Reaction from Monday night's press conference introducing Al Golden as the Hurricanes next football coach. Plus, Al Golden spends 20 minutes with the UM media.
Reaction from Monday night's press conference introducing Al Golden as the Hurricanes next football coach. Plus, Al Golden spends 20 minutes with the UM media.
Video of Al Golden's press conference at the Newman Alumni Center recorded by Hurricanesports.com
The Miami Hurricanes met as a football team for the first time since Sunday, the day they were informed as a team by athletic director Kirby Hocutt that Randy Shannon had been fired as coach. Although internet reports surfaced saying the team meeting Thursday might be for players to meet their new coach, it wasn't.
"We just had a meeting to go over academics, make sure the guys get their stuff done academically," sophomore cornerback Brandon McGee said. "Emotionally it's been tough. When you take a guy like coach Shannon away from the program, away from kind of what he built, it's not easy. It's been emotional but I feel like our coaches prepared us for moments like this and we're able to prepare for what's next."
Next for the Canes? Final exams and a whole lot of studying. The team won't practice again at Greentree until Dec. 11. In the meantime, McGee said, players have been working out and trying to refocus after a 7-5 season. Oh yeah, and they've been hearing plenty of rumors about who their next coach might be, too.
"We don't really pay attention to it too much. I think the fans feed into it much more than we do," McGee said. "Everyday we hear a different name.
"The only name I kept hearing was Jon Gruden. I was like 12 years old when he won the Super Bowl with Tampa Bay. I'm pretty much open to anything. Whatever coach they bring in, I'm sure they'll bring in the best guy to win."
Gruden all but ended any speculation he'll become UM's next coach on Thursday when he said he was willing to help the Hurricanes find a new coach during a teleconference on ESPN.
The news shocked at least one Hurricane -- defensive end Adewale Ojomo. "Wow," Ojomo said. "I was thinking coach Gruden might come in. Nobody told us that in here. But those were the rumors."
For the most part, players said they really don't care who among the current candidates gets hired. They just want a good coach.
"A coach that cares about his players," defensive end Olivier Vernon said of what he would like.
"Just a good coach who is going to come in and know the great tradition of Miami," Ojomo said. "Experience is the best teacher."
"It doesn't matter to me as long as its a coach who gets the job done," freshman tackle Seantrel Henderson said. "I love being a Cane, the family feeling as far as the team."
> Henderson walked out of Thursday's meeting with a black boot on his left foot. He's had it for over week. The 6-8, 350-pound right tackle has a sprained achilles, but said he won't miss UM's bowl game.
> Miami Northwestern High quarterback Teddy Bridgewater -- one of six remaining Hurricanes commitments -- hasn't wanted to talk about recruiting lately. But I spoke to his mother, Rose Murphy by phone Thursday, who told me Bridgewater is still continuing to mull over what do since Shannon's firing.
"It's been crazy," Murphy said. "But we're taking it one day at a time. And like he says, when the time comes he'll let everybody know.
"Everytime I think it's one school or when I think he's made a decision on UM, LSU or whatever, I really don't know. When I talked to him today he said, 'Mama, I haven't decided.' So, I really don't know. I try to stay out of it and tell him whatever decision he makes I support him. I know where I would want him. But he has to make his own decision. I just want what's best for him. If he goes away, I'm fine with it. But if he stays home and plays in Miami I'm fine with it. I just want him to do what he wants to do -- and get a free education."
Murphy said UM and LSU remain at the top of her son's list, but Florida and other schools remain in hot pursuit. "It's been a lot for him to deal with," Murphy said. "They come to the house, talk to him, call him. I can't really say Manny what he's feeling."
The Hurricanes lost one commitment since Shannon's firing -- four-star cornerback Albert Louis-Jean of Brockton, Mass. UM already canceled its first recruiting weekend Dec. 10-11 and is hoping to have a coach in place so it can host recruits Dec. 17-18. When Larry Coker was fired, it took UM a little more than two weeks to find a replacement.
> In case you missed, CBS Sports Columnist Gregg Doyel took some serious shots at Canes athletic director Kirby Hocutt. He thinks Hocutt is already fumbling the coaching search process. I don't think Hocutt has and I think UM will still end up with a very good head coach.
Thoughts and observations from Wednesday as the search for a football coach at the University of Miami shifts from Jon Gruden to other candidates:
> Missing out on Gruden really is not a big deal for the Hurricanes. As I wrote in my previous blog, I never really thought a guy who has spent the last 19 years in the NFL (as broadcaster, head coach and assistant) would want to handle or be able to handle all of the intricate details of being a college coach. It's a lot more responsibility than being an NFL coach.
Wednesday, I spoke to former Bucs QB Shaun King, who played for Gruden, and he told me flatly the Hurricanes were crazy for wanting him. King just didn't think it was a good mix at all. In the end, I think Gruden was not as interested as many of us were first led to believe. But the fact athletic director Kirby Hocutt went after him shows me at least UM is serious about finding a big name, quality coach.
> Most believe the next name on UM's list is Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen, who was supposed to be in town today to visit a recruit. Mullen didn't end up making the trip because he's battling the flu. But I've heard through a third party who spoke with one of Mullen's assistants that the former Gators offensive coordinator believes he already has a better job. He's coaching in the SEC and the school's facilities are better than UM's. As of Wednesday night, we had not heard that Mullen spoke to anyone from UM involved in the hiring process. But that may happen today as Hocutt and his Chuck Neinas continue to make their rounds.
> As it stands, I don't think we're going to see a resolution to this job very quickly. Since Gruden didn't surprise us and agree to taking the job today, I think this search will continue well into next week. The Hurricanes have already called off their first recruiting weekend Dec. 10 and 11. I think the target date to really find a coach is before the second recruiting weekend (Dec. 17 and 18) so that a new coach/staff can be in place to court those players. When Larry Coker was fired a day after the end of the 2006 regular season, it took UM a little more than two weeks to hire Shannon as their next coach.
> As for Shannon, he apparently is very interested in becoming the new coach at the University of Minnesota. ESPN’s Bruce Feldman said he spoke with Shannon Tuesday, and wrote Shannon would love to stay in college coaching because “you can make a difference in young people’s lives.” A few weeks ago, before Shannon was obviously fired, there was an a strange internet report that Shannon might be interested in going to Minnesota. You have to wonder if he knew what was coming and was already planning his next move. By the way, Colorado and Vanderbilt are two other schools reportedly interested in Shannon.
> Former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, who is looking for a job, got a ringing endorsement from Donald Trump Wednesday. Trump sent a written message to UM President Donna Shalala praising Leach on the front page of a Palm Beach Post Sports Section. Leach took to the airwaves Wednesday on ESPN radio and then sent his own message.
"I think it is a great opportunity for anybody," Leach said of the UM job. "They have got a great tradition and all the rest. A great recruiting base and you could do big things at Miami.
"I have had success everywhere else, you know and I think it just has to do with everybody doing their role. See Texas Tech started out in the border conference, which was a really soft conference, then Texas Tech went to the Southwest Conference, which was a pretty good conference, then they went to the Big XII, which was a great conference, but in that ten years that me and my staff were in the Big XII we won more bowl games than all of the years that Tech had the rest of the years combined. You know so we have got a pretty good team and a good plan."
> Leach isn't the only guy who wants the job. I've heard from reliable sources current Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville would be very interested in the job.
> The Sun Bowl might not be as interested as they once were in taking the Hurricanes. We're hearing Boston College could end up taking the spot. It all likely depends on the opponent. The Sun Bowl would love for a UM-Notre Dame showdown. But at this point, it's more likely Notre Dame goes to the Champs Sports Bowl (had the Canes beat USF they would be there). Now if Notre Dame doesn't end up at the Sun Bowl, UM could slip down the pecking order. As it stands, the Sun Bowl could also be short on Pac-10 teams and take a Big East school as a potential replacement.
> The Hurricanes lost their first recruit since the firing on Wednesday when Brockton, Mass. cornerback Albert Louis-Jean decommitted from the Hurricanes. UM is down to six commitments now.
Three Hurricanes made the All-ACC First team on Monday. Here is the complete team -- voted on by 61 members of the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association. NOTE: A first-team vote was worth two points and second team vote one.
QB Tyrod Taylor, Virginia Tech (77)
RB Montel Harris, Boston College (122)
RB Anthony Allen, Georgia Tech (108)
WR Leonard Hankerson, Miami (118)
WR Torrey Smith, Maryland (96)
TE George Bryan, NC State (92)
OT Anthony Castonzo, Boston College (79)
OT Chris Hairston, Clemson (69)
OG Rodney Hudson, Florida State (116)
OG Brandon Washington, Miami (50)
C Sean Bedford, Georgia Tech (91)
K Chris Hazley, Virginia Tech (100)
Spc. Tony Logan, Maryland (69)
DE Da'Quan Bowers, Clemson (120)
DE Brandon Jenkins, Florida State (101)
DT Quinton Coples, North Carolina (101)
DT Jarvis Jenkins, Clemson (63)
LB Luke Kuechly, Boston College (112)
LB Nate Irving, N.C. State (105)
LB Alex Wujciak, Maryland (78)
CB Jayron Hosley, Virginia Tech (112)
CB Chase Minnifield, Virginia (57)
S DeAndre McDaniel, Clemson (99)
S Kenny Tate, Maryland (78)
P Matt Bosher, Miami
QB Russell Wilson, NC State (75)
RB Damien Berry, Miami (37)
RB Keith Payne, Virginia (30)
WR Conner Vernon, Duke (70)
WR Owen Spencer, NC State (41)
TE Dwayne Allen, Clemson (31)
OT Orlando Franklin, Miami (65)
OT Blake DeChristopher, Virginia Tech (39)
OG Jaymes Brooks, Virginia Tech (41)
OG Omoregie Uzzi, Georgia Tech (35)
OG Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina (35)
C Ryan McMahon, Florida State (47)
K Will Snyderwine, Duke (38)
Spc. David Wilson, Virginia Tech (61)
DE Allen Bailey, Miami (51)
DE Steven Friday, Virginia Tech (42)
DT John Graves, Virginia Tech (46)
DT Joe Vellano, Maryland (33)
LB Bruce Carter, North Carolina (43)
LB Bruce Taylor, Virginia Tech (41)
LB Sean Spence, Miami (37)
CB Xavier Rhodes, Florida State (49)
CB Brandon Harris, Miami (45)
S Davon Morgan, Virginia Tech (48)
S Ray-Ray Armstrong, Miami (25)
P Brian Saunders, Virginia Tech (48)
Honorable mention - Offense: WR Dwight Jones, North Carolina (20); OT Jake Vermiglio, NC State (34); Paul Pinegar, Maryland (27); OG Thomas Claiborne, Boston College (34); C Beau Warren, Virginia Tech (22); TE Cooper Helfet, Duke (24); Andre Smith, Virginia Tech (23); RB Johnny White, North Carolina (22); QB T.J. Yates, North Carolina (21); PK Casey Barth, North Carolina (20); SP Marcus Gilchrist, Clemson (24). Defense: DT J.R. Sweezy, NC State (26); LB Colin McCarthy, Miami (34); Abraham Kromah, Duke (30); CB Greg Reid, Florida State (20)
As usual, your collection of Tuesday interviews before the USF game. For the complete audio soundtrack of coach Randy Shannon's press conference, click on this link.
