Here is the news that affects our Orange Bowl games and I'm sure is making everyone happy:
Here is the news that affects our Orange Bowl games and I'm sure is making everyone happy:
The Randy Shannon era is officially over at UM. Shannon was informed earlier tonight by athletic director Kirby Hocutt he has been fired.
The fate of all his assistants still isn't known. According to an ESPN report, offensive coordinator Mark Whipple has already been told he is out as well. Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland is expected to become the interim coach for the bowl game.
One assistant coach, who asked to remain anonymous, said he was already speaking to his agent about latching on at other programs. As for Shannon, the assistant said: "I can't imagine what he's going through right now. He loved this program with all his life. It's the tough part of the business."
The Hurricanes finished the regular season at 7-5 after a 23-20 overtime loss to South Florida at Sun Life Stadium on Saturday. Shannon compiled a 28-22 record, including a 16-16 mark in the ACC in four years as head coach of the Hurricanes. He received a four-year extension just before the start of the 2010 season.
Who made the decision? The Associated Press says Hocutt made the final call. But sources say UM President Donna Shalala and the board of trustees gave Hocutt the green light to get rid of Shannon after the Florida State debacle and loss at Virginia.
“We have made a decision to seek new leadership for our football program,” Hocutt said in a UM press release. “Our expectations are to compete for championships and return to the top of the college football world. We will immediately begin a national search.”
Hocutt will address the media Sunday at 1.
Over the past month, I've been told by several sources who have a vested interest in UM that Georgia's Mark Richt and former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach are at the top of UM's wish list. We'll see if that comes to fruition.
Here is a fun behind the scenes look at UM's 33-10 win over North Carolina courtesy of Hurricanes Gameday including a peek at UM coach Randy Shannon being presented the game ball after the game.
Tune into CSS on Thursday at 5:30 pm and Saturdays at 10:30 am for the full episode including an interview with Shannon each week.
How do you tell a player who has blown out his knee and is out for the season to keep fighting their way back? What do you say to a player whose older brother was shot and killed over a set of car rims? How do you comfort an athlete who just lost an uncle -- and a big fan -- to a brain tumor?
University of Miami linebacker Jordan Futch didn't ask for all of that anguish, but it came his way last October. First, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee five games into his sophomore season (his second season-ending injury in a row).
Then, it got worse when his mother, Caroline Futch, called him frantically and in tears on Jan. 21. Much to her relief, her first born, Jordan, was fine. Her elder step son, Sean Jr., wasn't as lucky. The rumors she'd been hearing about her husband's son being killed later turned out to be true. Sean Jr., 21, was with found in the back seat of a friend's car in Liberty City hunched over the backseat of baby he was trying to protect from gunfire. There was a bullet hole in the back of his head, all part of a deal gone wrong.
"It wasn't his fault," Jordan contends. "He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some guys tried to steal some rims he was trying to sell. They started beating his friend up and so he got his gun out and tried to protect himself. And then they started shooting. There was a child in the back seat and my brother was trying to protect this child. My brother jumped back into the car and tried to protect the child and get in the way. They put a couple rounds in the car and unfortunately one hit him in the back of the head, which was the killer shot. That was it. He was gone.
"He wasn't do anything bad. He was trying to get some money for his rent. It's a hard world out there with this economy."
Guns, drugs and bad neighborhoods are things Randy Shannon tries hard to keep his players away from. But as much as he's done to build a divide from trouble, tragedy still finds its way into their lives through friends and family members. Futch isn't the only Hurricane who has lost a family member close to him recently. Last season, safety Randy Phillips lost his younger brother Randall to a drug overdose. This summer, freshman linebacker Travis Williams lost his brother to gunshots shortly after arriving on campus.
Tragedies? Shannon knows them all too well from his own life. You know the stories. His father was gunned down when he was 3. He had older twin brothers addicted to crack cocaine and other siblings die from AIDS. Some people might could grow numb to bad news. Somehow, Shannon doesn't.
When Futch's mother called him to tell him about what her son was dealing with -- two weeks before National Signing Day no less -- Shannon called Futch into his office. Shannon put his arm around him -- like he does with all the others you never hear about -- and he let Futch cry.
"I know they speak on a man-to-man level I'm not privy too," Caroline Futch said. "But whatever he's done to help Jordan, he's done an amazing job. When I spoke to Randy, I told him 'Look I know you have a perspective going through this with your family. I've never lost a child or sibling. Please do what you can.' He just knew what he had to say to Jordan. I can't tell you where it came from other than the coaches' own personal experiences. I'm grateful. You see how Jordan is now."
Futch is grateful, too. The way he talks about Shannon goes beyond your typical coach-player relationship. It's not easy to get a 6-3, 240-pound linebacker to cry. But when Futch talks about what Shannon means to him, the tears flow.
"I just have to thank god everyday, thank the man above and thank coach Shannon for the love and support," Futch said. "Coach Shannon, like I said, I don't want to start tearing up, he was the real supporter. He had his issues with his family, a lot of people lost. It was real special to have him and that's why I love coach Shannon so much and I'll do whatever for that man because I know he'll do whatever for us. It means so much to have him here as coach. He's another father figure for me. I really appreciate him."
As you know, Shannon isn't one to smile much. But when I told him what Futch had said about him, he couldn't help himself. If there's something Shannon loves about being the coach of this program -- in the city he grew up in -- it's being more than just the coach.
"It's part of the job being a counselor, being a motivator," Shannon said. "Sometimes you have to be a father to them. Sometimes you have to be a grandfather. It's all kind of things and all kind of hats you have to wear, which is part of the job. Families give you their young men and they expect you to keep them on the right track. That's what we do here."
PITTSBURGH -- The 19th-ranked Hurricanes (1-1) try to get back on the winning side of things by facing one of their former Big East rivals, Pittsburgh (1-1), for the first time since leaving for the ACC. The 7:30 p.m. game will be televised on ESPN and on the radio at WQAM.com. Feel free to participate in our discussion below as you tune in.
REWIND: The Canes lead the all-time series 21-9-1. The last time they met, UM came away with a 28-14 win at Pitt. Jarrett Payton led UM's offense rushing for 131 yards and a touchdown while Jonathan Vilma had a game-high 11 tackles as UM's defense produced nine sacks and three turnovers. The Canes have won six in a row in the series. The Canes are looking for its 33rd consecutive win against an unranked, non-conference opponent in regular season play.
ABOUT PITTSBURGH: The Panthers opened the season ranked, but quickly dropped out of the Top 25 poll with a tough loss at Utah. The following week, they crushed New Hampshire on the same day the Canes lost at Ohio State. Pitt has compiled a 6-9 mark on Thursday night, its last appearance coming on Oct. 2, 2008, when the Panthers defeated No. 10 USF in Tampa, 26-21. Pitt is 1-3 against Miami on Thursday night, the lone victory a 21-17 decision in 1997 at Pitt Stadium.
Pittsburgh's offense is led by Big East 2010 Offensive Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year Dion Lewis (5-8, 195), who has struggled rushing for only 102 yards on 35 carries (2.9 avg) in his first two games as a sophomore. Last season, Lewis lead the country in rushing with 1,799 yards. Utah held him to 75 yards on 25 carries. Ray Graham (5-9, 195) has had fewer carries, but has been explosive, rushing for 115 yards on nine carries. First-year starting quarterback Tino Sunseri has completed 65 percent of his passes for 459 yards, 3 TDs and 2 INTs in his first two starts. His top two targets in the passing game are big receivers -- Jon Baldwin (6-5, 230) and Mike Shanahan (6-5, 220). Baldwin is the experienced veteran with 15 catches of 40 yards or more -- including nine that have gone for touchdowns.
The Panthers defense was one of the best country last season, leading the country in sacks and ranking 17th in rushing defense and 23rd overall in total defense. But injuries have hurt them a little bit. Big East Defensive Player of the Year Greg Romeus (Coral Glades High) had back surgery and isn't expected to return at the earliest until November. Junior defensive tackle Chas Alecxih (6-5, 280) could still present a huge problem for the Canes in the middle, especially after seeing the success Ohio State had creating pressure up the middle of Miami's offensive line. Alecxih has three of his team's six sacks this season. Right end Brandon Lindsey (6-2, 250) has two sacks starting in Romeus' place. Strongside linebacker Greg Williams (6-3, 240) ranks second on the team with 11 tackles. The Canes are going to want to keep the ball away from sophomore free safety Jarred Holley (5-11, 180) who has both of the Panthers interceptions this season.
Interesting special teams stat for Pittsburgh: The Panthers have blocked 23 kicks under Dave Wannstedt since the 2005 season. In 2008, the Panthers blocked a school-record and national-best 10 kicks. Six current players have blocked kicks during their Pitt careers. The Panthers blocked one in their season opener versus Utah.
FOR THE CANES, THINGS TO KEEP AN EYE ON...
> First and foremost, how quarterback Jacory Harris bounces back from what he called his worst week as a Hurricane following a loss. It wasn't just the four interceptions against Ohio State for Harris, but the off the field issues -- racist Twitter messages, etc. The Canes need Harris, who was obviously bothered by it all, to prove he's focused on football and zeroed in on his receivers. The smart thing for offensive coordinator Mark Whipple to do is take the pressure off Harris from having to make too many big plays with his arm. UM coach Randy Shannon said his running backs Damien Berry, Lamar Miller and Mike James would get at least 20 touches each this week between rushes, returns and receptions. If the Canes are smart, they'll do just that. Pittsburgh's run defense isn't at full strength and gave up 122 yards on 27 carries in its loss to Utah. The Canes should be able to run the football and then throw it pretty easily. The Panthers rank 94th in pass defense.
