page. If you want it short and sweet, check out the videos below. FYI, I'll be uploading them on my YouTube page throughout the season.
In sports, the scout team, also referred to as a practice team, practice squad or practice roster, is a group of players on a team whose task is to emulate future opponents for the featured (or starting) players. Frequently used in American or Canadian Football, these teams consist of less athletically developed or less skilled players. However, unlike a traditional scrimmage, scout teams often have to learn a variety of different football playbooks in order to simulate the tendencies of future opponents.
That's how Wikipedia defnies the Scout Team. But at the University of Miami, where first round NFL talent used to ooze out the doors, the Scout Team used to be a place where the next group of superstars waited for the older superstars to finish up their careers before heading to the pros. Coach Randy Shannon would love for it to get back to that way. Former standout Scout Team MVPs include: walk-on Corey Nelms (2009), Damien Berry (2008) and Adewale Ojomo (2007). As we move ahead in our Top 60 countdown, is there going to be another hidden Scout Team gem in this group?
> 51. Stephen Morris, QB, Fr.: He wasn't the most highly-regarded quarterback the Hurricanes have signed in the past decade, but Morris (6-2, 183) showed signs this spring he has the raw materials to be a starting quarterback for this program down the line. Morris had a stellar spring game, completing 12 of his 21 passes for 209 yards, 2 TDs and 1 INT. At Monsignor Pace in Miami, Morris threw for 3,536 yards, 41 TDs and 15 INTs between his junior and senior seasons. While most Hurricanes fans were hoping UM landed Miami-Dade record setting quarterback Jeffrey Godfrey out of Miami Central, offensive coordinator Mark Whipple preferred what he saw in Morris, who is taller and perhaps better suited for UM's offense. With highly regarded Teddy Bridgewater of Miami Northwestern expected to sign with UM in February, it will be an important year for Morris to cement his place behind Jacory Harris and A.J. Highsmith.
> 52. Dyron Dye, DE, R-Fr.: One of the nation's top prospects in 2009, Dye was injured at the start of last season and redshirted. The 6-5, 240-pound former Sanford Seminole standout and high school teammate of safety Ray Ray Armstrong, Dye (pictured below) will have to beat out a lot of talented and experienced players in front of him to see the field in 2010. So, unless a few of them go down with injuries, Dye is likely going to spend most of the season on scout team before making a bigger splash in 2011.
> 53. Joseph Nicolas, S, R-Jr.: After making eight starts and playing in 11 games as a sophomore in 2008, Nicolas played in only three last season before sitting out the remainder of the season and earning a medical redshirt. With Ray Ray Armstrong, Vaughn Telemaque and even Jamal Reid now ahead of him on the depth chart, Nicolas (6-1, 200) is likely going to be a backup the rest of his career.
> 54. Shayon Green, LB, R-Fr.: Green (6-2, 235) was hand picked by defensive backs coach Wesley McGriff from his hometown of Tifton, Ga. A standout defensive end and linebacker in high school who racked 125 tackles, two sacks and five forced fumbles as a senior, Green began the spring slotted with the first team at middle linebacker. But it quickly became evident he was out of his element, especially coming off injury. With senior Kylan Robinson and ahead of him now on the depth chart, Green will likely be relegated to special teams duties and plenty of scout team work unless somebody in front of him gets hurt.
> 55. Tyrone Cornelius, LB, Fr.: One of six true freshmen to arrive in the spring, Cornelius (6-2, 195) struggled some getting used to college football. But it was expected. A speedy outside linebacker, he finished his senior season at Stephenson High in Stone Mountain, Ga. with 108 tackles, twoblocked punts, an interceptions and two forced fumbles while leading his team to the second round of the playoffs. With the Hurrricanes a bit thin at linebacker in terms of numbers, Cornelius is likely to play some on special teams while he tries to put on some weight.
If there is one thing the University of Miami has done consistently over the past two seasons it's recruit offensive linemen. Counting Seantrel Henderson, the nation's consensus No. 1-rated high school left tackle in 2010, the Hurricanes have netted 11 offensive linemen in their last two recruiting classes.
When you consider UM was only able to bring in four combined (Orlando Franklin, Tyler Horn, Harland Gunn, Ben Jones) in coach Randy Shannon's first two classes in 2007 and 2008, you begin to appreciate the tough coaching job assistant coach Jeff Stoutland has ahead of him. The good news for UM? The last couple of classes have featured some highly-regarded players, most of whom fill the bottom five of our Top 60 player rankings.
> 56. Malcolm Bunche, OL, Fr.: Originally part of UM's '09 signing class, Bunche spent a year at Milford Prep in N.Y. where he played a lot and developed plenty. At 6-7, 328 pounds, he expected to compete at right tackle, but spent of his spring at right guard, a position currently expected to be filled by senior Joel Figueroa, who has been troubled by shoulder injuries throughout his career. Bunche is definitely big enough and athletic enough to move to tackle if needed. But with Henderson's arrival, he likely would only move out there in the case of injury. Barring that, I expect Bunche to see a lot of time on the scout team, where he'll receive plenty of competition from other incoming freshmen Jermaine Barton and Andrew Tallman, who probably will not end up at tight end.
