April 24, 2009

Lamar Miller is scary fast

Lamar Miller hasn't had a conversation with a University of Miami coach since he attended the spring game last month. It's not because Miller is mad at the Canes, or the Canes are mad at Miller. They're still definitely in love. It's because Miller has eyes on something else -- winning the state title in the 100 meters.

Lamar Miller Thursday afternoon, I caught up with the Killian High running back at the District 16-4A track and field meet down at Southridge High School. He looked a little different from the last time I saw on National Signing Day when he wore a black suit and an orange and green Canes tie. This Miller was 10 pounds lighter, right around 208 he says, and wearing a pair of black track and field tights to go with a determined attitude. "I really want to win a state championship," he told me before the race. "I don't like losing at anything."

Miller proceeded to win his next race moments later by doing what he often does on the football field -- blowing past his competitors. At the horse track, he would have won by at least two lengths. It wasn't his best time (10.79 seconds), but it got him one step closer to where he wants to be in two weeks -- the FHSAA state track and field championships in Winter Park.

Miller finished 11th in the state last year and currently has the 25th fastest time (10.73) this season in the state according to flrunners.com. Normally, non-track officianados would think that's not that impressive. But when you look at who is in front of Miller this year (it's probably one of the fastest years in state history) and how his career best compares (10.56, which he ran as a junior) to other Hurricanes and football greats, you come to appreciate the great open field speed Miller possesses for someone who stands 6-feet and weighs close to 210 pounds.

Remember how in awe we were of the speed slender Canes receiver Travis Benjamin showed us this past season? His fastest 100-meter time at Glades Central was 10.72 seconds. Remember little, speedy Sinorce Moss and how he would blow past guys in the secondary? His career best in the 100 meters at Carol City was 10.96. Devin Hester -- the guy with the 100 speed rating in John Madden's video game -- his fastest at Riviera Beach Suncoast was 10.87 seconds. Miller (timed at 4.32 in the 40-yard dash as a junior) has not only run faster than those speedy Canes in the 100 meters, but Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (10.61) too. The fastest any Hurricane has run in 100-yard dash? Little-used former cornerback Terrell Walden (10.65).

The point is there aren't many guys who have come to UM with that type of long-range speed. Even Sam Shields, who was timed at a UM record 4.2 seconds earlier this week in the 40-yard dash, turned in his fastest 100-meter time of 10.82 seconds at Sarasota Booker.

One glance over state record books shows you it's not easy for football players who take a beating in the fall to make the speedy transition to track in the spring. Many usually pass on it to give their legs a rest, while others have competed in the sport or used the training to make themselves faster. But the guys who win the big races are usually those who aren't getting slammed into by linebackers and 300-pound defensive lineman. Miller, obviously, isn't one of those. His focus was to lead Miami-Dade County in rushing and his team deep into the playoffs (which he did). But like the five guys I mentioned before, he has that extra special gear and the ability to pull away from the pack, which makes it exciting to think what he could do with the ball in his hands in the open field this fall.

For comparison, current Florida Gator Jeffrey Demps owns the state record with a 10.37 100-meter dash time. He nearly broke under 10 seconds at the U.S. Olympic Trials is by far the fastest high school football player the state has ever produced. Miller will likely be trying to beat a pair of future Gators when he gets past next week's regionals at Traz Powell Stadium. Among the speedy runners in front of him expected to make the final eight-man field -- receiver Andre Debose (10.63) from Sanford Seminole and 2010 cornerback Demar Dorsey (10.55) from Lauderdale Lakes Boyd Anderson. Another big name expected to participate in the race, future Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson (10.44) from Deerfield Beach. All will be trying to chase down one of the country's future Olympians in Dentarius Locke (10.35), who is headed to Tennessee on a track scholarship.

With freshman running back Mike James already in camp and making noise on the depth chart and veterans Graig Cooper and Javarris James back, there likely aren't going to be enough balls to go around in 2009 for Miller to get much of an opportunity to show what he can do in the backfield. But in the kicking game, he could prove to be extremely valuable. In his three varsity seasons at Killian, he returned nine kickoffs back for touchdowns. "Kick returns, I'm very comfortable with those," Miller said. "I've been doing that my whole career. Punt returns? I got to work on those. But I like getting the ball, seeing an opening and hitting it full speed."

Miller plans on doing just that when he gets to UM in the summer, which he says he should do because he's "already gone through the clearinghouse with an ACT score of 20" and because his GPA will get a boost from 2.57 to somewhere around 2.7 to 2.8 when he graduates at the end of May. "I got 2 A's, 3 B's and 1 C on my last report card," Miller said. "My GPA should move up even more on my next one."

But first, before prom and before he starts taking classes at UM shortly after, there's a state title to contend for on Saturday May 9th. "I feel very confident I'm going to win," Miller said. "I have great competition. I know that. But that just drives me even more. I'm working hard on dropping that time, getting aster. I'm going to do it. You'll see."

April 15, 2009

Graham giving football a shot

Jimmy Graham hasn't played football since the ninth grade. But he's not letting it stop him from giving it another shot. 

Jimmy Graham Around lunchtime Wednesday, University of Miami coach Randy Shannon confirmed the rumors we'd all been hearing for weeks when he told reporters during his 10-minute ACC teleconference that the 6-8, 260-pound Canes power forward will indeed be trying out at tight end.

"We will give him a chance if he wants to do that," Shannon said. "I told Jimmy he has an opportunity to come back to school, enjoy the dream of playing football. He's been around, been with the players, Jacory Harris some... with his size and speed he may help us."

The Hurricanes could definitely use the help. UM is not only thin on experience at tight end, they don't have any proven talent aside from Dedrick Epps. Seniors Richard Gordon and Tervaris Johnson and redshirt sophomore Daniel Adderley took the majority of the snaps the spring and looked average at best. Stephen Plein and Billy Sanders will likely not be ready to help as true freshmen. 

Wednesday, Shannon provided some good news when he told reporters Epps, coming off knee surgery in December, was ahead of schedule. "He should be ready for camp, should be running full speed in July," Shannon said. "He should be full speed and ready to go." 

But it's Graham who could be the most intriguing prospect at the position considering his size and athletic ability. Some of the NFL's best tight ends -- Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez -- have come from the basketball court. Graham, who is declining interviews according to UM sports information director Margaret Belch, could be the next one. 

Wednesday, after Shannon's press conference, I caught up with Carlos Peralta, Graham's old basketball coach at Charis Prep in N.C. Peralta, who has talked to Graham at least once a week since he's been at UM, told me the football team approached Graham about giving tight end a try. Peralta said Graham wrestled with the decision for weeks, praying on it for days before finally telling Shannon recently he would give football a shot. 

"First and foremost what swayed him was that he's enjoyed his time at UM," Peralta said. "And he saw this as an opportunity to extend his experience a little bit. He talked about going to graduate school, how he'll be able to be a double major [marketing and business] by the time he graduates. Jimmy always loved football. It was his first love really. The way he and I see this is he gets to let go of more unleashed aggression -- without the fouls."

According to Peralta, Graham explored all of his basketball opportunities before deciding to give football a try. He looked into potential agents and contemplated offers from overseas -- as far East as Russia.

"Options were available to him," Peralta said. "I think the bottomline is he felt like it was a bit of an unknown in terms of environment. Although the money looks good on paper, he didn't know if he'd enjoy living for six months in Russia. That's what it really came down to."

> Shannon discussed a few other topics during his teleconference including his new coordinators, UM's NFL First Round Draft Streak coming to an end and how Taylor Cook will enter the fall as the team's No. 2 quarterback (which we expected). Nothing was earth shattering. FYI, it's likely the last time we'll hear from Shannon until fall practice begins.

> While I realize many of you might have been miffed by my last blog on recruiting becoming a little more challenging locally for the Canes, I want you to know I had several interesting conversations with several UM staff members behind the scenes about it this week. 

One person told me the reason it is getting harder is because of the emergence of more "mentors" locally. These people could be trying to earn "favors" with outside schools. I'm not going to point any fingers (just know I don't write blogs to stir up controversy or to get hits). I've had my finger on the pulse of recruiting here in South Florida for years. Something isn't right. With severe budget cuts happening on the high school level in Miami-Dade and Broward, assistants and people around programs are losing their jobs. Understand there might be a few desperate guys out there trying to find "help." They are beginning to point kids toward a particular school for that reason. UM knows it and they're trying to fight it. It's just not so easy when some schools have something to offer and The U does not want to get involved in that at all. 

April 02, 2009

A chat with Kirby Hocutt & more

Two weeks ago when the University of Miami was on the road in the NIT at Providence, I got a chance to catchup with athletic director Kirby Hocutt and pick his mind on a few hot button issues. I figured the highlights of our discussion might be the best way for me to start sharing a boatload of notes I've collected in the past week since the end of the spring football.

Kirby Hocutt > UM football coach Randy Shannon has two years left on his current contract. Entering his third season after going a combined 12-13, Hocutt said he has yet to broach the subject of a contract extension with Shannon and didn't share a timetable either when negotiations might begin. But he didn't sound like an athletic director whose begun looking yet for Plan B either. 

"We haven't talked yet," Hocutt said. "But that's no indication of our support for Randy. He's done an excellent job. There's an excitement around the program as well as optimism for next year. Miami football is on the right track. Randy has a plan and we're going to continue to support him and he's going to be the leader of the program for a long time. I'm confident of that."

> One thing that Shannon did that pleased Hocutt was the way he handled the recruitment of running back Bryce Brown, who went from longtime UM commitment to signing with Tennessee two weeks ago after Shannon decided not to renew his scholarship offer.

"He made the right decision in my opinion and I respect him for handling it the way he did. We're going to be fine moving forward," Hocutt said. "[Recruiting] has changed. Is it concerning? Yes it is. You would hope you can work directly with the parents and the young people involved. You hope the third party influence is not as involved as it is today, especially in the sport of basketball. This honestly was the first time I saw a third party involved in a football situation to the degree it was. And it's something I think we need to start talking about at the conference level and maybe moreso on a national level."

> One of the things Hocutt said he has become more involved in since taking over has been the future scheduling of opponents. He wants to get UM involved in big-time games including playing Notre Dame again and getting Florida on the schedule. Right now, Kansas State is looking to get off UM's schedule for 2011 and 2012. Hocutt said he and Shannon have agreed that as long as UM finds a comparable opponent for the series they would let the Wildcats out of their agreement. According to Hocutt, ESPN is trying to find a replacement to create a marquee TV matchup. Hocutt would not mention any names, but said it would be another Big 12 opponent. I've heard rumblings the possible home and home series could come against either Texas, Texas Tech or Missouri.