> All week long we've heard about the amount of attention the Canes have spent in practice trying to improve their tackling and trying to create turnovers. It's time to see if the hardwork paid off. Pittsburgh's offensive line had to replace all three interior linemen from last season's team -- a big reason the team has struggled running the football. There's no reason the Canes shouldn't be able to bottle up Pitt's running game and put pressure on the Panthers' young quarterback. Allen Bailey, who hasn't had a sack since last Halloween (a stretch of seven games), will see more time at tackle this week. I'm guessing he'll be a big factor in this game.
> Heinz Field can be a tricky place to kick field goals because of the wind. After missing one in his last game and having another blocked, Matt Bosher can go a long way in improving his NFL stock with a good game in this one.
> MY PICK: This Pittsburgh team was picked to win the Big East in the preseason and as upset and focused as UM might be, I don't see a blowout happening. Including its season-opening 27-24 overtime loss at Utah this year, Pitt's last four losses have come by an average of just 3.5 points per game. The Canes are 8-12 all-time under Shannon away from home. This won't be easy, but they'll find a way. UM 26, Pitt 17.
With the late game start, I won't be doing any live chat this week. Feel free to discuss the game below.
Randy Shannon has had a lot of teachers throughout his life. But none know him better than the guy who will be coaching against him Thursday night.
Wannstedt isn't kidding. As the linebackers coach and defensive coordinator at Miami under coach Jimmy Johnson, Wannstedt was involved in recruiting Shannon out of Miami Norland High and coaching him with the Canes. When it was time for Shannon to go the pros, Wannstedt was in Dallas with JJ when the Cowboys used their final pick in the 1981 draft to take Shannon. When Shannon's playing career was done, Wannstedt hired him to be the Dolphins linebackers coach.
"When you hire coaches you want people that No. 1 are very knowledgeable particularly about what you want to do defensively. Randy is very smart that way," Wannstedt said. "You want to hire people you know as people, you know their work ethic, you know what they stand for. And people that you trust so when you get to those tough parts of the season people as you always do, you want to surround yourself around people that are loyal."
Shanoon been loyal to the Canes since leaving the Dolphins. And when he became head coach four years ago, he once again went to Wannstedt for assistance.
"I asked him to come up and spend some time [two days] with some of our defensive coaches. They talked about some of the things they were doing on defense and it was a great exchange," Wannstedt said. "We talked a little bit about certain things that come up with head coaching and hiring people. There were no specific topics that we sat down and talked about. Me knowing the culture at Miami and having coached there, we were able to have a real good conversation. Heck we talked about ex-players, from their involvement to spring practice. We kind of just talked back and forth on a lot of topics."
There's no telling how much Wannstedt's familiarity with Shannon will really help or hurt the Hurricanes Thursday night. But the Panthers, picked by many to win the Big East this year, will be no pushover. Shannon said Sunday he expects a physical battle.
"Knowing Dave Wannstedt for a long time - him being my coach and working with him at the Dolphins, I've spent a lot of time with him. He wants to be a physical, tough team that will bend but don't break defense," Shannon said.
"It's going to be an exciting game, two teams that are 1-1 and looking for an opportunity to get better on both sides of the football and also on special teams. The Pitt offense, they have a 1-2 punch running the football that will be key to this game. They have a big-time receiver that makes a lot of plays for them, is their go-to guy. Defensively they play together as a group. They may not have any superstars, but they line up in a 4-3 scheme and play sound. It's going to be fun to see what happens Thursday night."
A few more tidbits from practice...
> While tackling has been a huge emphasis this week in practice, creating turnovers -- particularly hanging onto interceptions -- haven't been far behind.
"That's probably one of the biggest things we've worked on this week," senior cornerback Ryan Hill said. "Striking the ball carrier, stripping the ball, intercepting the ball. I think coach Shannon, he's out there throwing balls after every play to the cornerback.
"It's kind of funny but we're doing everything we have to do to make sure we catch the ball. I saw him out there today throwing the ball to Demarcus Van Dyke. I was like what is he doing? But I like when coach Shannon does stuff like that. It's having fun. But it's also making us work and making us think about creating turnovers at the same time."
> Pittsburgh quarterback Tino Sunseri has only made two starts in his career, but he's thrown for 459 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions while completing 65 percent of his passes.
"He is doing a great job for them,'' Shannon said Tuesday. "He is not turning the ball over a lot and doing a lot of good things just managing the offense. They have two great receivers that they are going to throw the ball to and they have a great running back. We know we have to come out and control the run game and make sure that those big guys don't get big plays.''
> A big key for the Canes secondary will be covering receiver Jon Baldwin, who at 6-5, 230 pounds will have a rather large size advantage against UM's corners. In just over two seasons, Baldwin has 15 catches of 40 yards or more -- including nine that have gone for touchdowns.
"That's the matchup you want,'' Hill said Monday. "If he's the go-to guy, that's who you want. You can kind of make a name for yourself covering a receiver like that. You look at Randy Moss and Darrelle Revis yesterday. You want that challenge if you're a corner. Obviously, we have a challenge in front of ourselves.''
> Heinz Field is notorious for having some of the worst wind conditions of any stadium in the NFL. Shannon said Monday it will be up to special teams coach Joe Pannunzio and kicker Matt Bosher to determine which way they want to kick.
"You just wait until game time because the wind does swirl with that stadium and Giants Stadium is like that,'' Shannon said. îîSometimes the Dolphins' stadium swirls a little bit, you have to figure out what type of wind it is each day."
> On the injury front, Shannon said defensive end Marcus Robinson and defensive tackle Luther Robinson both practiced Monday. We just aren't sure to what extent. I saw Marcus Robinson limping off the field and with a brace on his right ankle after practice.
Banning Twitter wasn't the beginning of the new, meaner Randy Shannon. And hopefully for the Canes, it's not the end.
As most of you know by now, the Hurricanes were banned from using Twitter earlier this week by their head football coach. What most of you probably aren't aware of is "that punishment" was not the worst of it. According to a story by the Associated Press, Shannon lit into his players after Saturday's loss at No. 2-ranked Ohio State. Some of you might be thinking, well, what's the big deal? He should have.
As it turns out, it might have been the first time Shannon has actually given his team a real tongue-lashing. "I never have seen him like that," offensive lineman Orlando Franklin told AP, "but I can't say I was shocked."
Said linebacker Jordan Futch: "We deserved it."
According to the story, Shannon spared no feelings in that postgame meeting. Receivers and running backs who ran the wrong routes and played a role in Jacory Harris throwing four interceptions all felt his wrath. Linemen who missed blocks that led to sacks, they felt the heat as well. And most of the fire was directed toward those defenders who missed tackles, especially ones in the backfield - Shannon stopped counting after that list exceeded 10.
""I've never been a guy that just goes off," Shannon said Thursday after Miami's first practice since the loss. "But they needed it at that time because I was frustrated. We're a good football team. And we could have done something that hasn't been done here in a long time. Ohio State is a good football team, a great football team, but we made so many mistakes we didn't give ourselves a chance."
I've got three words: About freaking time.
As tough a stance as Shannon might take on guns, grades and goofing around, it is during the games most of his critics would like to see more of Nasty Randy. If you haven't noticed, Shannon hasn't been one to show much emotion on the sidelines at all. At times when the Hurricanes have been at their worst in his four years as coach, TV cameras have caught Shannon almost expressionless.
There have been only two times I can recall Shannon being upset. The first time was when Urban Meyer ran up the score with a late field goal against UM in 2008 and Shannon shook Meyer's hand quickly before rushing off the field. The most visible was last year's game against Clemson when he and offensive coordinator Mark Whipple exchanged heated words on the sidelines before halftime.
Those two brief moments shouldn't be what we remember. There should be at least two blow ups a game according to a few former Canes I spoke with on Wednesday night.
Leon Searcy, who won two national titles at UM (1989, 1991) and now hosts the Canes4Life TV show on CBS-4 every Saturday at 11:30 a.m., shared a few great stories with me about Jimmy Johnson and the fire he coached with on the sidelines.
"I remember my freshman year, we were up on Arkansas 51-0 in the fourth quarter," Searcy recalled.
"Now, Jimmy wanted to destroy these guys. Arkansas was a school that had passed him up for a coaching job. He came over to us on the sidelines and said 'If you mother [expletives] let these guys score, I don't care what the final score is, I'm going to run your mother [expletives] [expletives] for three days.' We were scared. Second team was in there. Arkansas ends up scoring on like the last play of the game. The next three days, all we did was run.' We knew the next time he said 'Don't let this happen, we weren't going to let it happen."
Fear can be a remarkable motivator. Former Canes cornerback Duane Starks (this week's guest on the Canes4Life show) told me fear of losing his starting job is what kept him pushing himself to be the best on the field every week during his time at UM.
"I knew when I played that half-ass stuff wasn't going to work," Starks said. "You had to bring it every day or somebody was going to take your job from you. Maybe, they need a little more of that."
Part of that, starts with emotion. And that starts at the top.
I'm not saying the players on this team don't want to win. The loss at Ohio State stung. But when players begin to feel comfortable they'll be out there every Saturday because the guy behind them can't beat them and then, they don't have anyone coming down hard on them from the top when they don't deliver, well, mediocre play becomes accepted.
