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Canes' Top 40 Player Countdown: No. 40-36

Hurricanes linebacker Sean Spence was rated No. 59 on Rivals.com's list of the 100 best college football players entering the 2011 season on Tuesday.

In honor of that distinction and because we could all sorely use some University of Miami football chatter during these dull summer months, I've brought back the player ranking system I used a couple years ago.

This one, unlike the last one, is much shorter and sweeter. And, I'm only ranking the Top 40 current Canes, based on what they've accomplished thus far and potential. I've also got a separate list, called The Fresh 15, where I'll rank players who have yet to do anything at UM but are expected to be contributors in 2011.

Enjoy. And remember, there is only a little more than five weeks left before camp begins...

A.J. Highsmith 40. DB A.J. Highsmith (6-0, 195, Jr.): The word on A.J. coming out of high school was that he would probably end up playing something other than quarterback at Miami. Two years and a coaching change later, that's finally the case. After winning the backup job to Jacory Harris as a freshman in 2009 -- and helping two other quarterbacks (Tayler Cook and Cannon Smith) head out the door -- Highsmith moved to defensive back this spring. The move isn't entirely foreign to him. Before he moved from Florida to Texas for high school and made the switch to quarterback, Highsmith played in the secondary growing up. How quickly he makes the transition back and becomes a regular contributor remains to be seen. But after the spring, he was third on the depth chart at strong safety. With as many holes as there are in the secondary, nobody would be surprised if Highsmith eventually finds his way on the field and contributes.

39. OG Joel Figueroa (6-6, 323, Sr.): It seems like a tradition at UM. A player battles through injury throughout their career and eventually they end up staying for six years. Figueroa, who played in UM's first four games last season before missing the rest of the season with back problems, becomes the latest Cane to extend their career beyond five years. Fig, as he's affectionately referred to by teammates, has made 15 starts in his career. Last year, we saw him make two starts at tackle, where it became painfully obvious he was much more suited for guard. Problem is now he's got players in front of him that are not only more talented in Brandon Washington, Harland Gunn and Brandon Linder, but they're also a lot healthier. If Fig can somehow fight his way back and become a contributor in the rotation, it will be a victory. If he doesn't, well, Miami is still in good shape at guard.

38. DE Andrew Smith (6-3, 250, Sr.): Regarded as a project with a lot of upside coming out of Coconut Creek Monarch in 2007, Smith has had a few brief moments of glory. He had two sacks against Pittsburgh last year and forced a fumble at Clemson. Other than serving his role as a third down rusher who hurries the quarterback here and then, Smith wasn't able to beat out his teammates last season to get on the field for more than 15-20 plays. He made seven starts as a sophomore -- zero as a junior. With freshman phenom Anthony Chickillo arriving this fall, it's conceivable Smith could lose even more snaps. My guess is he'll come up with a couple big plays here and there like he's done in the past and then we won't hear from him in 10 of the other 12 games.

37. DT Luther Robinson (6-3, 295, So.): Injuries last season eventually forced Robinson into a starting role as a redshirt freshman for two games against North Carolina and Maryland. He didn't do poorly. But he didn't exactly shine either, recording three tackles, including one for loss. Ranked by Rivals.com as the 18th best defensive tackle in the Class of 2009, Robinson is a player who should see a lot more playing time as the year goes on and injuries add up. With plenty of upperclassmen in front of him, ultimately, Robinson is the future at defensive tackle for the Canes along with Porter.

36. DT Curtis Porter (6-1, 300, So.): After arriving early at UM in January 2009, Porter played in eight of the Hurricanes final nine games and did a decent job holding his own as an injury fill-in. Then, last season, he started against Ohio State before being carted off the field with a knee injury. Porter worked his way back into a backup role this spring behind starter Micanor Regis. If he can stay healthy, Porter should become a valuable run-stopping sub for Regis and Forston, who will get the majority of work in the middle.

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