"We're going to make sure the opponent makes sense for Miami and what we're trying to accomplish," Hocutt said. "We'll see what opportunities present themselves and move down the road."

Speaking of down the road and opportunities, Hocutt seemed more confident there could be a future meeting with Miami and Notre Dame than with the Canes and Gators, who are currently scheduled to meet for the last time in football at Dolphins Stadium in 2013.

"If there is any way whatsoever to get [a series with Notre Dame] done, we'll get it done," Hocutt said. "I don't want to lead people on or sound too optimistic, but there has been an initial phone call and another conversation through a mutual relationship [TV]. There's definitely interest on both sides. If it's something we can get done in the future it sounds like we're both committed to it."

> When it comes to Frank Haith, consider Hocutt a huge fan of UM's 43-year old coach and a coach Hocutt would probably willing to fight for financially should Haith receive an offer to leave the program. Haith, who last week told reporters and his team he has no interest in leaving UM, has once again had his name resurface this week in filling a possible job opening. FOXSports.com reported Wednesday Georgia has Haith next on its list of candidates after Oklahoma's John Capel. Ten months ago, Hocutt and Dee extended Haith's contract at UM through 2014. Hocutt, who said he speaks to Haith on a weekly basis even during the offseason, said nobody has formally asked UM to speak with Haith.

"Frank and I spend a lot of time talking and its all focused around the future of Miami basketball, what we can continue to do to elevate this program," Hocutt said. "We have a great relationship. He knows we don't want anybody in this country to be our head basketball coach except Frank Haith. You hope you are in position as an athletic director and athletic department thatr people are coming after your coaches, your staff members. That's what you want. That means you got the right person in place and you are doing good things. I think it's a complement to UM that Frank's name is mentioned out there so much."

MORE NOTES, QUOTES & THOUGHTS...

This week I spent two days covering the McDonald's All-American festivities and got a chance to not only speak to a few big-time players, but pick the brains of high school basketball recruiting gurus on a variety of topics.

> UM's quest to land John Wall, the nation's No. 1 available point guard, should probably be considered what has been for a long time -- shaky at best. With John Calipari leaving Memphis for Kentucky this week, many gurus believe it won't necessarily stop Wall from following him. As I was told by SI's Andy Staples last night, Kentucky is probably the most ideal situation because they are desparate for a point guard. Wall has told several publications he plans to take an official visit to UM on April 24. But like Dwayne Collins told me last night when I bumped into him in the BankUnited Center parking lot at around midnight, "if I was him or anybody else living up in that cold, I'd want to take a trip to Miami, too. But that don't mean he's coming here."

> Speaking of Dwayne Collins, although there have been reports that the 6-8, 240-pound forward is considering leaving UM after this season to enter the NBA Draft, I'd consider the likelyhood of Collins leaving about the same as Wall coming to Miami. "Really, I'm just waiting on Coach Haith to tell me what he thinks," Collins said. "If he thinks I should go, I'll go. If he doesn't, I'll be back." NBADraftexpress.com ranks Collins 37th among the nation's Top Juniors. That's not close to being a first round pick.

> Jack McClinton's NBA Draft stock, meanwhile, remains up in the air -- especially after a knee injury slowed him toward the end of the year. McClinton will get a chance to make an impression on NBA Scouts again, however, when he participates in the Three-Point shootout of the State Farm College All-Star festivities Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. at the site of the Final Four in Detroit.

> Florida-bound and local guard Kenny Boynton Jr. had a pretty good night (10 points) in Wednesday night's McDonald's All-American Game at the BankUnited Center. I asked Boynton Tuesday if there ever really was a bone in his body that considered playing at Miami, in front of his friends and family.

"There definitely was," Boynton said. "They did recruit me. Coach Jorge Fernandez recruited me real well. Coach Haith recruited me also. But I didn’t think he put more into it like Duke and Florida. I think coach Haith didn’t show me he really wanted me. He came to see me a few times. But he never called a lot. I think it would have been a good situation [coming to Miami]. It’s close to home, Miami is on the rise. I think I could have helped. But it’s a good situation where I'm going too. I like Florida a lot."

> Coming off their second series loss in 23 series in the ACC, UM's baseball team will open a three-game homestand against Florida State this weekend at Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field. The biggest news, though, is UM has decided to move No. 2 starter David Gutierrez into the Friday night starter role in place of the struggling Chris Hernandez Gutierrez is 2-2 with a 1.51 ERA. Hernandez is 2-2 with a 5.88 ERA.

By the way, the Canes will honor the 1999 National Championship team before Saturday night's game at 7 p.m. Get there early if you want to catch it.

March 28, 2009

Spring game thoughts

FORT LAUDERDALE -- It's hard to really measure this spring game since I came away feeling like we only saw about 25 percent of UM's playbook, and about half of the expected starters were kept out with injuries. That being said, Eye On The U will still provide you with what we learned from Saturday's spring game, who impressed, who didn't and what was said after it was over.

GAME BALL: Running back Damien Berry. He didn't do go up against the first team defense, but Berry Damien Berry was still by far the most impressive individual performer of Saturday's game. His 54-yard touchdown run and backflip into the end zone was the most impressive play of the day. For a guy who made the move from safety to running back last season and spent all of last year on the scout team (where he earned Scout Team MVP), Berry impressed me with his breakaway speed on several runs, including his toughness to not only take on safeties head on, but barrel over them. With a healthy Javarris James, Graig Cooper, Lee Chambers and Mike James, Berry is probably fifth on the depth chart at running back. But injuries happen -- like they did this spring. And it's good know when given the chance Berry is going to run hard.

IMPRESSED ME AWARD: OK, so Taylor Cook isn't going to exactly win a Heisman anytime soon. But Saturday, he looked like the clear-cut backup to Jacory Harris. Granted, it was against the second team defense. But at one point, the 6-7, 232-pound redshirt freshman completed nine passes in a row, showing us he can get into a rhythm and handle the short-to-mid range passing game if needed. He completed 11 of his 14 attempts for 103 yards and led UM on a 15-play, 71-yard scoring drive before giving way to Cannon Smith at the 11, who capped the drive with a 1-yard TD pass to John Calhoun. Coach Randy Shannon said afterward none of the backups separated themselves and that he'd have to watch the film. But the film won't lie. Cook has improved and is definitely the front runner to be Jacory's backup. 

SHANNON SAID: "Very happy [with how the spring went]. We went through the spring adding in a new offense, new defense, and you watched the players come out today and they executed a lot of great things. You see a guy like Damien Berry run the ball pretty well. Mike James did a lot of good things. Taylor Cook, the guy came in and worked well with the twos but also came in late in the game and got another touchdown with the ones. You're starting to see the team gel a lot and do the things we want to get done... We're a whole lot better. We've got more players. We feel we've done a great job in recruiting – our numbers are up. My first year and second year we played a lot of freshmen. Now these freshmen are sophomores, and you can see the difference from last year to now. And guys coming in like Mike James, Brandon Washington, Olivier Vernon – those guys coming in are going to make a difference in next year's season because of what they've learned."

EYE OPENING STAT: Jacory Harris and the first team offense didn't score. It was by far their worst day of the spring. But the first team defense had a lot to do with it. Harris was only 9 of 16 for 141 yards and an INT. Graig Cooper, who took all the first team carries, had just four yards on seven carries. The secondary did a nice job winning several one-on-one battles despite giving up a few long pass plays. There were four pass breakups in all, including ones by Chavez Grant, Brandon Harris and Sam Shields. Randy Phillips had an interception on a deflected pass batted away by Harris.

Spring Game highlights, stats

FORT LAUDERDALE -- Greetings from Lockhart Stadium where the Canes are set to kickoff the spring game at 10:30 a.m. If you don't have CSS or don't have a radio (WQAM will broadcasting it), I'll be here to provide you with highlights throughout.

In case you hadn't heard or haven't paid attention this spring there are a few guys out for today's game: RB Javarris James (wrist), RB Lee Chambers (shoulder), OL Joel Figueroa (shoulder), LB Colin McCarthy (shoulder), TE Dedrick Epps (knee), DT Allen Bailey (undisclosed), DE Adewale Ojomo (wrist), DE Eric Moncur (groin), WR Travis Benjamin (knee), CB Brandon McGee (hand) and K Matt Bosher (shoulder). 

> Looks like you can add linebacker Ramon Buchanon to the injured list. He's out, too.

> The format for the game today (the scoring system): Offense (TD - 6 pts, FG - 3 pts, PAT - 1 pt, Cross 50-yard line 1 pt, 1st down 1 pt) and Defense (TD -  6 pts, Fumble recovery 2 pts, INT 2 pts, 3-and-out 1 pt).

> First team offense: QB Jacory Harris, RB Graig Cooper, FB Patrick Hill, WR LaRon Byrd, WR Kendal Thompkins, TE Richard Gordon, LT Jason Fox, LG Orlando Franklin, C A.J. Trump, RG Harland Gunn, RT Matt Pipho. 

> First team defense: DE Olivier Vernon, DE Marcus Robinson, DT Josh Holmes, DT Joe Joseph, LB Jordan Futch, LB Daryl Sharpton, LB Sean Spence, CB Brandon Harris, CB Demarcus Van Dyke, S Randy Phillips, S Vaughn Telemaque.

FIRST HALF HIGHLIGHTS

> Backup running back Damien Berry scored the only touchdown of the first half when he broke free on a 54-yard run versus the second team defense. Berry did a backflip as he crossed the goalline. Berry has nine carries for 88 yards thus far. He also had a pair of impressive runs on third and fourth downs. He picked up a first down on third and six when he barreled over safety Joe Wylie on 3rd and 6. Then, on fourth and 1, he broke free for a 17 yard run to the 50-yard line.

> Kicker Jake Wieclaw converted a 41-yard field goal, but missed a 22-yarder right before the half. 

SECOND HALF HIGHLIGHTS

> Backup quarterback Taylor Cook leads the offense on a 15-play, 71-yard scoring drive. He hands the ball over to Cannon Smith with the offense on the 11-yard line and Smith finds John Calhoun for a 1-yard touchdown pass on fourth and goal.

> Freshman Mike James scores the scrimmages final touchdown on a 3-yard run late in the game.

TEAM STATISTICS

> First downs: 17 (6 rushing, 11 pssing, 2 penalties). Rushing: (33 attempts, 158 gained, 27 lost, 131 total). Passing: (38 attempts, 26 completions, 275 yards, 1 INT). Offensive plays: 71. Net yards: 406 (5.7 avg). Return yards: 25. Fumbles-lost: 1-0. Interceptions: 1-25.