The sun wasn't up yet, but it was still plenty loud in Coral Gables Wednesday morning. That's because six speakers were blaring crowd simulation noises as your 12th-ranked Miami Hurricanes began practicing at 6:20 a.m., four days before their showdown with the No. 2-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes at the famed Horseshoe.
UM coach Randy Shannon said Tuesday he doesn't think his players will be fazed by playing at a tradition rich stadium that seats 105,000 because they've played in tough places before and live in star-studded South Florida.
"You see a lot of traditions in small towns and in little cities like [Columbus]," Shannon said. "But the guys aren't enamored with it because of what we see when we go out [in South Florida]. You may see an Alex Rodriguez, a Wayans brother, or Dwyane Wade. Those are big name guys. When you go to places that are traditional, like Ohio State, Michigan, places like that, it's great to play there, but you've been in awe already. The difference will probably be the noise [factor]. No matter what happens, you can't simulate that in practice at all."
So how loud of a place is the Horseshoe really? That's debatable. The loudest football stadium I've been to remains the Orange Bowl with Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Florida and Florida State's Doak Campbell Stadium not far behind.
UM linebacker Colin McCarthy and cornerback Brandon Harris were both heavily recruited by Ohio State coming out of high school. McCarthy went to a game at Ohio Stadium. Harris said he didn't because coach Jim Tressell wouldn't allow out of state visitors to go to games during the season. "He prefers for guys to come in February or January so they get a feel for the cold winters," Harris said.
But from what McCarthy remembers: "It’s a crazy atmosphere.”
“I’ve heard it’s a loud stadium," defensive tackle Marcus Forston said. "But once you go out there and do what you have to do, you can quiet the crowd.”
A couple more notes from Wednesday's practice (in the five minutes we got to see of practice in the dark) and leftovers from Tuesday...
> Running back Graig Cooper, not expected to play Saturday at Ohio State, was in full pads Wednesday. But he wasn't practicing. He was just standing around during practice.
> Safety Ray Ray Armstrong picked off a pass from A.J. Highsmith during 11-on-11 drills before taking a big lick from right tackle Jermaine Johnson, who was running with the second team.
> According to UM SID Chris Freet, the Canes will wear white jerseys on top of green pants for Saturday's game at Ohio State. The all-white "Storm Trooper" uniforms will make their debut at Georgia Tech.
> UM coach Randy Shannon said on Dan LeBatard's radio show Tuesday he planned to watch episodes of NCIS or old, black and white war movies during his free time to prepare himself for Saturday's game.
> UM defensive tackle Marcus Forston, who started in his first game Thursday after missing most of the 2009 season, said he felt fine physically after playing the entire game for the first time in his career. "Jeremy Lewis got hurt. So, I ended up playing the whole game," Forston said. "I wasn't winded or nothing. That's the first time I played a whole game and finished a game with a whole lot of energy. I thank coach Shannon and [strength] coach [Andreu] Swasey for giving me that extra running to help me get to where I am today."
> Forston had the best quote of the day Tuesday in discussing the growth process at UM: "Coach Shannon preaches every day about the process. Like he said, if we put a lot of crumbs together it'll eventually make a loaf of bread. Every day you have to go out to practice, try to get something out of practice, try to go for greatness. You go to practice and focus on what you want to do to get better."
> I asked running back Damien Berry the type of challenge Ohio State's defense presents . His response reminded me of how some former Canes used to talk: "There is no challenge. We're going to go in with our game plan and stick with our game plan. If our game plan is to run, [offensive coordinator] Whipple says run, that's what we're going to do. If there game is to pass. We're going to pass the ball.
"I face the hardest defense in practice. From what I've seen they have a great defense. But we have Sean Spence, Colin McCarthy and a great defense right here. Why should I be worried about what they have?
> One common theme from several UM defensive players Tuesday -- it's time for them to step up and deliver because the offense has usually been responsible for most of the team's big wins.
"I don't think our defense is getting a lot of credit," McCarthy said. "We did it against FAMU. But we have to do it against Ohio State, one of those power house teams. A team like Ohio State is a great opportunity for us. As a defense, we're as ready as we can be. I think our coach has put us in a great situation, great scheme to stop them. The biggest thing for us is to stop the run. I think we force them to be one dimensional, that's going to be enough to help us win this game."
> UM cornerback Brandon Harris said Ohio State's receivers are very good. "In all honesty, we have great respect for those receivers," Harris said. "[DeVier] Posey is obviously the leader of that group. He does a great job of getting open. They like to throw the ball vertical. That's been the main emphasis. We have to stop those deep threats. Hopefully, everything else should follow from there."
PITTSBURGH -- Lee Chambers came to UM as one of the top high school running backs in the country. But now it appears his future is going to be in the Canes' secondary.
Monday, the Hurricanes switched the 5-10, 192-pound junior to defensive back where he will try to find some playing time on a unit looking for some help. While battling injuries for most of his career, Chambers ran for 272 yards on 60 carries in mostly mop-up duty.
With the tailback position stacked with young talent, the switch made sense. Chambers was already expected to be at least fourth on the depth chart behind senior Damien Berry, sophomore Mike James and redsirt freshman Lamar Miller. Perhaps, his switch is a sign that not only true freshman Storm Johnson is ready to contribute, but Graig Cooper is also healthier than anticipated. UM Sports Information staff said Cooper, coming off knee surgery, began participating in contact drills last week.
Chambers at least has some experience playing defense. In high school, he played linebacker and safety made 57 tackles his senior year and had one sack and one interception return for a touchdown.
> I'm obviously not in Coral Gables covering the team. I'm in Pittsburgh covering the Marlins in what at the moment will be my last Marlins road series of the season. Susan Miller Degnan and Bill Van Smith were out at practice.
> Also, receiver LaRon Byrd was seen on crutches. It's unclear how long he will be out. Below is video of Shannon's interview with reporters on Monday thanks to UM's sports info staff.
Tyler Horn likes to think of himself as the ultimate big brother. With five younger sisters -- ages 20, 14, 13, 9 and 8 -- he almost has no choice.
"I'm pretty protective by nature," Horn said. "I have a sister who turns 15 in December. She's talking to guys, so I kind of wish I was back home to check those guys out, make sure they're OK. I feel like I could kind of use my size to intimidate them."
Horn, who enters fall camp as the team's starting center, pretty much feels the same way about quarterback Jacory Harris.
Although last season Horn (6-4, 305) hardly saw the field, he's well aware of the pounding Harris took last season. UM quarterbacks were sacked 35 times. Harris took the brunt of the pain. He took a hard hit on his throwing elbow against Florida State, hurt his thumb when he banged it against an opposing players' helmet at North Carolina and tweaked his ankle in the bowl loss to Wisconsin.
While the Hurricanes do bring back four linemen with starting experience, the overall feeling about UM's offensive line is that it is still very young and experienced.
What there is, however, is plenty of size and potential. Coach Randy Shannon has said this might collectively be the biggest offensive line he's ever seen at UM.
He's not lying. After Friday morning's practice, several of UM's big men had a hard time squeezing into the waiting ice baths. At one point, Seantrel Henderson (6-8, 350) and Malcolm Bunche (6-7, 328) had one of the five available rubber pools overflowing by themselves (usually you see at least three big players sharing a pool).
"Those are some big boys," said Harland Gunn (6-2, 315), who noticed the commotion when another big man failed to squeeze in with Bunche and Henderson and was forced out. "Maybe, a little too big."
> Gunn, who was last year's bench press champion in the spring, said he lost his title this spring to Bunche, who chimed in with a 435-pound lift.
> Left guard Brandon Washington said he's shed about 15 pounds from the end of last season and is weighing about 325. "When I first got here last year, I was 340 pounds. I was sluggish," Washington said. "I definitely feel a difference now."
Washington said he made a commitment to a new diet -- baked chicken, vegetables, brown rice and water. He said he also stopped drinking Gatorade.
> After their second practice in shorts, the Hurricanes will hold an open practice for season-ticket holders in shorts and shells (helmets and shoulder pads) at 8 a.m. Saturday.
> Be sure to check out Susan Miller Degnan's feature in Saturday's paper on Marcus Forston.
How do you measure success at the University of Miami? Ask any Canes fan and they'll tell you simply, a national championship.
Asked the same question at Thursday's Media Day, quarterback Jacory Harris and coach Randy Shannon didn't lock themselves into any bold predictions. Success for the Canes in 2010? That's just being a better football team.
"Somebody said this the other day, 'You could win nine games in this conference and people will say, we'll that's not good enough.' But you could win the conference with nine wins. You could also not win this conference and go to a BCS bowl game [by winning more games].
"So you have to define improvement based on what you did last year as a team and what you accomplished [this year]. I can't tell you nine, 10, 11 [wins]. You can't classify what it takes to be successful. You just have to go out there and play, improve on the things you did last year.
"[For instance] we played Clemson. We have to improve in an overtime situation. We played North Carolina. We have to either come up with either a third down conversation or get a stop on defense to give us a chance to win. Then, its how are we're going to handle success? Like last year when we won [two] in a row and lost at Virginia Tech."
While Harris said he feels like the team is "on the verge of something special," he's not not putting a number on wins or a bowl game in defining this season's success. "You guys make the predictions," Harris said. "That's what you guys get paid to do."
So what do you think? What do you think would satisfy you as a successful Canes season? Is it winning an ACC title? Is it going to a BCS Bowl Game? Or, is it simply a National Title? Give me your answers below.
