October 03, 2014

Breaking it down: Miami Hurricanes at Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets


> Kickoff, TV, radio: 7:30 p.m., Bobby Dodd Stadium, ESPN2, WQAM (560 AM)

> History: Miami has won five in a row in the series, but still trails the overall series 10-9.

> Spread: Georgia Tech favored by 1 1/2

> Counting stars - Miami: Canes have 3 five-star recruits (two on defense), 18 four-star recruits (nine on each side), 27 three-star recruits (14 on offense), 1 two-star recruit (defense) and 2 no-star recruits (defense) on their depth chart. Among that group, nine of those players are projected to be taken in next year's draft according to NFLDraftScout.com. Those are: RB Duke Johnson (2nd RD), MLB Denzel Perryman (2nd RD), LT Ereck Flowers (2nd RD), CB Ladarius Gunter (4th RD), WR Phillip Dorsett (4th-5th RD), DE Anthony Chickillo (4th-5th RD), TE Clive Walford (5th RD), LG Jon Feliciano (6th-7th RD), DL Olsen Pierre (6th-7th). 

> Counting stars - Georgia Tech: Yellow Jackets have no five-star recruits, 4 four-star recruits (two on each side), 40 three-star recruits (21 on offense), 5 two-star recruits (3 on defense) and 1 no-star recruit (offense) on their depth chart. Among that group, two are projected to be taken in next year's draft according to NFLDraftScout.com. Those are: SS Isaiah Johnson (6th RD) and WR Darren Waller (6th-7th RD).

> Injuries: Miami listed offensive tackles Taylor Gadbois (left leg) and Kc McDermott (left leg), kicker Matt Goudis (back) and receiver Rashawn Scott (shoulder) on the official injury report as being out. Georgia Tech has listed reserve defensive tackle Adrian Gardner (foot) as probable and walk-on redshirt freshman reserve quarterback Brady Swilling (hand) as out. Kicker Harrison Butker has been fighting through ankle pain.

> Background: The Yellow Jackets have had two weeks to prepare for the Hurricanes since winning on the road at Virginia Tech 27-24. UM coach Al Golden expects to see plenty of wrinkles from Georgia Tech's offense considering UM has won five in a row against them. Outside of the Virginia Tech win, Georgia Tech's other wins were 38-19 over Wofford, 38-21 at Tulane and 42-38 over Georgia Southern.  

> Georgia Tech offense versus Miami defense: This is going to be the fifth game in a row UM faces some form of the spread option. Of course as coach Golden pointed out this week this is the first opponent who adds a third element (the pitch) to the mix. So far, Georgia Tech has relied on 5-11, 189-pound speedy quarterback Justin Thomas (65 carries, 443 yards, 2 TDs) and 6-1, 218-pound B-Back Zach Laskey (61 carries, 316 yards, 2 TDs) to do most of the heavy lifting in the run game. Fifth-year seniors Charles Perkins (9 carries, 111 yards, 0 TDs), Tony Zenon (13 carries, 90 yards, 2 TDs) and Deon Hill (10 carries, 61 yards, 0 TDs) have been sprinkled in as big play options as A-Backs. Thomas rarely throws, but when he does it usually results in a big play with 6-3, 222-pound senior DeAndre Smelter, who leads the team with 14 catches for 339 yards and four scores. Georgia Tech's offense line, which specializes in cut blocks, has plenty of experience on the left side. Left tackle Bryan Chamberlain, a 6-4, 295-pound redshirt junior, has 12 starts under his belt. Redshirt junior Trey Braun (6-5, 294) has made 12 consecutive starts at left guard and senior right guard Shaquille Mason (6-1, 300) has made 29 career starts and is an All-American candidate.

Hurricanes defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio redeemed himself last week with a more aggressive approach and has won five games in a row against teams that run the Triple Option. But there is still reason for concern. After holding Georgia Tech to 134 yards on the ground and just seven points in 2011, Miami's defense has been giving up more and more yardage on the ground against Tech (287 yards, 5 TDs in 2012; 335 yards, 4 TDs in 2013). UM was down 17-7 after one quarter last year before turnovers helped stem the tide. With Georgia Tech driving early in the second quarter, Justin Renfrow hit quarterback Vad Lee and Jimmy Gaines recovered his fumble at the UM 21-yard line. Miami responded with 10 points to tie it at halftime. Miami then used two fourth quarter interceptions -- including a Ladarius Gunter 30-yard return for a score -- to salt away the win. Thomas has thrown just one interception on 65 attempts this season (he's completing 49.2 percent of his passes) and the Yellow Jackets have turned it over three times total on fumbles. Key stats to remember: Georgia Tech is converting on 3rd down at 56 percent (fifth-best nationally). UM ranks 55th in third down defense (36.36 percent). Denzel Perryman will have to lead the charge again for Miami. He had a team-leading 11 tackles last year as UM forced Georgia Tech into seven tackles for loss total in the win.

> Miami offense versus Georgia Tech defense: UM freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya played his first turnover free game of the season last week in the win over Duke and Golden says it will be paramount to UM's success he keeps playing turnover free. Georgia Tech has produced six interceptions already this season (tied for 20th most in FBS) and five of those picks have come inside their opponents' own 40-yard line. All seven turnovers Georgia Tech's defense has produced this season have led to 45 points. That said, the Yellow Jackets really haven't faced too many passing teams thus far (109 opposing pass attempts ranks 14th fewest) much less one as talented as UM's (263 yards, 12 TDs, 60.9 percent completion percentage). Part of that's because opponents have some pretty good success running the ball on the Yellow Jackets. Georgia Tech ranks 94th in rushing yards allowed per game (194.25) and the Jackets are surrendering 5.43 yards per carry (115th out of 128 FBS teams). Last year, UM ran for 227 yards and 7.3 per carry against Georgia Tech as it rolled up 551 yards of total offense on just 53 plays (10.4 average). Canes running back Duke Johnson, recovering from a sprained right ankle versus Duke, enters Saturday's game just 131 yards behind Clinton Portis for fifth on UM's all-time rushing list. He had his second-best career rushing game versus Georgia Tech last year (184 yards, 22 carries). True freshman Joseph Yearby had his best game last week against Duke and should get more work.

Of course, Miami's offensive line will look a little different this week with starting right tackle Taylor Gadbois and backup Kc McDermott out and veteran left guard Jonathan Feliciano now over at right tackle. Golden said true freshman Nick Linder, sophomore Alex Gall and junior Hunter Wells will all rotate in at the left guard spot this week and whoever plays the best will finish the game. Before the injury to Gadbois, Miami showed a tendency to run left behind left tackle Ereck Flowers and Feliciano. But this may even things out some. Golden said this week he wants to get both the struggling Stacy Coley and Phillip Dorsett (0 catches versus Duke) going. Two years ago, Dorsett lit up Georgia Tech in Atlanta (9 catches, 184 yards, 1 TD). Two of the five returning starters for Georgia Tech who faced UM last year -- linebacker Quayshawn Nealy and cornerback Chris Milton -- intercepted Stephen Morris in last year's game. The key for Miami's offense will be avoiding third-and-long situations (Hurricanes rank 124th out of 126 FBS programs) on third down conversions. Of course, Georgia Tech isn't very good on third-down defense (48.98, 118th out of 128 schools) either. So something has to give.

> Special teams: The Hurricanes are still waiting for the big return from somebody on kickoff and punts (longest for both is 29 yards). It probably won't happen this week. Georgia Tech hasn't allowed a punt return longer than 20 yards and just one kick return longer than 30. Tech's Chris Milton is one of the best kick blockers in the country. He has five blocks since the start of the 2013 season and has two blocks already this year. UM has had trouble with extra points, bad snaps and kickoff coverage (1 kick return for TD by Louisville). As far as the kicking game goes, Georgia Tech's Harrison Butker is 4-for-7 this year on field goals (1-of-4 from 30 to 39 yards; 2-for-2 from 40 to 49 yards) with a long of 46 yards. UM freshman walk-on Michael Badgley is 2-for-3 on attempts with a long of 34. Miami punter Justin Vogel (44.2 average, 10 fair catches, eight punts inside the 20 on 21 attempts) was named ACC co-special teams player of the week last week. Georgia Tech punter Ryan Rodwell is averaging 4.38 yards per punt with three fair catches, seven inside the 20 on 12 attempts.

> Prediction: Miami 41, Georgia Tech 24. There are plenty of reasons to have doubt: Is Duke Johnson's ankle really okay? Will UM's defense revert to its old ways? Georgia Tech has had two weeks to prepare. Bottomline: UM is a better team and Georgia Tech really isn't that good. This game is all about momentum. If Miami grabs it early -- as it did last week -- they should win.

September 27, 2014

Gameday blog: Miami Hurricanes vs. Duke Blue Devils

The Hurricanes (2-2) will take on the Duke Blue Devils (4-0) in vital Coastal Division game at 7:30 p.m. tonight. The game can be seen on ESPN2. Feel free to tune in and participate in our chat.

Live Blog Miami Hurricanes vs. Duke: Sept. 27, 2014

September 26, 2014

Breaking it down: Canes-Blue Devils

DUKE (4-0) AT MIAMI (2-2)

> Kickoff, TV: 7:30 p.m., Sun Life Stadium, ESPN2 

> History: Miami leads the all-time series 9-2, but lost last year’s game in Durham, N.C. 48-30 after being outscored 17-0 in the fourth quarter.

> Spread: Miami favored by 7

> Counting stars - Miami: Canes have 3 five-star recruits (two on defense), 18 four-star recruits (nine on each side), 27 three-star recruits (14 on offense), 1 two-star recruit (defense) and 2 no-star recruits (defense) on their depth chart. Among that group, nine of those players are projected to be taken in next year's draft according to NFLDraftScout.com. Those are: RB Duke Johnson (2nd RD), MLB Denzel Perryman (2nd RD), LT Ereck Flowers (2nd RD), CB Ladarius Gunter (4th RD), WR Phillip Dorsett (4th-5th RD), DE Anthony Chickillo (4th-5th RD), TE Clive Walford (5th RD), LG Jon Feliciano (6th-7th RD), DL Olsen Pierre (6th-7th). 