Got a link from a reader to an interesting article written last week by the Associated Press about former Hurricane Sam Shields, who has gone from undrafted free agent to knocking long-time veteran Al Harris out of a job with the Packers.
Although Shields was blessed with tremendous speed (he was timed under 4.3 at UM), he didn't accomplish as much as Canes fans hoped for in his college career. After three years of mediocre play at receiver, Shields was moved to cornerback his senior year by UM coach Randy Shannon. Although Shields spent an entire spring and an entire season at UM at corner, apparently, he didn't learn much.
According to the article, Packers cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt was "at his wits' end when he found out that Shields had no idea how to watch film, learn defenses or prepare for games at the cornerback position." So according to the article, Whitt began at, well, the beginning.
"He had no clue. Trust me, no clue,'' Whitt said bluntly. "There was one day, I almost lost my mind."
To teach Shields, Whitt went back to an approach he used as an assistant at Louisville, where he helped turn two former offensive players - Arizona Cardinals safety Kerry Rhodes and Philadelphia Eagles safety Antoine Harris - into NFL-caliber defensive players.
"Basically, I got flash cards. I drew a formation on one side, I drew the check on the back side, just like you do in school," Whitt explained. "The next day, I come in, he has a stack of flash cards, two inches deep, and he has everything on it. And from that day on, it was a total transformation because he understood the defense from that day on because he understood how to study."
Luckily for the Packers, Shields has been a quick study. In the Packers' 45-7 victory over Dallas before their bye week, he got his first NFL interception (an acrobatic one-handed catch) and, while also responsible for the Cowboys' only touchdown, proved once again on a big stage that the job isn't too big for him. In fact, his play solidified the Packers' difficult decision to sever ties with Harris, a 13-year veteran who'd started 106 career games in Green Bay and wound up with the Dolphins.
"Back when we started training camp, not many people knew who Sam Shields was, and I didn't know much about Sam Shields. But we thought he had potential, and he's continued to make improvement," defensive coordinator Dom Capers told AP. "We've played nine games with him out there now, and that's a tough position to stick a rookie out there because everybody in the National Football League knows."
Whitt believes Shields will eventually become a star in the league.
"Write this down," Whitt said of Shields, the Packers' No. 3 cornerback in their nickel defense. "Sam is going to be one of the top corners in this league in two years."
For the complete article, check out the link here.
A FEW MORE TIDBITS...
> Despite the 31-17 loss to Virginia Tech, Brandon Washington and Lamar Miller were named ACC Players of the Week on Monday. Washington earned ACC Offensive Lineman of the Week while Miller earned ACC Rookie of the Week honors. It was the second time for both this season.
Washington graded out at 98 percent for the Miami offensive line and had seven pancake blocks and three lumberjacks. Miller ran for a UM season high 163 yards and a touchdown on just 15 carries against the Hokies. Safe bet both of these guys will make the all-ACC team at season's end (likely 2nd team for Washington and the rookie team for Miller).
> Don't know about you, but I'd love to see the Hurricanes face Notre Dame in a bowl game. As our Susan Miller Degnan wrote for Tuesday's paper, there is a chance UM could see the Irish in either the Champs Sports Bowl (that would take UM beating USF) or the Sun Bowl (it would take no Pac-10 teams being available).
> The Hurricanes missed out on one of the top receivers in the country Monday when U.S. Army All-American Sammy Watkins announced his intentions to sign with Clemson. Watkins, a standout at Fort Myers High and the No. 1 receiver in the state (he's ranked 3rd by Rivals nationally), had the Canes in his top two with the Tigers.
The good news? Hurricanes are still in the running for Rivals' top-ranked receiver George Farmer (6-2, 192) of Gardena Junipero Serra High School in Calif., and Glades Central's Kelvin Benjamin (6-6, 210), considered the ninth-best receiver in the country by Rivals.
The Hurricanes currently have seven commitments and are expected to sign no more than 12 to 15 recruits. One of the current commitments, Tampa Alonso defensive end Anthony Chickillo told Canesport.com Monday UM hasn't exactly made it easy for him to sway other prospects with a subpar season.
"I've been trying, but it's been tough," Chickillo told Canesport. "A lot of different recruits are going different ways. There were some guys interested in Miami, and to be honest with you they just lost interest. I don't get a reason why - I guess it would be the season."
Before we get to some interviews as the Hurricanes prepare take on Georgia Tech Saturday, a few news and notes from Tuesday's press conference and practice:
> There were a few notable absences from Tuesday's practice: Quarterback Jacory Harris, tailbacks Damien Berry and Lamar Miller, tight end Asante Cleveland and receiver Allen Hurns.
> UM coach Randy Shannon said that neither Harris or Berry are likely to play this week. Shannon said Harris is supposed to see a doctor today to find out about his progress from the effects of a concussion sustained two weeks ago against Virginia and that Harris has yet to begin running although he held out hope that the junior quarterback might take part in some of practice this week. But no matter what happens, Shannon told the Palm Beach Post that Stephen Morris will start versus the Yellow Jackets.
> Shannon said that Damien Berry, the Hurricanes’ leading rusher, continues to be bothered by a leg injury (we believed its bruised left quadriceps) and has been slowed in recent days by the flu.
> Lamar Miller was seen walking around the hallways at the UM athletic center without any visible injuries. He missed two games earlier this season with what was believed to be a shoulder injury.
> Shannon told the Palm Beach Post, Asante Cleveland will also miss Saturday’s game and could be out longer after sustaining an undisclosed injury against Maryland last week.
> Left tackle Orlando Franklin was dressed for practice, but didn't participate in individual drills when the media was allowed to watch the first 6 minutes and 34 seconds of practice.
> Safety JoJo Nicolas was back practicing after getting injured in the first half Saturday. Nobody in the media noticed if defensive back Lee Chambers was back out there
> Defensive tackle Josh Holmes, who has missed four of the past five games with a knee injury, may not return this season. Sophomore defensive tackle Curtis Porter was dressed for practice, but did not participate.
Monsignor Pace football coach Alvin Slaughter got a call Monday he wasn't expecting. On the other side of the phone was Lamar Thomas.
The former Hurricanes' message to Slaughter: "'The whole program rests on your boys' shoulders," Slaughter said Thomas told him. "I was like 'Oh God, this is more pressure than I need.' "
The boy Thomas was referring to was freshman quarterback Stephen Morris, whom Slaughter coached for four seasons at Pace. Barring a miraculous recovery from a concussion by starter Jacory Harris (we should learn how long he'll be out Tuesday), Morris, a 6-2, 185-pound freshman, will make his first collegiate start for the Hurricanes (5-3, 3-2 ACC) Saturday when Maryland (6-2, 3-1) visits Sun Life Stadium for a noon kickoff.
Slaughter plans to be there, where figures he will be more nervous than Morris was in the second half last Saturday when he went from fourth string (and a potential redshirt season) to nearly rallying the Hurricanes from a 24-0 deficit in the fourth quarter at Virginia.
"He called me right after the game and asked me 'How did I look coach? I was like 'Honestly? You looked nervous as hell.'" Slaughter said Monday of his former quarterback, who threw two interceptions, then settled down and led UM to 19 points with two touchdowns passes and a nine-yard TD run in the fourth quarter.
"He asked me, 'Well, What did you expect from me?' I said, 'I expected you to lead this team to victory, nothing less.'
"I actually believe if they would have had another possession that he would have gotten it done. They would have won. I know he's one of my guys. But if you look at the turn of events, the last two possessions he scored touchdowns. You could see he was having success, guys were starting to rally around him. Those guys were smiling, patting him on the head. That was building confidence. Once you get confidence in a player and a football team, you could pretty much do anything."
For Morris, anything could potentially include trying to saving the Hurricanes' season and coach Randy Shannon's job. That's a pretty significant upgrade in role from a week ago when Morris was under the impression he was going to redshirt this season. It wasn't until recently when backup A.J. Highsmith injured his wrist that Slaughter said Morris started working a little bit less with the scout team -- just in case.
"To be honest with you I think he was only getting scout team reps last week," Slaughter said. "So, the only plays he knew were plays he knew from earlier on in the season. Those were the only reps he did -- and the individual reps with coach Whipple they do every week. [Spencer] Whipple and Jacory and Highsmith were getting those other reps. If you put that into the equation, the kid probably played good to great under those circumstances. I mean it was basic stuff they were running for him. It was like they just hoped they executed well and prayed for the best."
"When he gets more reps this week, I feel more comfortable he can do even better. They just have to limit the play selection and let the guys around him make the plays, not make Stephen Morris win with his big arm. But I don't coach the University of Miami. I'm just saying what I would do."
When Slaughter said he spoke to Morris Monday, he told him he was very happy and very excited for him. But Slaughter said he also warned Morris to not get too giddy about his new opportunity because .
"I just told him whatever happens you better go back to being humble because that's what always kills football players -- the success and not being able to handle it," Slaughter said. "It's like marrying Halle Berry, Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian. You wouldn't know how to act.
"I told Stephen, 'You better eat a big piece of that humble pie and lead this football team in the right direction. Because that's what they need, they need a leader.' I don't like throwing stones. I live in a glass house too. I just think he needs to go out there and let the team know he's not going to force anything and let the game come to him. Once he has the support of his teammates, he'll be just fine."
As a junior in 2008, Morris led Pace to the Class 3A state semifinals where they lost on a last-second field goal to eventual state champion Cocoa. In a shotgun-based spread offense, Morris completed 64 percent of his passes for 2,005 yards, 19 touchdowns and nine interceptions. But a year later when his three talented receivers (Sterling Griffin, Kayvon Webster and Derrick Hopkins) left for the University of South Florida, Morris went under center and ran a pro-style offense. Pace didn't have a great season, missing the playoffs for the first time in 18 years. But Morris did well, completing 96 of his 179 passes (53.6 percent) for 1,531 yards, 22 touchdowns and six interceptions.
