CORAL GABLES -- With all the friends and connections he's made in the NFL, University of Miami offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said he spends a lot of time in the off-season picking the brains of other offensive gurus.
"Obviously what New England did with its tight ends is something that stands out. You've got to study that. You've got to see how they utilize them -- and that's something we've done this offseason."
While he isn't ready to declare Asante Cleveland and Clive Walford as the next Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez (combined for 169 catches, 2,237 yards, 24 TDs in 2011), Fisch believes his new tight end duo can create matchup problems for opposing teams next season. He also foresees many situations -- in light of the inexperience and youth at receiver -- where both will be on the field at the same time.
"I think between them, I'd liked to see the tight end receptions go up to about 50 [in 2012]," Fisch said (UM's tight ends combined for 28 catches, 266 yards, 2 TDs in 2011).
"I think Asante and Clive can give us a really good 1-2 punch, that we'll be able to get them on the field at the same time and spread the ball around, see what they can do to open things up."
Cleveland, who showed flashes of brilliance as a freshman in 2010, couldn’t do much of anything last season.
Following shoulder surgery, he missed spring practice and showed up to fall practice last August still slowed by it. The result: one catch for six yards in eight games.
But Cleveland (6-5, 270) is healthy and much stronger now (he showed up to camp with 15 pounds more muscle) and is catching a bunch of passes in practice everyday with only three scholarship receivers available this spring.
Coach Al Golden said other than safety Ray-Ray Armstrong, Cleveland did the best job of any player in UM's off-season conditioning program and called him "more of a pass threat right now than I think we all anticipated."
"He looks great," Fisch said of Cleveland. "He's running well, carrying the weight well, playing physical. I think he's 100 percent healthy."
Walford, who started eight games last season and caught 18 passes for 172 yards and a touchdown, bulked up 12 pounds himself in the off-season. Walford (6-4, 250) said Tuesday his primary focus this spring is on improving his pass blocking.
"We just have to get Clive healthy and improving his game," Golden said. "He's got to be more of a factor in the pass game without question."
MORE FROM FISCH
> The Hurricanes ranked 54th in red zone efficiency last season (they scored 27 touchdowns and made seven field goals of 41 trips), converting at a higher clip 84 percent than they did in 2010 when they scored 75 percent of the time (52 trips, 29 TDs, 10 FGs).
But most will remember UM's shortcomings inside the 20 that cost them against Kansas State (stopped on 4th and goal), Virginia Tech (fake field goal) and Florida State (first quarter interception in the end zone in a 23-19 loss).
"I was real happy [with the improvement]," Fisch said. "But my feeling on red zone is we have to continue to build on what we did. The biggest thing is if we get inside the 3, we have to score. We were 15 of 16 scoring touchdowns inside the three-yard line. That's great. But I tell our offense every single day when you're 15-1 everybody wants to know who the one is, not the 15."
> Of the three scholarship receivers healthy this spring (Rashawn Scott, Phillip Dorsett and Kendall Thompkins), Fisch didn't say any has particularly stood out yet. But he said he's sees progress across the board. "Those guys are getting a ton of work and getting better at what they do," he said. "They're learning how to run routes, how to perfect their craft a little bit. It's nice to watch them grow."
Asked how many of the six incoming freshmen receivers might be asked to play, Fisch said: "It doesn't matter. Our young guys have to come in and make an impact. If it's two it's two. If it's five it's five. But they've got to play and they have to come in here and make things happen. They have to be dynamic like they are on tape. Somebody needs to fill Tommy Streeter's shoes in terms of catches and touchdowns. Somebody has to fill Travis Benjamin's shoes. Rashawn and Phillip could do it, but other guys need to do it as well."
> Asked for his take on quarterback Ryan Williams this spring, Fisch offered: "Done a nice job. Manages the game well, stands in the pocket tall, has good vision, makes some tough throws. He doesn't leave the pocket really, so it's nice. He sits in there. He's comfortable in there, knows how to have slight movements in there to find throwing lanes. That's fun to watch."
Told receivers have said Stephen Morris has a stronger arm than Williams, Fisch said: "Stephen has an elite arm. He has a special arm. So, it's going to come out a little faster. That's not a knock on anybody. Other than that, Ryan's a very accurate passer. He has very good ball placement. Guys respect that and like that."
> While redshirt freshman Dallas Crawford will receive carries at running back to this spring, it's more likely the former defensive back will end up playing slot receiver. "We moved Dallas into the slot and he's making so many plays for us," Fisch said. "He's exciting to watch."
> There were reports in January Fisch was linked to an opening with the Bears.Asked how close he came to leaving to any NFL team this past season, Fisch responded: "I'm really happy here. I made a commitment to Al. And Al made a commitment to me. It's a very good one.
"I want to watch this thing go. I want to see how good we can become. I don't want to watch it as a fan. I want to watch it as a coach. I love the kids here and I love what they're doing. Sometimes you get lucky and get opportunities. But the best opportunity for me is right here at Miami."