> Counting stars - Duke: Cornhuskers have no five-star recruits, 1 four-star recruits (RB Shaquille Powell), 30 three-star recruits (18 on offense) and 21 two-star recruits (13 on defense) on their depth chart. According to NFLDraftScout.com their NFL prospects for 2015 are WR Jamison Crowder (4th rounder) and OG Laken Tomlinson (3rd-4th rounder).

> Injuries: Miami listed backup guard Alex Gall, kicker Matt Goudis(back) and receiver Rashawn Scott (shoulder) on the official injury report as being out. Duke backup quarterback Thomas Sirk (leg) was reportedly held out of practice this week with a muscle strain in his leg. Sirk is a big part of Duke’s running game as he comes off the bench and run read-option well. Starting defensive end Dezmond Johnson (leg) is out for the second straight week. The Blue Devils will get starting left guard Lucas Patrick back this week, which means Duke will have a completely healthy, veteran offensive line.

> Background: Duke has won 12 regular season games in a row. The Blue Devils’ only losses since in the last 12 months have come against eventual national champion Florida State in the ACC Championship Game and Johnny Manziel-led Texas A&M in the Chick-fil-A bowl. 

> Duke offense versus Miami defense: The Blue Devils, who own one of the most balanced offenses in the country (they’re averaging 230 yards passing and 260 rushing) have scored 30 or more points in five straight games and are looking to tie the school record of six 30-point games in a row this weekend. Duke is 27-9 under coach David Cutcliffe when it scores at least 30 points. Anthony Boone, a 6-foot, 225-pound redshirt senior, is 14-2 as a starter for the Blue Devils and a dangerous dual-threat quarterback. Although Sirk may be out or limited in this game, Boone is more than capable of carving up the Canes defense and protecting the football (Duke has turned it over only twice this year). The Blue Devils also love to go for it on fourth down and are 8-of-12 this season. Receiver Jamison Crowder has 13 career 100-yard receiving games including an 8-catch, 203-yard, 2-TD performance versus UM back in 2012. True freshman running back Shaun Wilson ran for a school-record 245 yards in a win over Kansas this season and is averaging 14.43 yards a carry. Duke’s veteran offensive line, led by right guard Laken Tomlinson (43 starts) and left tackle Takoby Cofield (33 consecutive starts), has given up just four sacks and 11 negative plays all season.

The key for Miami will be trying to slow down Duke’s read-option attack. With last week’s embarrassing 343-yard outburst by Nebraska on the minds of the Hurricanes – and last year’s 358-yard breakout performance by Duke also there – UM doesn’t need much in the way of motivation. What the Canes need is better execution by its safeties in the alley ways (Deon Bush, Jamal Carter, Dallas Crawford), more of a push by its ends (Anthony Chickillo and Olsen Pierre) and defensive tackles (Calvin Heurtelou vs. Tomlinson will be a battle to watch) and a lot fewer missed tackles by linebacker Denzel Perryman and company, who often times were guilty of trying to get a big hit instead of wrapping up. UM had no tackles for loss last week. That has to change this week. It will be interesting to see what kind of adjustments defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio makes this week, if any. He and coach Al Golden said the Hurricanes brought blitzing safeties and corners on 60 percent of the snaps on first and second down to try and disrupt Nebraska. It obviously didn’t work. Safeties and corners were too deep. Will they be this week?

> Miami offense versus Duke defense: Quarterback Brad Kaaya continued to improve and grow last week at Nebraska, completing 28-of-42 attempt for 359 yards and three touchdown passes. Nebraska took away the deep ball and speedy receiver Phillip Dorsett for the most part, but Kaaya smartly took what the Cornhuskers gave him, spreading the ball around to eight different receivers including tight end Clive Walford plenty. What killed Miami in the end last week were three turnovers including an uncharacteristic and game-changing fumble by Duke Johnson that directly led to seven points for Nebraska. Like last week, UM can’t afford to turn the ball over. The offense basically has to play a near-perfect game to beat Duke and the offensive line has to continue to give Kaaya time to throw. They also need to do a better job running the football.

Duke, which returns five starters from last year’s defense including safety Jeremy Cash (Plantation High), ranks 92nd in run defense and has been more willing to give up yards on the ground than through the air. In fact, the Blue Devils have yet to give up a passing touchdown (only one of six teams in the country to do so). They’ve given up just 10 plays of 20 yards or more and have forced seven turnovers in the last eight quarters. Duke’s first four opponents were hardly tough, but they still did what they had to, holding them to a mere 11.5 points per game including just 16 second half points total, which shows you they make the right adjustments. Defensive tackle Jamal Bruce (6-1, 285), defensive end Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo (6-4, 240) and middle linebacker David Helton (6-4, 240) are the backbone of the front six in the 4-2-5 formation.

> Special teams: Miami, awful on kickoff coverage through its first three games, played much better at Nebraska with more veterans involved in that unit. Walk-on freshman Michael Badgley booted an important 34-yard field goal against Nebraska and did a better job handling kickoffs for Miami. Justin Vogel's punting average of 44.7 ranks 18th nationally. Where the Hurricanes still haven’t had much of an impact is in the return game, something Golden acknowledged this week. Sophomore Stacy Coley, slowed by a shoulder injury, hasn’t returned a kick or a punt longer than 29 yards.

Duke, on the other hand, is one of only three FBS teams with two or more kickoff returns of 60 yards or more. Redshirt sophomore safety DeVon Edwards had a 61-yard return versus Troy and sophomore receiver Johnell Barnes brought one back 60 yards versus Elon. Duke blocked a field goal against Kansas and both its punter Will Monday and kicker Ross Martin are considered two of the best in the country at their position. Martin is the school’s all-time leading scorer, a perfect 6-for-6 on field goals with a career long of 53 yards and he’s made 82 consecutive extra points. Monday is averaging 42.1 yards a punt. He’s had three go longer than 50 yards and six pinned inside the 20.

> Prediction: Miami 45, Duke 41. Somehow, some way Miami is going to find a way to win this in wild fashion behind Kaaya and Johnson. 

September 20, 2014

Gameday blog: Miami Hurricanes at Nebraska Cornhuskers

The Canes (2-1) will take on Nebraska Saturday night at Memorial Stadium with kickoff set for 8 p.m. on ESPN2

As usual, feel free to participate in our Cover-It-Live discussion while Susan Miller Degnan and I cover the game. We'll pull in Tweets and provide you with updates throughout the game.

Live Blog Miami Hurricanes at Nebraska: Sept. 20, 2014
Live Blog Miami Hurricanes at Nebraska: Sept. 20, 2014

September 18, 2014

Emptying my Canes notebook: D'Onofrio, Coley see improvements; why Berrios is good; o-line

Time to empty this week's reporter's notebook: 

After three games what is defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio most proud of in terms of his unit's overall growth?

"I think they have really good leadership and unity," he said. "Those are things that we've been looking for. You can go a long way with that. They have taken ownership in the defense." 

What would he like to see his unit do better? "I would have liked to see us be better on third down," he said. "I would like to see us better on balls down the field that we didn't come up with. Those are some of the things -- and some tackling. Those are some of the things that I know if we don't improve on will cost us here moving forward. My urgency is here everyday. Let's talk about what we're doing well, but let's always keep inside what we have to improve on and let's have a plan for it."

> Offensive coordinator James Coley said something clicked for Brad Kaaya in the Thursday practice leading up to last Saturday's win over Arkansas State. The two were discussing concepts where Coley said Kaaya turned to him and said 'I've got it.'

"He just didn't miss after that," Coley said. "His feet were very calm."

Coley said Kaaya (29 of 51 passing, 356 yards, 3 TDs, 4 INTs versus Louisville and Florida A&M) made faster reads and better decisions against Arkansas State. He also had more time to throw and nearly all of his throws were on the money. Only two of his incompletions were the product of being hurried and the other was a pass interference penalty on Arkansas State.

"He was just lighting it up," Coley said. "Whether it was a 70-yard throw or a 35-yard over route or seeing that corner blitz. He hits Phil [Dorsett] in stride. With a hard blitz, corner off the edge, that's tough and he spotted it, he banged it. He didn't rush it. You watch it on film. He sped up his process and it's six points instead of a first down."

> Freshman receiver Braxton Berrios has turned into Hurricanes' money man.

He's been targeted a team-leading 17 times and the ball has been thrown his way on money downs (third and fourth down) eight times. He's produced five first downs (one on a pass interference call). He's currently tied for the team lead with 10 catches for 106 yards and a touchdown.

Why is he so good on third down? "No. 1 the reads take the quarterback there on third down," Coley said. "He's a good player. He knows how to run his routes with the right tempo where he gets open. I learned early in this profession there's two things a receiver has to do. He has to get open and he has to catch the ball. He came in here and those are the two things he does."

Golden had more nice things to say about Berrios. "He's smart, he's nifty, has got good body control," he said. "And he knows how to sit down versus man and uncover himself. He's caught two corner routes already so he has vertical speed and he's precise with his depth. The ball is thrown on time and the quarterback can throw to the corner too -- away from coverage. He's been effective, and he's a competitor. He wants the ball, which is great, and hopefully he'll continue to improve there."

> Even though he's graded out the highest among Miami's offensive lineman over the last two games, Hurricanes right tackle Taylor Gadbois hasn't forgotten about his rough night in the opener at Louisville.

"I had a lot of good plays and I had three really bad plays that were just uncharacteristic of me," said Gadbois, a 6-3, 316-pound redshirt sophomore who will make his fourth straight start Saturday night at 24th-ranked Nebraska (3-0).

"I kind of let the game get to me a little bit. I like going out there being a warrior and setting the tone for the O-line. I think I was just trying to do too much the first game."

Among his mistakes at Louisville, Gadbois said he called a protection the wrong way and it got quarterback Brad Kaaya hit. He said he missed a block near the goal which led to a tackle for loss because of poor communication. And, Gadbois said he got "beat across [his] face" on an inside zone run because of poor footwork.

What did Gadbois do better over his last two games? "He really finished better and he's just getting more confidence," offensive line coach Art Kehoe said. "He is a really talented guy, really smart but he's a guy that's hard to push sometimes. And he's starting to figure it out. He had his best game [against Arkansas State] and that team was tough the guy he was working on was tough. He missed a couple, but over the long haul of 60-some plays he held up good and he graded out the best of all our linemen."