> There's obviously a lot more to share from today's media day. Below, I've included six video interviews from this afternoon with Adewale Ojomo, Colin McCarthy, Ryan Hill, Randy Shannon, Jacory Harris and Graig Cooper.
> On our UM audio page, there are also about 10 interviews available for you to listen to. Among them: Shannon and Harris' complete press conferences; center Tyler Horn; right tackle Joel Figueroa and tight end Chase Ford.
Thearon Collier provided the Hurricanes with a pair of exciting punt returns for touchdowns last season. The next time he tries to bring one back to the house, it probably won't be in a University of Miami uniform.
Collier, a junior receiver out of Miami Booker T. Washington, was informed after a meeting with UM coach Randy Shannon on Monday that he is free to leave the program should he choose to according to a source. The Palm Beach Post's Jorge Milian first reported the story late Monday night. According to Jorge, Collier was told he can continue taking classes at UM if he chooses, but won't be part of the team. UM begins practice Thursday.
Collier is being banished for a series of team violations that began in the spring, according to Palm Beach Post's story. Collier did not participate near the end of spring practice and did not play in the spring game. A source told me Monday afternoon Collier had not been going to classes regularly -- a team violation -- and had been given numerous chances by Shannon before finally being told he had run out of them during his meeting Monday. Collier had also been battling off the field issues. He recently had a child die at birth. But I was told his problems in school started before that.
Collier is the second veteran player to have his UM career cut short this week. Defensive end Steven Wesley, a senior who started 17 games over three seasons, was dismissed from the team Friday. Although it has been reported Wesley had academic issues, it is believed UM simply did not renew his scholarship for a fifth season.
Since 1973, scholarships have been renewed on a year-to-year basis -- ending the four-year period that scholarships used to cover. According to what I found on NCAA.org, after fulfilling an award period, an athletics scholarship may be renewed, nonrenewed or reduced based on the recommendation of the head coach. It is consistent and reasonable to expect that student-athletes be required to meet minimum academic athletics standards before athletics aid is renewed for subsequent years. On occasions where a student-athlete’s scholarship is not renewed or is reduced, the accountability and burden should be placed on the coach to remove the scholarship from the student-athlete and there should be stronger institutional appeals procedures in place.
I tried to find the same type of info on UM's website, but couldn't find one.
The Canes obviously have been teetering on the 85 scholarship limit. With cornerback Latwan Anderson and offensive lineman Seantrel Henderson late additions to the 2010 class, the Canes had to find space somewhere. Receiver and defensive end are their deepest positions. I'm not saying that's why Collier or Wesley were released. It seems each had their issues. But technically, by NCAA rules, UM can do what it wants if it thinks an athlete isn't cutting it.
> I had a few more interviews from Monday to share with you -- including ones from a pair of local defensive backs the Canes are hot and heavy after for their 2011 class, Jackson's Robenson Therezie and Pace's Jabari Gorman.
For three seasons, Jonathan Vilma was the brains and the braun in the middle of some great University of Miami defenses. Now, 28, and a two-time Pro Bowler, Vilma is a Super Bowl champion and role model for up-and-coming football players in his native Miami-Dade County.
This afternoon I got a chance to catch up with the 6-1, 230-pound former Coral Gables High star, who still lives in South Florida not far from his parents during the off-season. We got a chance to talk about the Canes, his favorite Randy Shannon story, his own relief efforts in Haiti and how the Saints plan to wear the bulls-eye on their backs this coming season. Enjoy.
Q: What have you been up to since the Super Bowl? Has your life changed much since you added Super Bowl champion to the resume?
Vilma: "Life has changed for the better. It was a real fun ride when we won it. That first month, the rest of February and March, we pretty much celebrated. It's been a little down since. Now, it's about getting ready to do it again. In the off-season programs, I could tell we were real focused in. We had about 95 percent attendance. Everybody was fired up, ready to go."
Q: You're 28 years old now. Are you married, do you have kids or is there still time for that?
Vilma: "There's still time for that [laughter]. You got to enjoy your youth."
Q: How much is Haiti still on your mind?
Vilma: "It's still very much on my mind. I'm planning a trip down there during my bye week in November. I hope to get some of my teammates to come down there with me to help build some schools and help rebuild. They still very much need our help."
Q: A few players at UM told me Wednesday you've been out there during workouts this summer trying to deliver a strong message to them about team unity. Have you felt the need to be a little more vocal than usual with them this year?
Vilma: "No. I guess I'm just really excited with what I saw and have been seeing from them. The group they have out there looks really good. They look like tough guys. I thought they were playing real good ball last year. Not the last game against Wisconsin. But I feel like they're real close to where they need to be. I think if I was speaking a little bit more, it's me being excited."
Q: You played on some of the most talented UM teams ever. How close do you think this year's Canes team is to winning another national title? Or, are they still missing something?
Vilma: "I think if they're missing anything it's that they need a little experience. Nobody on this team has won an ACC title or a national title. It's all going to be new to them. Once they hit the 6-0 mark, 7-0 mark, that will be new to them. I think they have all the talent in the world. It's entering the new territory, when you become the hunted. How will they react to having real success?"
Q: Is it just me or does it seem like a lot of those young guys who came in that special recruiting class of 2008 have really become more vocal?
Vilma: "No. I noticed the same thing. I have found a lot of guys wanting to take that role. Guys who were freshman who didn't know the ropes have grown up. You see guys like Jacory [Harris], a QB, a natural leader, really stepping up even more. [Sean] Spence, Colin [McCarthy] are sending the right messages. I've been there with the 6:30 group with [trainer Andrew] Swasey. I see those guys, the linebackers, trying to run with the DBs, pushing themselves to be even better. All they talk about is wanting to win. I'm real excited to see what they can do especially against Ohio State."
Q: Can you share your best Randy Shannon story?
Vilma: "I've known Randy for so long. He had me when I was a puppy. One of the best stories I have with him is when he let me stand out on my own as a football player. We were going up to face Tennessee. He had so much confidence in me and the defense he actually let me call the defense the first two series. We went three and out twice. It was exciting for me. I thought he was joking at first when he told me, but he was dead serious. I think he wanted to prove to me and to everyone on our defense it doesn't matter what you call. As long as you hit people hard, do the things you're supposed to, you can be great."
Q: He coached you as a coordinator. How do you think he's done as a head coach?
Vilma: "Right now where the program is heading is great. I think at first, he had to battle two things. One, was the pressure of winning. The other was getting the program the way he wanted it to be. Sometimes you have to take a step back before you can move forward. He had to get out the bad apples and keep the guys who were the team players. Now, you see the program turning around. You see guys who care about wanting to win. I think all of that is because he has a grand scheme. He's won national championships and he knows what it takes. He's trying to get us back there."
Q: I've had players in the past tell me how he has 'eyes everywhere.' They've said how he'll go into meetings and tell guys, 'I know you didn't make it back in last until 1 a.m. I heard you were here or there.' Was he like that when you were here?
Vilma: "[Laughter] Yes. I don't know how he knows the things he knows. He's always been well connected. All I know is he really cares about his players as individuals. He wants them to grow up as men, be good people. And it's not just when you play for him. It's after to. The way we talk to each other now is different. The conversations are more about life. It's great. He cares about you for life."
Q: How different is the defense John Lovett is running now at UM from what you did with Randy?
A: "Not much different. I like the defense actually, a lot. To me, [Lovett] understands the college game. I think he understands how to put players in the best position to make plays. It's probably the best thing you can do. I think the deal with the players is they need to have a good understanding of it. I think they're coming along. Having him for two years will make a big difference."
Q: Do you talk to any of the current Canes players often?
Vilma: "I text them all the time. I've always told them the only thing you're going to get from me is the truth. If they played well, I'll tell them they did their job. If they don't, I tell them they didn't get it done. For me, it's really about doing whatever I can to help them. Colin, Spence, C.J. Holton, they all want to get better. I tell them all the time to ask me about whatever they want to know."
Q: Have you been hearing a lot of hate from your fellow NFL brothers for the way The U has struggled the past couple years? I'm sure they're all trying to get back at you for when the Canes were on top.
Vilma: "Like you wouldn't believe. The other guys have certainly relished 7-6, the bowl losses. It's been tough. But I've been telling them all summer just wait and see them go on the field, whip up on the Florida State's and Ohio State's. I know things are going to get real quiet, real soon."
Q: I'm sure you've been hearing these stories about some players at some pretty prominent schools getting in trouble for their activities with agents before leaving school. What are your thoughts?
Vilma: "Times have changed for athletes today. I don't know if it is good or bad what's happening. I just think the players have to be smart about their decision making, look at the big picture and what they're accomplishing by getting involved in those things. The biggest thing to me is guys have to stop talking about their night on Facebook. They don't realize they're always going to being viewed in a different light. I think kids just have to be more aware of that, realize people are reading everything. I think from a big picture standpoint, it's what they're putting out there that's getting them in trouble. It's not just Facebook, it's Twitter, too. I mean I can't talk. I know when I was 19, 20, I know I always didn't listen. I would have loved to flown to the Bahamas, partied, had a great time and not worried about the consequences. But as an athlete, you have to realize you are under constant microscope. Even more today."
Q: Let's go back to the Saints. How does it feel knowing you and your teammates in New Orleans are going into the season with a big bulls-eye on your back? After all, the Saints have always been the underdogs until now.