"It pretty much came down Stephen and a kid from California," Slaughter said of UM's recruiting efforts. "I think in the beginning Whipple didn't know Stephen had a big arm. If you saw Stephen throw the long out to Benjamin for the touchdown [Saturday], that's why he's there. When Whipple realized Stephen had a big arm and could throw that 18 to 20-yard out pattern -- something Whipple talked about wanting in his offense -- he absolutely loved him. Plus, when he heard Stephen was a good student with a 4.0 GPA, 1000 on his SAT, was graduating early and could get in the system, all that just made Stephen that even more appealing. Whipple got a kid who was football smart, very intelligent with a high IQ. That's what you want in your quarterback."
And essentially, Slaughter said, what Whipple also liked was that Morris was a quarterback who fit his system. Harris, who went 30-0 as a starter at Miami Northwestern, ran the shotgun spread offense for two years in high school.
Slaughter said Morris has told him he feels comfortable in UM's offense because most of it requires him to be under center, something he did frequently as a senior.
"What Miami does isn't Oregon's offense, four, five wide -- it's not fun on the turf," Slaughter said. "It's playaction, misdirection, use your tight end.
"What Stephen has told me is that Whipple has a lot of different formations, sets and things that he does. But Stephen said one thing that he took from what we did that has helped him is running the fast pace, hurry-up offense. We did a lot of that from under center. The cadences are similar too. That's helped out a lot, too. Honestly, that's why I go to coaching clinics so I can adjust it and my kids aren't that far behind when they go into college systems."
Slaughter said another reason he believes Morris will be a success under Whipple is his arm strength. Unlike Harris who floats the ball downfield on deep passes, Slaughter said Morris can "throw the ball on a rope 72 yards."
If there is an area Slaughter said Morris might need to work on, it's being more of a vocal leader. But he doesn't necessarily consider that a weakness either.
"He's a lead by example guy," Slaughter said. "When I had him, I would tell him, 'You got to setup the cones, you got to do this or that.' Stephen would do it it at 100 miles per hour. He would be the first one on the field, last one off after practice. He'd tell his receivers, 'Let's go, I need to throw 100 passes, you need to catch 100 passes. Let's do it.' He isn't rah-rah. He's all business.
"The bottomline is he just wants to win. I know when he threw those interceptions, he went to his teammates and said 'Sorry guys, but you can count me. I won't throw another one.' He seeks perfection. He knows those mistakes are terrible and he doesn't accept it."
One way or another, Slaughter believes what Hurricanes fans saw in the fourth quarter last Saturday in Charlottesville was just the beginning for Morris.
"I really believe that they've got themselves the future with Stephen," Slaughter said. "And if not this year, they've finally got themselves a damn good backup. He's a tough kid. Sometimes quarterbacks don't get labeled tough. But they got themselves a tough kid with thick skin. I mean I rip him, lay into him. I've let him have it. I won't share any stories. But I've ripped that boy to shreds and he'll just let it roll off. He's thick skinned. You can coach him hard. As a quarterback, you're going to get it from all angles. You have to take the good and the bad. Stephen can do that."
"Hopefully it works out with the University of Miami. Sometimes, you just need an opportunity, a blessing from the skies and this could be one for The U."
NEW YORK -- Devastating loss for the Hurricanes Saturday at Virginia. How devastating? We'll find out in the coming days.
Not only is quarterback Jacory Harris' status uncertain, but so is the direction of this program. One week they look like they're ready to get on a roll after an impressive home win against North Carolina. The next, they're down 24-0 to Virginia and scrambling in the fourth quarter just to stay in it. Are they ACC contenders? Or, just another mediocre football team?
Honestly, I'm done trying to make sense of this team. The only thing we know for sure is they're inconsistent, unreliable and maddening to watch for fans. At this point, the Canes are going to need a lot of help to achieve their goal of winning the ACC title. Even if they get that help somehow, which team is going to show up week to week? We have no clue.
If there was one positive to come out of this game, it was the play of freshman quarterback Stephen Morris in the fourth quarter. Yes, he threw two interceptions. Yes, this was only Virginia. But Morris rallied the Hurricanes in the fourth quarter and in my opinion is probably the best quarterback for Mark Whipple's offense (that includes if Jacory Harris is healthy or not). Morris was handpicked by Whipple out of Monsignor Pace, where he ran a pro style offense. Harris ran the spread from the shotgun at Northwestern.
I'm not saying Morris is going to be the best quarterback for this team right now or the rest of this season. He's still very green. But in the long run -- assuming Whipple is still here -- Morris is a much better fit than any of the other QBs on the current roster for Whipple's play-calling.
Anyway, here is what UM coach Randy Shannon and center Tyler Horn talked about after the game. Video is courtesy of UM's Sports Info office.
Big win for the Hurricanes on Saturday night against the Tar Heels -- one I certainly didn't see coming especially by the final score of 33-10.
Couple of thoughts before we get to the video:
> I can't stress enough how much emotion had to do with this win. The Hurricanes looked like an entirely different team, playing with heart, playing with passion, celebrating big plays and not caring about drawing penalties. In the third quarter, I felt like someone switched the DVD and put in highlights from The U movie. The question now becomes will the Canes keep it up?
That's hard to say. But it if felt like after talking to Brandon Harris -- you'll see the video below -- that this team did exactly what Randy Shannon wanted them to do. They became accountable for themselves, started policing themselves. Harris said the team had a players only meeting last Tuesday, prompted by himself, Sean Spence and Vaughn Telemaque. He said during the private meeting, different players stood up and expressed themselves. It took them a little while, but the Canes started playing with that emotion Saturday. Like Telemaque told me last week, you can't be a vocal leader until you actually do something on the field. Now that some of these Hurricanes have -- especially on defense -- maybe we'll start seeing this team on Saturdays instead of the lazy, walk-through version we've seen far too often. Cross your fingers, anyway.
> Heard this after the game: Former Cane Antrel Rolle, who visited UM on Tuesday, was a big part of that players only meeting and encouraging Shannon to come out of his shell a little more. Not sure if Shannon actually danced. But he definitely chest-bumped Orlando Franklin.
> Quarterback Jacory Harris looked like he was getting off to a terrible game Saturday. He threw a wounded duck on a deep route to Travis Benjamin on UM's opening drive, then threw and interception on an absolutely terrible pass back across his body. But give Jacory credit. He rebounded nicely, finishing 21 of 32 for 217 yards and three touchdowns. What I liked most about Harris was that he didn't get down. According to Shannon, after his pick, he came to the sideline and said I should have run the ball. I'm not saying Harris is completely over his woes. He still couldn't hit the deep ball and was almost intercepted two more times. But this was his best game in quite a while. And that's a start.
> If Allen Bailey can figure a way to send just one tape to the NFL combine, he should make sure it's this one. Tremendous game -- 3.5 sacks and six tackles. It was nice to finally see the big dominate like Mel Kiper thought he would when he tabbed him the 11th best player in the upcoming draft.
> It's not even a question anymore -- Asante Cleveland is UM's best tight end. He should be starting and seeing a lot more balls going his way.
Time for this week's extremity report from UM before the Canes take on North Carolina Saturday night at Sun Life Stadium:
RB Storm Johnson - Lower Extremity
WR Tommy Streeter - Upper Extremity
QB Alonzo Highsmith - Upper Extremity
OL Joel Figueroa - Lower Extremity
CB Brandon McGee - Lower Extremity
DT Curtis Porter - Lower Extremity
Here is what UM coach Randy Shannon talked about after Thursday's walkthrough courtesy of the fine reporters on UM's Sports Information Staff.
Before I come back with some news and notes, here are today's video interviews from Coral Gables as the Hurricanes prepare to take on North Carolina Saturday at Sun Life Stadium:
The musical beats provided by Duke's marching band are usually the loudest sounds heard at Wallace Wade Stadium on football Saturdays in Durham, N.C. But for a brief moment last weekend -- while the Blue Devils band was taking a short break -- Hurricanes defensive tackle Micanor Regis found an opening to sound off. And in the process, he created a little bedlam of his own.
"Rick does this bark," Canes defensive lineman Allen Bailey said. "It sounds like a real dog, like an angry rotweiler. We were on the sidelines and he just let one of those out. He barked at the band and half of them jumped like two feet in the air. I laughed so hard."
Regis did more than put a scare into Duke's band Saturday. Like a dog chasing after a frisbee in flight, he snatched a Sean Renfree pass out of the air in the third quarter and rumbled 22 yards for a touchdown in what UM coach Randy Shannon called the play of the game in a 28-13 win over the Blue Devils.
The play made Regis the focal point of teammates' jokes after the game for the way his 6-3, 305-pound body looked chugging toward the Canes' second defensive touchdown of the season. But all of that teasing, Bailey said, was of out of love for the Regis, who has always tried to pass himself off in practice as a sleek skill player and not a lumbering lineman.
"When I was growing up, I didn't think I was going to play football. I thought I was going to be the next Michael Jordan," Regis said.
"I was five feet tall when I was in the fourth grade. By the time I got to sixth [grade], I was 6-feet, 300-pounds. I always looked two grades ahead of my class. People were scared of me until they got to know me. I was just a regular guy. I wasn't a bully or nothing. I was just bigger than everybody else."
The fourth of seven children raised by a single mom in the football hotbed of Pahokee in Palm Beach County, Regis didn't begin playing football competitively until he was 13. Once he put on the pads, It didn't take him long to begin making an impact. A three-year starter at left tackle and at defensive tackle, he helped lead Pahokee to three state championships. By the time he was a senior, he was tabbed the 29th-best defensive tackle prospect in the country by Rivals.com.
"He couldn't be blocked," Pahokee coach Blaze Thompson said Monday. "Whoever we were playing, their big hoss on the line, Micanor just wanted to dominate him. I don't remember him being beat once. I just always worried before the game what might happen if he got a hold of the quarterback.
"He was a great offensive lineman too. In the Muck Bowl [against rival Glades Central] we ran leads right behind him the entire game and he led us right down the field, opening holes every play getting five, 10 yards a pop. They knew exactly where we were going to go and they still couldn't stop it. He was just a beast."
Former recruiting coordinator Clint Hurtt (now at Louisville) discovered Regis midway through his sophomore season. Regis, the second cousin of Ravens Pro Bowl receiver Anquan Boldin (a former Florida State star), said he was told by Hurtt to expect an offer from UM on the first day he could receive one as a junior. Once he did, Regis said he fell in love with the Hurricanes and never once thought about going anywhere else.