Kehoe said right guard Danny Isidora has also made strides. "Danny, you can be a good player but until you get games under your belt in live action against different looks - it takes time," Kehoe said. "Now he's starting to feel confident, because he's a smart guy. He's starting to get the reps. I think he's going to be really good. He's going to be a good player."

September 03, 2014

Canes defensive effort at Louisville "a floor" and "a good place to start" but not elite

Denzel Perryman gave me a look like he had seen an alien.

Was this the best defensive effort you guys have put forth in a while?

"It was pretty impressive, but I don't think it's the best we've ever played," Perryman said giving me that look. "Last year when we played Florida we had errors in that game as well, but we got the ball back a lot. This game, I was impressed with the defense. We just have to improve in our pass coverage."

Impressive is probably the right word to use, but only because we're comparing it to the nightmarish defense the Canes have played over the last two seasons.

On Tuesday, the day after Miami's 31-13 loss to Louisville, coach Al Golden threw the word "elite" around after he said the defense forced three-and-outs on half of the dozen series they were in on. Truth is it was five three-and-outs (two count were first play turnovers). But we got his point. It was elite for the Hurricanes. They don't usually get off the field quickly.

Coach Mark D'Onofrio's group gave up 24 points, 336 yards (206 passing, 130 rushing) and 21 first downs on 71 plays. Louisville piled up 17 points and 157 of those yards on their final three possessions. Miami's offense controlled the clock for only 14 plays and 5 minutes and 59 seconds during that stretch.

Last year, against seven FBS winning programs (and we're assuming Louisville will be one this year to make the comparison), UM's defense gave up an average of 35.9 points, 509.3 yards (295 passing, 214.9 rushing) and average of 25.2 first downs.

So, by the numbers alone the Canes were vastly better (11 points, 173 yards and four first downs fewer) against Louisville than they were against winning teams last year. Miami never produced more than two sacks against those aforementioned winning teams last year. They had four Monday night. 

UM also forced two fumbles deep in Louisville territory. UM didn't force any turnovers against Virginia Tech, Duke and Louisville -- their last three losses of the season.

What did Mark D'Onofrio think of his defense at Louisville? He called it "a floor" and "a good place to start." And I agree.

"The first game there's always positives and things you could have done better," he said. "At the end of the day we didn't do enough to win the game and that's really what my assessment is.

"But from a positive standpoint obviously [five] three-and-outs out of 12 series is really good. And two of them one-and-outs, you know. That's what we want, take the ball away. So that part was good. 

"I thought the tackling was good... especially for an opener. That's a good place to start. Again, those things should be improving every week. I thought the defensive line played well. Things that have to improve, the third down defense and red zone defense, giving up touchdowns. We want to give up field goals down there, get takeaways. That has to improve. And we had an opportunity in the fourth quarter we had them second and long, let them off the hook, didn't get the ball back. That's kind of a rough overall assessment."

D'Onofrio said he played nine defensive backs, nine defensive linemen and five linebackers. He saw fewer mental errors.

Among the first timers to see real playing time were defensive tackles Courtel Jenkins and Calvin Heurtelou, defensive ends Chad Thomas and Trent Harris and linebacker Darrion Owens.

"To get those guys in in that environment is a real plus for us moving forward," D'Onofrio said. "[Anthony] Chickillo I thought played a really nice game, really did a nice job. [Ufomba) Kamalu I thought played the best he played this year including the scrimmages. I thought the nose tackles really gave us some good play - Calvin and Courtel were kind of a two-man deal in there. Calvin got 36 snaps and Courtel had 26 in his first game. And I thought they showed up, you know. They were physical at the point of attack, pushed the pocket in the pass game and made some plays. Courtel split a double team on the first play of his career, made a play. So as far as the D line goes, those are the guys that stood out.

"And then Perryman and [Thurston] Armbrister at linebacker. And [Deon] Bush and Dallas Crawford in the secondary. Antonio Crawford I thought played a good game as well. Those are the guys that stand out to me."

 > So why are guys like Tyriq McCord at the rush linebacker spot still dropping into coverage? 

"Those guys have certain drops but they're never the deep player," D'Onofrio said. "It just all depends on the coverage and what the receivers do. Sometimes they have a responsibility where they have to take a wheel route, those sort of things. But they're always an underneath defender if we're dropping in zone."

> How close is Mike Wyche to getting on the field to provide more depth at defensive tackle? Not close enough for D'Onofrio's taste. "At the end of the day, he's on the clock," D'Onofrio said. "He got here and his weight has come down and he's got himself in a better position. But he's got to continue to learn and continue to get in shape."

> Golden said Wednesday Miami's offense was "22 points below where we want to be at a minimum."

If Brad Kaaya and Duke Johnson and the rest of Miami's offense can put up 35 points a game they should win a lot of games with this better version of a defense. Remember I said better. Not great or elite.

August 06, 2014

Hurricanes looking to establish depth at linebacker in camp

Hurricanes defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio opened camp Tuesday feeling the best he has ever felt regarding depth on the defensive line and in the secondary.

"Last year I don't think we had a stretch where we had more than three healthy safeties available," D'Onofrio said. "Now I'm looking at six guys and I'm no longer forced to play two of the young ones.

"We have some options at that nose tackle position between Earl [ Moore]. Calvin [ Heurtelou], who was here in the spring, [freshman] Cortel [Jenkins] and [junior college signee] Mike Wyche. The competition is really going to make everybody better."

Linebacker? That's another story. The dismissals of Alex Figueroa and JaWand Blue last month following their arrests on sexual battery have made developing depth at linebacker D'Onofrio's top priority in camp.

"I felt like we had seven guys coming out of the spring," he said. "Now we've got to go back and find No. 6, 7, and 8. That's going to be my focus. Just trying to figure out who the best combination of guys are on the field, particularly in passing situations."

After seniors Denzel Perryman (middle), Thurston Armbrister (strong side) and junior Raphael Kirby (weak side), there isn't a whole lot in the way of playing experience. D'Onofrio said 6-2, 210-pound sophomore Jermaine Grace, the team's fastest at the position, is currently fourth in his eyes on the depth chart but freshman Darrion Owens (6-3, 236) is coming on strong.

Tuesday, sophomore Walter Tucker, who spent most of last season and the spring as a fullback after being first recruited as a linebacker, was back taking snaps at linebacker. D'Onofrio said junior Tyriq McCord, who plays the rush linebacker position in the team's 3-4 formation, has strong-side experience and will be used there "while we develop other guys."

"There are going to be some guys that get shots early, and we're going to look at different combinations there," D'Onofrio said. "It will be good. We'll have competition. We've made some adjustments, made some moves. We'll work through it."


What was senior defensive end Anthony Chickillo's first thoughts when he heard about the arrests and dismissals of two teammates on charges of sexual battery last month?

"Our thoughts were all with the victim and her family," he said. "Obviously, a huge mistake was made."

New defensive tackle Michael Wyche, signed out of East Los Angeles Junior College this summer, has already shed 10 pounds since his arrival to drop down to 6-4, 340 pounds. He's also established himself as a force in the weight room.

Wyche bench-pressed 225 pounds (the NFL Combine testing standard) a total 35 times, good for second on the team behind Corey King's 37 reps. Wyche said coaches want him to play at 335 pounds.

"I'm more about the action than talking, so I can't wait to get out there and just try to make some plays and learn about the defense," Wyche said.

Former basketball player turned tight end Raphael Akpejiori said he spent the summer working with former Hurricanes Jimmy Graham and Santana Moss on route-running and catching.

"At first I was getting jammed a lot [in 7-on-7s]," he said. "I didn't know how to get a release. But I've been doing pretty well so far. I've been finding myself open a lot. I dropped a few balls, but I think I caught more than I dropped. It's been great. "

July 07, 2014

Canes' Coley, Johnson named to Maxwell Award watch list; Perryman to Bednarik watch list

Stacy Coley and Duke Johnson were named to the 2014 Maxwell Award Watch List on Monday, an award presented annually to the College Player of the Year since 1937.

Linebacker Denzel Perryman, meanwhile, has been named to the 2014 Bednarik Award Watch List, presented to the College Defensive Player of the Year annually since 1995.

Dan Morgan is the only Hurricane (2000) to win the Bednarik Award. Vinny Testaverde (1986), Gino Torretta (1992) and Ken Dorsey (2001) are previous Maxwell Award winners for Miami.

A 2013 All-ACC First Team selection, Perryman started all 13 games at outside linebacker for the Hurricanes, registering a team-leading 108 total tackles including 69 solo stops. In addition to earning All-America honorable mention honors from SI.com, Perryman was the recipient of the Hurricanes 2013 Hard Hitter Award and Defensive MVP award. 

A second-team All-ACC performer in 2013, Johnson rushed for 920 yards and six TDs in eight games before suffering a season-ending ankle injury. Johnson enters his junior season with 1,867 career rushing yards in 20 games. Last month, he was named third-team Preseason All-America by Phil Steele and was one of 40 FBS running backs named to the 2014 CFPA Running Back Trophy Watch List.

Coley was also one of 47 players named to the Paul Hornung Award Watch List on Monday, given annually since 2010 to college football's most versatile player.

As a freshman in 2013, Coley, a third-team All-ACC selection by the league’s coaches and honorable mention by the media, led the Hurricanes with 1,461 all-purpose yards – the 10th-highest single-season total in program history. He also led the team with seven receiving touchdowns while ranking second in receiving yards (591) and third in receptions (33). A Freshman All-America selection by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA), Coley was the only FBS player in 2013 to record a TD four different ways – rushing, receiving, punt return and kick return.

Semifinalists for the Maxwell and Bednarik Award will be announced November 3 and the three finalists will be unveiled November 24. The winner of the 2014 Maxwell and Bednarik Awards will be announced December 11 as part of the Home Depot College Football Awards Show.

The watch list candidates were chosen by the Maxwell Football Club's selection committee, which analyzes both past performance and future potential. The Club reserves the right to make additions and deletions to these lists as the 2014 season unfolds. All members of the Maxwell Football Club, NCAA sports information directors, FBS head coaches and selected national media are eligible to vote for the awards.