Vilma: "The expectations are definitely different. But I think the best thing for us is we have a lot of guys that come from winning programs. Whether its college or the pros, we've had guys who have won Super Bowls with the Patriots. [Jeremy] Shockey was with me when we won a title at UM. We have a lot guys that have been successful. The Saints as a franchise haven't had a bulls-eye ever. So, honestly, we're kind of excited about it. For me, it takes me back to my college years. You live to be that guy everybody is gunning for."
> I know some of you remember Vilma's biggest hit as a Cane. Here it is for you on YouTube.
CORAL GABLES -- It was a long first day back for me out at Greentree Practice Field after spending the better part of the last two weeks covering the Marlins. Here are a few news and notes from Pro Day and the final practice of the spring before Saturday's Spring Game...
A group of a dozen Hurricanes participated in Friday morning's Pro Day and the overwhelming thought in my mind as I watched it with other reporters from high above on the second floor of the Hecht Athletic Center was: 'How many of these guys will really be Pros?'
At this point, it's hard to see anybody in this class beyond tight end Jimmy Graham, linebacker Darryl Sharpton and offensive tackle Jason Fox getting drafted. The rest of the guys, like center A.J. Trump, running back Javarris James and possibly tight end Dedrick Epps are going to have to earn invites to camps and work hard to make practice squads and eventually impress enough to make the team.
That, however, isn't necessarily a bad thing. As Trump put it, being able to pick a team has its benefits. "I know I'm going to be a free agent," said Trump, who has workouts set up with the Lions, Titans and Bucs. "But that's actually a good situation for me because I get to choose where I'm going to go. In the end, I'm more excited about just getting my foot in the door somewhere else and representing the university."
GRAHAM WILL PROBABLY GO FIRST... It's pretty clear the guy drawing the most attention is Graham. The 6-8, 260-pound tight end and former power forward has had his toughness question by analysts like ESPN's Todd McShay. But it's obvious his athletic ability and upside -- as well as the success of other basketball players turned football stars of the past (Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez) -- has lots of teams interested.
After participating in the Senior Bowl and turning in the second-fastest 40-yard dash time among tight ends at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis (4.56), Graham passed on running the 40 Friday at the advice from his agent and really didn't do much. It was a smart move to be honest. As it stands, eight to 10 teams -- including the Miami Dolphins -- are interested in bringing him for workouts beginning Monday.
Pretty soon, Graham is going to have to send a big thank you letter to former Hurricanes quarterback Bernie Kosar. It was Kosar who drove down three times a week to throw passes to Graham and convinced him to give football a shot last summer. Graham said Kosar still calls him once a week to check on him.
"Being the first Cane taken is something I don't even think about," Graham said. "I'm just excited about the opportunity to play in the NFL."
FEELING FOR FOX... If there is one guy to feel sorry for these days it is former left tackle Jason Fox. After starting 47 games in his career, the past few months have been awfully tough for the 6-7, 314-pounder from Texas.
A knee injury cost him the final regular season game and the bowl game, then surgery. Friday, he was hoping to have a huge day -- especially after being unable to participate in the combine in Indianapolis. Instead, it turned out to be trouble. The All-ACC First Team selection suffered a left hamstring injury and slipped to the ground when running the 40-yard dash (It was on the same surgically repaired knee). Fox didn't talk to reporters afterward. But some draft experts were thinking he would go in the fourth round with a good Pro Day. It obviously didn't go that way.
"It's been tough to watch -- especially having been through so much with the guy, you've seen him play injured," Trump said. "It's been a difficult road for him. He kind of gave his heart and soul to this team. Now, he's kind of paying the price for it. But he'll bounce back. I told him many times I went to that all-star game and he can block all those guys. He'll get his shot and he'll be an established NFL player."
SHARPTON CONFIDENT... Darryl Sharpton would guess what round he's going to get picked , but he's confident he won't be around long. He was more than happy with his workout Friday where says he improved in every category. He said he ran a 4.6 in the 40 (he ran a 4.7 at the NFL combine, went from 24 to 26 reps in the bench press and ran the shuttle in 4.2-seconds. He also broad jumped 10-1.
"I'm a confident guy. I think I'm one of the best linebackers in the nation," Sharpton said. "And I expect to get drafted accordingly."
MORE NEWS AND NOTES FROM FRIDAY
> UM coach Randy Shannon said Saturday's Spring Game, set for a 4:30 p.m. kickoff at Traz Powell Stadium on the campus of Miami-Dade Community College, will feature 10 minute quarters. One team will feature the first team offense and second team defense. The other will feature the second team offense and first team defense.
I asked Shannon for one positive he thought the team got out of this spring: "The development of certain players, developing young guys on the offensive line, the defensive front," Shannon said. "Like LaRon Byrd took the next step, the running backs. We knew our running backs were young, but then you see them progress. We've got a defensive line, now it's time to turn it on, and they did. You watch the quarterbacks be able to handle things. Everything changed a lot, which was real good, and you were happy to see those things happen."
I asked him what he wasn't happy with: "Bonehead stuff, turnovers," Shannon said. "But we didn't have that many turnovers because we worked in camp on turnovers. Last year we had some touchdown scores off returns, so every time there's a turnover I don't blow the whistle in practice. They know that's full speed. We're trying to get those things fixed from last year.
> Friday's practice was also alumni day and there were over 100 former players and coaches in attendance including Jimmy Johnson, Lamar Thomas, Ted Hendricks, Don Bosseler, George Mira Sr. and Cortez Kennedy.
> Defensive end Steven Wesley expressed a bit of sadness over the stabbing death of FIU running back Kendall Berry. Wesley, who attended Bartow High, played against Berry, who played for Haines City, in high school. Wesley said his best friend is Berry's cousin, Tyrone Berry.
Wesley said he knew Berry since the eighth grade, played AAU basketball and maintained a friendship with him through Facebook. "It seems like it ain't real," Wesley said. " He was a real cool, laid back guy, standup guy, a guy you can always depend on. I'm shocked."
Wesley said he called former high school teammate Aaron Davis, who plays for FIU, on Friday to pass along his condolonces. "The first thing that came to my head when I heard what happened was Bryan [Pata]," Wesley said. "I just told Aaron to keep his head up. I went through the same thing my freshman year when Bryan died. I told him just to keep his head up and keep praying."
ORLANDO -- Playing in a non-Bowl Championship Series bowl game a four-hour drive away from home in December might not be where the University of Miami wanted to be at the end of this season.
But with a win in Tuesday's Champs Sports Bowl over Wisconsin, the Canes will likely be exactly where their fans have wanted them to get back to for the second half of this decade: in the hunt for a national title. That's the carrot coach Randy Shannon has been holding out to his players this week. And he talked about it plenty Monday afternoon in his final press conference before Tuesday's game.
"If you go into the end of the season and you win your last game, your going into spring football with some excitement, a lot of enthusiasm," Shannon said. "For us, for Wisconsin, 10 wins can put you probably into the Top 10, Top 12 at the end of the season. If you're returning a lot of guys the following season, they'll probably put you into the top six, top seven in the country. Now, it's not a situation where you're starting outside of the Top 25 and bouncing in or bouncing out. It's a situation where you really get your season going from the start."
The Hurricanes (9-3) haven't won 10 games in a season since 2003. The last time they started a season ranked in the Top 25 was in 2006. The last time they began a season in the Top 10 was in 2005 when they debuted at No. 9 and lost at Florida State 10-7. Barring a change in schedule, the Hurricanes will likely open the 2010 season against Florida A&M at home on Sept. 4. The following week, a trip to Big Ten champion Ohio State and a showdown between two potential Top 10 ranked teams looms. With a win in Columbus, the Canes could potentially put themselves on the inside track for one of the Top 2 BCS spots.
"Winning the bowl game is huge," cornerback Brandon Harris said Sunday. "We know it puts us in the Top 10 coming back next year. That's something we're really looking forward to because we feel like next year is our year to win a national championship. It all really starts with this game right here."
> One thing Shannon talked about Monday was the growth and maturity of his team. A year ago, UM was 7-3 and in the hunt for the ACC title when the Canes (with 22 freshmen in the 2-deep) wilted. He compared it to 7th graders having to take on seniors in high school and not having the stamina to stay up for the entire fight. Monday, he talked about how new coordinators Mark Whipple and John Lovett played roles in helping the Canes grow.
"Our whole football team were freshmen in spring football because they had to learn a whole new offense, totally new defense," Shannon said. "When you have two coordinators coming in, grinding, making sure guys understand what they have to do offensively and defensively, you have to see how players respond to it. We didn't just come out do things the right way. It took us probably on offense until the sixth game of the season for the receivers to run the correct routes, day in and day out. It took us five or six games for the offensive line to get in tune with how many steps we wanted to get down.
"Defensively, we had a lot of injuries at the start. We could have faltered, we could have went backward. But that's the maturity of the football team. That's the maturity of guys understanding we've been there before. That's when true freshman Ray Ray Armstrong came alive. Ray Buchanon, a true sophomore, came around. Curtis Porter. When you're coaching [well], you have guys being productive you're not expecting to come in and produce. True freshman Olivier Vernon is another one. Their play shows you how the coaches are doing a good job. You look at Mike James, being our third tailback, but becomes our fullback. That's a true freshman getting it done. That's what I think coaching is. It's teaching. If you can teach, you can coach. That's the success we've had with Coach Lovett and Coach Whipple."