"He's a Cane true and through," Thompson said. "I had coaches from Ohio State, Oklahoma, Florida State in my office trying to talk to him. He would just tell them 'Coach, I don't want to waste your time. I'm going to Miami.' "
"Now that he's playing, starting, you can see he's excited. I didn't see the interception return for the touchdown Saturday, but I heard about it. I think he's doing great. I get the sense he's just about ready to really start coming on."
After two seasons as a reliable backup, Saturday's game might have been that turning point for Regis. In only the third start of his career at Miami, he finished with a career-high nine tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack. The interception was the third of his career (he had two as a sophomore) and the touchdown he scored was his first at any level.
The play, while funny, didn't surprise teammates at all according to Bailey, who have seen Regis transform himself from a sloppy 330 pounds freshman to a well built 305 third-year tackle who is more than capable of making athletic plays.
"He's like an interception magnet," Bailey said. "For some reason, every time the ball gets batted up in the air, he gets it. Micanor is just a great player. He's worked hard to get where he is.
"And he's got a great personality. He's a fun guy to be around. He kind of bullies the small guys, tries to give [defensive backs] tips how to catch balls like if he played corner or something. He makes us laugh."
Regis doesn't just provide comic relief. A self-described video game junky and fan of old action movies starring James Bond and Bruce Lee, he also entertains his teammates when he listens to his favorite musician, rapper Slick Rick. His passion for the old school rapper earned Regis the nickname 'Rick' from his teammates.
"I've never heard him rhyme," Bailey said laughing. "But I like his bark and the way he plays football. He should stick to that."
With the University of Miami trailing Florida State 24-7 at halftime Saturday night, Melvin Bratton said he told a group of Hurricanes fans sitting next to him at Land Shark Stadium not to worry.
"I said this [expletive] ain't over," said Bratton, a running back on the 1987 National Championship. "This is The U. It's 0-0. We're never out of it."
But a little over an hour later, at the end of an embarrassing 45-17 beat down by the Seminoles, Bratton said he came to a sad realization: The U he played for isn't The U of today. What Bratton said troubled him and many other former Hurricanes -- including Michael Irvin, Gino Torretta, Dan Morgan and Leon Searcy -- wasn't that the Canes lost to Florida State. It was the way they lost, with a lack of leadership, urgency and fire from players and coaches up and down the Hurricanes sideline.
"You can blame the coach, you can blame the players. To me, it's a state of emergency right now," Bratton said. "Everybody needs to take control, take a step back and say 'What can I do better? Is it the coaching? Is it the weight room? Do guys need to spend more time studying, dissecting plays? I don't have the answer.
"But what I don't see is any urgency. I don't see that fight. And that is inexcusable."
Irvin and Torretta, who host radio shows on WQAM, have echoed those sentiments this week. Irvin went as so far as saying the program could use "one or two more thugs." He later clarified it to mean hard-nosed leaders on the field.
Although he pointed the finger at himself for Saturday's loss to the Seminoles, UM coach Randy Shannon said Tuesday the Hurricanes need some more vocal leaders on the field. But when asked if the coaches were urging that in practice, Shannon said: "No. [The players] have to do it on their own."
"The coaching staff and myself can demand a lot of them. We can get on them, push them, all the things we do. But like anything, when you have somebody standing next to you pushing you, it's a different voice, a different person talking to you, that helps out a lot," Shannon said.
"You don't just make a leader. I said this on the radio, talking to Michael Irvin. When I was here as a player it was Kevin Fagan, [John] McVeigh, Julio Cortes, Jerome Brown, Mike [Irvin] got involved. It started snowballing. When I started coaching, it was the same thing. Any great football team or really good football team always has leaders that demand stuff out of everybody on the team, not just a coach doing it. That's when you start developing what you need. We've got those guys, they're starting to come out. But we need them to voice it a little bit more."
Bratton said Shannon is right.
"I'm not saying these kids are soft," Bratton said. "But somebody needs to step up on offense and defense and be a leader. I don't see that on the sideline. You watch the game and keep waiting for somebody on the defensive side to go to the offensive side of the ball and say 'What the hell are you all doing?' Jerome Brown and those guys, when we screwed up, he would go check [Vinny] Testaverde, myself, [Alonzo] Highsmith. If we saw the defensive backs giving up long plays, we'd go to the defensive backs and say 'What the hell are you doing dog? Tighten your [expletive] up.' These guys don't hold each other accountable."
Searcy, who hosts the Canes4Life show on CBS-4 every Saturday at 11:30 a.m., said he sees a huge disconnect at the moment between alumni and the program. Searcy said it has become increasingly difficult for former players to reach out to current players, a trend he said began when Butch Davis took over the program in the mid 1990s. Fewer alumni, he says, are being granted sideline access on game day. Searcy believes connecting more former players with current players could help the young Canes, whom he said never had the opportunity to have mentors like Searcy and his teammates once did, become the vocal leaders Shannon is looking for.
"All this throwing up The U has nothing to do with these kids now," Searcy said. "It has to do with the guys who back in the day that got the University of Miami the reputation for whooping ass every Saturday. These kids don't have that same mentality. They don't have anybody talking to them about the tradition of the University of Miami. They don't have any old guys coming back. When I played at the University of Miami, the older guys had access to the field while we were playing. If we weren't getting it done, you got freaking Cortez Kennedy right there in the defensive huddle telling you what you're not doing. If the linebackers weren't getting it done, you had Winston Moss telling linebackers what to do. If they weren't getting it done in the secondary, Bennie Blades was saying 'Hey man you aren't coming off the edge.'
"That kind of access on the field where not only your coach is telling you something, but guys who have been to the NFL that you'll listen to are saying it too, that resonates. You're a running back. How are you not going to listen to Melvin Bratton, one of the best all-time running backs and fullbacks at the University of Miami. If you're a defensive tackle, how are you not going to listen to Russell Maryland? All that access to the game was a huge plus. It's not there anymore."
Aside from leadership, player development has become another growing concern. Bratton, who went to Miami Northwestern, said he's surprised some of the Hurricanes signed from the Bulls' mythical national championship team of 2007 still haven't been able to get on the field.
"Look at Sam Shields starting [for the Green Bay Packers]. Look at Bruce Johnson. Randy Phillips. Tavares Gooden. These kids didn't get drafted," Bratton said. "Let's be real. This is the NFL. There are only 53 people that can be on a roster. These kids at the University of Miami were part time starters, didn't make any All-American lists. But they can go to the league and dominate? Something is wrong. I don't know if it's coaching or if its scheme. But how can you go to the next level and start on opening day? Somebody isn't getting the best out of these kids.
"You want to have chemistry and allow the players on the field to be who they are. The Ray Ray Armstrongs of the world, when he came in there, the reason he wanted to go to Miami was because he fit the Miami mentality, Sean Taylor-type mentality, knock the [expletive] out of you. You can't pigeon hole those kids. You got to let them go.
"It's not like they don't have it in them. Go to the innercity. Go watch those Pop Warner and Little League football games. You got parents fighting, kids fighting. They know football is their way out. You go to the University of Miami now, it's like a country club."
> After giving up two long kick returns Saturday, Shannon said Tuesday the Hurricanes have made some personnel changes on their kickoff coverage and punt return teams. Running back Lamar Miller, who returned a kickoff for a touchdown against Ohio State, practiced full-contact Tuesday and should be back for Saturday's game at Duke after sitting out against the Seminoles.
> The Duke Blue Devils might be really good at basketball and only 1-4 on the football field, but Shannon said the trip to Durham this week won't be easy and he's asking his players not to "fall into a trap and just go through the motions."
"Offensively they do a great job of throwing the football around," Shannon said. "They're averaging close to 400 yards on offense. It's going to be a real challenge for our secondary and also our front guys to control the game and get after it a little bit. They have two quarterbacks they use; one is more of a scrambler. They run inside-outside zone in their run game, will try to establish that a little bit and also take shots.
"Defensively they blitz. They bring the corner blitz, free safety, Mike, Sam blitz, every blitz known to man to stop the run but also get you in bad, negative plays on first down. So we have to do a great job on first down of getting positive yards. Second and nine is positive yards; second and 10 is positive yards. You can't get in second and 15 or second down and 18."
> Shannon said quarterback Jacory Harris, who at the very least tweaked his groin against the Seminoles, ran well Tuesday at practice and looked "back to normal." Since Jacory is still unavailable to the media, here is what fullback Pat Hill had to say about his quarterback: "Coming into his freshman year, a lot of people were talking about how small he is. But he's a tough guy," Hill said. "He's battled through injury after injury. He continues to fight for the team. He battles through what good is said about him and what bad is said about him. He's a competitor, he's a fighter."
I'll be back later with some notes and thoughts from Tuesday's press conference before the Duke game. But for now, here are some interviews from today.
Before shifting our attention to Florida State here a few of my final thoughts on the Canes' 30-21 win at Clemson:
> The defense has hit another gear... A week after shutting down Pittsburgh's offense and showing us they're much improved at swarming to the ball and gang tackling, the Canes' defense took it up another notch against Clemson. They forced six turnovers -- by far the most impressive stat in the game. We may not ever get an answer as to when the last time a UM defense created that many turnovers in a game, but it's safe to say it's been awhile. Almost as impressive to me were the quick adjustments defensive coordinator John Lovett was able to make after Clemson found a wrinkle (cutbacks) to have some success running the football in the first quarter. Clemson finished with 162 yards rushing. But aside from his 71-yard touchdown run, Andre Ellington had a grand total of 36 yards on his other 16 carries (2.3 avg). Jamie Harper, who spurned the Canes for Clemson on national signing day 2008, had 57 yards on 18 carries (3.2). Not impressive at all. Kyle Parker? He was 14 off 33 for 149 yards and three INTs. UM broke up five passes, produced three forced fumbles, three sacks and eight tackles for loss. That's great defense.
> Will Jacory Harris be able to solve his interception woes? Point the finger wherever you want, eight interceptions in three games is still eight interceptions in three games. Harris' two interceptions Saturday simply weren't good passes. "We always keep saying you can't turn the ball over in the red zone," UM coach Randy Shannon told WQAM after the game. "Aldarius [Johnson] had beat the guy. [Harris] saw it, threw it, it just didn't get there on time. The [first interception] was a break off route. [Harris] went to Travis [Benjamin], who was doubled. [Harris] saw the safety rotate, but the safety rotated to the middle and [Harris] threw it to the weak side. It was kind of disguised and got him. [But] he came back threw a touchdown. Anytime you can do that, you'll be okay."