July 03, 2014

Six former Canes to compete in NBA Summer League; Perryman on CFPA watch list

According to UM's sports information staff, six former Miami Hurricanes are slated to suit up for NBA teams in the 2014 Samsung NBA Summer League, which tips off this weekend in Orlando, Fla., then will continue in Las Vegas, beginning July 11.

They are: Rion Brown (Charlotte Hornets), DeQuan Jones (Indiana Pacers), Kenny Kadji (Milwaukee Bucks), Shane Larkin (New York Knicks), Trey McKinney Jones (Miami Heat) and Durand Scott (San Antonio Spurs).

Brown recently completed his senior season with the Hurricanes, posting 15.5 points and 5.8 rebounds per game while hitting 1.9 shots per game from the 3-point line in his final season in Coral Gables.

Jones will be participating in his third NBA summer league season after spending the 2013-14 campaign playing for the Reno Bighorns. He spent the 2013 summer with the Sacramento Kings and earned a spot on the 2012-13 Orlando Magic after an impressive showing on their 2012 summer league squad.

Kadji is playing in his second summer league after spending his first summer with the Cleveland Cavaliers last season. Kadji played for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the D-League in 2014, after starting the season with the NY Phantom Braunschweig in Germany.

Larkin, the 18th overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft, was traded to the New York Knicks on June 26. He appeared in 48 games as a rookie with the Dallas Mavericks a year ago. Now Larkin will look to show the Knicks what he can do as he prepares for the 2014-15 season.

McKinney Jones, who was named to the 2014 All-NBA Development League All-Rookie Third Team, averaged 15.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.2 steals for the 2014 D-League champion Ft. Wayne Mad Ants this season. He was a member of the Milwaukee Bucks training camp roster a year ago before starring in the D-League.

Scott was with the Spurs in the 2013 summer league and went on to play the 2013-14 season abroad with Obradoiro CAB of the Spanish ACB League. He will return to the Spurs this summer and the reigning NBA champions will take another close look at the talented and versatile guard.

From July 5-11 the Orlando Magic will host the 25 games of the Orlando League at their Amway Center practice court. The Las Vegas League will consist of 67 games between the dates of July 11 and July 21, which will be held at both the Thomas & Mack Center and the COX Pavilion on the campus of the University of Las Vegas. All games will be broadcast on NBA TV, NBA.com, and on the NBA Game Time app.


You can go ahead Hurricanes senior Denzel Perryman to another watch list. Wednesday he was named one of 40 FBS linebackers selected to the 2014 College Football Performance Awards Linebacker Trophy Watch List.

He joins teammates Ladarius Gunter and Anthony Chickillo on the CFPA watch list at their respective positions. Miami is one of only five FBS programs with a player named to all three defensive player watch lists.

An All-ACC First Team selection in 2013, Perryman started all 13 games at outside linebacker for the Hurricanes, registering a team-leading 108 total tackles including 69 solo stops. In addition to earning All-America, Honorable Mention honors from SI.com, Perryman was the recipient of the Hurricanes 2013 Hard Hitter Award and Defensive MVP award.

June 26, 2014

Canes QB Ryan Williams says he's had no setbacks since ACL surgery, still targeting Week 1 start

Hurricanes quarterback Ryan Williams said Thursday he's had no setbacks in his recovery from reconstructive right knee surgery on April 9 to repair a torn ACL, and he's still hoping to be Miami's starting quarterback on Labor Day night against Louisville.

"I feel pretty good, pretty confident in my rehab so far," Williams said Thursday during a series of one-on-one interviews with UM beat reporters. "I feel like where I'm supposed to be is where I'm at -- no setbacks yet. I think it's actually going better than I thought it was, these first couple months. I hope it continues and I'll be back in time.

"As long as I'm not going to go out there and reinjure myself and the doctor feels confident I can go out there and play in Week 1, I will play. But if I can't, if he wants me to hold off a couple weeks, then I will."

Williams said he's been doing leg-press exercises, squats and lunges during his rehab and he expects to begin jogging and running in a couple weeks. Then, he says, he will progressing to cutting -- the final hurdle. "I'm just getting my strength back and my range of motion and putting weight on it, getting movement so I can start running around on it," he said. 

Williams said Dr. Lee Kaplan, who performed the surgery, has remained positive throughout the process he can get Williams back on the field quickly.

"He's the one that's been positive the whole time," Williams said. "It took me a couple days to get over the injury and get refocused. But after that, my teammates have always been there for me. They saw me the first couple days when I couldn't walk. They were in the training room a couple hours later cheering me up. Really, keeping myself positive has helped myself heal. I'm trying to keep myself in a normal thinking state of mind."

Williams said the fact other athletes have made quick recoveries from ACL injuries gives him hope he'll be back at some point during fall camp. UM begins fall camp on Aug. 5 -- the same day Williams' wife is due to deliver the couple's first child, a boy.

Williams said UM trainer Vinny Scavo reached out to trainers at LSU and the Minnesota Vikings to gather information on fast recoveries made by former Tigers quarterback Zach Mettenberger and All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson. Mettenberger returned to action and participated in his pro day only 13 weeks after surgery. Peterson returned in four months time.

"It gives me something to go after knowing if I can work as hard as they did I can be successful," Williams said. "Adrian Peterson had a great year after his surgery. He didn't play with a brace. Luckily I don't have to run around like he did or get hit as much as he did. It definitely gives me confidence in my knee and my ability to come back after the injury.

"In the end, it all depends on how hard I'm willing to work for it and how fast my knee is going to take to the graph, which so far it's done really good. As soon as [Dr. Kaplan] give me the full-go, I'll be back out there. But until then we don't know how long it will be."

Williams said the fact he didn't have a lot of swelling in his knee allowed for Kaplan to do the surgery quickly, and thus the recovery process got started faster. He said it took him about a week and a half to get off crutches. He's been rehabbing since.

Williams said also knowing he's going to become a father soon "has helped my rehab kind of."

"I can't be crutching around and taking care of a baby or my wife," Williams said. "So I need to be able to take care of her when she needs something. She took care of me the whole time I couldn't walk. She was doing all this stuff in the middle of the night when I couldn't get up. I had to hurry up and recover so I could the same for her when she needed me every night."

April 12, 2014

Canes offensive lineman Hunter Knighton, hospitalized in February, plans to continue playing career

UM sent out the following press release regarding the health and status update of offensive lineman Hunter Knighton, who was hospitalized two months ago.

Statement from Hunter Knighton: “On February 24th, my football career at the University of Miami was unfortunately derailed after being taken to the hospital following a workout. With a 109 degree body temperature and unknowingly suffering with the flu, I was stricken by a heat stroke. The results were not good: brain swelling, multiple seizures, kidney and liver failure. Unresponsive, I was placed on a ventilator for twelve days during which time I fought one of the greatest battles of my life against a loss of blood platelets, double pneumonia, and fever. By God's grace, and with an amazing medical team at both Doctor's Hospital and UM Hospital and with a great support group of family, coaches, and friends, I was finally able to leave the ICU after two weeks. I am so close to achieving my childhood goal of playing Division I football and I am determined to make it happen. I plan to contribute this spring to my team and not only achieve my goal of playing major college football, but far surpassing it, and helping The U win games. Thank you to all of those who have supported me and prayed for me.”

Statement from Coach Golden: “As we entered the spring of 2014, Hunter Knighton was distinguishing himself as one of the top performers on our team. He had completed our off-season training program ranked third among all of our offensive linemen and was emerging as a team leader. Hunter was so close to realizing his lifelong goal of starting at center in major football program when he fell ill. Since he first began the recovery process, Hunter has been nothing short of amazing and has been an inspiration to us all, approaching his rehab program with courage and fortitude. I have absolutely no doubt that Hunter will continue to persevere, make a full recovery, rejoin his teammates and realize all of his goals at The U.”

April 10, 2014

Heisman winner Gino Torretta sees a bit of Kyle Wright in Kevin Olsen

All eyes inside Sun Life Stadium figure to be fixated on 19-year old redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Olsen Saturday night when the Hurricanes kick off their annual spring fling at 6 p.m.

Thursday, in UM's final practice of the spring, the eyes of former Hurricanes quarterback and 1992 Heisman trophy winner Gino Torretta were on Olsen. Barring a surprise development or injury, Olsen will be the starting quarterback when Miami opens the season Labor Day night at Louisville.

Torretta knows what it's like to be thrown into the fire in college at a young age.

During UM's 1989 national championship season a 19-year old Torretta took over as a starter for Craig Erickson after he broke a knuckle on the index finger of his throwing hand against Michigan State. Torretta stepped in and went 3-1 -- the loss coming at No. 9 Florida State when he threw four interceptions. Erickson, a junior, returned the next week and led UM to the national title.

Those Hurricanes of course had the nation's No. 1 defense, oodles of stars on offense and were able to survive some average numbers Torretta put up as a freshman: 57 percent completion percentage, 1,325 yards, 8 TDs, 8 INTs. In this scenario, Al Golden's Hurricanes have no veteran waiting in the wings if Olsen struggles -- and they probably won't have the nation's No. 1 defense either.

Talented All-American freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya will arrive in mid-May from California. But either way, fifth-year senior Ryan Williams has a long road ahead of him coming back from a torn ACL. After watching Olsen on Thursday does Torretta think he can handle the brunt of the 2014 season if it falls on his shoulders?

"Got no choice," Torretta said. "Some guys respond well to it. Some guys don't. That's the way I look at it. Heck when I got thrown into it I didn't have a choice. I didn't have a chance to think. At least he does. Now he has a little bit of a chance to think and prepare as the starter.

"I think the physical ability is there. The ball velocity is there," Torretta continued. "I just think the rest -- the mental side of it, decision making process, reads, getting on the same page with receivers -- all of that will come with practice and reps.

"Obviously you're glad he's got spring ball and then he's got the fall. But that's the thing every quarterback has to work on. Peyton Manning 10 years into the NFL is a lot better than Peyton Manning as a rookie even though his ability could be a little bit less. Physically, Olsen and Gray [Crow] are there. It's just getting on the same page with receivers and making the right reads, that sort of stuff."