> Shannon was asked about the reaction his players had when they saw the movie The U a few weeks back. "It's a TV show, a production and you move on," Shannon said. "It can't affect what you do in this time in age. The big picture is what we're doing now, what we're doing on and off the field. You see the improvement on the field, the 100 percent graduation rate. There's a lot of good things going on at the University of Miami.
"To be honest with you, the 30-for-30 helped. We had a lot of parents call in, players we weren't recruiting want to be a part of the University of Miami. But we have to recruit the right type of players that do the things we do, that have the right type of passion for the game and a team mentality, not an individual mentality."
In case you missed WQAM's Thursday night edition of Hurricane Hotline, UM coach Randy Shannon was rather candid on a few subjects -- including his philosophy on personnel changes following injuries:
"When I get the injury report and I get in [on Sunday] while the coaches are in meetings -- offense, defense and special teams [watching film], I say OK 'Let's put this guy over here, this guy over there," Shannon said. "This is the next best guy, let's put him over there.' It's not always the next best guy at the position, it's the next best guy on the football team.
"On the defensive line, you want the best four. On the offensive line, you want your best five. Not the best center, tackle or guard. In the backfield, you want the best running back at the position. You see Mike James playing fullback. It wasn't that he's the next best fullback. It was the next best personnel. You always want the next best guy on the field who can handle it mentally.
"When [receiver] Aldarius [Johnson] got hurt [against FAMU]. What did we do? All we did was put in [Leonard] Hankerson and move Travis [Benjamin] up. LaRon [Byrd] was playing one side and Travis was the other guy. Hank was the swing guy. When [tight end Dedrick] Epps didn't play. OK, [fullback] Tervaris Johnson moves up. The next best guy was Jimmy Graham. You always bring up the next best guy to get things done."
Shannon said one aspect that is severely affected by injuries is special teams play. He said the loss of linebacker Jordan Futch to a season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee was crippling to the kickoff return team.
"You have to change a lot of things when you start getting injuries," Shannon said. "A lot of people don't think Jordan Futch is valuable. Jordan Futch was very valuable to us. He was our best kickoff guy. He was our great kickoff return guy in terms of making the key blocks on their best person. He was doing a great job. A lot of those runs [Graig] Cooper was breaking, Mike James was breaking was because of Jordan Futch. When those injuries come, you have to keep moving guys around to get the special teams in order. That's key. Somebody has to step up to fill that void. We have players to do it. Now, we have to coach them up. And they have to do it."
Here are some other topics Shannon was talking about:
> On the eight season-ending injuries and the fact UM will still have to rely on several true freshmen to play valuable minutes this season: "[The depth isn't where we want it to be] I said that at the beginning of the season, we talked, we still have a lot holes to fix as far as depth on this football team. Everybody wants to say we're back. We're doing a great job. This football team is doing a great job. But when you're playing a true freshman like Curtis Porter that means we're not back. We have to keep recruiting."
> On why UM may not be recruiting certain highly rated players from Dade, Broward and Palm Beach: "We're going to recruit players that fit our program. Some players we will not recruit at Miami. Maybe it's academics. Maybe it's something we know that other people don't know. We're going to make sure whoever we recruit will be a great football player, a great athlete, very academically sound, wants to graduate and get their degree."
> On the status of injured fullback Patrick Hill, whom Shannon said suffered a high ankle sprain: "It really takes a long time to get back. He's been working hard."
> On why redshirt freshman defensive tackle Jeremy Lewis isn't playing: "He's working in practice, trying to get himself in the mix. The one thing about it is he has competition and has to get better. He has to get better to make us a better football team."
> On why freshman defensive tackle Curtis Porter is playing: "He's been coming along pretty well. He came in nicked up on the defensive line and he caused a little havoc. He's a big time run stopper. We're enthused with the way he's coming in."
> On what he likes about freshman cornerback Brandon McGee: "We like the big corners with speed. If you can get anybody who is 6-1 with speed, that's good. He's another January guy. He got nicked in the spring time. We had to sit him out the last two weeks of spring. The more he keeps practicing well, the more playing time he'll get."
> On when highly touted sophomore linebacker Arthur Brown might play: "Arthur Brown is getting better each week. But it's like anything, when he's ready to play, he will play. We have a lot of football players on this football team that were highly recruited, highly rated. But it's always going to be a learning process. When guys are ready mentally to get it done, they will get it done."
> On how receiver Tommy Streeter performed in the first real action of his career against FAMU last week: "He made a big time block when Thearon Collier scored a touchdown. His special teams play was big because guys were nicked last. We even had Tommy run down on kickoffs and he made a couple tackles."
> On why receiver Davon Johnson isn't playing: "He's working. Right now, he's not in the top five guys. We're going to play five guys and not play eight. We're going to concentrate on those guys getting the reps."
> On if running back Damien Berry might see action in the backfield against UCF: "I can guarantee he'll be on special teams for us."
> On running back Graig Cooper's return: "He's healthier this week. He looked good, looked fresh."
HOOPS BEGINS PRACTICING... Frank Haith's team, which returns three players that started 16 or more games last season, will begin practicing this afternoon at the BankUnited Center with plenty of new faces.
Haith, who helped coach the United States in the World University Games this summer in Serbia, told Hurricanes Hotline Thursday: "This is the most talented team we've had from top to bottom. We have length on the perimeter. It's our job not to mess them up.
UM's version of Midnight Madness -- the second annual Hurricanes Hoopfest -- will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. on Wednesday. Fans will be able to watch the men and women scrimmage for 30 minutes and interest with players during an autograph session as well as pick their seats for the upcoming season.
UM will host an exhibition game versus Florida Southern on Nov. 9 at 7:30 p.m. and open the regular season at home versus North Carolina Central Nov. 14 at 4 p.m.
RING OF HONOR LUNCHEON... Plenty of seats are still available for the luncheon to honor Bennie Blades, Steve Walsh and the late Eddie, Dunn, who will be inducted in UM's Ring of Honor during the Clemson game. Sponsor tables can be purchased for $1,5000 and tickets can be bought individually for $100 per person. Call UM's Hurricane Club at 305-284-6699 if you are interested.
The Hurricanes released their injury report moments ago and it looks some sort of bug is going around.
> Probable: DE Eric Moncur (groin).
> Questionable: WR Aldarius Johnson (groin).
> Doubtful: OL Ben Jones (illness), RB Damien Berry (illness).
> Out: DE Adewale Ojomo (jaw), OL Cory White (lower extremity), LB Levi Paalua (upper extremity), DB DeMarcus Van Dyke (concussion), DB Jojo Nicolas (illness).
Here is some of what Randy Shannon was talking about after practice.
> Shannon said there was no way his team was able to fully simulate the speed of Georgia Tech's Triple Option offense and he expects his team to take awhile in adjusting to it Thursday. "It’s still a different speed when you get in the game," Shannon said. "You always try to catch up to it. It may take the first quarter, may take the first five minutes of the game to get accustomed to it. Once you get accustomed to it, you’re OK.
> Shannon said it's important for his team to get off to a fast start. "We need something to happen for us early. Maybe a big play defensively, maybe special teams and get the crowd into it and get the momentum going," Shannon said.
> Shannon said while he would like for the Canes to force Georgia Tech to throw more than they want to, he said the Yellow Jackets have shown a consistency in sticking with the run even on third and long. "Third down and eight, they’ll still run on you. If you don’t have them 3rd down and 14, it’s hard to get them in those true passing situations," Shannon said. "When you watch them on film on third down and 10, they’re still running the fullback dive and still running the option. As long as you don’t give up the 75 to 20 yard runs. If you give up eight, 10, 15 yard runs, you’ll be OK. Because you’ll line up and play again. The long ones are the ones that demoralize you.
> UM picked up its 17th commitment for its 2010 class Tuesday when DE/TE Andrew Tillman from Dorchester Boston College High picked the Canes.
Last season, Randy Shannon entered the season knowing he was going to have to play freshmen all over the field. This year, he’s happy he won’t have to do that.
When Shannon met with the local media Thursday to discuss Monday night’s season opener at Florida State and the start of his third season at UM, he smiled when he was asked how many freshmen might see the field. “Four or five -- a lot less than last year and hopefully next year it will be a lot less too,” Shannon said.
In case you forgot, the Hurricanes played 18 freshmen in their season opener last year against Charleston Southern. By the end of the season, the Canes were counting on a number of first year players to deliver in key roles. One look at the Canes’ depth chart, released to reporters after Shannon’s press conference, tells us 2009 is going to be a different kind of season.
Only five true freshmen made the two-deep – quarterback AJ Highsmith, left guard Brandon Washington, defensive end Olivier Vernon, running back Mike James (kick returns) and right tackle Jermaine Johnson. And only one former scout team player from a year ago – right guard Harland Gunn -- was in the starting lineup. Shannon told our Susan Miller Degnan, during his private one-on-one interviews with reporters from each local paper, that the depth chart could change before Monday’s kickoff.
DEPTH CHART CHANGES: And apparently, the depth chart changed before UM’s Sports Information office even printed out copies and handed them to reporters before Shannon's press conference. According to the Palm Beach Post’s Jorge Milian, redshirt freshman Vaughn Telemaque – slated behind junior JoJo Nicholas – is actually the starter at safety alongside senior Randy Phillips. And redshirt freshman kicker Jake Wieclaw, who was entrusted to handle kickoffs according to the depth chart and teammates, really won’t be handling them just yet. Also of note according to the Palm Beach Post, Jake Byrne has passed Matt Perrelli in the walk-on battle for the third string quarterback job.