The Canes were okay on Saturday because they got the win. But how much better could they be if every time Harris went back to pass you didn't have that knot in your stomach? I know his receivers, running backs and tight ends aren't helping him much right now. I counted at least five drops Saturday, which probably would have made his final stats (13 of 33 for 205 yards, 4 TDs) look a little better. But there is just something fundamentally wrong with Harris right now.
790 The Ticket reported Harris could have a torn labrum in his left shoulder. It wouldn't be surprising at all. Harris definitely looked a little more than "nicked" when he took a hard shot at Pittsburgh two weeks ago. There's no doubt in my mind Harris is banged up physically and mentally. He just isn't the same quarterback we saw last year in UM's first two games. And right now, he's worse than the QB who threw for 3,352 yards, 23 touchdowns and finished second in the country with 17 INTs at the end of last year. One way or another the Canes have to figure a way to remedy the situation. Because even though they won Saturday, it was still only by nine points on a day when they're defense forced six turnovers (all in Clemson territory). I mean, how differently would we be talking today if Brandon Harris hadn't made that big fourth down tackle in the fourth quarter at the UM 20-yard line?
> Leonard Hankerson needs to pass along Mark Duper's phone number to the rest of the Canes' receivers... Can you imagine what things would be like if Hankerson had left for pros early? Would the Canes be 3-1 right now? Probably not. Hankerson has been a flat out beast this season. The rest of the Canes' receivers? Not so much. Between the drops, not getting open and just not making plays, the passing game has by far been the biggest disappointment so far this season. Aldarius Johnson had one catch for eight yards versus Clemson. Benjamin had one for seven. LaRon Byrd, meanwhile, did a nice job getting dressed for the game. The production simply has to be a lot better than that. Maybe it's time Tommy Streeter and Kendall Thompkins get a shot at doing more than participate on special teams.
> Sean Spence is making a case for ACC Defensive Player of the Year... Pretty simple: the Canes have the best defense in the ACC at the moment and Spence is the Canes' best defensive player. He had a career-high 14 tackles versus the Tigers and made a vicious hit in the second quarter to force a fumble. As long as he stays healthy and keeps playing at this level, it's hard to give anybody else in the conference the award. FYI, Spence is currently third in the ACC in tackles per game with 9.5. Only Boston College's Luke Kuechly (12.8) and Maryland's Alex Wujciak (11.4) have more. And I've never heard of either of those guys.
> The blocking on field goals, punts and extra points has been suspect... Clemson put an end to Matt Bosher's streak of consecutive extra points made at 105. The Tigers' Jarvis Jenkins did a nice job getting his hand up to get a piece of the ball. What concerns me is that Bosher has now had an extra point and field goal blocked in the last three games. And saturday, Da'Quan Bowers came dangerously close to blocking one of Bosher's punts in the first half. So far, none of the blocks has meant much. But it's obvious the Canes are playing with fire.
> To steal a line from HBO's Bill Maher -- New Rule: Can we please stop comparing players who haven't done anything yet to former Canes greats? Chase Ford is a really nice guy. But he hasn't shown me anything yet that reminds me of Jeremy Shockey. Here are Fords' stats in four games -- 2 catches, 13 yards, 1 touchdown and whole lot of unfulfilled hype. Richard Gordon has 3 catches for 16 yards. Barring some unforeseen changes, we just shouldn't expect much from the tight end position this year.
> Can you imagine how good Ryan Hill would be if he had just played cornerback from the get-go? Two starts, two interceptions and two great games for the fifth-year senior. Brandon Harris is still the best the Canes have at cornerback, but Hill has been very impressive so far. He's helped make DeMarcus Van Dyke better too by moving him to a spot he's obviously more comfortable with -- the third/nickel cornerback.
> For those of you clamoring for more running, less passing... UM attempted 33 passes Saturday and ran it 43 times. Sounds to me like offensive coordinator Mark Whipple and you are already on the same page.
> Seantrel Henderson still has a ways to go... He's going to be a beast by the end of the season, but Mount Henderson isn't completely ready yet to be trusted on his own. Upon further review, I saw he was beaten at least once by DaQuan Bowers on Saturday on the play that led to Harris' fumble and Henderson's fumble recovery. The real good news here is two-fold: One, it is only the beginning for Henderson, Two, senior Joel Figueroa is no longer being asked to do something he can't -- play right tackle. The Canes should be set for the rest of the season with Henderson and redshirt freshman Jermaine Johnson sharing the right tackle duties. There is only room for both to improve.
> The Canes were flagged 12 times for 105 yards -- including three times for kick catch interference on punts. Got to get all of that fixed.
> For those of you still steaming over Clemson's muffed punt turned 15-yard penalty on Streeter, Shannon told WQAM after the game Saturday the rule on a fair catch is that the ball must hit the ground before an opposing team can recover it. That's why officials were apparently able to enforce the penalty on Streeter.
PITTSBURGH -- Couple of thoughts and post-game interviews after UM's 31-3 win at Pittsburgh on Thursday night:
> The defensive effort I saw Thursday night was about as good as I've seen a UM defense play in a long time. The Canes' defense finished with nine tackles for loss, five sacks and two interceptions. I think I could count the number of missed tackles this week on one hand. Hats off to the coaching staff for a great job in practice this week. Now, that being said, Pittsburgh's offense was horrendous. Even when their quarterback had time to throw, he still missed open receivers downfield. When he did find them, many times they dropped it. The Canes deserve credit for a great effort. But Clemson will be a much stiffer challenge next week.
> UM coach Randy Shannon continues to put the blame for Jacory Harris' interceptions on his receivers. After the game (and in the interview you can watch below) Shannon says Travis Benjamin is responsible for four of Jacory's six interceptions this season. When I got back to my hotel room and watched the rebroadcast of the game on ESPN, I heard the announcers say that they had spoken to offensive coordinator Mark Whipple about the INTs before Thursday's game. According to Craig James and company, Whipple is also putting much of the blame on the receivers joking at one point that if he was in the NFL, he'd cut them.
I'd love to ask Whipple myself what the issue is but assistant coaches are no longer being made available to local beat writers who cover the team -- just ESPN (TV) and WQAM (radio). I'd also like to ask Jacory what he saw on those plays. But we were informed in the fourth quarter tonight Harris would be "taking a break" from interviews. We're not sure how long it is going to last. But I'm guessing he might be the only college or pro quarterback in the country who gets to avoid post-game interviews and tough questions. Call me a whiny reporter, but even as a fan I'd be crying about it.
> Freshman offensive lineman Seantrel Henderson looks like he's making strides -- and I wonder if it won't be long before he gets his shot at the starting job. The Canes are using him mostly in rushing situations. He came in near the goalline on the opening drive and sprung the key block that got Damien Berry into the end zone.
> Senior defensive tackle Allen Bailey ended his sackless streak (7 games) on the first defensive play of the game. Bailey said he was in for about 12 snaps at defensive tackle. He said the emergence of Andrew Smith (2 sacks Thursday) is part of the reason he's been able to move inside and help the Canes' at tackle, where a few players have been lost for the season with injuries.
> Congratulations to Ryan Hill on getting a pick in his first start at cornerback. He said he wasn't even sure he had made the interception until after his teammates told him. Hill was recruited at corner, but had to play receiver when he got to UM because the Canes were shorthanded. And how about DVD? DeMarcus Van Dyke, who lost his starting job to Hill, made his second career pick to cut short a Panthers potential scoring drive. He then added to it with a beautiful 74-yard return.
Here is the University of Miami football Tuesday injury report heading into Thursday’s game at Pittsburgh.
OL Joel Figueroa – Upper Extremity
DL Luther Robinson – Lower Extremity
DL Marcus Robinson – Lower Extremity
RB Graig Cooper – Lower Extremity
OL Malcolm Bunche – Lower Extremity
LB Kelvin Cain - Dental
DB Lee Chambers – Upper Extremity
DL Curtis Porter – Lower Extremity
Surgery and Out for the Season
FB John Calhoun – Lower Extremity
LB Shayon Green – Upper Extremity
RB Darion Hall – Upper Extremity
DL Jeremy Lewis – Lower Extremity
LB Travis Williams – Lower Extremity
Now that the Canes have wrapped up a 36-24 loss to the second-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes, here are few final post-game thoughts:
> The Canes proved they aren't ready to compete for a national championship yet... All week long this game was presented as an opportunity for this program to put itself back among the elite in college football. Had the Canes played better, they might have been able to say that even in a loss. But it's the way they lost with the turnovers, missed tackles, penalties and mistakes that proved to me that this team is still not ready to make the jump up. Here are the facts: Randy Shannon's record against Top 25 teams is now 1-6. His record away from Sun Life Stadium (those would be road games or bowl games) is 8-12. Only one of those wins was against a ranked opponent (FSU in last year's season opener). Point the finger at the coach as much as you want to, but at what point do the players have to start delivering?
> Jacory Harris' interception woes continue... I put a lot of the blame for Harris' 17 interceptions last season on his injured thumb. Safe to say it's fair now to just criticize his decision making. Ohio State is obviously a very good defensive team and they deserve credit for the plays they made and the confusing coverage schemes they ran (dropping defensive linemen back into coverage on zone blitzes). But Harris is a junior now. The pacifier is out of his mouth. Travis Benjamin didn't help Harris out on two of his four interceptions Saturday, literally deflecting one pick right into a defenders hands. But the interception that bothered me the most was the one Harris threw with Benjamin's back turned to him. Both players messed up. But Harris said himself he should have never thrown the ball. The bigger issue here isn't that he manned up for his mistakes after the game. It's that he's still making them. Offensive coordinator Mark Whipple shares in that responsibility. So does the fact Harris' doesn't have anybody pushing him for the starting job. Let's not forget three QBs left this program in the last three years. Maybe it's a little easier to take chances when you know you're the only guy who is going to play.
WHAT TO LIKE FROM THE GAME
> Lamar Miller... The talented redshirt freshman continues to show us why his teammates rave about him. His 88-yard kickoff return for a touchdown was impressive. So, was the fact the distance between himself and the Buckeyes chasing after him continued to widen as he sped away downfield. It's a shame he isn't being utilized more. He had only three carries for eight yards and one catch for eight yards to go with one other kick return (12 yards). Memo to Mr. Whipple: No. 6 needs to touch the ball more than six times a game.
> Defensive stops in red zone... The Canes' offense didn't do the defense any favors Saturday with their turnovers. Same with the kickoff coverage team, which gave up three returns of over 40 yards. But you had to like the way the defense stiffened in the red zone. Ohio State had nine drives inside the Canes' red zone Saturday and only three resulted in touchdowns. UM forced them to go for field goals five times. That's improvement. I also liked the fact the defense had 11 tackles for loss in the game.