> 57. Stephen Plein, OL, R-Fr.: A tight end at Fort Myers High, Plein redshirted last season before seeing a lot of playing time during the spring at left tackle. With Franklin out, he and Cory White took the majority of snaps on the left side. Plein looked to be a little further ahead of White, but barring injuries will likely spend another season on the scout team and trying to add more weight. He was listed at 6-6, 260 in the spring.
> 58. Jared Wheeler, OL, R-Fr.: Wheeler (6-5, 330) started for four years at Plantation American Heritage High, but will likely spend another year on the scout team developing barring injury to anybody in front of him on the depth chart. He has spent most of his time at UM playing at left guard, where sophomore Brandon Washington and junior Harland Gunn are entrenched.
> 59. Shane McDermott, OL, Fr.: A U.S. Army All-American at Palm Beach Central, McDermott arrived in the spring hoping to compete with junior Tyler Horn. McDermott, though, struggled a little adjusting and had a couple mishaps on snaps. Still, the 6-3, 275-pounder has a lot of upside and has coaches excited about the future. With St. Thomas Aquinas standout Brandon Linder arriving this summer and expected to work some at center, McDermott could potentially move to guard down the line. But it all depends on injuries and how Stoutland wants to line his guys up. If Horn is injured, most expect Washington to slide over from guard to center.
> 60. Cory White, OL, R-Fr.: Another tight end turned offensive lineman, White played a lot at left tackle in the spring with Franklin out. At 6-5, 260 pounds, he still needs to add some more weight before he sees the field. He will likely spend the year on the scout team once again.
It's time to get back to work. The Miami Hurricanes are 17 days away from the start of fall camp on Thursday, Aug. 5. And, although the media will only have limited contact with players and Canes coaches until then (CanesFest on July 31 and there are a few more Wednesdays when we will have access to a handful of players) it's time to start previewing the 2010 season here at Eye On The U.
Over the next two-plus weeks, I'll examine the big story lines and questions facing the Canes and rank the Top 60 players on the team based on past performance and expectations. Even though some players will not show up in the rankings, a handful could potentially make huge impacts during the 2010 season. So, to kick of this year's preseason player rankings, I'll start with those guys, The Wildcards. Here they are:
1. Seantrel Henderson, OL, Fr.: If LeBron James was the biggest summer arrival on South Beach, Seantrel Henderson should be considered the same in Coral Gables. After picking USC over Miami and Ohio State on National Signing Day, the nation's No. 1 high school offensive lineman backed out on the Trojans after they were hit hard by NCAA sanctions earlier this month. Now, he's become the biggest addition to the Hurricanes' 2010 signing class. Assuming there are no surprises with the NCAA Clearinghouse, Henderson should report for classes Aug. 3 and be in uniform when coach Randy Shannon starts asking guys to fly around. Henderson isn't quite like the other offensive linemen UM has recruited in the past decade. He probably will not need much time at all to get bigger or stronger. At 6-8, 340-pounds, his toughest adjustment will likely be getting used to the speed he's seeing on the other side. With UM loaded with talent at defensive end, he'll be tested quickly. It's hard to imagine Henderson pushing Orlando Franklin out of the starting left tackle job by the season opener on Sept. 2. But could Henderson start at right tackle ahead of redshirt freshman Jermaine Johnson (6-6, 310) and sophomore Ben Jones (6-5, 300)? Absolutely. At the very least, Henderson should split time.
2. Chase Ford, TE, Jr.: Ford would have benefitted largely from participating in the spring and learning offensive coordinator Mark Whipple's system. But the NCAA denied a waiver the 6-7, 250-pound native Texas needed to transfer in from Kilgore Community College, the same school which produced former Cane Kevin Everett. So, Ford spent his spring staying in shape and working as a maintenance man at his old high school. Ford won't have to cut the lawn at UM, but he will have to make a Jimmy Graham-like transition to the Canes' offense. Other than senior Richard Gordon (4 catches, 32 yards), Miami only has redshirt freshman Billy Sanders (6-4, 248) and two other freshmen -- Clive Walford and Asante Cleveland -- to throw out there at tight end. Ford won't be the No. 1 tight end on Day 1, but he should become it rather quickly. The issue becomes how much he really helps the offense. Graham caught 17 passes for 213 yards and five touchdowns last season. Dedrick Epps caught 19 for 247 yards and 3 scores. With Miami loaded at receiver, Ford figures to probably do right around the same as those two as the tight end position is used less overall.