Hardly a ringing endorsement. But then again, how many redshirt freshman not named Jameis Winston or Johnny Manziel make it look easy? Last year only 13 freshman -- redshirt or true -- were among the top 100 passers in the country in terms of quarterback rating. Temple's P.J. Walker (60.8 completion percentage, 2,084 yards, 20 TDs, 8 INTs), Texas Tech's Davis Webb (62.6 comp. pct, 2,718 yards, 20 TDs, 9 INTs), Penn State's Christian Hackenberg (58.9 comp. pct, 2,955 yards, 20 TDs, 10 INTs) and Houston's John O'Korn (58.1 comp. pct, 3,117 yards, 28 TDs, 10 INTs) were tops among them after Winston.

Thursday, Olsen had his up and down moments. He tossed a 45-yard touchdown pass -- with beautiful touch down the sideline to Rashawn Scott. He also got picked off twice and had several passes batted away by defenders.

Even before Williams tore the ACL in his right knee during the team's second scrimmage last week, coach Al Golden said Olsen was getting better this spring. Golden said Olsen's teammates were also gaining more confidence in him. Still, it's clear Olsen has a ways to go -- especially when it comes to making sound decisions and delivering the ball quickly.

"It's hard just watching a practice to [gauge] the mental side of it," Torretta said. "But I think the reads will come. There were some busts defensively I think threw him off a little bit on some of the reads, it looked like. I can't be sure not knowing what plays were called, what the secondary was running. But, it's all about repetition. Quarterbacks get better more with repetition than any other position. And I think that's what it is going to come down to. If it was me, I'd be clamoring for every single rep I could get."

Torretta, who has been around to provide a lot of keen advice to other UM quarterbacks over the years, says he sees some of Kyle Wright's abilities in Olsen. Wright was the No. 1 quarterback in the country coming out of high school and put up decent numbers in his college career: 59.2 completion percentage, 5,835 yards, 38 touchdowns and 31 interceptions during some lean years for UM from 2004 to 2007.

"Kyle had all the ability. Running, ball flight, all that. Olsen does as well," Torretta said. "He moves around the pocket well like him. It's speeding up the decision making process that's the key. Because it's going to get a lot faster on Saturdays than when he's out here."

April 05, 2014

Projected starting QB Ryan Williams to undergo knee surgery next week; what's next for the Canes?

Here is the story The Miami Herald broke earlier tonight:

University of Miami fifth-year senior Ryan Williams, who was on course to be the starting quarterback in the fall, will undergo surgery early next week to repair what doctors believe is a torn anterior cruciate ligament, a person with knowledge of the situation first told the Miami Herald on Saturday.

The University of Miami later released a statement confirming the news The Herald broke.

Williams, 22, a Miramar High graduate from Pembroke Pines, injured his right knee while rolling out during a play in Friday night’s closed scrimmage at Greentree Field — minutes after throwing a 76-yard touchdown to Stacy Coley. UM said the injury did not occur with any contact. 

The source told the Miami Herald that Williams was walking without crutches as of Saturday morning but was very stiff and getting the knee iced. It’s unknown whether Williams is out for the season. There is a possibility, depending on the results of his surgery and rehabilitation, that Williams could return to play, the source said.

Left at quarterback to pick up the pieces are second-team redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen and third-string sophomore Gray Crow. UM also has two scholarship quarterbacks arriving this summer: Brad Kaaya of West Hills (Calif.) Chaminade High and Malik Rosier of Faith Academy in Mobile, Ala.

Williams sat out at UM one year after transferring from Memphis, where he started 10 games as a freshman. He played sparingly the past two seasons behind now graduated starter Stephen Morris. In four games last season, Williams completed 68.8 percent of his passes (22 of 32) for 369 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.

UM has only two more practices next week before the spring game April 12 at Sun Life Stadium.

Get well soon, Ryan. He has surely paid his dues waiting with patience and class.


*** So how do you feel about the Canes' QB situation? Here's how incoming freshman defensive end Demetrius Jackson feels about it.

April 03, 2014

Heavier Seantrel Henderson cuts short Canes Pro Day

Seantrel Henderson's roller-coaster career at the University of Miami took one last strange turn Thursday when he decided to cut short his Pro Day.

ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported Henderson "quit" halfway through UM's Pro Day today and thus "didn't help himself." But Henderson's agent, David Levine, said Henderson did not quit and did not participate in the final two drills because he was "dehydrated and felt sick."

Saying he quit "was quite a mischaracterization," Levine said.

Here's a point no one can argue: Henderson was eight pounds heavier Thursday than he was two months ago at the NFL combine. UM measured Henderson at 6-7, 339 pounds.

Considered the top UM prospect entering next month's draft, Henderson's physical skills are held in high regard by NFL teams. But there remain concerns about his character. Henderson was suspended at least three times at UM (including at least one for marijuana use). Teams also have questions as to why he couldn't permanently hold down a starting job at UM, starting in 26 of the 43 games he played in.

Henderson's Pro Day results weren't exceptionally impressive. His 23-bench reps of 225 pounds Thursday were only two more than safety A.J. Highsmith. Teammate Brandon Linder put up 30 reps, four fewer than team leader and defensive end Shayon Green.

Henderson didn't test in the bench at the combine, but ran a 5.04 in the 40-yard dash and a 24-inch vertical. Thursday, he ran a 5.15 in the 40 and posted a 28-inch vertical leap.

(Name, Position, Height, Weght, 40-yard dash, Vertical leap, bench reps, L-Drill, Broad jump)

Eduardo Clements, RB, 5-9.2, 192, 4.72, 31.0, 10, 7.35, 9-4
Asante Cleveland, TE, 6-4.6, 261, 4.88, 32.5, 20, 7.33, 9-8
Tyrone Cornileus, LB, 6-1.5, 1/2, 218, 4.73, 32.5, 23, 7.18, 9-8
Akil Craig, LB, 6-0, 233, 4.91, 27.0, 20, 7.46, 8-8
Jimmy Gaines, LB, 6-1.1, 232, 4.77, 33.0, 18, 7.75, 9-8
David Gilbert, DL, 6-3.5, 258, 4.94, 31.5, 28, 7.44, 9-11
Shayon Green, DL, 6-1.3, 255, 4.58, 29.5, 34, 7.49, 9-1
Maurice Hagens, FB, 5-10.6, 246, 5.05, 27.0, 30, 7.76, 8-0
Seantrel Henderson, OL, 6-7.1, 339, 5.15, 28.0, 23, 8.15c, 8-6
AJ Highsmith, DB, 5-10.6, 198, 4.79, 31.5, 21, 7.03, 9-8
Allen Hurns, WR, 6-1.2, 194, 4.55, 31.0, 14c, 7.23c, 10-0c
Brandon Linder, OL, 6-5.7, 311, 5.35c, 26.5, 30c, 7.77, 8-3c
Stephen Morris, QB, 6-2, 211, 4.63c, 30.0c, -, 7.36c 9-2c
Pat O’Donnell, P, 6-4.2, 220, 4.64c, 30.5c, 23c, -, -
Curtis Porter, DL, 6-0.6, 315, 5.29, 28.0, 30, -, 8-4
Justin Renfrow, DL, 6-3.7, 305, 5.25, 33.0, 19, 7.74, 8-8
Luther Robinson, DL, 6-2.7, 299, 5.01, 28.5, 30, 7.75, 8-5
Kacy Rodgers II, DB, 6-1.3, 213, 4.55, 32.0, 26, 7.06, 9-11
Jared Wheeler, OL, 6-4.4, 315, 5.31, 26.5, 21, 7.72, 8-7

March 20, 2014

Confidence, physicality growing as Canes defense is "winning the day" more often this spring

Tracy Howard has never been short on confidence.

Ranked the No. 1 cornerback in the country by both Rivals and ESPN coming out of Miramar High in 2012, Howard set the bar high for himself a year ago when he said he wanted to pick off 10 passes as a sophomore. He finished with a team-leading four picks and made 35 tackles, making 12 starts and playing much better than he did as a freshman.

"I’ve always been confident," Howard said Thursday following the team's sixth practice of the spring. "I've never lacked confidence... I never come out onto the field without my confidence being up to the sky."

The same couldn't always be said about the rest of the Hurricanes defense over the last few years. But it's starting to feel a little different around Coral Gables these days.

The offense, which has carried the defense on most Saturdays over the last two seasons, isn't winning the day as often as it used to in practice. The guys on the other side are having more success. They're being more physical. And there definitely feels like there is a lot more hooting and hollering going on with Mark D'Onofrio's unit than before.

"I don't think there's any question the defense was better today," UM coach Al Golden said Thursday. "It was good competition. Fig [Alex Figueroa] was physical, Tyriq [McCord] did a good job. It was good to see that kind of physicality on the team."

One moment Thursday which provided an example of that physicality was during Category 5 drills. Basically, the quarterback hands the ball off to a running back and the back has three blockers down field trying to create a slalom like path to help him run past a defensive lineman, a linebacker and a defensive back.

On this particular play, 6-2, 235-pound running back Gus Edwards was able to get to the third level where 6-1, 207-pound sophomore safety Jamal Carter had broken free from a D'Mauri Jones block for a one-on-one situation. It was the smaller Carter who won the battle, squaring his shoulders and knocking the bigger Edwards toward the turf. (CLICK HERE TO SEE THE PLAY)

That tackle -- along with another made by Al-Quadin Muhammad on running back Quincy Casimir during the same drill -- are examples of that physicality Golden was talking about.

"That’s just a drill in practice we line up every spring just to shed blocks, just to be physical," Howard said. "Jamal did a good job with that and it brought energy leading onto the team periods.

"Guys are just growing up, playing with attitude. We got guys like Denzel Perryman, [Alex] Figueroa, Jamal Carter, those guys are like dogs. Everybody just feeds off those guys when it comes to being physical and stuff like that. I feel like we’re just getting better as a whole."

Is the defense winning the day more? "Ask the offense. They’ll tell you the truth," Howard said with a smile. "We beat them in camp last year. We had most of the wins if you go look at the board."


> Defensive tackle Olsen Pierre wasn't at practice Thursday after limping off the field on Tuesday. Golden said Olsen "should be fine."

> Golden made it pretty clear quarterback Ryan Williams is in the lead for the starting quarterback job.