WHAT ELSE WAS TROUBLING
> The rest of the day on defense... Sean Spence had a career-high 11 tackles and couldn't do much to stop the 18-yard touchdown pass Brandon Saine made on a perfect throw from Terelle Pryor. Spence played well and I don't think the Buckeyes threw once to Brandon Harris' side of the field. But the rest of their homeboys on defense? Not so much. Shannon guessed after Saturday's game that Ohio State had at least 70 yards after first contact. That equates to missed tackles galore. Ohio State ran for 181 yards -- Pryor picking up 113 of those on scrambles. Pryor was only 12 of 27 for 233 yards passing. But he found DeVier Posey for a 62-yard gain and Dan Herron for a 47-yard gain and orchestrated a 2-play, 80-yard scoring drive that took 36 seconds to complete. That's not good defense. Neither was just one sack and zero turnovers.
> Special teams kickoff coverage... Miller and Travis Benjamin (79-yard punt return) might have become the first UM duo to return a kickoff and a punt return in the same game -- at least through the late 1970s anyway. But as nice as those returns were, the Canes have up a lot of field position on kick coverage. Matt Bosher also had a kick blocked and a 46-yarder he missed. I'm not upset with Bosher. He's missed a total of six field goals now in his career. But why does he continue to have to make the tackle on kickoff coverage? This isn't a new problem.
A FEW FINAL THOUGHTS...
> I said this before the game and I'll say it again: This loss wasn't crippling. UM can obviously go on to win the ACC title and the season would be deemed a success. This loss was just disconcerting because we saw much of the same mistakes we saw a year ago from a team that is supposed to be more mature and ready to win. As long as the Canes continue to improve, win the next two games on the road and make a strong push to the ACC title, Shannon and Harris don't have to worry about job security.
> It's officially time for UM's other receivers to start catching up to Leonard Hankerson.
> Allen Bailey and Vaughn Telemaque need to start delivering bigger plays. Bailey hasn't had a sack since Halloween, that's a seven game stretch. Telemaque had four tackles Saturday. We're all still waiting for his first career interception and fumble recovery.
> The injuries to Marcus Robinson and Curtis Porter could turn out to be huge. The one strength of this UM defense has is the depth on its defensive line. But the injuries are beginning to pile up.
> FYI, the Canes will be off this week until Thursday and Friday.
A few additions to Manny's notes, from a short chat with Randy Shannon this morning:
Do you expect Graig Cooper to be involved in this week's game? Shannon's reply: "He didn't practice. I don't think so.''
From watching replays on TV, Cooper was hurt when he was knocked out of bounds. It looked like defender's helmet got him near the knee. But he bounced right back up after that. Some reports have him with an ankle injury.Some other Shannon comments:
* On right tackle Joel Figueroa: "All of them did well on the offensive line. They did some good things. But every week you've got to get better and this week his technique will have to get a lot better from last week to now. That's the key.''
* On starting right tackle Ben Jones: He did some good things in the game that show you he's maturing. He's still got some things he needs to improve. The more he gets opportunities like that, it'll make him better and we'll get more depth at that position, because he's a young one.
* CB DeMarcus Van Dyke "is fine.''
* DE Andrew Smith and DT Micanor Regis "practiced today." D-tackle Jeremy Lewis, who was last seen on crutches after the FAMU game, "didn't practice today. We'll find out more about him later this week.''
* RT Jermaine Johnson: "He practiced today and didn't feel any kinks in his arm. He felt pretty good. We'll find out as the week goes on.''
It appears Lewis might be out for a while. The injury report will be released Thursday.
What are the similarities between Ohio State and Wisconsin (from Champs Sports Bowl)? "It's going to be a very physical game up front.''
That didn't bode well for the Canes in December. Maybe this time will be different.
SUSAN MILLER DEGNAN
A couple quick notes from a busy media day at UM as the 12th-ranked Canes prepare for a trip to No. 2 Ohio State on Saturday:
> Running back Lamar Miller was selected as the ACC Rookie of the Week after leading the Hurricanes with 122 all-purpose yards in his debut against Florida A&M. Miller led UM with 65 yards rushing on 11 carries and scored his first touchdown on a five-yard run in the third quarter. He added 34 yards on kick returns, 15 on punt returns and eight receiving yards.
> I know a lot of you have been asking about Storm Johnson and his status for this season. My money is on a redshirt unless one of UM's top three backs go down. This week, the only guys I think will be carrying the ball at Ohio State are Damien Berry, Lamar Miller and Mike James. UM coach Randy Shannon told WQAM's Joe Rose this morning that a red-shirt decision isn't usually made until after the sixth game of the season.
> Cornerback Brandon Harris -- now neck and neck with Berry for the best go-to- quote on the team -- said the toughest thing about watching the 2003 National Championship game for him was watching his close friend Willis McGahee go down in a heap of pain: "We grew up in the same neighborhood, in the same block," Harris said. "When he got hurt, it was devastating. That's what was most memorable for me that game. The ending was controversial and all. But we have no control over that now. The only thing we can control is what happens Saturday."
Here are a few video interviews with Brandon Harris, Vaughn Telemaque, Colin McCarthy and Marcus Forston discussing the challenges of facing the No. 2-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes on Saturday and Heisman candidate Terrelle Pryor.
How do you measure success at the University of Miami? Ask any Canes fan and they'll tell you simply, a national championship.
Asked the same question at Thursday's Media Day, quarterback Jacory Harris and coach Randy Shannon didn't lock themselves into any bold predictions. Success for the Canes in 2010? That's just being a better football team.
"Somebody said this the other day, 'You could win nine games in this conference and people will say, we'll that's not good enough.' But you could win the conference with nine wins. You could also not win this conference and go to a BCS bowl game [by winning more games].
"So you have to define improvement based on what you did last year as a team and what you accomplished [this year]. I can't tell you nine, 10, 11 [wins]. You can't classify what it takes to be successful. You just have to go out there and play, improve on the things you did last year.
"[For instance] we played Clemson. We have to improve in an overtime situation. We played North Carolina. We have to either come up with either a third down conversation or get a stop on defense to give us a chance to win. Then, its how are we're going to handle success? Like last year when we won [two] in a row and lost at Virginia Tech."
While Harris said he feels like the team is "on the verge of something special," he's not not putting a number on wins or a bowl game in defining this season's success. "You guys make the predictions," Harris said. "That's what you guys get paid to do."
So what do you think? What do you think would satisfy you as a successful Canes season? Is it winning an ACC title? Is it going to a BCS Bowl Game? Or, is it simply a National Title? Give me your answers below.
> There's obviously a lot more to share from today's media day. Below, I've included six video interviews from this afternoon with Adewale Ojomo, Colin McCarthy, Ryan Hill, Randy Shannon, Jacory Harris and Graig Cooper.
> On our UM audio page, there are also about 10 interviews available for you to listen to. Among them: Shannon and Harris' complete press conferences; center Tyler Horn; right tackle Joel Figueroa and tight end Chase Ford.
CORAL GABLES -- The one thing Vaughn Telemaque was known for during his high school playing days at Long Beach Poly was his ability to create turnovers. Entering his third year at The U, the 6-2, 197-pound redshirt sophomore would like to be that kind of player again.
"I kind of lost it my first year [with the shoulder injury and redshirt]. I used to like to talk to quarterbacks, wide receivers, get in their head and play mind games with them," said Telemaque, who finished fifth on the team last season with 48 tackles, but didn't recover a fumble or grab an interception.
"I kind of lost that knack. I lost me, was trying to fit in, make sure I wasn't messing up. I want to talk to these quarterbacks, let them know I'm here, try me. That's the attitude I want to have. I want these guys to come at me."
When Ed Reed and the late Sean Taylor were roaming the field at safety for UM, the Canes used to create fumbles and interceptions about as often as they did first downs. But in the last few years, they've become one of the worst teams in the country at forcing the other team to cough it up. Last year, they forced 21 turnovers (good for 68th nationally). The team's nine interceptions (five more than in 2008) ranked 87th nationally.
So why will the Canes be better at it in 2010? Age and experience according to Telemaque.
"I think we were OK with trying not to give up the deep ball instead of jumping the short routes or jumping the medium routes," Telemaque said. "I think what's going to be a big plus for us is we have a lot of guys with experience. Guys are going take chances, play loose, play like you do with your brother in your backyard or practice."
Telemaque said he feels like he benefitted greatly from playing corner in the spring and believes it should help him break on the ball better.
"I got to speak to Ed Reed [this spring]. He said 'This can help you with what these corners are going through, where your vulnerable points are.' It carries your safety position to another level," Telemaque said. "You can understand routes, where the quarterback is trying to fit the ball. If you can do that, then you know where you can fit in the void as a safety."
MORE CANES NUGGETS...
> GROWING UP: One thing you could tell about all three Canes players who spoke Wednesday (running back Damien Berry and receiver LaRon Byrd were the others) is that they've all become bigger vocal leaders and a lot more confident in themselves. "I feel I can step in and be a vocal leader because I actually have experience now," Telemaque said. "So what I say isn't coming out of the air. And I'm just trying to take everybody in and make sure we all buy into this program."
"When I say buying in, coach Shannon is telling us we're not young kids anymore. We've developed into our own players, personalities, the personalities he recruited, molded to try and make this a national championship team, an ACC championship team. We understand what coach Shannon wants us to do, what our coaches want us to do, what fans want us to do, what us as a team want to do. We should come out fine. We just all have to buy in, understand this is what we want. If everybody doesn't worry about who gets the credit, we'll be the best team ever."
> BYRD ON JACORY: One story that will be huge all of fall camp is how exactly quarterback Jacory Harris bounces back from offseason thumb surgery. Last week, Harris admitted he wasn't exactly back at 100 percent even though he feels better and has been throwing the ball around in 7 on 7 drills since the end of May. Byrd, however, said Harris looks like his old self.
"In workouts he's doing great, is throwing the ball like the old Jacory," Byrd said. "I've never seen him miss a beat. We've completed a lot of deep balls. Everything is there."
> McGEE STEPPING UP: Byrd had high praise for sophomore Brandon McGee, saying, "He's stepped up real big. I don't know what he did, had surgery on those hips and got them flexible or what. But he's flipping his hips great."
