NEW YORK -- They don't know who their new roommates are going to be yet. That will be assigned in the next 48 hours according to fullback Maurice Hagens.
But once the University of Miami football team checks into their team hotel Friday for a three-week stay, the continuation of what new coach Al Golden started pounding into his players heads this spring will commence.
"I think it's pretty neat, pretty dope that the whole team will be together, everybody will be in one location, one building," cornerback Brandon McGee said Wednesday. "It's really a way for the coaches to keep an eye on us, make sure we're focused. If there's any questions to be asked, your teammate will be right next door. If you need to go over the plays for the next day, you can.
"Like Coach D said [defensive coordinator Mark D'onofrio], 'You get 15 practices in the spring. When we come back out our first day of practice on Saturday, that has to be our 16th practice. Not our first.' They expect us to be ahead, pick up where we left off. What we've been doing this entire summer, the program is designed to put us ahead of our competition. I'm just excited to get it underway."
What some players say they've been told to expect is more high-tempo, fast-pace practices that will feature several key position battles. Hagens said players expect Golden to be tough, but all 20 practices to "once again be a lot of fun."
"In the spring, he wanted everything high tempo. So we were playing football at a high speed pace. It was fun in the spring," Hagens said. "It was fun to go out there and play. I think that's what a lot of people didn't do last season. Some guys weren't having fun playing. And you aren't going to play good unless you're having fun."
McGee, a junior who came to UM in 2009 as one of the nation's premier cornerbacks out of nearby Plantation High, will be right in the middle of arguably the most important position battle on defense.
In two seasons, he's played in 21 games and made just one start (last year vs. Florida A&M). But with former All-ACC corner Brandon Harris (2nd round pick by the Texans) and Demarcus Van Dyke (3rd round pick by the Raiders) gone, McGee is expected to contend for a starting job opposite senior Jojo Nicolas, who basically solidified himself as the starter at boundary corner this spring.
McGee's primary competition at field corner is former running back and senior Lee Chambers (who hardly played after making the transition corner last year) and former Wake Forest defensive back Mike Williams, who started four games for the Demon Deacons in 2009 before being sidelined by a hamstring injury. Redshirt freshman Keion Payne and freshman Thomas Finnie are likely to backup Nicolas at the other corner spot and play some in nickel and dime situations.
"I think the coaching staff definitely sees that potential in me [to step up and be the man]," McGee said. "[Defensive backs coach Paul Williams] tells me 'You have to step up to the plate.' I definitely think it's my responsibility to step up."
McGee said his summer has been "a grind." Aside from his daily workouts with teammates and strength and conditioning coach Andreu Swasey, he said he's been doing extra work with former Green Bay Packers All-Pro cornerback Al Harris, a family friend and Pompano Beach native.
"I'm real close with Al. I talk to him and pick his brain a little bit," McGee said. "I spent this past year working with him in the summer time. I've been knowing him for awhile now. He's helped me understanding the game, being able to know what to do and when to do it as far as sitting on routes, backpedaling, reading the quarterback and stuff like that. We worked out on the weekends in Pompano. There were other guys there, but it was pretty much one-on-one. It was more of him telling me what I need to work on, showing me things here and there."
McGee said while he would like to become a more vocal leader down the road, Nicolas has taken arguably the biggest leadership role in the secondary.
"He's definitely got the leadership role down well," McGee said. "He gets everybody where he needs to be, tells us what coach needs us to do everyday. He's probably the leader of the entire secondary. I think Jojo is just relentless. He was able to transition so good being that he was playing safety and just came over to play corner. He's still learning. But he invites the challenge of playing a whole new position, a position that is not easy to play. He has a drive and hunger."
A COUPLE MORE TIDBITS...
> Asked to point out which receiver will step up and replace Leonard Hankerson as the go-to-guy, McGee said he "couldn't really say anyone has." But he did say he sees a lot of potential in true freshman Phillip Dorsett.
"He's a smooth route runner," McGee said. "He's fast, has real speed. He definitely has the potential to play this season, and I'd be happy if he was playing. But I'm not the offensive coordinator either."
> Hagens said he's most looking forward to what defensive end and fellow Tampa native Anthony Chickillo will do once practice starts Saturday.
"He's just a whole different animal," Hagens said. "I saw him playing in high school and he was a beast. From what my dad told me, he was in the backfield every play when he went out and watched him. If he's not sacking guys left and right I'd be shocked. I can't wait to see him play. He's already talking about how he's going to be great. I believe him."
> Linebacker Sean Spence recently said the one thing he's done this off-season is become more of a vocal leader in UM's defense, something he doesn't naturally do. Sophomore Jimmy Gaines, expected to be in the fight with Jordan Futch and freshman Gionni Paul for the starting middle linebacker job, can attest to that.
"He's definitely become more of a vocal leader this year," Gaines said. "When Sean talks, you listen. We stand behind Sean. I definitely try to pick up whatever I can from Sean. He plays with such passion too. Guys are copying that. It's fun to come up under him right now. He leads us in meetings. Sometimes, he jokes around like he's some kind of coach. He's definitely that guy. Him, Ramon Buchanon. They got the leadership down together."