Thursday morning at 8 a.m. the Miami Hurricanes will be back on the practice field and fall camp will be officially underway. So what are the big position battles and questions facing the team entering camp? I've got my top five.
Q-1: Can senior Kylan Robinson prove he can handle the middle linebacker position or will the Canes be forced to shuffle their lineup around?
- Robinson, a former high school running back at Tampa Chamberlain, has been coming along slowly over the past three years since moving over to linebacker. This season, his fifth at UM, coach Randy Shannon is expecting Robinson to fill a huge need at middle linebacker. Shannon said Robinson made huge strides in the spring. All indications are he will be given every opportunity to be in the starting rotation with senior Colin McCarthy and junior Sean Spence on the outside. But if Robinson gets hurt, or struggles, it will be very interesting to see what Shannon and defensive coordinator John Lovett decide to do. The Hurricanes are quite honestly thin at middle linebacker and loaded at outside linebacker. Shannon has balked at the idea of moving McCarthy inside to middle linebacker. But if Robinson struggles he might have no choice. That would open the door for junior Ramon Buchanon to get back into the starting lineup with Jordan Futch, C.J. Holton and a slew of freshmen backing them up. Of course, Kevin Nelson, a 20-year old true freshman from Gainesville, could make things easy and play like Ray Lewis from Day 1.
Q-2: Who will cement their place on the offensive line aside from Orlando Franklin, Brandon Washington, Joel Figueroa and Harland Gunn?
- The biggest questions on offense this season all relate to the big uglies and their ability to keep quarterback Jacory Harris off his backside. Outside of Franklin (27 starts), Figueroa (13 starts), Gunn (5 starts) and Washington (2 starts), Miami's offensive line will have a bunch of fresh faces vying for real playing time. Junior Tyler Horn, who played in seven games last season and saw time at center in four of them, has been penciled in as the fifth starter. But he'll be pushed by true freshman Brandon Linder. Figueroa, a guard for most of his career, has slid outside to right tackle (where Franklin made 25 of his 27 starts). He and Franklin figure to be backed up by Jermaine Johnson and Ben Jones, the two tackles who took the bulk of the snaps in the spring. Inside, Miami has freshman Malcolm Bunche and redshirt freshman Jared Wheeler as potential backups. The good news for UM: this might be their biggest offensive line in a long time. Outside of Horn, listed at 6-4, 295, every guy expected to be in Jeff Stoutland's rotation is over 300 pounds. That has to give Harris, sacked 35 times last season, some confidence.
Q-3: How long will it take quarterback Jacory Harris to get back to feeling 100 percent?
- The first thing Harris told reporters when he met with them last month was that he still wasn't 100 percent healthy following thumb surgery. The Hurricanes will need Harris to be at his best if they hope to have success early on this season against a tough road schedule. UM receivers have said Harris has looked good during 7 on 7 work and is close to building his arm strength back to where it once was. Perhaps an even bigger question -- aside from the thumb -- is how much has Harris learned about throwing into double and triple coverages. Last week, Shannon shared a story on former roommate Michael Irvin's radio show painting a picture how Harris yelled at a teammate during the spring for throwing into triple coverage. Shannon said he informed Harris how he once did the same thing. After the practice, Shannon, Harris and offensive coordinator Mark Whipple went in to watch film. Shannon said Harris, who threw 17 INTs last season, realized what he had been doing. The Hurricanes certainly hope so. Although Harris has as talented a receiving corps as anyone in the country, he has to stop throwing the ball up for grabs. Otherwise, UM is going to have a tough time winning at Ohio State, Pittsburgh and Clemson.
Q-4: What kind of impact will new assistant Rick Petri have on the defensive line?
- The most talented deepest position the Hurricanes have on defense is their line. But getting more production from it this season will be a huge key to UM improving as a whole. Petri, a long-time veteran and former UM assistant from 1993-95, has been working hard to get some very talented players to grow. Sophomore defensive tackle Marcus Forston is first on that list. Forston, who earned a medical hardship for the 2009 season, has been the name teammates have been dropping over the past few weeks as the most improved. As a former five-star recruit from Miami Northwestern, Forston has all the ability to be a force in the middle, something UM really hasn't had in a while. Aside from Forston, there is also a lot of excitement surrounding the return of redshirt junior Adewale Ojomo, who missed the 2009 season with a broken jaw and could prove to be the perfect compliment to future first round pick Allen Bailey at end. Those three players along with junior defensive tackle Micanor Regis, junior defensive end Marcus Robinson, sophomore defensive end Olivier Vernon and sophomore defensive tackle Curtis Porter are viewed as elite prospects. Together they should help create a better front against the run and an improved pass rush. Last year, UM only tallied 24 sacks. That wasn't nearly enough considering the level of talent.
Q-5: Who will emerge as the primary compliment to Damien Berry in UM's backfield?
- For the better part of past three years, it's been the Javarris James and Graig Cooper show in UM's backfield. Now, all signs are pointing to the bulldozing Berry being the man for the Canes. So who is going to be his Robin? There are definitely plenty of candidates: sophomore Mike James, redshirt freshman Lamar Miller, forgotten junior Lee Chambers, true freshman Storm Johnson and even Cooper, who from all indications will make a strong push to come back this season. James (5-11, 220) and Miller (5-11, 205) enter camp as the front runners to find work alongside Berry. Chambers (5-10, 195) is also in the mix and could prove to be the surprise. Despite fighting injuries throughout his career, he's averaged 4.5 yards a carry and shown flashes of having breakaway speed.
> NEW SHOW: Former WQAM UM sideline radio reporter Brian “The Beast” London will debut a weekly on-line show devoted to Hurricanes football tonight. The show will be aired on Wednesdays between 7 and 9 p.m. and can be heard on www.allCanes.com and www.sofloradio.com or on the allCanes iPhone application.