> WHAT'S ON TAP: There will be one more media day on campus next week (I won't be there) before the entire team and coach Shannon meet with reporters for the start of practice on Aug. 5. Our Susan Miller Degnan will be at the ACC Media Days this coming weekend in Greensboro, N.C. where defensive end Allen Bailey and kicker Matt Bosher will be representing The U along with Shannon.
For the complete audio interviews from Wednesday, visit our UM audio page. If you want it short and sweet, check out the videos below. FYI, I'll be uploading them on my YouTube page throughout the season.
TRAZ POWELL STADIUM -- If you took your eyes off the field Saturday at Traz Powell Stadium for even a second, you might have missed a lot. This year's Spring Football Game turned out to be about as action-packed as any played before it -- chock full of scoring from start to finish.
In the end, the team featuring UM's First Team Defense/Second Team Offense was able to rally for 58-53 victory over the First Team Offense/Second Team Defense. First, the stats and scoring and then few thoughts/highlights...
RUSHING: Mike James 10 carries, 64 yards; Damien Berry 15-42, 1 TD; Stephen Morris 4-24; A.J. Highsmith 3-16; Storm Johnson 4-15; Lamar Miller 8-10, 1 TD; Spencer Whipple 2-(-10).
PASSING: Stephen Morris 12-for-21 209 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT; A.J. Highsmith 11-for-20 131 yards, 3 TDs, 2 INTs; Spencer Whipple 7-for-16, 112 yards, 1 TD.
RECEIVING: Kendall Thompkins 8 catches for 84 yards, 1 TD; Travis Benjamin 6-171, 1 TD; Leonard Hankerson 3-61, 2 TDs; Davon Johnson 3-31, 1 TD; LaRon Byrd 3-26; Richard Gordon 2-22; Aldarius Johnson 2-20, 1 TD; Ben Bruneau 1-17; Allen Hurns 1-11; Billy Sanders 1-9.
- Highsmith 16-yard TD pass to Hankerson (Jake Wieclaw kick)
- Highsmith 3-yard TD pass to D. Johnson (Wieclaw kick)
- Morris 75-yard TD pass to Benjamin (Wieclaw kick)
- Miller 2-yard run (Wieclaw kick)
- Highsmith 39-yard TD pass to Hankerson (Wieclaw kick)
- Whipple 9-yard TD pass to Johnson (Wieclaw kick)
- Morris 5-yard TD pass to Thompkins (Wieclaw kick)
- Berry 26-yard TD (Wieclaw kick)
- Wieclaw 33 FG
DEFENSE: Sean Spence 8 tackles; Brandon McGee 7 tackles, 2 pass break ups; Vaughn Telemaque 6 tackles; Tyrone Cornelius 4 tackles, 2 PBU; Steven Wesley 1 sack, forced fumble; Marcus Robinson 1 sack; Allen Bailey 1 sack; Ray Ray Armstrong 2 INTs; Colin McCarthy 1 INT; Adewale Ojomo fumble recovery.
> THE GOOD: Better quarterback play and pass protection. Three weeks ago in a scrimmage at Fort Lauderdale's Lockhart Stadium, A.J. Highsmith, Stephen Morris and Spence Whipple had trouble just staying off their backs (they were sacked a combined seven times). Saturday, UM's offensive line played much better (only giving up three sacks). The extra time allowed for them to have a lot more success passing. After completing just 14 of their 23 attempts for 169 yards and one touchdown three weeks ago, the trio combined to go 30 for 57 for 452 yards, 6 TDs and 3 INTS... Ray Ray Armstrong stood out with two interceptions.
> THE NOT SO GOOD: Secondary got torched at times. Sophomore cornerback Brandon McGee is going to want to delete Saturday's Spring Game from his memory banks. He was beaten several times in coverage and got an earful from defensive backs coach Wesley McGriff, who told him "you are better than that." For what it's worth, with All-American junior-to-be Brandon Harris out of the game, Canes quarterbacks spent a lot of time picking on walk-on Nate Gholston (listed at 5-7, 170).
> INJURIES: Looks freshman running back Lamar Miller was the only one to suffer an injury. He went down with what I was told was a separated shoulder.
> FIRST TEAM OFFENSE: QB A.J. Highsmith, RB Mike James, FB Pat Hill, TE Richard Gordon, WR LaRon Byrd, WR Leonard Hankerson, LT Jermaine Johnson, LG Harland Gunn, C Tyler Horn, RG Brandon Washington, RT Ben Jones.
> FIRST TEAM DEFENSE: RE Adewale Ojomo, DT Micanor Regis, DT Curtis Porter, LE Allen Bailey, WLB Colin McCarthy, MLB Kylan Robinson, SLB Sean Spence, CB Brandon McGee, CB Demarcus Van Dyke, FS Jamal Reid/Ray Ray Armstrong, SS Vaughn Telemaque.
> SECOND TEAM OFFENSE: QB Spencer Whipple, RB Lamar Miller and Damien Berry, WR Aldarius Johnson, WR Travis Benjamin, WR Kendall Thompkins, LT Cory White, LG Jared Wheeler, C Shane McDermott, RG Malcolm Bunche, RT Stephen Plein.
I'll have more for you later including audio interviews and photos.
CORAL GABLES -- It was a long first day back for me out at Greentree Practice Field after spending the better part of the last two weeks covering the Marlins. Here are a few news and notes from Pro Day and the final practice of the spring before Saturday's Spring Game...
A group of a dozen Hurricanes participated in Friday morning's Pro Day and the overwhelming thought in my mind as I watched it with other reporters from high above on the second floor of the Hecht Athletic Center was: 'How many of these guys will really be Pros?'
At this point, it's hard to see anybody in this class beyond tight end Jimmy Graham, linebacker Darryl Sharpton and offensive tackle Jason Fox getting drafted. The rest of the guys, like center A.J. Trump, running back Javarris James and possibly tight end Dedrick Epps are going to have to earn invites to camps and work hard to make practice squads and eventually impress enough to make the team.
That, however, isn't necessarily a bad thing. As Trump put it, being able to pick a team has its benefits. "I know I'm going to be a free agent," said Trump, who has workouts set up with the Lions, Titans and Bucs. "But that's actually a good situation for me because I get to choose where I'm going to go. In the end, I'm more excited about just getting my foot in the door somewhere else and representing the university."
GRAHAM WILL PROBABLY GO FIRST... It's pretty clear the guy drawing the most attention is Graham. The 6-8, 260-pound tight end and former power forward has had his toughness question by analysts like ESPN's Todd McShay. But it's obvious his athletic ability and upside -- as well as the success of other basketball players turned football stars of the past (Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez) -- has lots of teams interested.
After participating in the Senior Bowl and turning in the second-fastest 40-yard dash time among tight ends at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis (4.56), Graham passed on running the 40 Friday at the advice from his agent and really didn't do much. It was a smart move to be honest. As it stands, eight to 10 teams -- including the Miami Dolphins -- are interested in bringing him for workouts beginning Monday.
Pretty soon, Graham is going to have to send a big thank you letter to former Hurricanes quarterback Bernie Kosar. It was Kosar who drove down three times a week to throw passes to Graham and convinced him to give football a shot last summer. Graham said Kosar still calls him once a week to check on him.
"Being the first Cane taken is something I don't even think about," Graham said. "I'm just excited about the opportunity to play in the NFL."
FEELING FOR FOX... If there is one guy to feel sorry for these days it is former left tackle Jason Fox. After starting 47 games in his career, the past few months have been awfully tough for the 6-7, 314-pounder from Texas.
A knee injury cost him the final regular season game and the bowl game, then surgery. Friday, he was hoping to have a huge day -- especially after being unable to participate in the combine in Indianapolis. Instead, it turned out to be trouble. The All-ACC First Team selection suffered a left hamstring injury and slipped to the ground when running the 40-yard dash (It was on the same surgically repaired knee). Fox didn't talk to reporters afterward. But some draft experts were thinking he would go in the fourth round with a good Pro Day. It obviously didn't go that way.
"It's been tough to watch -- especially having been through so much with the guy, you've seen him play injured," Trump said. "It's been a difficult road for him. He kind of gave his heart and soul to this team. Now, he's kind of paying the price for it. But he'll bounce back. I told him many times I went to that all-star game and he can block all those guys. He'll get his shot and he'll be an established NFL player."
SHARPTON CONFIDENT... Darryl Sharpton would guess what round he's going to get picked , but he's confident he won't be around long. He was more than happy with his workout Friday where says he improved in every category. He said he ran a 4.6 in the 40 (he ran a 4.7 at the NFL combine, went from 24 to 26 reps in the bench press and ran the shuttle in 4.2-seconds. He also broad jumped 10-1.
"I'm a confident guy. I think I'm one of the best linebackers in the nation," Sharpton said. "And I expect to get drafted accordingly."
MORE NEWS AND NOTES FROM FRIDAY
> UM coach Randy Shannon said Saturday's Spring Game, set for a 4:30 p.m. kickoff at Traz Powell Stadium on the campus of Miami-Dade Community College, will feature 10 minute quarters. One team will feature the first team offense and second team defense. The other will feature the second team offense and first team defense.
I asked Shannon for one positive he thought the team got out of this spring: "The development of certain players, developing young guys on the offensive line, the defensive front," Shannon said. "Like LaRon Byrd took the next step, the running backs. We knew our running backs were young, but then you see them progress. We've got a defensive line, now it's time to turn it on, and they did. You watch the quarterbacks be able to handle things. Everything changed a lot, which was real good, and you were happy to see those things happen."
I asked him what he wasn't happy with: "Bonehead stuff, turnovers," Shannon said. "But we didn't have that many turnovers because we worked in camp on turnovers. Last year we had some touchdown scores off returns, so every time there's a turnover I don't blow the whistle in practice. They know that's full speed. We're trying to get those things fixed from last year.
> Friday's practice was also alumni day and there were over 100 former players and coaches in attendance including Jimmy Johnson, Lamar Thomas, Ted Hendricks, Don Bosseler, George Mira Sr. and Cortez Kennedy.
> Defensive end Steven Wesley expressed a bit of sadness over the stabbing death of FIU running back Kendall Berry. Wesley, who attended Bartow High, played against Berry, who played for Haines City, in high school. Wesley said his best friend is Berry's cousin, Tyrone Berry.
Wesley said he knew Berry since the eighth grade, played AAU basketball and maintained a friendship with him through Facebook. "It seems like it ain't real," Wesley said. " He was a real cool, laid back guy, standup guy, a guy you can always depend on. I'm shocked."
Wesley said he called former high school teammate Aaron Davis, who plays for FIU, on Friday to pass along his condolonces. "The first thing that came to my head when I heard what happened was Bryan [Pata]," Wesley said. "I just told Aaron to keep his head up. I went through the same thing my freshman year when Bryan died. I told him just to keep his head up and keep praying."