INDIVIDUAL STATS

> RUSHING: Berry 14-114, 1 TD, 54 long; M. James 6-14, 1 TD, 7 long; P. Hill 4-4, 3 long; Cooper 7-4, 6 long; A. Johnson 1-0; J. Harris 1-(-5).

> PASSING: J. Harris 9-16, 141 yards, 1 INT, Long 33; Cook 11-14, 103, 34 long; C. Smith 6-8-, 31, 1 TD, 8 long.

> RECEIVING: Collier 5-65, long 26; A. Johnson 4-23, long 8; Calhoun 3-13, 1 TD, long 5; Thompkins 2-45, long 34; Byrd 2-43, long 29; M. James 2-13, long 15; Adderley 2-11, long 7; Berry 2-11, long 7; Hankerson 1-33; Byrne 1-7; D. Johnson 1-7; Gordon 1-4.

> FIELD GOALS: Wieclaw 1-2 (made 41, miss 22)

> INTERCEPTIONS: R. Phillips 1-25

> FUMBLES/LOST: Cooper 1-0

> DEFENSIVE STATISTICS: Grant 3-2-5, 1 PBU; Nicholas 0-4-4; K. Robinson 1-3-4; Futch 1-2-3, 1 TFL, 1 PBU; Spence 2-1-3, 1 TFL; Vernon 2-2-4, 1 sack (-5); B. Harris 3-1-4, 1 TFL, 1 PBU; R. Hill 1-4-5; Regis 1-0-1; Wylie 4-1-5; Smith 0-5-5; Wesley 1-2-3; Telemaque 1-0-1; Van Dyke 4-1-5; Campbell 1-1-2; Shields 1-1-2, 1 PBU; Forston 1-3-4, 1 TFL; A. Brown 1-1-2; Lewis 1-0-1; Holton 2-0-2, 1 TFL; Phillips 1 INT; ; Sharpton 3-1-4; M. Robinson 0-1-1.

March 16, 2009

Haith: Alabama interest "just a rumor"

(We now interrupt the Bryce Brown announcement watch party for a basketball update from the University of Miami. We hope this does not ruin your afternoon).

UM men's basketball coach Frank Haith met with reporters Monday for the first time since his team was blown out in the first round of the ACC Tournament, denied an invite to the NCAA Tournament and rumors of his possible interest in leaving the program for Alabama surfaced late last week. Before getting to any questions from the media, Haith put an end to the questions about the latter first.

Frank Haith denied the rumors he's interested in the Alabama opening. "Obviously I've heard the rumors about me looking at other jobs, or people being interested in me and that's just what they are -- rumors," Haith said. "I'm not going to give that any time, each time my name is mentioned with a job. I want to get that out there first so we can move on to something important which is us being in the post-season four out of five years."

Interested or not interested, false rumor or simply the first sign UM's head coach is testing the waters, Haith will still have another game to coach Wednesday night in the NIT. And he made it perfectly clear he's not happy the fourth-seeded Hurricanes (18-12) will have to do so on the road while the BankUnited Center gets rented out to host other events. 

According to Haith, UM made a last ditch effort to find another venue in South Florida to host Wednesday's game against fifth-seeded Providence (19-13). But just like earning a trip to the Big Dance two years in a row, UM couldn't find a way to get it done. Oddly enough, Kentucky, whom UM beat earlier this season, was in the same dilemma with Rupp Arena being rented out. But the Wildcats will still be hosting UNLV because another venue, Memorial Coliseum (where the men played until 1976), is available. 

Haith said he thought his team, which finished tied for seventh in the ACC standings with a 7-9 record, would have likely been a 2 or a 3 seed with an opportunity to host two games in the tournament had BankUnited Center been available." 

"I don't know what to say. It's disappointing," Haith said when asked how he felt about having to play on the road. "We don't have a venue. It is what it is. I think our seeding was hurt because we don't have a venue to play in. It is what it is."

Among other topics discussed...

MCCLINTON'S KNEE: Haith said the team made sure to get Jack McClinton's sprained left knee checked out before he returned to practice last week. According to Haith, it's a grade one sprain with "stretched ligaments." Haith said it's up to McClinton to shake himself out of the nagging injury. The 6-1 point guard returned to full practices shortly before the ACC Tournament kicked off in Atlanta last week. He struggled with only nine points in the loss to Virginia Tech.

"It's a fine line there. I don't think he can play well unless he practices, in terms of getting a feel for it," Haith said. "He did practice the day before the ACC Tournament game. He did well. But I think he needs that practice to go out and play. We practiced yesterday and he went. I think Jack needs practice to play well."

Dwayne Collins has averaged just six points in his final nine games this season. DISAPPEARING DWAYNE: There have been a lot of disappointments this season on this team, but none has been bigger than Dwayne Collins, who never lived up to his role as the team's No. 2 scorer behind McClinton. Haith sounded like a coach who has tried everything with Collins and simply has no idea what else to do with him.

Collins broke double figures in scoring only once after scoring 18 points at N.C. State on Jan. 27. He had 10 points at Georgia Tech in the second to last game of the regular season, the only time he scored more than 9 in UM's final 10 games.

"Dwayne has made some improvement in his game," Haith said. "He's a better player. It's just been the consistency thing. I don't know how to... we've tried everything to make him more consistent. 

"He was 3 for 11 at the Georgia Tech game. He had a lot of touches. He was active. He played hard. He just didn't make shots. I just want him to play hard. That's the key thing, just play hard. He'll get his touches if he plays hard and is running the floor. He'll get his touches. There's moments when feeding the post and the posting up isn't working. We've emphasized getting the ball to Dwayne. But when you add in the fact he's shooting the ball sub 60 percent from the free throw line, sometimes those attempts don't show up. He's getting touches, he just has to produce.

It wasn't just Collins' lack of scoring that hurt, but his overall aggressiveness. He has a total of eight blocks this season, 24 less than his sophomore season and five fewer than freshman Julian Gamble, who played 550 less minutes than Collins.

"It goes back to his assertiveness, aggressiveness," Haith said. "There's no reason Dwayne Collins should only have eight blocks. We just want Dwayne to be more active. He's capable. It's just, I don't know. We need more of that. Yesterday at practice, he was swatting everything. I can't figure it out. But hopefully he can here at the end of the year.

> If the Canes are able to beat the Friars Wednesday, Haith said UM would likely end up playing either at 11 a.m. Saturday or Monday night at 7 in primetime TV game against top-seeded Florida, which should cruise past Jacksonville Wednesday.

> In case you missed it, the UM football team will be off for spring break until next Monday, March 23rd. The spring game is at Fort Lauderdale's Lockhart Stadium on March 28th. 

March 11, 2009

McClinton practicing at full speed again

ATLANTA -- The Miami Hurricanes didn't have a healthy Jack McClinton for their final three games of the regular season and it showed. McClinton, the ACC's third leading scorer this season at 19.7 points per game, shot an astonishing 9 of 37 from the field including a sub-par 6 of 18 from three point range.

UM needs a vintage Jack McClinton to win games at this week's NCAA Tournament, not the one slowed by a knee sprain in his last three games. The old Jack McClinton may finally be ready to lace them up Thursday at noon when the Canes (18-11) take on the Hokies (17-13) in a game vitally important to UM's NCAA Tournament chances. I didn't get a chance to talk to the team when they went through their walk through early Thursday morning at the Georgia Dome (my flight got in just after they were finishing up), but word from other reporters is McClinton looked awfully sharp. 

UM coach Frank Haith said Tuesday McClinton has been practicing at full speed since Monday. "[Monday] was the first day where he was full-go," Haith said. "We’re trying to get his knee right and I think he hasn’t been playing as well because of it. Yesterday he really let it go and hopefully he can build on that in practice today and have a great game Thursday."

The Canes have won their last three ACC Tournament openers and will face a Hokies team that has lost six of its last seven. But just because it looks like McClinton is finally healthy and Virginia Tech is sliding should we take it to mean UM is a shoe-in to be playing No. 1 North Carolina on Friday. The Hokies' last three losses came to three of the top four teams in the conference. UM, which has won 3 of its last 4, picked up two of its wins against teams behind them in the standings. Oh by the way, the Hokies have won two in a row against UM, too, including an 88-83 win in OT in January.

"We did a really good job last time in terms of execution offensively," Haith said. "But we did not defend as well and we have to defend a lot better. With that said, I thought [A.D.] Vasallo and [Malcolm] Delaney were outstanding in that ballgame. They both shot the ball extremely well and we have to do a good job on both of those guys and the big three – [Jeff] Allen, Delaney and Vasallo. They all had great performances against us."

> HAITH: 2009 NOT A DISAPPOINTMENT Despite being picked to finish fourth in the preseason and starting the season ranked 16th in the polls, Haith reiterated Tuesday that even if UM does not get an invite to the NCAA Tournament on Selection Sunday, he still would not consider this season a disappointment.

UM coach Frank Haith "I think this team has done well," Haith said ."I still go back to five years ago when I took the job and now you look at where it’s at now – we’re in the talk every year. Obviously I want us to win and get to the NCAA Tournament. I think that’s our goal every year, but in terms of a disappointment, I think some of our fans may feel something like that. I don’t feel like that. We have great seniors that will graduate and have won some big games. We’ve put ourselves in position to have a shot at the NCAA Tournament. Some years we may get there and some years we may not. Four games have come down to the last possession. This team could be totally different if the ball bounces our way. It’s not like we have lost games by 20 or 30 points every night. We’ve been in every game and I think that shows there is progress in this program."

Just one sports writer's opinion, but the two games I'll point to should Miami miss the tournament are the road losses at Maryland, and the let down at Georgia Tech last week. Both of those games, UM didn't show the type of desire and fight it needed to. Despite being more talented, they were inexcusably flat emotionally. It's hard to point the finger at Haith for that. With a team full of seniors and veterans, it's on the players to show up and play better than that.

> NO LAWSON?: Not that I'm looking ahead, but if UM gets past the Hokies Thursday, the Canes could see a North Carolina team without ACC Player of the Year Ty Lawson. The Tar Heels point guard injured his toe in the win against Duke is a bit questionable for this week's tournament. Lawson was huge in UNC's win over UM on Feb. 15. Of course, Lawson does have an extra day to rest that toe before Friday. UNC did not practice on the Georgia Dome floor Wednesday.

> CANES TO SCRIMMAGE THURSDAY: I won't be there because I'll be up here covering the ACC Tournament, but Randy Shannon's football team will be scrimmaging for the second time this spring on Thursday night at Traz Powell Stadium in Miami. It's supposed to get started at 6:30 p.m. Our Susan Miller Degnan will be there along with Barry Jackson. They'll send me some notes for the blog when it ends. The football team will be off after Thursday until March 23rd.