"I think Kevin [Olsen] is having a good spring and Gray [Crow] and Kevin are competing. But Ryan is ahead right now," Golden said. "Kevin is having a good spring, he is. But as I said going in, Ryan is experienced, smart and he's doing a good job with the football right now."

What does Howard think of the QB play thus far? 

"Ryan is a very good quarterback," Howard said. "He knows how to make very good checks and very good reads. He’s an experienced quarterback, started his freshman year at Memphis. He played a little bit last year and the year before that. I think Ryan is going to be a very good quarterback. His decision making is on point. He’s able to read defenses before the snap, great pre-reads. He gives great dummy cadences to make the defense shift and give away their coverages.

"Olsen is just getting better everyday. You see the development every day. We always knew he was going to be pretty good even from his first seven on seven. He trusts his receivers, takes chances on a lot of throws. He’s developing. Even though they’re in a battle he also has to learn from Ryan and it feels like he is."

> Howard said playing against bigger backs in Edwards and Walter Tucker (6-0, 218) has been good for Miami's defense this spring. 

"Playing against those guys it helps out with tackling," he said. "Duke [Johnson] is more of a shifty guy. But Duke can do it all. He can lower his shoulder. He can run past you. But with those backs, they’re more downhill runners. They’re going to lower their shoulders probably 90 percent of the time. It helps us with our tackling just being physical. When we play against those guys we've got to be even more physical. They help us out."

> Howard said receiver Stacy Coley is becoming more of a trash-talker. The two go head-to-head in practice every day.

"3-on-3 is how I look at it," Howard said referring to the jersey number both players wear. "He’s fast, shifty. He’s mainly always my matchup. We just go out there and make each other better every day. He’s becoming more of a talker. I’m a big talker so I think I bring it out of him most of the time. I do it with all the receivers. When he makes a play he definitely makes sure you feel his presence. He’s not a big talker, but he’s going to talk. He’s going to have his share of words."

> Who ran with the first team Thursday?

On offense, quarterback Ryan Williams, running back Gus Edwards, tight end Standish Dobard, receivers Stacy Coley, D'Mauri Jones and Rashawn Scott, left tackle Ereck Flowers, left guard Jonathan Feliciano, center Alex Gall, right guard Danny Isidora and right tackle Taylor Gadbois.

On defense, it was ends Ufomba Kamalu and Al-Quadin Muhammad, tackles Earl Moore and Jelani Hamilton, linebackers Denzel Perryman, Raphael Kirby and Alex Figueroa, cornerbacks Tracy Howard and Antonio Crawford and safeties Jamal Carter and Deon Bush.

> Second team center Hunter Wells had a pair of high snaps which sailed over the head of backup quarterback Kevil Olsen. Golden stopped practice to have the offense run suicides after the second one.

> Among the special visitors at Canes practice Thursday: Dolphins defensive end Olivier Vernon and Hall of Famer Ted Hendricks.

? The Hurricanes picked up a commitment from 2015 Dade City Pasco High tight end Bowman Archibald (6-6, 240) on Thursday.

Archibald, rated a three-star prospect, visited Coral Gables on Tuesday and picked UM over offers from more than 15 schools including Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Oregon and Southern California.

March 04, 2014

News, notes and quotes from the Miami Hurricanes first spring practice in pads Tuesday

News and notes from Tuesday morning's practice:

> UM coach Al Golden called the team's first day in pads a good effort with good energy.

"It's a good group to coach right now," Golden said. "A lot of guys learning. Not a lot of yelling, just a lot of teaching going on, which is good. We got a long way to go as a team and we're starting to learn more about our guys. [Running back] Gus Edwards and [quarterback] Ryan Williams and some other guys have stepped up and showing what they can do."

Edwards, a 6-2, 235-pound sophomore, had a couple of long runs Tuesday in which he barreled a few defenders over. He had a long 40 to 50 yard dash toward the end of practice.

"He's fast now. Gus is a 4.5 guy that is 235 right now," Golden said. "He might be a 240-something pound back before it's all said and done. He doesn't lose his explosion. He still has a lateral cut. We have to keep working on his staff arm.

"But he doesn't lose patience. That's the biggest thing I saw. Sometimes they don't have patience and just run into the back of somebody and he showed really good patience, waiting for his moment and then hit it today. I think [Walter Tucker] is starting to lean out and show how explosive he can be."

Williams spent most of the day rolling out of the pocket by design as UM worked on those particular packages, he said.

"That was one of those focuses today -- the move the pocket type plays," he said. "I think I did good. I think I'm good outside the pocket, can throw outside on the run. I missed one throw today I'm going to be upset about. But we're going to get it fixed before Thursday."

The pass Williams likely regretted? A pass that came out like a wounded duck and was intercepted by redshirt sophomore cornerback Larry Hope.

During two-minute drill work Williams connected on four straight completions -- all of them were of the short to medium range variety -- including a slant pattern sophomore Stacy Coley turned into a long gain and eventually a Matt Goudis field goal.

Williams also connected on a few long passes down field later in practice. Williams said he's probably added 10 to 15 yards on his long passes and more zip to balls underneath since high school.

"Now I don't have to lob things underneath under or over a backer," Williams said. "I can throw through windows and stuff like that."

> Williams spoke about knowing how in a few months he's going to become a father soon.

"I'm excited," he said. "We spent some time looking after Denzel's little girl. So I've had a chance to get my toes wet a little bit and know what it's like to be a dad. I'm excited."

> Speaking of Hope, he broke the UM weight room record for defensive backs set by All-Pro Antrel Rolle in the squat. Hope squatted 455 pounds, 10 more than Rolle did. With injuries to UM's secondary Hope is seeing a lot of playing time this spring. He knows this is his opportunity to impress.

> Golden said senior receiver Rashawn Scott, the team's second leading receiver in 2012 who was suspended at the end of last season and limited by injuries, has had a really good approach this spring.

Golden said he's doing a good job "just forgetting all the outside stuff, letting go of immature things, just growing up.

"I think Ryan Williams has had a really good influence on him," Golden continued. "I think they're creating a bond there. That's good. Ryan has been a positive influence on him. He just has to keep coming on for us."

Williams said the big thing for Scott is going to be dealing with the disappointment of last season.

"He has worked really hard since the season ended," Williams said of Scott. "He has a great work ethic. I think he's going to be a bust out player for us. He has to fill a role at the X or Z. But he's a big play receiver."

> Williams said he's seen a change in sophomore receiver Stacy Coley's leadership and attitude since the end of last season.

"You can just see it in his attitude when he comes to work now," Williams said. "He's not the young freshman who is just out there making plays. He's being a leader type, getting people set, making sure he communicates even with me and other quarterbacks on the field. Now he can actually see things and how they evolve on the field.

"He's more of the quiet type, but he has his moments. He's more of a funny guy. But he'll come to me and tell me what he sees and what he wants to run."

> Golden said he expects receiver Herb Waters and defensive end Anthony Chickillo to return to the field when the team comes back for more practices after spring break. Both have been wearing red jerseys (designated for injured players) and watching from the sideline thus far.

Golden said receiver Malcolm Lewis and cornerbacks Nate Dortch and Corn Elder will start to get integrated into practice (wearing yellow jerseys) when Miami returns from the break.

> Cornerback Artie Burns was at practice, but not wearing pads because Golden said the team wants to protect him. "He has a chance to be a national champion [hurdler]. I don't want him to turn an ankle."

Golden said he was pleased with how Burns and receiver Phillip Dorsett conducted themselves participating in track. Only Burns will still compete in track the rest of the spring.

> Golden said he was excited about the hiring of former Miami Booker T. Washington coach Ice Harris as the team's new assistant director of football operations. A source told me Harris met with the Canes  Monday and spoke to them about what it means to be a national champion. Harris led Booker T. to three state championships since 2007 including a national title this past season.

"Ice has meant a lot to all of us throughout the time," Golden said. "After the season he probably accomplished everything you can accomplish at the high school level. We reached out to him to see if he'd have an interest in coming back. Really, we didn't want him to leave the first time, but he thought he would go back. He had success quickly back at Booker T. We just felt like it was a good opportunity and time for us. And obviously he felt the same."

Where will Ice's value really be felt?

"Certainly the community, the relationship," Golden said. "Someone that's on the inside every day that can communicate what we're doing, how we treat our student-athletes, what our mission is, what we really believe in. He's got a lot of wisdom. The biggest thing would be if you went to his practices it's the discipline, the life skills he was able to impart on his teams. We're hoping he can do the same with us. And he's already started that process knowing everybody. We're glad he's going to help us."

> Freshman Trent Harris practiced for the first time after being held up by the NCAA Clearinghouse. How are he and the other early freshmen to arrive doing?

"I'm really pleased with those guys, their approach," Golden said. "Juwon Young, Darrion Owens have really been a pleasant surprise for us. Obviously [offensive linemen] Trevor Darling and KC McDermott are playing a lot. [Cornerback] Ryan Mayes has been really a pleasant surprise for us, too. Their maturity, ability to learn - they don't know where half the buildings on campus are and now they're learning, have four or five classes, new way to lift, new way to study, new way to watch film, new nomenclature."

> How is Dallas Crawford doing after his switch to safety?

"Really good," Golden said. "You just feel his presence out there. Physical. Same old Dallas. You only have to tell him one time, very coachable. Coach him up and next play he gets it right."

> Crawford also served as the holder on field goal attempts during live drills Tuesday. He played quarterback in high school and has plenty of experience doing it.

> Golden said walk-on Ricky Carroll and Matt Goudis are the main competitors this spring for the punting job. But there will be more walk-ons and transfers coming in over the summer and fall.

"Forget about trying to replace [Pat O'Donnell]," Golden said. "Just get someone that can do a great job and put it where you want it. But don't worry about replacing Pat. He was faster than half the damn running backs at the combine."

> Safety Deon Bush looked like he got nicked during practice. Bush had his lower back examined on the sideline and didn't return to full contact.

> There was a scout from the Cincinnati Bengals who was at practice and closely watching Miami's defensive line group work.

> The viewing for JoJo Nicolas, the former Hurricanes defensive back who died last week after a horrific early morning car accident, will be held Friday from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Covenant Baptist Church, 1055 NW 6th Ave., Florida City. The funeral for Nicolas will take place Saturday at Glendale Missionary Baptist Church, 14580 SW 117th Ave., Miami. Both events are open to the public.

> Defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio didn't want to say Wednesday how much exactly sophomore linebacker Jermaine Grace weighs. Grace, working as a backup at weakside linebacker, is listed at 6-1, 210 pounds.

"Jermaine is very talented," D'Onofrio said. "The things we like about Jermaine is he can really run. He's very good in space. He's a good blitzer. And he's instinctive. But he needs to really work hard in the weight room. He needs to get bigger. And he needs to really work at the playbook. But the skill set is there. We need to get his preparation and his work habits to match his skill set. 

"'I'm not going to give you the exact weight, but he needs to gain some," D'Onofrio continued. "Again, it doesn't need to be a ton. The defense is predicated on having guys that can play, not pieces that fit. He can play in our defense right now. Denzel was 208 pounds his freshman year and made a commitment to the weight room and is now 242 pounds. There's no reason Jermaine can't make that same commitment."

> D'Onofrio said freshman Darrion Owens is working at strong side linebacker, but he's also third on the depth chart at rush end behind Tyriq McCord and Al-Quadin Muhammad.

"He's looked really good doing it. Natural," D'Onofrio said. "He's a good rusher. Same category of guys. We're starting to have some symmetry there."

March 03, 2014

Ice Harris heading back to UM

Tim "Ice" Harris, who won three state championships at Miami Booker T. Washington including a national title this past season, has accepted a position on the University of Miami football staff as Assistant Director of Football Operations.

Harris, 48, will be the primary liaison to high school coaches at UM under Al Golden. He will also assist in coordinating community service events for current student-athletes.

Harris worked under former UM coach Randy Shannon from 2008 to 2010 as a special assistant to the head coach. He coordinated the football team’s community relations projects and also assisted in other day-to-day operations of the football program.

Harris’ eldest son Tim Jr., Booker T.’s offensive coordinator, is expected to be named coach for the Tornadoes two sources told The Miami Herald. Harris Jr., 28, ran track at UM where he was an All-American. Harris' son, Treon, a star quarterback on the program’s back-to-back state championship teams, signed with the University of Florida last month.

Together the Harris family -- with deep roots to Miami's innercity -- led Booker T. to 26 consecutive victories and back-to-back state titles over the last two seasons. The Tornadoes finished the year ranked No. 1 in all seven national high school football polls.

In his first stint at Booker T. from 2003 to 2007, Harris Sr. went 57-7 and guided the Tornadoes to a state championship in 2007 en route to being named the USA Today National Coach of the Year.

He then followed his son Brandon Harris, a standout cornerback now with the Houston Texans, to UM the following fall. After Shannon was fired, Harris returned to Booker T. as head coach in 2011 and guided the Tornadoes to a state finals appearance immediately. Booker T. went 39-3 over the last three seasons combined including 14-0 this past season.

“God put me on this earth to help develop young people from a high school perspective,” Harris Sr. said after guiding Booker T. to the state championship last December and joining Nick Kotys (4), Billy Rolle (3) and Walt Frazier as the only other coaches in Miami-Dade County history to win at least three state titles.

“I know right now from watching our development the last three years you never know what might happen, if an offer may come. But right now I’m grounded to what we’re doing and Booker T. Washington High School.”

Eddie Arza, a longtime friend and assistant at Booker T. prior to 2013, said Ice was torn about leaving Booker T. but felt better knowing he was leaving the program in the hands of his son and his assistants. Harris Sr. also intends to finish his college degree at UM. 

"If there’s something he would want to come out in the article is that it was a gut-wrenching decision for him because he’s so tied up to that community and to those kids," Arza said. "The phrase saving lives came out in our conversations hundreds of times over the weekend. Ice was not only about winning games at Booker T., but saving lives. I told him listen 'You’ve taught everybody well and we’ll continue to save lives while your over there. Now with Ice being at UM he can save some lives not only in Overtown, but Liberty City, Goulds and other areas throughout the county.

"It’s important for people to know he cares so much about his community. What made the decision easier for him was we spent the weekend in Orlando in the Nike Clinic. We had our 15 coaches in a room and we sat and spoke and laughed about all the things we wanted to accomplish. We get along so great. Seeing us laugh and joke around and knowing how much football we know because of him, it made his decision easier."

Harris began his coaching career at Miami High where he coached wide receivers and served as the offensive coordinator from 1986 to 1996. There, he coached UM offensive coordinator James Coley. Harris also served as assistant head coach and offensive coordinator at Northwestern High School from 1997-98 and 2001-02. He was the offensive coordinator and assistant head coach at Miami Central High School from 1999-2000.

A native of Overtown, Harris played three years as a defensive back at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis.

UM signed two of its top recruits in February from Booker T. -- five-star All-American defensive end Chad Thomas and four-star defensive end Demetrius Jackson. UM also has Booker T. standout running back Mark Walton (currently Class of 2016) committed as a recruit.

The Tornadoes are once again expected to be among the nation's elite teams in 2015.

February 28, 2014

17 thoughts and observations on the Canes heading into the start of spring football

Some thoughts and observations on the Hurricanes heading into the start of spring football Saturday:

### I never quite understood why Stephen Morris received as much criticism as he did during his tenure as UM’s starting quarterback. Only four starters posted better passer ratings than Morris (137.8) throughout their careers at UM and all four were either national champions or Heisman winners: Vinny Testaverde (152.9), Ken Dorsey (147.4), Steve Walsh (142.2) and Bernie Kosar (139.8).

Tied with Morris in fifth place is Craig Erickson, who also had a passer rating of 137.8 and won a national title too. Put Morris around the same supporting cast and defenses those guys played with and ask yourself if Morris doesn’t win a national title as well. Sure, he ranks 7th all-time in career interceptions at UM with 30. But that’s still only one more than Kosar and two more than Dorsey had during their careers.

My point is you’re going to miss Morris more than you know this coming season. You’ll start to see why by the spring game.

### Ryan Williams is a nice kid. He’s taller (6-6, 225) than Morris and he’s been waiting in the wings for three years for his turn. But his arm isn’t as strong as his predecessor and that counts for something in James Coley’s offense. Coley likes to go vertical. A lot.

UM ranked 17th nationally last season with 57 pass plays of 20 yards or more and third with 36 pass plays of 30 yards or more. Sure, some of those came on short pass plays Stacy Coley turned into much longer ones. But not the majority of them. Coley told me several times throughout the season Williams’ arm strength had been improving. We’ll get to see how much soon enough.

### I don't want to throw an extra blanket of pressure on redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen, but this spring wouldn't be the time to have any more mental lapses. Brad Kaaya, the four-star All-American recruit from California that Coley handpicked, will be arriving soon. 

### Duke Johnson and Joseph Yearby won’t be participating this spring because of injuries, but there’s a reason you should still keep an eye on the Canes' backfield. They badly need depth to develop.

Want to know where the Hurricanes ranked in rushing over their final five regular season games in November? Try 107th. UM ran for 567 yards or 113.4 a game. Take away the 97 Johnson ran for back on Nov. 2nd when he tore up his ankle in a blowout loss at Florida State, and the Canes ran 118 times for 470 yards or about 3.98 yards per carry without him. UM topped it off with 14 yards on 28 carries in the bowl loss to Louisville. Despite all that, the Hurricanes still finished 72nd nationally in rushing with 160.3 yards per game.

My point is obvious -- Duke carries a huge load. Without him the Hurricanes aren’t average. They are well below average. Dallas Crawford’s move back to safety this spring – the original position UM recruited him for – will put the onus on big Gus Edwards (6-2, 225) to prove to us his 5.1 yards per carry average last season wasn’t a mirage. Because his stats tell us they might have been.

Edwards chugged for 230 of his 338 yards as a freshman (6.97 yards on 33 combined carries) against Savannah State, South Florida and Pittsburgh in games UM easily ran away with. Meanwhile, he ran another 108 yards (3.27 yards per carry on 33 combined carries) against FAU, Virginia Tech, Duke, Virginia and Louisville.

### There probably won’t be a more electrifying sophomore receiver in the country next season than Miami’s Stacy Coley. Among freshman in 2013, only Bowling Green’s Ronnie Moore had more yards  per catch (19.54, 10th nationally) than Coley (17.91, 22nd nationally). You know who finished second among freshman receivers in yards per catch in 2012? Alabama’s Amari Cooper (17.22 yards per catch).

Coley only caught 33 passes total in 2012, but had 12 catches go for 20 yards or more (tied for 85th) and eight go for 30 yards or more (tied for 38th). To put Coley’s yards per catch average into context, only three receivers with at least 70 catches in their Hurricanes careers put up career averages that were better. They are: Andre Johnson (19.9), Eddie Brown (19.7) and Brian Blades (18.7).

Now the task for Coley will be going from being that quiet, talented freshman in the back of the room to front and center now that the Allen Hurns, the seventh-leading receiver in Canes history (121 catches, 1,891 yards, 14 TDs) is gone. Hurns converted 15 catches last season on third down for first downs (tied for 20th best in the country). The Hurricanes didn’t have another player with double-digit catches on third down. Those are huge shoes to fill.

### It’s going to be a very important this spring for seniors Phillip Dorsett (injured) and Rashawn Scott (suspended and injured) to bounce back. They were UM’s leading receivers two years ago with 98 combined catches for 1,354 yards and seven touchdowns. Last year? Dorsett had 13 catches for 272 yards and two scores in eight games and Scott had three catches for 38 yards in four games.

### Clive Walford’s 34 catches for 454 yards and two touchdowns last season were good for the third most catches and yards on the team. The Hurricanes haven’t had a tight end post a season like that since Greg Olsen led the team in catches back in 2006 with 40 receptions for 489 yards and a score.

UM was quick to point out on numerous occasions that many of Walford’s catches (19) produced first downs. The stat they didn’t share? Only two of Walford’s 34 catches the entire season were made on third downs. Both produced first downs, but considering third down is a time when a lot of tight ends make their mark, this is the area Walford should be concentrating on.

By the way, for your record keeping, only four tight ends at UM have more career catches and yards than Walford (77 catches, 1,077 yards, 7 TDs) does. They are: Kellen Winslow (119 catches, 1,365 yards, 9 TDs), Willie Smith (117-1,544, 6 TDs), Glenn Dennison (106-1,095, 5 TDs) and Olsen (87-1,215 yards, 6 TDs).