GUNN WINS STARTING JOB: Gunn may be the best story among players to win a starting job this fall. The 6-2, 315-pounder from Nebraska took over the job in the spring when Joel Figueroa had shoulder surgery and simply held onto the job when Figueroa – a four-game starter – returned for fall camp. Both should still end up rotating at the spot. But the fact Gunn did well enough to earn a starting job is a plus for the Canes.
Teammate Orlando Franklin said Thursday of Gunn: “He’s more mature, more patient. He’s always been a real good run blocker. In pass game in college you have to be patient because guys are fast and they’re just as strong as you. He improved with being patient and knowing what’s going to happen before it occurs.”
FRANKLIN CAN PLAY TACKLE: Miami’s offensive line has strength and depth in the interior. But at tackle consider the Canes thin. Shannon told our SMD neither redshirt freshman Ben Jones nor true freshman Jermaine Johnson are ready to see game action yet. So, it appears that if Jason Fox or Matt Pipho were to go down with an injury, Franklin would be the first player to slide outside.
“I play left guard, left tackle, right tackle. I take snaps everyday at both [tackle spots],” Franklin said. “I’m pretty sure that’s what would happen [if Fox or Pipho were injured]. Bottomline is I’d play any position they need me to.”
> Part of the reason the Canes could feel comfortable with Franklin at tackle is because freshman Brandon Washington can play anywhere inside. “Brandon is a real smart guy. For him to come in learn all three inside positions -- that’s crazy,” Franklin said. “I remember my freshman year. It was real hard for me just to learn left guard. You can put Brandon at left guard, right guard or center and you won’t miss a beat. He’s been doing a real good job.”
HANKERSON STARTING OVER A. JOHNSON: The fact Leonard Hankerson beat out sophomore Aldarius Johnson – last year’s leading pass catcher – for a starting job didn’t surprise safety Randy Phillips.
“He’s the leader at the wide out position. He’s the older guy. He works hard. He’s a different guy,” Phillips said. “He’s been lighting up things in practice. He always stays out there and gets things done. He has totally turned himself around. Hank worked his way into his starting position. A lot of the guys are way more than talented than him. But he got the job done. He’s a hell of a blocker. He runs precise routes, he’s catching the ball, doing the film room, doing all the little things right. He deserves it all.”
Hankerson may be starting, but I wouldn't take it to mean he's going to see more playing time than Johnson. This is the same team that started Khalil Jones in three of its first four games in 2008. I'm not saying Hankerson is like Jones, who caught just five passes last year. Hank is way better than Jones. My point is this football team has started guys in the past who weren't necessarily the best at their position. Shannon does it to send a message to the guys below them. Jones usually sat the bench after first two, three series. Hank will play more than that. But I still think when the game is on the line, Johnson will be in there.
JACORY'S FUNNY TAKE: I thought Jacory Harris’ days of providing comic relief and honest takes were over after his “enlightening interview” on Dan LeBatard’s radio show last month. But he came back strong Thursday when asked about playing on Monday night in front of a national TV audience.
“The only I thing I keep thinking about because its Monday night is if it’s the NFL,” Harris said. “I keep wondering if the man with the cowboy hat is going to come out and start signing on TV for us or something. It's going to be a fun experience for everybody."
> Harris said he wouldn’t necessarily play more cautiously this season after the transfers of Taylor Cook and Cannon Smith. But he isn't dumb either. "I know I won’t let it affect me because if I'm thinking `I can't get hurt,' I'm going to get hurt,” Harris said. “You got out and play timid, you have things you don't want happening happen. I'll take it as a regular game, have fun and let the team take care of me."
"If I see a linebacker running at me I think my first decision is to run him over. But I will be smart and take a slide. I’m not a dumb person. I know to take a slide when I have to. But if it’s to get extra yards, I may sacrifice my body.”
TWO-BACK COMMITTEE AGAIN: Despite saying on various occasions before the season he’d like for one running back to emerge as THE MAN, Shannon told reporters the backfield still belongs to Graig Cooper and Javarris James.
“I'm happy now,” Shannon said. “You can never have too many running backs because injuries always happen. We're happy with how Cooper and Javarris have been doing. They’ve always worked together. This is the best Javarris has ever done in camp since he was a freshman. He hasn’t been nicked. He's looks faster. Coop is Cooper, he's done a great job. And Lee Chambers has taken the next step. You go to the next group, Damien Berry, Mike James and Lamar Miller. A lot of guys are playing special teams, have some role against Florida State. When it comes down to it, Cooper and Javarris will be the two load guys and the other guys will play as needed.”
We all figured Adewale Ojomo was going to be out for awhile, but we finally got confirmation from coach Randy Shannon that senior Eric Moncur will not lineup against the Seminoles Monday night.
Shannon told reporters during his ACC Teleconference an hour ago that Moncur and Ojomo were the only two defensive ends who will not be going to Tallahassee. "We got maybe two guys that will be out for the game -- Ojomo and Eric Moncur," Shannon said when asked about the state of his defensive ends. "... We'll miss them and their experience. We have confidence in Olivier Vernon, Marcus Robinson, Andrew Smith and Steven Wesley. We have a lot of guys who have played football here."
Shannon spoke for about 10 minutes during his ACC Teleconference and for about another 20 with WQAM's Joe Rose Tuesday morning. Here are a few notes from those conversations.
> Shannon said the key to beating Florida State will be winning the turnover battle and tackling. "We got to be able to stop the run. If you can stop the run defensively you can let your pass rush get after the quarterback and do some other things," he said. "Last year we weren't able to do that. We're a better football team just because of experience wise. All of those young guys got a lot of experience with playing reps which is vital for a game against Florida State."
> Last year, the Seminoles and quarterback Christian Ponder torched the Canes on the ground. Shannon said UM wants to keep him contained. "We want to keep him inside the pocket and make decisions. We're expecting our defensive line to do a great job. We expect our pressure to get after him."
> Shannon said the biggest improvement he's seen in Jacory Harris is in third down situations. "He doesn't let many things bother him," Shannon said when asked what's impressed him about Harris now that he's the full-time starter. "He's the guy this year and he takes it just like business. He practices with the mentality he's going to get better. When he makes a mistake, he'll take the blame. If he holds it too long, he'll go and tell the offensive line he held it too long. If he throws it to high for a receiver or just out of reach, he'll tell them 'My bad.' He's not a me guy. He's a team guy."
> Shannon said backup quarterback AJ Highsmith has done well, but hinted if he gets into the game he probably will not be asked to do a lot. "We got a small package for him," Shannon said.
> Shannon told WQAM he and his coaching staff will sit down after Thursday's practice and determine the depth chart and who will be traveling with the team. When asked if any true freshmen would play, Shannon said "none will start."
> As for the rotation at receiver, Shannon said "we're going to play four or five guys at maximum. You can't play eight anymore. The guys know whoever makes plays for us will be playing for us."
> Shannon said he feels confident with the depth on his offensive line. "We got eight guys we feel comfortable with," he said. "We have guys we can rotate and give us a chance to win games."
The Miami Hurricanes practiced in full pads Wednesday for the first time since the end of last spring. For linebacker Colin McCarthy, it had been a little bit longer than that.
The last time McCarthy was in full gladiator mode was 11 months ago. That day, against North Carolina, he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. So, how did the first real lick McCarthy's taken since then feel on Wednesday? Well, it didn't hurt.
"The first hit, I was a little nervous," McCarthy said. "But my shoulder felt great. All summer I’ve been hitting bags with my shoulder getting ready for this. I really didn’t have any problems. Knock on wood, hopefully, it stays strong."
There isn't a player who more profoundly affected UM's run defense last season than McCarthy (in case you missed the Top 60 profile I used the following stat the other day). When McCarthy was in, the Hurricanes were good at stopping the run. UM's run defense led the ACC and ranked seventh nationally (65 ypg) through its first four games. But once McCarthy went out -- along with defensive end Eric Moncur -- UM had to turn to its younger players to hold the fort. Miami's run defense slipped from finishing 40th nationally in 2007 (133.75 yards per game) to 75th last season (151.85 ypg) and last in the ACC.
Wednesday, what UM focused on primarily was inside running drills. McCarthy said he was in the middle, learning and listening to defensive coordinator John Lovett closely. From what we heard, the offense had a nice day. But the fact McCarthy, who has played outside linebacker the majority of his career, is spending more time in the middle these days tells you two things: One, coaches probably aren't 100 percent confident Darryl Sharpton can handle being the sure-fire tackler in the middle they need. Two, Ramon Buchanon and Jordan Futch are probably making strides on the outside.
Needless to say, having a healthy and strong McCarthy in the middle will be huge for this defense. And at least after one day of hitting, that shoulder is still OK.
GRAHAM HANDLES HITS: The other player I wanted to hear from Wednesday as far as hitting goes was power forward turned tight end Jimmy Graham. Like McCarthy, so far, so good.
“It felt great. It was what I was anticipating,” Graham said. “We got some big hitters on the team. They’re real quick. You just have to put your head on a swivel.”
Graham said he took several licks. But nothing as hard as what he took Monday when he was hit by a trio of defenders on a crossing route over the middle. But he said he popped right back up and ran to the huddle.
“I was hit pretty hard out there. But I’ve been hitting guys in basketball like that for four years,” Graham said. “It doesn’t bother me at all. Next time, I’ll point at them and tell them to keep on coming.”