If you go, be sure to enjoy watching running back Mike James (No. 22), Miami's talented receivers (you'll be really impressed by Kendall Thomkins) and safety Vaughn Telemaque (No. 7). If your looking for improvement, keep your eyes on the backup quarterback battle between Tyler Cook and Cannon Smith, how some of the new offensive lineman (Matt Pipho, Ben Jones, Harland Gunn) are handling a talented deep defensive line core, and if UM's young linebackers are winning any of the one-on-one battles with a talented stable of running backs.

> RIVALS TOP 100 RELEASED: I finally got around this afternoon to taking a gander at Rivals first Top 100 player rankings for football in the 2010 class. Rivals will end up juggling this list 1,000 times before National Signing Day. But I was a bit surprised at some of the names I saw on the list and didn't. Northwestern defensive tackle Todd Chandler, Miami-Dade's No. 1 recruit, wasn't on there. Miami Palmetto defensive end Delvin Jones (in the 20s in The Miami Herald preseason rankings) is in there. Not trying to rip Rivals, who does a good job following the right kids for the most part. But I'll take our Larry Blustein over any of those guys. There's only so much you can gain from watching a combine. Larry and I knew Sean Spence would be a star at UM. Rivals never had Spence in its Top 100. 

> ON A PERSONAL NOTE: I normally don't share too much about myself here, I wanted to pass along the happy news that Tuesday night my wife and I closed on our first house. I'm definitely thrilled to finally have a real place to call my own. As happy as I am about that, I can't be more upset or heartbroken about the news we learned today about several colleagues who lost their jobs. The Miami Herald cut more than 200 jobs Wednesday in an effort to keep surviving in the struggling newspaper business. Thankfully, I still have a job. But I'm praying for the families of the people here no longer don't. It's a sad day at The Miami Herald.

March 10, 2009

Telemaque itching to be next playmaker in secondary

Jacory Harris' pass was off target and tight end Daniel Adderley was not in position to yank the ball down. Neither was safety Vaughn Telemaque, but that didn't matter.

Vaughn Telemaque had three interceptions in a sectional championship game his senior year at Long Beach Poly Still stumbling a bit from the bump he received from Adderley, Telemaque put his right hand out in an attempt to make a play on it. With the ball zipping away from him and toward the back of the end zone, the 6-1, 195-pound redshirt freshman  got just enough leather to bat it back towards his upper body. It turned out to be the only interception and blemish of Harris' near-perfect day Saturday during the first scrimmage of the spring. In the longrun, it was  a meaningless interception in a meaningless practice game. But it might have been just the first play, the first sign Telemaque is just as good as advertised.

You might not remember this, but after the Emerald Bowl Randy Shannon gave Telemaque possibly the highest praise he's given any player since taking over the team in 2007. Not only did Shannon say the loss of the 6-1, 195-pounder last fall hurt his team badly, he compared Telemaque to one of the best Hurricanes' safety ever -- Ed Reed. It wasn't what you expected to hear from Shannon who rarely makes comparisons of that magnitude, much less about a freshman who played in three games before a shoulder injury sidelined him for good. Saturday, though, we saw the first real reason why Shannon can't seem to hide his true feelings of excitment for the kid from Long Beach Poly.

"It's a pretty big compliment," said Telemaque, who said he hadn't heard that Shannon had compared to Reed. "It's nice to hear that. But I just want to keep on working, going as hard as I can. I want to play to the best of my abilities."

Despite seeing the majority of snaps with the first team already this spring, Telemaque still has a long way to go in his development. Defensive backs coach Wesley McGriff and veteran cornerback Chavez Grant both say Telemaque has big play potential, but needs to be a little more committed to his playbook. "He's not quite what Jojo Nicholas is right now. Jo is more of a bookworm than Vaughn," McGriff said. "But Vaughn is one of those guys whose smart without the film study. We're just always on him to come watch more film."

Said Grant: "If he gets his mind right, he'll be special. Sometimes we tell Vaughn 'Your lazy.' He's kind of got this little attitude about him. We got nothing against him, it's just to make him better. He's going to be great. He’s a ballhawk, he can come up and hit. Once he learns the defense, has it down, he can be special."

Miami's secondary was anything but special last season. The Canes tied a school low for interceptions with four. As a senior at Poly, Telemaque had nine interceptions of his own, including three in the state championship game. McGriff said Telemaque brings the kind of attitude he wants his corners and safeties to have -- a big play mindset.

"I think this year with the guys being older, getting Vaughn back in the mix and just having the opportunity to train them an additional spring and fall, we should be in position to get more turnovers," said McGriff, whose secondary produced only two of those picks -- one by freshman Brandon Harris and the other from the NFL-bound Bruce Johnson.

"Turnovers are like a disease. Once you get one, it's contagious. I think in order for us to get an abundant number of turnovers and interceptions we got to start early in the season so guys become risk takers. They need to take that step out on the edge and stop playing cautious and go get those tunrovers. I would say our guys were being too cautious last year. I think our guys tried to be too sure. There a lot of times I told them, stop trying to be exact, stop trying to be perfect and go play football. I think last year they just were trying to learn the scheme and be sure. In this game, just like life, you can't be too sure about anything. You just have to go out and play it, win those one-on-one battles."

ESPN senior writer Bruce Feldman believes Telemaque will make those big plays and soon. He named Telemaque as one of the Top 10 newcomers in college football this spring. Telemaque said being a gambler on the field is something that just has always come natural to him.

"I like to make big plays, that's the kind of safety I am," he said. "I need to get some interceptions and big turnovers. If I don't, I feel like I'm not helping the team. I know we only had four [interceptions] last year. But we’re going to change that real soon. We've got a lot of athletes ready to play and make big plays along with me."

The fact Telemaque is even at UM is a bit stunning considering where he's from. California and USC usually scoop up all the big talents at Poly, a perrenial power that has produced talents such as baseball stars Tony Gwynn and Chase Utley to football stars like Willie McGinest and Desean Jackson. Telemaque said while USC wanted him badly, it was always a life long dream to play for the Canes, a team he grew up admiring from a far and noticed for the first time when UM won the national title at the Rose Bowl back in 2001.

Little by little, he says, he began falling in love with Miami's style and swagger more and more. That could explain part of the reason why he showed up to his recruiting announcement on local cable television sporting a Sonny Crockett-like white blazer and sunglasses.

Vaughn Telemaque "Overall, I’m just enjoying the life in Miami," said Telemaque, who said he still keeps a part of Cali with him when he skates around UM's campus on his longboard. "I like the swagger out here because it's a lot like out there, just a little different. The ocean water is warmer. The beach here doesn't have basketball courts like out on Venice Beach. But I still love it out here."

Fans would love it if Telemaque can bring the big play back to Miami's secondary. At least through one spring scrimmage, he already has. "Fans can expect big plays and excitement," Telemaque said. "I want to bring that back to The U. I want to bring it back in a fashionable way, in a team way. I just want to make people proud that we’re The U by going to play hard, make plays and win everytime I'm out there."

March 04, 2009

Aubrey Hill: "We want to hit on more big plays"

ATLANTA -- It used to be the staple of the University of Miami offense. Ken Dorsey, Gino Torretta, Vinny Testaverde would drop back in the pocket scan the field and then fire a laser beam deep down the field. On the other end, Michael Irvin, Andre Johnson and Lamar Thomas would come racing under it, hands stretched and in a flash, they'd be gone, one their way to the end zone for six.

Aldarius Johnson is one of the key young receivers making strides this spring It's felt like an eternity at The U since a Miami offense provided such excitement. Last year with Patrick Nix, fans were treated more often to the wide receiver bubble screen than the good old Hail Mary. But in the first few days coach Randy Shannon has allowed the media to watch his team practice this spring, we've noticed something strange (an unidentified flying object if you will). That would be the football being thrown deep down the field again.

Could it just be an early spring practice aberration? Could be Jacory Harris just practicing the deep ball here and there? Or is Mark Whipple's new offense showing signs it's going to take advantage of the new big, strong, speedy weapons the Canes recruited two Februarys ago and stretch opposing defenses? At Tuesday's practice, I caught up with receivers coach Aubrey Hill to find out what the deal really is.

"You look back to last year, we definitely want to hit on more big plays," said Hill, whose young receiving corps . "That's something you want to do every year... Not necessarily making a comparison [to last year], but I will say this about our [new] playbook: we're attacking all areas of the field and also were trying to move a lot of guys around and put the ball in their hands in all different places. We have an NFL playbook."

Aubrey Hill And, quite possibly, NFL-caliber receivers to make those plays. While Hill said he's been impressed with all of his receivers in some way shape or form, he pointed to Laron Byrd and Aldarius Johnson as the guys look like they're ready to take the next step. Johnson led the team in receiving last season with 30 catches for 321 yards and 3 scores. Byrd finished fifth with 18 catches for 184 yards and 3 scores. Both look more physically imposing this spring even if they aren't weighing a lot more than last season.

"You look at those guys and you can definitely see they have been in the weight room with coach Swasey," Hill said. "You can see the maturity and hunger for those kids. They compete with each other all the time. Both of those guys can be all-conference type players soon."

Hill admits he's been impressed from what he's seen early from two players he didn't have a year ago because of injuries, redshirt freshmen Tommy Streeter and Kendall Thompkins

"He's a big target," Hill said of Streeter. "He's a smart kid. He can run. He has decent hands. He didn't play last year. So we obviously want to make sure he's going fast and getting into the playbook. But the good thing for him and Kendall is we have a new playbook. They're all learning from scratch together. The one thing you see with Tommy is he's better each day. As long as he can continually improve, that's what we want to see."

As for Thompkins: "Without a doubt he brings versatility because he can play slot and the outside receiver. He becomes a valuable player already. He's very elusive. He can make the first guy miss. He can catch the passes. Kendall and Streeter are two great additions for us."

With Sam Shields moving over to defense and several seniors from last season gone, Hill doesn't have many veterans. His oldest player is junior Leonard Hankerson. While Hankerson has struggled with drops throughout his career (including this spring), Hill said the 6-3, 215-pounder is making strides.

"With Hank, it's almost like you want to put a glue on the ball when the quarterback throws it to him because that's the last piece he needs," Hill said. "But in fairness to him, he's been a lot better in other areas. Your talking about the kid that has the right size, the right speed, has the right mentality and is very smart. We're trying to put that last piece together. When that ball is in the air and its a big situation for the team, we want him to do well. That's what this spring is all about."

> I'll be at tonight's UM-Georgia Tech game in an about an hour. Just a couple more quick notes to pass along...

> Shannon told us Tuesday he's going to keep practice open for the media. I obviously wasn't at Wednesday's. But I'll be back out there on Friday and Saturday when the Canes are set to scrimmage for the first time.  