### UM has three other scholarship tight ends in camp this spring we would like to see more from: sophomores Jake O’Donnell (no catches) and Standish Dobard (1 catch, 15 yards) and senior Beau Sandland, who had nine catches for 94 yards and a score. Six of Sandland’s catches came against Savannah State. He didn’t catch a pass after the Florida State loss. That’s disappointing considering how highly touted Sandland was coming in from junior college.

### Don’t underestimate the losses to graduation on the offensive line. Brandon Linder (42 career starts), Seantrel Henderson (26 career starts) and Jared Wheeler (6 starts all as a senior) anchored the right side and did a fine job while here. UM only surrendered 17 sacks last season (tied for 21st and second in the ACC). That's the same number they gave up in 2012.

Freshman KC McDermott, UM’s best recruit on offense, is in for the spring and that’s huge. All eyes figure to be fixated on him as he tries to solidify himself as someone who can start right away. Same for Miami Central’s Trevor Darling, who at 6-5, 320-pounds has the size to play early too.

The other options to start alongside junior left tackle Ereck Flowers, senior left guard Jon Feliciano and senior center Shane McDermott? Guys we’ve hardly seen: redshirt freshman Sunny Odogwu (6-8, 324), sophomores Danny Isidora (6-4, 316), Alex Gall (6-5, 306), and Taylor Gadbois (6-8, 316) and junior Hunter Wells (6-6, 312). My thoughts are Gall and Isidora are probably the only two guys Darling and KC McDermott will be getting real competition from.

### Count your blessing that linebacker Denzel Perryman decided to return for his senior season. It’s not that Perryman is a dominant player (108 tackles, 1.5 sacks, five tackles for loss and one forced fumble). It’s that he’s one of the few experienced, reliable players in UM’s front seven.

Miami’s defense has wreaked something stanky two years running (26.8 ppg, 90th in yards per game in 2013 and 30.5 ppg, 120th in yards per game in 2012). But even with talented new additions in the 2014 signing class, you still need someone out there who can point people in the right direction.

Four of the team’s top six more experienced players and tacklers in the front seven (Jimmy Gaines, Shayon Green, Tyrone Cornelius, Justin Renfrow) are gone. Perryman, senior defensive end Anthony Chickillo (46 tackles), junior linebacker Thurston Armbrister (33 tackles) and senior defensive tackle Olsen Pierre (33 tackles) are all that is back in terms of players who saw heavy workloads.

So this spring is going to be all about players like sophomore linebacker Alex Figueroa (17 tackles in 9 games), junior rush end Tyriq McCord (13 tackles in 13 games), senior defensive lineman Ufomba Kamalu (13 tackles in 9 games), sophomore defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad (8 tackles in 13 games) and sophomore linebacker Raphael Kirby (10 tackles in 13 games) all growing up from role players.

### While last season’s 29 sacks were a huge improvement over 2012’s 13 sacks for UM's defense, there’s no question the Hurricanes still have room to grow when it comes to putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Miami ranked 44th nationally in sacks.

They were eighth in 2010 with a total of 37 sacks. That season they finished 27th nationally in scoring defense (20.7 points per game) and 22nd in total defense (323.3 yards per game).

### While UM loaded up in the front seven on Singing Day, only four are here in camp for the spring. They are defensive tackle Calvin Heurtelou, who comes in from junior college, defensive end Trent Harris, and linebackers Juwon Young and Darrion Owens. It’s probably asking a lot for those last three guys to come in right away and be nothing more than role players.

All eyes should really be fixated on sophomore linebacker Jermaine Grace, who is still slim at 6-1, 210 pounds, but probably has more speed and natural instincts than anyone else for UM at linebacker.

### The stats say the Hurricanes finished 92nd in pass defense last season, giving up 249.8 yards per game. But the stat I prefer to look at it opposing quarterback rating.

UM finished 57th there last year (130.33 rating) and fell two spots to 59th in 2013. But they actually improved (125.71 rating 2013) for the third straight year (142.66 rating in 2011). That’s because the Canes produced more interceptions (18) than touchdowns (16) allowed in 2012 (15 TDs, 11 INTs). UM gave up 16 TDs and had only six interceptions in 2011.

Remember that pass rushing stat stat I used a little while ago? Back in 2010 the Hurricanes finished fifth nationally in opposing QB rating (99.10). My point: When you have a pass rush, your defense has teeth.

### Dallas Crawford’s return to defense – likely at safety -- makes things interesting to me. We all know what a healthy Deon Bush can do (he finished 13th on the team with 31 tackles in 11 games). He and fellow junior Rayshawn Jenkins (46 tackles, 5th on the team) should be your starting safeties. But at least now if either of them get hurt you have a player in Crawford (6 tackles in 2013) who has 16 career tackles and knows how to deliver a hit back there. He’s shown it on special teams.

### UM’s cornerbacks certainly have some experience under their belts now. Senior Ladarius Gunter leads the way with 17 starts. Junior Tracy Howard has made 13; junior Antonio Crawford (2 starts, 25 games); speedy sophomore Artie Burns (11 games).

### The Hurricanes finished 42nd nationally in passes defended (62) in 2013. They had 61 pass breakups in 2012 and only 30 total (ranked 115th) in 2011. The last time they had a good defense in 2010 they broke up 63 passes (25th nationally).

### So who is going to replace one of UM’s most dangerous weapons in Pat O’Donnell at punter? Glad you asked. We’re not sure either. 

February 27, 2014

Nicolas' death evokes memories of other young Canes gone too soon

The death of a young person is always difficult to swallow.

And yet, when it comes to the University of Miami football team, it feels like these tough to swallow moments hit home far too often. 

Former UM defensive back JoJo Nicolas passed away Wednesday evening, a day after being involved in a horrific car accident. Nicolas slammed his car into the rear of a refrigerated 18-wheeler heading west on the MacArthur Causeway at about 5 a.m. Tuesday morning.

It happened hours after he posted pictures and comments on Instagram saying he was out having fun in anticipation of his 25th birthday. Detectives are still trying to determine whether speed, alcohol, texting or any other factors played a role.

Be it a car accident, violence or even a plane crash, the list of tragic deaths involving Hurricanes goes on and on and on.

The first one that comes to mind for most UM fans: Jerome Brown back in 1992. He and a 12-year-old nephew were killed when the Corvette he was speeding in skidded off a slippery road and onto a utility pole in his hometown of Brooksville, Fla. Brown was 27 and in the prime of his NFL career.

In 1992, Shane Curry, a former Canes defensive lineman with the Colts, was shot in the head and killed during an argument in a Cincinnati lounge parking lot.

In 1996, linebacker Marlin Barnes was bludgeoned to death in his campus apartment. He was 22.

A month after Barnes' death, former Canes offensive lineman Robert Woodus was among the 110 who died in the ValuJet crash in the Everglades.

Linebacker Chris Campbell, a senior starter on the 2001 national championship team, died when he lost control of his car and ran into a tree at 4 a.m. in Coral Gables. It happened a month after Miami celebrated its fifth national title in the Rose Bowl. Campbell was 21.

A year later, it was Al Blades. The former standout safety and younger brother of Bennie and Brian Blades was killed in a car crash following the celebration of his 26th birthday. His friend was at the wheel, racing someone else when he lost control of the car before it slammed into a bridge and plunged into a canal in Opa Locka.

Three years later it was Bryan Pata. The former defensive lineman was shot and killed in his apartment complex shortly after leaving a UM practice. He was 22.

A year later, Sean Taylor was shot and killed by robbers inside his home. He was 24 and in the prime of his NFL career.

Not long after Taylor's death in 2007, Time magazine writer wondered if the Hurricanes were cursed because the program "seemed a magnet for guns and trouble."

Former Hurricane safety Earl Little, who was Barnes' best friend and found him dead in his apartment, said he doesn't believe in any curse.

"It's the world we live in," Little, 40, said by phone late Wednesday night. "I had a lot of friends who I grew up with that aren't here anymore. They didn't all play football for the Hurricanes. I think it's just a situation where a lot of young cats just leave us too soon."

Little, who has coached high school football locally and was recently hired to be the head coach at Miami Jackson, said he spent the night Wednesday on the phone talking to former Canes teammate Chad Wilson. When tragedy hits the program, Little said, that's what Hurricanes current and former do. They grieve together and remember all the UM brothers they've lost.

"Not a day goes by I don't think about Marlin. That's the honest truth," Little said. "With the deaths of Sean Taylor and Bryan Pata and now JoJo all of them took me back to Marlin, to April 12, 1996.  Immediately. It's something that hits home for all of us when one of our Hurricane brothers dies. Time heals. But what JoJo's family is going through is going to be tough. It will heal. But it still hurts."

Little met Nicolas once -- at a football camp he coached at UM. But Little said he admired Nicolas' attitude and the way he played safety and cornerback for the Hurricanes from 2007 to 2011. 

Nicolas, a Homestead High graduate, was a relatively quiet player for most of his career when I covered him at UM and in high school.

But in his final season with the Canes -- shortly after the death of his prematurely born son -- Nicolas became a vocal leader for Al Golden's first team at UM. He was pulling the team together after losses and delivering pep-talks.

"He used to have the mute button on, never really talked that much," defensive end Olivier Vernon told me at the time. "Not anymore."

In a 24-7 win over Georgia Tech, Nicolas had an interception that led to a touchdown and recovered a muffed punt in the end zone for another score.

"I'm happy for him, happy to see him doing well," Sean Spence said of Nicolas after that victory. "Back in the past, JoJo said a couple things here and there, but he was always a guy who led by example. Now, he's leading by example, speaking up, making sure we're doing the right things. It's helped us out a lot."

The Hurricanes finished 6-6 that season. Nicolas didn't get to play in a bowl game as the Hurricanes decided to sit one out because of the Nevin Shapiro scandal. Nicolas didn't get drafted. He spent a preseason with the Giants in 2012 as an undrafted rookie free agent.

Now, he's gone at the age of 24. It's another sad, tragic loss for the Hurricanes family to swallow.

February 06, 2014