At 6-8, 260 pounds Graham can lay the wood himself. And he said he has. He said he’s been learning two positions – H-back and tight end and is practicing about 15 new plays a day. He said although it feels like “50” he’s coming in early in the morning to watch extra film and he feels he’s getting a grasp of it. Wednesday, he made a sliding catch in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. It was his second touchdown of the spring.
“It’s like dunking on somebody,” Graham said. “But in college, there is no showboating. So, I just toss it to the ref and keep running. Hopefully, there will be more to come.”
> Be sure to check out Susan Miller Degnan's feature on Graham in Thursday's paper.
Here are Wednesday's pactice highlights according to UM's sports info staff...
> BIG DAY FOR PICKS: Brandon Harris and Colin McCarthy each recorded two interceptions on the morning. Harris made the first pick of the morning in 11-on-11 action before McCarthy recorded his first in 7-on-7. Both players then wrapped up the morning with back-to-back INTs during the two-minute drill in 11-on-11 play towards the end of the session. Vaughn Telemaque (7-on-7), Ryan Hill (11-on-11) and Brandon McGee (11-on-11) also recorded interceptions.
> GRAHAM, BERRY SCORE: Jimmy Graham and Damien Berry each scored during red zone drills... Leonard Hankerson made two catches of 30+ yards in 11-on-11 action... Jacory Harris connected with LaRon Byrd for a deep ball in 11-on-11... Damien Berry, Graig Cooper and Mike James all picked up significant gains in middle drills... Dedrick Epps, Tervaris Johnson and Aldarius Johnson all recorded catches of 20+ yards in 7-on-7 play.
Ryan Hill doesn't want to be known as Bubba Gump. But when it comes time to throwing down shrimp, there might not be a better cook on the Hurricanes team.
It's why on Saturday nights during the summer, the entire team flocked to his place about as often as they did to Colin McCarthy and Jason Fox's house for "Fish Fry Night." So, who is the best cook on the team?
"My vote would have to go with Ryan Hill," sophomore cornerback Brandon Harris said. "His shrimp, he's got something special on that. He'll fry it, bake it, sautee it, grill it, we'll have a shrimp party all night."
Hill, a senior, actually shared his special shrimp recipe with me Monday: "The one the guys really love is the barbeque grilled shrimp I do. I do it on a shish kabob stick, put some lemon pepper spices and then add the Sweet Baby Rays BBQ sauce. And then, I stir fry some on the stove. I give them the best of the best."
Whether its cooking, hosting parties or playing designated driver, Hill has always aimed to be a good teammate off the field about as often as he's been one on it.
When he signed with UM in 2005, the Tallahassee native thought he was destined to follow in the footsteps of Antrel Rolle and become the Canes next great cornerback. But when he got to UM, Larry Coker had a different plan for him. With the Canes short on receivers, Hill made the move to offense and in two seasons caught 19 passes for 182 yards and two touchdowns. Last season, he made the move back to defense -- but was learning how to play safety. He did OK, starting five games, making 34 tackles and deflecting two passes.
But now, as he enters his final year at UM, the 6-foot, 205-pounder is happier than he's ever been. Why? Because he's finally back where he was meant to be -- corner. This spring, he split time at corner and safety. But with UM still a little short at corner, the decision was made this offseason to let him return to corner full time -- with the possibility he could slide back to safety if needed.
"One thing I wanted to do is get better in shape and fine tune myself," said Hill, who ran the fourth fastest 40 time on the team this spring (4.40) and ranked in the Top 20 in all five testing categories. "With coach Swasey and his program, I think I took full advantage of it. I'm healthy, big and as fast as I've ever been. I'm going to take it to the field. Whether I'm at corner or safety, I'm comfortable. I'll do whatever it takes to win a national championship."
Through UM's first three practices, Hill said he's been working primarily at field corner with freshman Brandon McGee and junior Demarcus Van Dyke. That would leave Brandon Harris, Sam Shields and Chavez Grant working at boundary corner. Hill said Monday he worked with the second team during 11-on-11 drills and with the first team during 7-on-7s. "We have three groups and we're all rotating," Hill said.
Last season, the Hurricanes finished with just four interceptions (tied for fewest in team history). Hill said he wished media and fans would also give the Canes more credit for finishing seventh in the nation in pass defense (165 ypg). "It's tough when people grade you just off turnovers and interceptions," Hill said. " To me, we finished seventh in pass defense and only had four INTs. What if we get 19 or 20 this year? We could be No. 1. People shouldn't underestimate what we can do with this secondary. We have a lot of great athletes and a lot of guys who are no longer freshmen."
MCGRIFF EXCITED ABOUT SECONDARY
I had a chance to sit down for a one-on-one interview with defensive backs coach Wesley McGriff Tuesday and here are some nuggets from our conversation.
> I asked McGriff to explain what exactly a boundary corner and a field corner is and what is needed to play those spots. He also let me in on his philosophy coaching his players.
"In football, the majority of the game is played at the hash [mark]. The boundary coner covers the short side, sideline in. The field corner has got to cover a lot more ground, and a lot more routes are thrown at him. The field [corner] needs to have good feet, but more vertical speed because that's where you have to cover more ground. You may get more throws into the boundary, but the routes in the boundary are going to be in a smaller area. So, you have to have really quick feet and be good against the run. You usually cover more physical guys there.
"Brandon Harris, and Chavez Grant are more boundary guys. A guy like DVD can play both, but he's a big asset to the field because of that speed. Ryan Hill too. Sam Shields could play both also. But the key is you can't limit yourself. If you are my third best corner, you have to get into the game. You strive to get those guys in field and boundary to learn both and then try to train them for a particular area. But ultimately you got to get your best on the field, the combinations that work."
> Although we don't get to see practice -- all reporters must get accounts from players and coaches as to how practice went -- we've definitely been hearing about the secondary creating more turnovers through the first three days of camp. McGriff said its a result of a maturity. "Once you get older as a unit, those things start coming," McGriff said.
"When you are young, your just trying to line up in the right spot. Now, they're going to take the next step. We were 7th in the country [in pass defense]. But that wasn't good enough for the University of Miami. That's just the starting point. We have to affect the game, we have to take the ball away from the opponent. That's all we keep stressing to these guys. Don't be afraid to make plays."
> McGriff said moving Hill to corner full time was necessary for depth. "We needed some knowledge there. Ryan is going to help us at that spot. Ryan could be a really great corner. He has all the tools and abilities to be a great corner. I think it's a benefit to have a guy we can move to the edge and cover man to man and has all the change of direction, the ball skills. That kid really, really works hard. He's going to be a good kid for us."
> As for safety Ray Ray Armstrong, McGriff said its too early to judge how much of an impact he could make as a freshman. "He's got to get more comfortable in the scheme," McGriff said. "He may not be playing fast because he's not sure. Just like Brandon [Harris] and Vaughn Telemaque had to get past that freshman stage. It's hard to come in as a true freshman and make plays. How much training did they get in high school? Was he a fulltime DB? No. Now, he is. What I like is his attitude, his size, he's a winner. He's really smart and he just loves the game."
> I asked McGriff if some of the expectations for Vaughn Telemaque, whom Shannon compared to Ed Reed last season, are too high for a player who played in just three games last year. "He's got to play good for us. He's one of our guys for us," McGriff said.
"I don't think anybody could put higher expectations on Vaughn than Vaughn himself. He's really critical of himself. He has to play good for us. He's worked hard all summer to get himself in that position. He'll live up to his own expectations. He knows he has to watch film over and over again. I tell him all the time he has to be the QB on defense. He wants to be good. The one thing about Vaughn is he's going to use all the resources around him to make sure he's great. Whether its an NFL player, coaches, film, he's going to use whatever. I know he spent one day with Ed Reed this summer, asking him questions. I told the guys when they're walking around the building, you have to ask guys these questions. He did."
> As for freshman Brandon McGee, McGriff said the Plantation High star needs to pick up schemes more. "Brandon's biggest thing is he's not 100 percent comfortable and sure of what he's doing. Once he does, he's going to be a great corner. He and I talked about it yesterday. Let it go and stop worrying about making a mistake."
> I caught up with redshirt freshman Ben Jones. He told me he's been moved back to left tackle, after playing only right tackle in the spring. That means Jermaine Johnson has moved back to right tackle, where he started out in the spring before moving to the left side.
"At first it was kind of a weird adjustment because I was so used to the right side and I'm right handed," Jones said. "But I'm learning from [Jason] Fox and he's teaching me, correcting me when I make mistakes."
Jones, who said he shed 10 pounds in the summer and now stands 6-5, 290, said he realizes the importance of playing well on the left side because it protects the blind side of quarterback Jacory Harris. "You have to be on your Ps and Qs on your left side. You have to be on your A game when your blocking for Jacory. I'm treating it like I was in high school, protecting him like he's my baby."
> UM coach Randy Shannon complimented the play of tight end Jimmy Graham Monday, saying he ran routes well with shoulder pads on. He also had good things to say about receiver Leonard Hankerson, saying he's become a leader and is "much better."
Hankerson spent this summer working with former Miami Dolphin great Mark Duper on catching. "It was fun and exciting," Hankerson said of working with Duper. "I just worked on catching the ball, looking it in, running routes better and concentrating on the ball. Now, I'm just looking at catching the point of the ball." Hankerson said its worked so far in practice. "I'm catching everything now," he said.