March 02, 2009

Dunbar just the start at Booker T?

Unless you forgot to pay your monthly subscription to InsideTheCanesportTimes or were out enjoying two days off on South Beach like I was this past weekend (leading my best friend's bachelor party), you probably know by now the Canes picked up their third football "commitment" of the 2010 class Sunday in Miami Booker T. Washington receiver Quinton Dunbar.

Booker T. Washington receiver Quinton Dunbar committed to UM on Sunday. Monday night, I caught up with Dunbar and Booker T. receivers coach Andre Brown (who handles most of the recruiting talk between colleges and the Tornadoes). Dunbar, a 6-3, 177-pound All-Dade First Team selection last season, is obviously a nice get for the Canes and a tremendous talent. But the bigger story is he might just be the first of a handful of talented Booker T. players in the 2010 class who decide to make their way down the road to UM from Overtown next February. 

"The first thing I thought when I got back this weekend and heard Quinton had committed was 'Alright, whose next?," said Brown, who coached current Canes Davon Johnson and Thearon Collier at receiver at Booker T. "It's obvious having Ice over there [former Booker T. coach Tim Harris] helps Miami a lot. They're very aware what we've got coming out in our next class."

What Booker T. has next season is arguably the best class in Miami-Dade County, which by all accounts is absolutely loaded with talent. Dunbar is rated the 13th best player in the county according to our Larry Blustein's Pre-Spring Top 30 list. Other Booker T. players included on the list: talented running back Eduardo Clements (7th), defensive end Lynden Trail (18th), receiver Ted Meline (20th) and offensive lineman Jose Jose (24th). Brown said UM has already offered all of them, except Meline. 

Clements, the MVP of the Class 4A state championship game in 2007, is the prized recruit. At 5-11, 175-pounds there isn't a more complete running back in South Florida in my opinion. I've been told UM considers him its No. 1 running back target for 2010 and another reason coach Randy Shannon doesn't feel so bad about losing out on Bryce Brown. "He's just as good a pass catcher, if not better than Bryce and has played against tougher competition his entire life," one recruiter told me. "Miami wants him badly."

The Canes were the first school to offer Clements and according to Brown, who is Clements brother-in-law, it means a lot. But the roadblock for UM appears to be Florida State, whom Clements grew up rooting for. According to Brown, the Seminoles decided to finally drop Clements an offer Monday. "He's a Florida State guy at heart," Brown said. "The situation is going to be real tough. We've had a lot of family gatherings to talk about everything, but we're allowing him to make up his own decision."

As for Dunbar, consider him about as sound and committed a Canes recruit as there can be. He grew up rooting for UM and living down the street from the Orange Bowl. He wears No. 5 because his favorite player, Andre Johnson, wore it (he said Shannon already promised it to him after Javarris James leaves). His second cousin is UM cornerback Chavez Grant. And, his best friend is Collier. Brown said he expects Dunbar, who has a 3.0, to be a full qualifier.

"The thing that makes Quinton special is that he has just a great knack for getting to the football," Brown said. "When that ball is in the air, he gets into attack mode. He might not run a 4.3, but he has great game speed. We're going to work a lot on catching the ball and knowing what to do in open space. He can get better at route running too. But it's utilizing head fakes, those hips so he can be more like Larry Fitzgerald after the catch."

THIS AND THAT

> Got to give some props to the UM baseball team for their series sweep of Florida this past weekend, especially the 16-2 pounding the Canes delivered on Sunday. It marked the first time under Jim Morris UM swept the Gators in Gainesville, and it helped move UM up in the polls. The Canes are now ranked as high as eighth in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches' poll (there are too many college baseball polls). David Gutierrez, by the way, earned ACC Pitcher of the Week honors for his seven scoreless innings in Saturday's 2-1 win.

> Among my many phone calls Monday, I caught up with one of the weekend's heroes in left fielder Jonathan Weislow. I don't want to give away too much about Weislow, but there might not be a player whose gone through more excruciating injuries than this guy. It's a good story I'll share with you later this week as UM kicks off a 12-game homestand against Rhode Island on Tuesday at 6.

> It turns out Jack McClinton will not have his jersey number retired this weekend after all. Coach Frank Haith said during his weekly ACC teleconference with media on Monday morning that UM wants to be bring Jack back next season and honor him during another game. It's a smart move. Saturday's noon tip-off against N.C. State is going to be emotional enough. Not only will it be senior day, but if UM beats Georgia Tech Wednesday then the Canes will have the opportunity of getting back to 8-8 in the ACC (likely what they need to reach the NCAA tournament). The last thing you want is an extra distraction at a time like this.

> ESPN's Joe Lunardi has the Canes still in his bracketology report. Right now, Lunardi (who hit on all 65 invitees last season) has UM seeded 12th and facing UCLA in the first round. I think the highest seed UM will get if it wins out this week and wins at least one ACC Tournament game is 10th. But I'd like to ask Lunardi, who is supposed to have a teleconference with the media Wednesday, what he thinks the best case scenario for Haith and the Canes is if they accomplish that or better to get in.

> Since some of you have been asking, I finally got around to uploading several audio bites from spring practice, baseball and basketball from the last two weeks. Just visit the usual place to find them.

February 27, 2009

Streeter shines on third day of spring

Each time I think about my trip to Dallas two years ago to watch Miami Northwestern take on Southlake Carroll, the first image that always pops into my mind is the one of receiver Tommy Streeter racing down the field underneath a long, rainbow pass from Jacory Harris for a touchdown. It was the highlight of one of the most impressive high school football games I've ever watched. 

StreeterTommy Streeter was the star of the day at Thursday's practice Friday afternoon during the University of Miami's third practice of the spring at Greentree Practice Field, Tommy and Jacory treated us to a replay of those long touchdown connections again. Only this time, they were wearing Canes colors. Streeter, who missed his freshman season with a wrist injury, made the play of the day Thursday. Not once. But twice! First, he hauled in a 75-yard touchdown pass during 11-on-11 drills, beating newly converted cornerback Sam Shields down the sideline on a long pass. Then, Streeter used all of his 6-5, 207-pound frame to stretch out and make a diving touchdown catch in the back of the end zone during red zone drills.

There shouldn't be MVP awards for spring practices conducted in shorts, shoulder pads and helmets. But when you consider how good Streeter looked in only his third practice back from wrist surgery, you got to give him something (at least a helmet sticker).

"It really surprised me to see him fly around like that,'' former Northwestern teammate and fellow UM receiver Aldarius Johnson said. "He looked pretty good for a guy coming off injury, being out all that time after surgery and having therapy. He talked a lot of smack before today's practice. Then, he came out and did what he said he was going to do. He stepped up today. It was like old times."

While Streeter definitely has to put on more weight to take the type of licking safeties will be sure to try and deliver on him, his emergence at receiver bodes well for the Canes. As Aldarius pointed out, "He can stretch the field," Johnson said. "That gives me and Laron and the other guys the underneath stuff. He can make a big impact."

> Streeter was the only player to a touchdown during full on 11-on-11 work, but he wasn't the only player to score Thursday. During red zone drills the following guys scored during red-zone work: Running back Graig Cooper scored on a 12-yard run, fullback Pat Hill on a 15-yard pass from Harris, tight end Richard Gordon on a 10-yard pass from Harris, and receiver Leonard Hankerson (who had a bad case of the drops for most of practice) hauled in a 15-yard jump-ball pass from Cannon Smith on a broken play.

> Other standouts from Thursday's practice included: Linebacker Kylan Robinson (who intercepted a deflected pass intended for Cooper and made a nice tackle of Javarris James after shedding a block); defensive tackle Allen Bailey (who also broke free from a block on a screen pass and drilled James); and defensive tackle Marcus Forston (who showed his speed chasing down Cannon Smith from behind).

> I've got to admit I've enjoyed the extra access coach Randy Shannon has given us for the first four practices this spring. Being on the sideline has allowed the media to really get a good look behind the scenes of who the real leaders, trash-talkers and effort guys are. During running drills today, we got a real good opportunity to listen in on how Orlando Franklin antagonizes opponents. During the entire drill he kept challenging defensive end Adewale Ojomo and clapped when Ojomo and Forston were given extra up-down drills for jumping offsides. Left tackle Jason Fox is another guy who likes to talk smack. He went over several times to the defensive players to ask them what was wrong. It was pretty funny. 

> Speaking of Shannon, he wasn't at practice Thursday because he was participating in a Nike Camp in Pittsburgh according to UM's sports information staff. We were told he'll be back for Saturday morning's practice, the first in full pads.

> I don't have a lot more to share in terms of interviews after practice, but I did learn a little about the offensive line from center A.J. Trump. Don't be shocked this season if you see Trump snapping with both hands. The left-handed Trump says when quarterbacks in the shotgun, he'll snap left-handed. But when QBs are under center, he'll do it right-handed because that's how they prefer to receive it. It hasn't really caused any problems in practice yet that I've noticed. 

As for potential backups, it's obvious Tyler Horn will be behind Trump when the season starts. But it was interesting to hear who UM is working in with Matt Pipho as the team's third and emergency center. According to Trump, freshman Brandon Washington is getting a look there. "He's a smart kid and he's picking up on things quickly," Trump said. "We need a third center right now, so why not."

February 24, 2009

Jacory Harris: 'New playbook like a dictionary'

Hurricanes football is back in session. Day 1 of spring practice is in the books. What happened? What was said? What did we learn about Randy Shannon's football team after getting a chance to watch them run around in shorts and helmets for an hour and a half at Greentree Practice FIeld?

Freshman tackle Jermaine Johnson (wearing 78) and running back Lee Chambers (32) make their way to Greentree practice field Tuesday for the start of spring drills. > All six freshmen who were early enrollees made their debut and did good things according to coach Randy Shannon, who said the first few days of spring practice are really intended for receivers and defensive backs to work hard while linemen and running backs wait for the pads to come on (Saturday).

Cornerback Brandon McGee, one of those six freshmen, described the day as a great experience. McGee is seeing most of his time at right cornerback behind junior Demarcus Van Dyke. McGee said he spends a lot of time going to senior Randy Phillips for advice. You can tell McGee is already fitting in just fine. During his interview, linebacker Sean Spence came by and pulled his shorts down. McGee laughed, but kept his composure and lifted them back up.

> If there is a freshman who is making an early impression consider it running back Mike James, who had sophomore quarterback Jacory Harris raving Tuesday. 

"I could go into the city, go home and people will be like I can't wait for Lamar Miller [to get there]," Harris said. "I'll be like 'I can't wait for you to see Mike James.' This guy really impressed me. He would call me to come out and throw on Saturdays when nobody was out here. He would tell me I got to be like [former Georgia running back] Knowshown Moreno. He sits up there and admires everybody. He's just so hardworking and determined, he wants to make it. The man, for a freshman, is super strong. Today, he maxed out at 350 [pounds]. I forgot what he squated, but it was like 400, 500 pounds. He's a man."