3. Graig Cooper, RB, Sr.: Quarterback Jacory Harris told reporters last week he's optimistic Graig Cooper will be back to help the Hurricanes at some point this season. That was hard to imagine back in December when Cooper's blew out his right knee -- almost Willis McGahee style -- returning a kick in the Champs Sports Bowl loss to Wisconsin. Cooper, Miami's leading rusher each of the past three seasons, had surgery not long after the injury and has been rehabbing hard with the hope of coming back to see real playing time. Tight end Dedrick Epps did it last season. But until we see otherwise, it's hard to imagine Cooper, a player who relies so much on his cutback ability, making a big impact in 2010. He could ultimately make his way back later in the season and try to prove his ready for the next NFL Draft. But my thought process is Shannon will urge him to hold off until 2011 when he could return fully healthy and have a young crop of running backs behind him. For those of you thinking Cooper's loss is no big deal, remember two things: 1. Mike James and Lamar Miller have a combined 15 college carries in their career (all belong to James). 2. Cooper finished fourth in the ACC last season in all-purpose yards.
4. Latwan Anderson, ATH, Fr.: Just like Henderson, Anderson was a post-signing day gift for UM. A 5-10, 170-pound freshman who signed a track scholarship with the Canes, Anderson finished his senior year in Ohio with 66 tackles, four forced fumbles and 14 picks and was considered a 5-star recruit by Rivals. He could potentially help Miami all over the field, much like Devin Hester once did, playing on defense, offense and special teams. Considering how much help UM could use at cornerback, it's hard to imagine the staff pushing him to receiver, where he would be behind a long list of talented players. If Anderson ends up in the secondary, he could always switch to receiver later on in his career. My thought is we see Anderson mostly on special teams, dime situations and maybe once or twice on a few trick plays or reverses on offense. Either way, I think we will see at least one or two freshmen play a lot in the secondary with numbers down at cornerback.
5. Kevin Nelson, LB, Fr.: If there is a position on defense with more questions surrounding it than middle linebacker, let me know. With the departure of Darryl Shaprton, Shannon let true freshman Shayon Green start the spring with the first team in the middle. The experiment didn't last long. Green was quickly replaced by senior Kylan Robinson, a 6-1, 235-pound former four-star running back with four career special teams tackles and no starts under his belt. Shannon was happy with Robinson in the spring, saying he made major strides. Although Robinson is in line to be this year's Matt Pipho (a player who waited until his fifth season to become a major contributor), he could receive a serious push from Nelson, a 6-1, 220-pound true freshman from Gainesville who scouts love. If Nelson, 20, impresses enough, there's no reason he couldn't at least share some some playing time with Robinson -- especially since Shannon seems intent on not wanting to have to move Colin McCarthy to the middle.
Footnote to the Top 60 rankings: I did not include freshmen who were not around for spring football or veterans who enter the season coming off major injuries (i.e., Graig Cooper).
Remember what Bryant McKinnie meant to the Hurricanes offensive line? Consider the potential addition of Seantrel Henderson just as large.
Although a few sources at UM as of late Tuesday night could not confirm Henderson (the nation's No. 1 high school offensive lineman) was already on his way to South Florida after being released from USC earlier in the day, indications are it might not be long before he becomes the last addition to the 2010 signing class.
Apparently, the only hold up at this point according to a UM source, is that the Canes have to wait until Wednesday -- when he is officially cleared by the NCAA -- to talk to him. After that, Henderson has to make it through UM admissions and the clearinghouse (so it probably will take a couple days before UM makes it official). Henderson would then likely start classes in August. I've been told UM, which looked like they would be about four over the 85 scholarship limit, has a scholarship to give to Henderson. By being released from his national letter of intent by USC, Henderson does not have to sit out this season.
Henderso, who was reportedly in Miami according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press this past weekend, hasn't spoken to any reporters in weeks and his father, who did most of the interviews for him late in the recruiting game, hasn't been answering his cell phone the last couple days. While there is likely some wiggle room (he could always back out and go to Ohio State), the word is Miami is his first choice.
Henderson (6-8, 337) is the type of lineman that every coach dreams of. Described by Sports Illustrated as "the most polished linemen of the past decade," he would become the most highly touted lineman to sign with the Canes. McKinnie, drafted seventh overall by the Vikings in the 2002 draft, was the anchor of UM's national title team. Henderson is of the same ilk, a player most expect could at least contribute right away if not start at left tackle and keep Jacory Harris' jersey free of grass and blood stains for the next couple years.
If he comes, it would also mean young, perhaps, less talented players like Ben Jones and Jermaine Johnson (slotted to compete for the starting right tackle job) will not have to be depended on to carry a huge load right away. All three could potentially all end up splitting playing time until one emerges. Neither Jones or Johnson has played much yet and are still developing.
Couple more tidbits...
> I was told the likelihood of freshman cornerback Jeremy Davis getting into school in August was "about 40 percent." Davis (5-11, 162) is one of four DBs in UM's 2010 class.
> It is expected that offensive tackle Tavadis Glenn, who attended an academy school his senior year while playing for Jacksonville Raines, will end up at prep school.