PHOTO ALBUM FROM TUESDAY'S PRACTICE

> No one was a more popular man after practice with reporters than new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple, who was made available Tuesday to the media by Shannon for this one and only time (that is of course unless we decide to do a quarterback feature). Whipple didn't shed a whole lot of new information on the offense he's installing, but from what we heard from players there is definitely a lot of excitement surrounding the new offensive boss' creativeness. 

For starters, they are no longer studying film at the college level. Whipple has them breaking down NFL film.

"The new playbook looks like a dictionary," Harris said. "When I first saw it, it was stacked 10 inches high. But to be honest, it's not that hard to figure out. Once you learn the concepts, everything comes into place and that playbook shrinks...

"You can definitely sense the creativity in some of the formations. It's something he was telling us is not his offense, but bits and pieces of everything he's learned from being in the NFL. That's his style."

Jacory Harris takes a snap before the start of practice. > Harris said a big difference in the way quarterbacks play in Whipple's offense is how quickly they make their reads. He said it feels more like the offense he ran at Miami Northwestern because how quickly he gets the ball out of his hands. 

"It's kind of a big difference," Harris said. "If your No. 1 option is not there on your third step, you move quickly to No. 2, No. 3, No. 4. Your eyes are constantly scanning so that as soon as you see a linebacker move here or a safety or a corner, somebody is open. The ball should be out quick. Basically, I'm not there to be the one to sit in the pocket and run around. I'm just here to deliver the ball to the playmakers."

> Harris (who separated his shoulder at the Emerald Bowl) told us he's still experiencing some slight pain in his throwing arm and has continued to participate in rehab twice a day. Tuesday, he was wearing a long sock taped to his arm. But that was more for style than protection. Jacory by the way is up another three pounds and says he weighs 189. 

"Basically, I've been taking protein shakes and eating more," Harris said. "I don't have classes on Tuesday and Thursdays, so I go to the MLK restaurant on NW 62nd and 27th Ave. I go down there and get a big breakfast, come back go to sleep and go to meetings. I'm eating a lot."

> As expected, Harris took all of the snaps with the first team Tuesday and looked solid in a variety of drills, getting the ball quickly to his receivers, tight ends and running backs out of the backfield. He was often firing the ball before receivers even made their break, which allowed them time to react to the defense in open space.

> Redshirt freshman Taylor Cook certainly looked like the more impressive the two backup quarterbacks to me. Cannon Smith (5-11) can barely see over the offensive line and at times -- I thought -- had trouble finding receivers. Cook showed me he has a strong arm, but if you ask coaches, he has a ways to go. 

TOP PLAYS: UM didn't run 11-on-11 drills very long and spent most of the day working on 7-on-7 drills. There were no touchdowns, long completions or turnovers -- just like there was no real hitting. But there were a few nice plays made by Graig Cooper, Javarris James and freshman running back Mike James. Baby J brought the loudest roar to the sideline when caught a ball in the flat and made a move on linebacker Kylan Robinson, shaking him out of his shoes, en route to a big gain upfield.

WHERE THEY WERE WORKING: As far as how players lined up, there were no surprises. The first team offensive line featured Jason Fox at left tackle, Orlando Franklin at left guard, A.J. Trump at center, Harland Gunn at right guard and Matt Pipho at right tackle. They were backed up in order by freshman Jermaine Johnson, Ian Symonnette (who did look a tad slimmer), Tyler Horn, freshman Brandon Washington and redshirt freshman Ben Jones (who is wearing Xavier Shannon's old No. 55).

The receivers constantly rotated with different units as did the running backs. The defense's back seven looked like this -- first unit: Demarcus Van Dyke and Chavez Grant at corner, Vaughn Telemaque and Jojo Nicholas at safety; Darryl Sharpton (middle), Sean Spence (weak) and Kylan Robinson (strong) at linebacker. The second team unit in the same order featured Ryan Hill and Brandon McGee at corner, Joe Wylie and C.J. Holton at safety and Jordan Futch (strong), Arthur Brown (middle) and Ramon Buchanon (weak) at linebacker.

INJURIES: Defensive end Gavin Hardin suffered some cramps near the end of practice, but other than that there were no injuries. Receiver Kendal Thompkins and tight end Tervaris Johnson wore green jerseys to designate they could not be hit during practice since they are both still returning from injury. 

February 23, 2009

Eye on Spring Football: The Storylines

Spring football practice begins Tuesday at the University of Miami. In order to prepare you, I've compiled a list of important story lines and players to follow throughout camp, which ends March 28th with the BankUnited Canesfest at Lockhart Stadium.

Randy Shannon This year, unlike the previous two under coach Randy Shannon, the media will be allowed to watch some of what goes on behind the scenes as the first four practices (Feb. 24-25, 27-28) will be open to the press. Two practices will be open to fans (the spring game March 28th, and a scrimmage at Traz Powell Stadium in Miami at 6:30 p.m. on March 12th). The team will sandwich some time off from March 13-23rd for spring break, but will basically practice on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. On the days I'm in town (and not following Frank Haith's basketball team) I'll be around to provide updates from football practice.

One thing I think needs to be understood about spring football (and all of the reports you'll be reading in the next few weeks) is that this time of year is really used by coaches to create depth and to experiment with their players more than anything else. Anything you read in the next couple of weeks should be used simply as a progress report heading into the fall. In nearly every case, it's fall camp where positions are really won and lost. So, just because you might hear Randy Shannon say Kylan Robinson is practicing with the first team at outside linebacker should by no means be taken as Robinson is going to be a starter in the fall. A lot of what is said by coaches this time of year is used to feed their players motivation (not only for the guys healthy and who have served as backups for most of their career, but for the guys who are hurt and need a little push when they return in the fall). 

Anyway, here are the important storylines/questions the U will be trying to solve during the next few weeks of spring practice. 

> 1. Does UM have the talent on the team right now to patch up the holes on its offensive line? According to the coaches I've spoken with the answer is yes. Here's what UM wants to accomplish this spring: find an everyday center, at least two solid rotating tackles to start alongside and backup captain Jason Fox and find at least three guards to rotate in the interior. That's not an easy task for position coach Jeff Stoutland, who really got average at-best performance out of Xavier Shannon, Chris Rutledge and Reggie Youngblood last season before they graduated. 

Orlando Franklin will start at left guard, but if others emerge he may be given a shot to move to right tackle The center job will most likely fall to senior A.J. Trump (6-3, 300), who is more experienced and more talented than redshirt sophomore Tyler Horn (6-4, 289). Trump, who has plagued by injuries most of his career, started nine games at guard last season and is definitely considered one of the top five linemen for UM behind Fox and junior Orlando Franklin. So, if Horn were to emerge at center, there is a very good chance he would move back to guard and remain in the starting lineup.

As for the interior, Franklin will begin the spring at left guard, where he started 11 games last season. But the ideal place the 6-7, 328-pound behemoth would like to play is at right tackle (where he could get a shot if others step up). The question is will they? Redshirt sophomore Harland Gunn, highly-touted freshman Brandon Washington and 6-9, 351-pound junior Ian Symonette will all be given an opportunity to show what they've got inside. Washington, a former standout at Miami Northwestern, is the most likely to emerge although Gunn will reportedly begin with the first team at right guard with junior Joel Figueroa (shoulder surgery) out for the spring. 

The right tackle position will begin with a battle between senior Matt Pipho (6-7, 307) and redshirt freshman Ben Jones (6-5, 310). But as I said earlier, ultimately, Shannon wants the best five on the field come the fall. Look for prep school freshman Jermaine Johnson, slated to backup Fox on the left side, to get a shot in that rotation too. 

Is Demarcus Van Dyke (up to 180 pounds) ready to play like an everyday starter? > 2. Who will emerge in a secondary loaded with question marks? Ask Shannon to give you a depth chart at cornerback and safety and he simply can't. There is no area with greater unknowns on the team than here where every starting position is really up for grabs heading into the spring. While six veterans return with defensive back playing experience, each has plenty to prove. At corner, sophomore Brandon Harris, junior Demarcus Van Dyke and senior Chavez Grant will be joined in competition by seniors Ryan Hill (moving down from safety to corner) and Sam Shields (moving over from receiver) and true freshman Brandon McGee

At safety, senior Randy Phillips is back after missing nearly all of last season, along with junior Jojo Nicholas among the veterans. But the name everyone expects to see a lot from is redshirt freshman Vaughn Telemaque, whom Shannon compared to Ed Reed at the end of last season. Those three are likely to be in the mix with the first team while redshirt sophomore Jared Campbell, redshirt freshmen C.J. Holton and Joe Wylie compete behind them. While more help will arrive in the fall in the form of players like Prince Kent, Ray Ray Armstrong and Jamal Reid, it's often very hard for true freshman to see the field immediately and beat the guys who have been competing since the spring for starting spots. But in this case, where so many guys have yet to prove they are the man, I would be surprised if it happened this year. 

Are the Canes going to be able to count on Arthur Brown more than just on special teams this season? > 3. Whom, besides sophomore Sean Spence, is going to prove he is worthy of playing time at linebacker? Say what you want about the lack of big-time playmakers in UM's secondary last season, I thought the bigger problem was finding guys at linebacker who could make the basic plays (like tackling and stopping scrambling quarterbacks from carving the Canes defense). With John Lovett taking over for Micheal Barrow (who is now classified simply as a defensive assistant), task No. 1 will be finding guys who not only consistently wrap up, but have the speed and ability to make those special plays. The talent is said to be there with sophomores Arthur Brown, Jordan Futch and Ramon Buchanon, but we'll have to see how much they've really grown. 

As it stands, the loss of Glenn Cook, Spencer Adkins and Romeo Davis means UM only has Spence (weakside) and senior Darryl Sharpton (middle) as healthy players on the roster this spring who have played actual real minutes at linebacker in games. Shannon said seldom-used junior Kylan Robinson (strongside) will get an opportunity to compete on the outside along with the young guys. The ideal goal for UM is finishing this spring knowing they've got playmakers behind Spence, Sharpton and Colin McCarthy (when he returns from his shoulder injury in time for the fall). 

> 4. Will Richard Gordon get his act together or will the tight end position at The U disappear until real help arrives? Since the day he arrived at UM all we've heard about Gordon is what an athletic freak he is. At 6-4, 260-pounds, he's been used just about everywhere. He even handled a job as a kick Will Richard Gordon emerge at tight end? returner for a few games two seasons ago. The bottomline is Gordon simply still hasn't found a place to contribute. This spring, with Chris Zellner gone (graduation), Dedrick Epps out until September at the earliest (torn ACL) and Tervaris Johnson battling injury woes, Gordon will have every opportunity to work with the first team and try and impress a new coordinator. When he needs some rest, sophomore Daniel Adderley, a recruiting bust, and Steven Wesley, who could move over from defensive end, are expected to share the snaps at tight end. Still, it's Gordon who is the only healthy Cane who has any of the ingredients to be a legit tight end. Last season, he had only three catches for 24 yards. Gordon's biggest problem according to position coach Joe Pannunzio has been route running. There's a chance new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple could devise an easier way to utilize Gordon. But if that doesn't happen, I seriously wonder if UM might just go into the fall deciding to abandon the tight end position until real help arrives. 

> 5. Who will take a step forward as the backup quarterback to Jacory Harris? A year ago we went into the spring knowing Robert Marve would likely go into the fall with Harris as his backup. This year with Robert Marve gone, we know who the starter for The U will be for the next two seasons. But one of the biggest keys according to Randy Shannon this spring will be finding a backup to Harris. The candidates are the two guys who were red-shirted last season as freshmen, 6-7, 225-pound Texas native Taylor Cook or 5-11, 200-pounder Cannon Smith. Most expect Cook, who has the stronger arm and ideal size to emerge as the frontrunner to backup Harris heading into the fall. But we'll have to see how far along he's come since last year when the former option quarterback looked like he was struggling with his basic mechanics. For what it's worth, Smith actually took a few snaps last spring before getting injured on the scout team in the fall.

February 19, 2009

Brian Butler makes radio appearance

TALLAHASSEE -- Just a couple quick messages to pass along. Got a text message on my way up here earlier today from 790 The Ticket radio personality Jorge Sedano to pass along that he's supposed to have Brian Butler (Bryce Brown's mentor) on his show tomorrow at noon. UPDATED: I'm not sure if Sedano did finally get Butler on his show, but here is the link to an interview with Evan Cohen on 760 ESPN in Palm Beach.

> Friday night before the baseball season opener against Rutgers, UM will induct Baltimore Orioles first baseman Aubrey Huff into the Hall of Fame. Jim Morris, along with Pat Burrell, will present Huff with his Hall of Fame ring and jacket in an on-field ceremony before the game. Huff hit 21 home runs and drove in 95 RBI his final season at Miami in 1998. He hit .400 in his career (2nd all-time) and had a career .719 slugging percentage. For more information on a Parrott Jungle Banquet and the UM Sports Hall of Fame golf tournament on April 24th, go to UMSportsHallofFame.com.

February 18, 2009

Courstide blog: FSU 80, UM 67 (F)

TALLAHASSEE -- It took me awhile to finally settle in at the Donald L. Tucker Center (I had to fly into Jacksonville and drive) but I'm here for tonight's big Canes-Noles basketball tilt. We know Miami needs a win badly. I'll be here to provide you with a halftime update and postgame update.

> For you football fans, the Palm Beach post and Sun-Sentinel got a chance to talk to coach Randy Shannon "exclusively" today and collected some good nuggets before the start of spring next week. The most eye-opening news to come out is that Micheal Barrow is no longer the linebackers coach. Defensive coordinator John Lovett will now handle the linebackers and Barrow will be allowed to roam freely as a defensive assistant. The positive? Barrow is without question an excellent recruiter and this may allow him more time to go out on the recruiting scene.

> Sam Shields is indeed moving to cornerback as Canesport first reported last week. Shannon told the Sentinel he wanted more bodies there. My question is can Shields honestly help the team there or was this move simply made so he stops running out on the field at the wrong time on offense? I'm convinced the only place we are really going to see Shields on the field anymore is as a flier on punts and kickoffs.

> Well, the day has come and gone and Bryce Brown did not sign his National Letter of Intent. While UM has obviously told several reporters (including me) they will not renew the offer, I'm not going to buy it totally until I hear Bruce Brown, Brian Butler or someone from the Brown family say that's the case. The one thing I've learned covering this team is that things change quickly. And if Brown was told his scholarship offer was no longer available to him, he wouldn't be carrying on like normal. We would have had to have an update on potentialplayers.com, right? 

> Almost forgot: I've been told The Miami Herald will have its "exclusive" day with Shannon on Monday. Feel free to begin leaving me some questions you would like for us to ask if we indeed get the interview. 

FIRST HALF THOUGHTS/HIGHLIGHTS...

> Dwayne Collins apparently did enough in practice Wednesday to convince Frank Haith he deserved to play tonight instead of resting his sprained left ankle one more day. Haith is glad he did. Collins has come out strong with seven points, four rebounds and two assists. 

> The bigger news is that Jack McClinton finally has some help. James Dews leads the team with 8 points at halftime. Dews replaced Lance Hurdle in the starting lineup and is showing us why. He's done a good job defensively. Hurdle by the way has obviously gotten a boost from being benched. He had 6 points in 13 minutes and was effective.

END OF REGULATION

> Tough loss for the Canes. Jack McClinton gets held to 13 points. I'll have more for you tomorrow. I've got to drive to Jacksonville and fly home from there in the afternoon.

February 12, 2009

UM still a coach's dream

The University of Miami may not have the budget to pay coaches top dollar or a recent history of success one would imagine enticing enough to make outsiders believe this is a place the best football leaders in the country want to be.

But there is something about The U (no matter what it is lacking right now in a 19-19, three-year span of ordinary football) that still makes it an extraordinary place for coaches to want to be. I believe its because it's a place where all the right ingredients are in place to hit the game-winning home run and be the hero.

New defensive coordinator John Lovett met the media Thursday. That's exactly what new defensive coordinator John Lovett meant when he used the phrases "very thrilled," "very fortunate," and "very lucky," to describe his feelings about getting the job. Lovett, 58, has been in a lot of other coaching huddles. Auburn. Clemson. Mississippi. And most recently, Butch Davis' up at North Carolina, a team most could argue is in a much better position than UM to succeed having won their last two meetings against the Canes.

But coming to UM? No way Lovett was going to pass that up, no matter how hard it was to walk into Davis' office and tell him he was leaving for another team in the ACC. The same could be said for offensive coordinator Mark Whipple. This is a guy who won a Super Bowl with Pittsburgh, was in line to move up the coaching ladder with a Philadelphia Eagles team that was in the NFC Championship game. But then, The U came calling. Didn't Bill Young say the same things a year ago before he returned home for the only job that was really better?

Lovett told us he's been eyeing the Canes a long time -- even before he stopped delivering furniture or driving a zamboni during hockey games at Mount Union College when he first got into coaching. 

"When I was a coach, one of the first places I visited was the place," Lovett said. "I visited Dave Campo, who had just taken a job here. I was at the University of Maine. He said come down here and talk some football. They had just beaten Oklahoma, won the national championship that year Because of that trip I also met Tommy Tuberville. Coach [Butch] Davis was working here at the time. I made a lot of good contacts. Every time you looked when I was a young coach, this was the U. They always had terrific players, were in the hunt for a national championship. It was a place that `Geez, it would be great to coach here someday.''

> Lovett has his chance now and he knows he'll have to act fast with less than two weeks before the start of spring football. He told us he still hasn't familiarized himself with the players and only recently started to watch film. The good news is he's going to make UM's transition to a fourth different coordinator in four seasons as easy as possible. Instead of learning a new language, Lovett said he'll try to keep the same terminology for most of the stuff he's implementing. "I'd rather one person learn it than 50 people learn it," he said. "To me that makes a lot of sense."

> His defense will also not stretch beyond the playing limits of his player's talents or smarts. "It'll be similar to what they've done here," Lovett said. "We'll base out of a four-man front, play some zone coverage, man coverage, some type of pressure. It's not like we'll come in and change the whole scheme, be blitzburg. It'll be in that format and style. Every place I go I try to find out what the guys we have can do and cater to them. If you don't have corners that can cover, defensive ends that can play inside, you have to adjust the personnel you have to make it fit, be successful."

> Credit special teams coach Joe Pannunzio for helping bring Lovett over. Lovett said the two are old friends and after Pannunzio asked him if he was interested, he passed it on to Shannon who did the rest. 

> While many of us think Randy Shannon might have a bigger hand with UM's defense in light of him telling us he might just do the job himself, Lovett expects to be running the show on his own. "Obviously everything we do I'll run by him, especially if it's something different," Lovett said. "I've worked for Tommy Tuberville, Butch Davis. Both those guys were defensive coaches. Neither really meddled in what I was doing. The big thing all of these guys want is they want to make sure what you're doing fits in their philosophy and that the kids are playing fast and hard."

PLAYER NOTES

In all, we got a chance to speak with four players Thursday: offensive tackle Jason Fox, linebacker Sean Spence, kicker Matt Bosher and defensive end Eric Moncur. We didn't learn a whole lot beyond the fact they're very excited about taking on what will be a very challenging start to the 2009 season. But there were some brief thoughts, notes to pass along.

Sean Spence > For starters, Canes fans need not worry about Sean Spence getting a big head after his big freshman season. The kid said his father, a Miami Northwestern assistant coach, still calls him every week to remind him where he came from and what he needs to work on. Spence said he's definitely taking on more of a leadership role with Glenn Cook gone, teaching fellow freshmen like Arthur Brown, Jordan Futch and Ramon Buchanon what he learned last year. Spence also told me he's gained six pounds of muscle from end of last season and is now weighing 213.

> Fox is stepping up his game, too. Fox said he can't believe he's already a senior (neither can I) and Spence said he's noticed Fox taking more of a leadership role in the weight room, getting on other players and holding them accountable. With several offensive linemen gone and several newcomers, Fox said he knows its going to be a challenge to fill some holes. When asked if he thought prep school recruits Brandon Washington and Jermaine Johnson might be able to help right away, he said it was up to them and their work ethic.

"I remember the first game I started at Florida State – it was an experience for me seeing the change in the speed of the game," Fox said. "If players don't see the field right away it's mostly learning the offense. The game is so complex. It takes as much time in the film room and studying the play book as anything else. It's harder than people realize. It can be extremely challenging to an incoming freshman who is not only trying to learn football, but get adjusted to college life. It's a whole out of body experience."

> As for Moncur, he said he was really worried he might not get a chance at a sixth-year of eligibility. ACC rules require players to wait until the end of the season to file for medical redshirts. Moncur's return next season should be a great influence on Adewale Ojomo, Allen Bailey, Marcus Forston and the rest of the talented linemen UM has. 

Linebacker Brandon Marti arrested

This isn't the type of news I like to write or pass along, but I have to because it's my job. 

Linebacker Brandon Marti, a member of UM's 2008 signing class, was arrested early Thursday morning on charges of battery and false imprisonment related to domestic violence. A police report has not been made available yet, so details are unknown. 

Brandon Marti Marti, 18, didn't play last season and was suspended while playing on the practice squad according to UM spokesman Kerwin Lonzo. He told me Marti was told after this past season he was no longer a member of the team.

But I spoke to Marti's older brother moments ago who told me Marti was in a trial period with the team and had been working out with players this week. Either way, this definitely signals the end of his Canes career. Marti was an All-Dade linebacker at Miami Gulliver Prep.

Although I'm sure everyone is going to jump on this story and start saying Thug U all over again, Marti's arrest is the first for a Canes player since former quarterback Robert Marve punched in a car window on Halloween 2007. Only two current or former Canes that we know of have been arrested since Randy Shannon was named coach.

> PS, I'll have plenty more for you from today's press conference with new defensive coordinator John Lovett and interviews with players Jason Fox, Sean Spence and Matt Bosher. 

Lovett hiring official

It's official. John Lovett was named the new defensive coordinator at the University of Miami on Thursday. The press release was just sent our way -- right after those schedules popped in.

We told you all about Lovett on Monday and spoke to coach Tommy Tuberville, his former boss at Auburn and Mississippi, too. Lovett is a veteran coach with 18 years of experience as a defensive coordinator with stops at Clemson, Auburn and Mississippi. Here is what Randy Shannon had to say about him in the release.

“John brings a wealth of experience and success, as well as a comprehensive knowledge of the ACC,” Shannon said. “He has consistently elevated the play of defenses at every school he has coached. Our players will love his approach and mentality. John is a tremendous recruiter and will also be a great addition to the University of Miami community.”

FYI, Lovett will be available to the media today at 1:30 p.m. -- right after we meet with a few players to discuss the start of spring football. I'll have interviews for you later.

Challenging start to '09 schedule

The ACC has finalized its schedules for the start of the season. And your Miami Hurricanes have about as tough a four-game stretch to begin the season as anyone in the country. Here it is: 

  • Sept. 7 at Florida State (ESPN)
  • Sept. 17 Georgia Tech (ESPN)
  • Sept. 26 at Virginia Tech 
  • Oct. 3 Oklahoma 
  • Oct. 10 Florida A&M 
  • Oct. 17 at Central Florida
  • Oct. 24 Clemson 
  • Oct. 31 at Wake Forest 
  • Nov. 7 Virginia 
  • Nov. 14 at North Carolina 
  • Nov. 21 Duke 
  • Nov. 28 at South Florida 

So what are your thoughts about the tough early stretch? Are you worried the Canes could start 0-4? Or, could this work in their favor because they'll be catching some teams early on?  Here's a link to all of the ACC schedules released Thursday at 11 a.m.

Hurtt recaps '09 recruiting, sets 2010 goals

Clint Hurtt just turned 30. He's got a daughter, a fiancee and a passion to stock the University of Miami football program again with talent as Randy Shannon's recruiting coordinator. Hurtt proved he's one of the best in the country at his job last week when he earned honors as a Rivals.com Top 25 Recruiter for the second year in a row. 

UM recruiting coordinator Clint Hurtt One could argue Hurtt has the easiest job in the country with the type of talent he can pluck in a rich backyard consisting of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties. And, that's pretty much what UM did to land ESPN's No. 1 recruiting class in 2008 (grabbing a boatload of talent from nearby mythical national champion Miami Northwestern and Class 4A state champion Booker T. Washington). But a look at UM's 2009 recruiting class (rated 11th by Rivals, 7th by ESPN and 19th by Scout.com) demonstrates how Hurtt can also do a fine job pursuing talent when the local area is having a down year. Of UM's 19 recruits in 2009, only six have roots in South Florida.

What Hurtt and his staff did mostly this past year was go out into the backyard of their in-state rivals (national champion Florida, USF and UCF) and pluck some of the state's best players. While Hurtt had his hand involved in all 19 recruits, he said he really either shared or handled the recruiting load by himself on eight recruits.

"The one thing I don't want people to get the wrong idea about is I did any of this by myself," Hurtt said Wednesday -- a week after putting together his third class at UM. "We have a great team of coaches who did a great job putting our class together."

Maybe so. But Hurtt deserves most of the high-fives. He and receivers coach Aubrey Hill combined to land UM's top recruit and his teammate -- safety Ray Ray Armstrong and defensive end Dyron Dye -- at Sanford Seminole. They also worked together on keeping defensive end Olivier Vernon from Miami American from straying to Alabama or Florida State. WIth the help of Micheal Barrow, Hurtt went into North Carolina to get defensive tackle Curtis Porter.

Jamal Reid catches a touchdown pass in the Under-Armour All-American game But Hurtt's best work -- aside from helping Joe Pannunzio convince tight end Billy Sanders to come back to UM on the eve of NSD -- was what he did in Gator Country by himself. He kept defensive tackle Luther Robinson from Fort Pierce Westwood from leaving UM for a late Gators push, he grabbed running back Mike James early from Polk County, and made sure he was first in line for cornerback Jamal Reid at his tiny high school in Lafayette, Fla.

Hurtt shared a lot of stories with me about UM's 2009 class, but it's Reid's recruitment he seems most proud of. Because, according to Hurtt, if the program was still recruiting the way it did a few years ago, the Canes probably would have been late getting in on Reid. Instead, they knew all about him before anyone else.

"One of the first things I told Randy we had to do when he made me the [recruiting] coordinator was we have to go into every high school in the state, every school no matter how big or how small," Hurtt said.

"You know as well as I do when you are wearing The U in some parts of this state, you get a funny look. This kid is 80 miles from Tallahassee and 45 from Gainesville. When I started making my way around everybody in this little town was telling me I got to go see Jamal Reid. Mind you this is the spring of his 10th grade year, the kid is coming off two 1,000-yard receiving seasons, 13 combined INTs. The first thing I do is make sure we're the first ones to fax that scholarship offer Sept. 1st. It made all the difference in the end when everybody else wanted him once he was an [Under-Armour] All-American."

> Going into every school in the state and making evaluations much earlier than previous UM staff's did aren't the only changes Hurtt has made as recruiting coordinator. In an effort to make sure the staff no longer wastes its time on high-level, out-of-state recruits UM has long odds of getting, Hurtt said he's implemented a rule.

"I call it the one-hour rule," Hurtt said. "If the kid lives more than an hour from a major airport, we really aren't going to bother because it's probably not worth it. Most parents aren't going to drive very far to then got on two flights to come see their kids play when they've got a bunch of other schools closer to them. That doesn't mean we won't go after a special kid who we might have a connection with. In recruiting nowadays, it's just so important to eliminate mistakes in a signing class. You can't make mistakes or it will set you back big time. You got to go after the best players, but the guys who fit your system, fit the character you want. You need to give those guys the attention instead of spreading yourself thin."

Shayon Green > Hurtt praised all of UM 2009 recruits, but we did talk specifics about a few players. For starters, he's very excited about getting Shayon Green, a 6-2, 230-pound defensive end/linebacker from Tift County, Ga. Hurtt said getting Green helps UM immensley, especially after the Canes signed eight linebackers a year ago, but lost out on the two (Zach Kane and Antonio Harper) who figured to play middle linebacker. Hurtt said Green was brought in to fill those losses and said he feels Green will make an impact down the road. "He's extremely explosive, plays hard and has a high IQ," Hurtt said. "That's what you want in a middle linebacker. He's going to be great on special teams this year."

> Hurtt is very excited about the defensive players Miami brought in, especially the guys in the secondary. He said Prince Kent and Ray Ray Armstrong -- both Under-Armour All-Americans -- have the size Miami has been looking for a safety. And he promises that is what both will play. He said both Reid and Brandon McGee, who have great hips and long arms, will be impact cornerbacks.

> As for the offensive recruits, the first name out of Hurtt's mouth was tackle Jermaine Johnson, who sat out last season (his second out of high school). "We got five offensive linemen and were very happy with that," Hurtt said. "We're definitely happy we got Jermaine. He's a kid who is ready."

> One thing Hurtt is very excited about is the 2010 class in South Florida, one most recruiting experts believe will be the richest area in the country this fall. "Dade, Broward, Palm Beach is always loaded," Hurtt said. "But this coming year, it's absolutely loaded. Arguably you can say its going to be better than '08. Why? Because despite all the athletes we produce around here, South Florida always has a shortcoming on offensive linemen. There are a ton of instate linemen. Not just good linemen, special linemen."

> Hurtt said UM will have between 22-23 scholarships to use for next year. Like he did a year ago, he laid out the slots for me: 1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, 3 TE, 4 OL, 3 DL, 3 LB, 3-4 DBs and possibly a kicker.

So far, the Canes have commitments from two 2010 recruits -- both are defensive tackles. Jacksonville Raines' Louis Nix, a Rivals five-star recruit, and Miami Northwestern's Todd Chandler, Miami-Dade's No. 2 recruit. By NCAA rule, Hurtt isn't allowed to discuss any of the players UM is going after, but he told me the Canes have already offered scholarships to between 30-35 players locally.

> I don't have a complete list of who those players are, but I've been able to confirm through conversations with high schools coaches, players and my friend Larry Blustein who many of those kids already are. The hotspot? Defending national champion St. Thomas Aquinas. The Canes have already offered four Raiders scholarships -- center Brandon Linder (Broward's top recruit), running back Giovanni Bernard, kicker Mike Palardy and safety Brian Robinson. There are plenty more players UM is chasing in Broward, but so far it looks like Boyd Anderson defensive back Demar Dorsey is the only other 954 player with a Canes scholarship offer to date.

Lamarcus Joyner In Dade, Miami has high interest or offers already out for: CB Lamarcus Joyner (Columbus), WR Michael Lee Harris (Northwestern), RB Eduardo Clements (Booker T. Washington), K Oscar Diaz (Booker T. Washington), DL Corey Lemonier (Hialeah), DL Calvin Smith (Hialeah), OL Torrian Wilson (Northwestern), RB Jakhari Gore (Columbus) and QB Jeffrey Godfrey (Miami Central).

In Palm Beach, UM is after Pahokee receiver Joshua Jones, tight end Zach Allen, Royal Palm Beach's receiver Chris Dunkley, Palm Beach Central center Shane McDermott, Dwyer tight end Gerald Christian and running back Matt Elam, and Delray Atlantic athlete James Lewis.

"The guys we have offers out to so far are the can't miss guys," Hurtt said. "But we're still very much watching film and following guys closely."

Here's my official toast to the next 11 months and three weeks before the next National Signing Day.