Hey guys, Andre Fernandez here. Here's an update from the Canes' women's NIT game against the Gators:
In front of several of its women's basketball alumni, the Canes kept their season going with a 77-64 victory against the Florida Gators Sunday afternoon at the BankUnited Center.
UM won its second postseason game in a season for the first time in school history. The tournament expanded to 64 teams this season. It is the Canes' first trip to the Round of 16 since the 2005-06 season.
And UM will host again.
The Canes will play North Carolina A&T Thursday night at 7 p.m. at the BankUnited Center.
UM dominated the game and had four players score in double figures.
Shenise Johnson posted a game-high 19 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Canes, but Charmaine Clark had 16 points, Diane Barnes had 13 and Riquna Williams had 15.
The Canes also dominated on the boards, finishing with a 43-31 edge and 15-10 on offensive rebounds. The only thing that kept the game close was UF's three-point shooting. The Gators made 9 of 26 from beyond the arc, but Miami countered by making 7 of 22 from three-point range.
Technically, the first day of spring in 2010 is March 20th. But around The U, where football rules the calendar, spring really begins on Tuesday. That's the day Randy Shannon's football team convenes for 15 days of practice and preparation (non consecutively) for the 2010 spring season.
Why so early? We're not exactly sure. But Shannon is a guy who likes to get an early start on everything. His team began practicing at 5 a.m. for about the first half of the 2009 season. He said it was to avoid afternoon thunderstorms. These practices will begin at 3 p.m. (except for two Saturday 10 a.m. workouts and the team scrimmage on March 27th).
So what do we hope to learn/see from this football team from Tuesday until March 27th? Shannon has his list. I've got mine.Here are my five questions entering the spring in regards to the offense.
> Will A.J. Highsmith or Stephen Morris perform well enough to make us feel like either could quarterback this team should Jacory Harris miss any time in 2010?
Harris, as you know, won't be involved in any team drills this spring. His injured thumb, which required surgery, hasn't healed in time to see him take any meaningful snaps with his teammates. That leaves more time for Highsmith, Morris, and scout team quarterback Spencer Whipple, the son of offensive coordinator Mark Whipple, to split snaps equally. You can't say that's a bad thing, especially when you consider Harris took every meaningful snap in 2009 and probably played through injury when he shouldn't have.
Like it or not, the Hurricanes were more than fortunate Harris was able to do that in 2009 despite being hit hard several times and getting sacked 35 times. There is no guarantee that in 2010 that won't happen again, especially with three positions on the offensive line featuring new starters.
Highsmith, listed at 6-feet, 195-pounds, played in three games as a true freshman and completed four of his six pass attempts for 53 yards and a touchdown, mostly in garbage time against Virginia and Florida A&M. Despite playing quarterback in high school, even his old man, former Cane Alonzo Highsmith, has long felt his son would be destined to play defensive back at this level. While Highsmith performed well in spot duty, we still don't really know for sure if he could handle the job in any serious capacity.
Morris (6-2, 183) is fresh out of high school, a player who was hand picked by Whipple out of Monsignor Pace. Morris has a strong arm and is athletic. But most recruiting analysts don't believe he is college-ready enough to become an instant contributer like Harris, who obviously was able to do more than just backup Robert Marve as a freshman. Could Morris learn enough being on campus over the next seven months to be ready come September should anything happen to Harris? There's definitely a chance.
But this is where you really would have hoped a guy like Taylor Cook was around. In the end, I think the Canes are simply going to have to cross their fingers and hope nothing serious happens to Harris again in 2010. The likelihood of any UM backup being able to come in and run this offense at an optimum level is slim.
> Will Damien Berry or Mike James show us they can be the featured back?
For all the Berry! Berry! Berry! chants at Sun Life Stadium this past season, we never did see the 5-11, 217-pound Glades Central standout -- or his 5-11, 220-pound freshman phenom counterpart -- headline the Hurricanes rushing attack. But after three years of the Javarris James-Graig Cooper show, we will finally see somebody else in the leading role.
Berry seems like a natural to fill it, considering he finished second on the team in rushing with 628 yards and 8 touchdowns despite the fact he only carried the ball 93 times and didn't have a single carry in the team's first four games. Still, the fact remains he only led the team in carries once this season (16 rushes vs. Duke) and he only reached double digit carries in five games. When asked late in the season why Berry wasn't carrying the rock more, Shannon basically told us 'some guys can only be given so much work.'
Mike James, meanwhile, has all the makings of a special back. He wowed us last spring with his ability to shed blocks and breakaway from defenders. But he only carried the ball 15 times for 48 yards (he caught 15 passes for 105 yards) and spent most of the season playing fullback after Pat Hill went down.
Lee Chambers (upper extremity) is going to miss the spring and a chance to make some noise after tallying 60 carries for 272 yards and 1 touchdown in two seasons.
That leaves two other intriguing participants to also impress us this spring: redshirt freshman Lamar Miller and true freshman Storm Johnson (6-0, 212). Miller, a standout at Miami Killian, has been all the rage from my conversations with different members of the staff at UM. Johnson is widely considered UM's best skill position player in the 2010 recruiting class.
No matter which backs emerge as the lead candidates to carry the ball in the fall, the good news for UM is all four of the healthy backs in camp this spring appear talented and capable. And you don't know if Cooper does make it back in time to play. In the end, I think UM is going to have two or three backs in its system next fall carrying the football no matter what. It's just going to come down to who is healthy and who doesn't fumble -- like it always has.
> Will Aldarius Johnson make a strong return from a subpar sophomore season? And will Tommy Streeter finally emerge as a consistent receiving option?
Even though his teammates were saying it all along, I don't think many of us believed going into the 2009 season that Leonard Hankerson would put together the type of breakout junior year that he did. He caught 45 passes for 801 yards and 6 touchdowns and really stole the show from the underclassmen we all expected to push past him. That was surprising -- so was his return for a senior season (OK, a mild surprise).
But the disappearance of Aldarius Johnson? Nobody was really expecting that. Instead, someone should have sent out an amber alert for the 6-3, 208-pounder during his sophomore season. After leading the team with 31 catches as a freshman, he had a rather unimpressive 16 catches for 276 yards and one score in 10 games. Sure, he hurt himself against Florida State. But he was the player nearly everyone thought would be entering his junior season with the NFL hype, not Hankerson. Instead, he has to push himself hard this spring to prove he's back.
In a lot of ways, it was a disappointing sophomore season for most of the Northwestern Bulls (look up linebacker Sean Spence, defensive tackle Marcus Forston). Injuries were a big part of it. But there was nothing unhealthy about Tommy Streeter, and its still a wonder to me how the 6-5, 209-pounder finished with only five catches for 114 yards. I don't know if you missed his 47-yard catch in the bowl game. But I sure didn't. It's more than obvious that just like Damien Berry, Streeter needs more playing time. Maybe, that can be the chant this year when FAMU visits: Streeter! Streeter! Streeter!
And what about LaRon Byrd and Travis Benjamin? Byrd finished with 33 catches for 460 yards and one touchdown. Benjamin had 29 catches for 501 yards and four touchdowns. Those are pretty good seasons when you consider how much UM spreads the ball around. But neither cracked the nation's Top 100 in receptions, receiving yards per game or total receiving yards. Surely, we all know, they have to be among the nation's Top 100 players at the position. Translation: Maybe, it is time to get them more touches.
> Is Dwayne Collins willing to give football -- and the tight end position -- a shot in the fall?
For those of us who were worried about the tight end position last year and called it the biggest question mark on the team entering the 2009 season (I did), consider it a premature evaluation. What we really meant to say was that it would be the big question mark heading into 2010.
Jimmy Graham turned out to be more than just a feel good hoops to gridiron story. The 6-8 former power forward showed us he could play and brought an added dimension to the tight end position with the healthy return of Dedrick Epps. The duo combined for 36 catches for 460 yards and 8 touchdowns and provided plenty of big catches -- and lifts -- throughout the season.
The Hurricanes tight end position entering this spring? A sixth-year player in Richard Gordon who has four career catches for 32 yards and is returning from a season-ending injury. And redshirt freshman Billy Sanders (6-4, 248), whom the coaches have high hopes for but we've heard very little about on the scout team.
The Hurricanes signed three players who are expected to play tight end in its 2010 class -- none who will arrive until the summer at the earliest. Asante Cleveland (6-5, 240) and Clive Walford (6-4, 215) are big, athletic targets who will likely need time to develop. Junior College signee Chase Ford (6-6, 245) is expected to play and contribute right away.
But it's hard to feel optimistic about this position providing as much help as it did in 2009 right now. There is a lot that has to happen over the next seven months to make us feel better.
> Who, other than Orlando Franklin, will prove to us they can be a consistent, solid starter on the offensive line heading into the 2010 season?
Say what you want about the 35 sacks the Hurricanes gave up last season, the struggles of Matt Pipho and so on. But there is a chance, if things don't go well, you'll be wishing Jason Fox, A.J. Trump and even Pipho were back in 2010.
The Hurricanes have to replace all three of those starters on the offensive line. Franklin, who played well in Fox's place at the end of the season, appears to be a solid option for UM at left tackle. But when you start to go down the rest of the line, you start to see a lot places where guys have to really prove themselves over the next seven months and hope -- that just like last year -- there aren't many injuries.
At left guard, the future looks bright with sophomore Brandon Washington (6-4, 330) returning. He played in all 13 games (mostly on the special teams unit), but did start the final two regular season games and showed plenty of upside.
The center position is supposed to be won by 6-4, 300-pound redshirt sophomore Tyler Horn, who played in six games and made snaps at center against Florida A&M, UCF, Virginia and USF. But like I said, he has a lot to prove. His backup could be true freshman, Shane McDermott, an Under-Armour All-American `who will participate in the spring.
At right guard, the often injured Joel Figueroa will miss his second straight spring with a shoulder injury. Figueroa has made 13 starts and played in 32 games in three years. Harland Gunn (6-2, 315) started five games at right guard and now has plenty of experience under his belt. But will he prove to us he can be consistent this spring and dominate?
Right tackle is where the biggest mystery lies. Last year, UM handed the job to Pipho by default. He was the senior with the most experience and the most ready to handle the pressure. In 2010, three young players figure to compete for the spot -- redshirt sophomore Ben Jones, redshirt freshman Jermaine Johnson and true freshman Malcolm Bunche, a 2009 signee who spent last season at prep school. Much like Pipho did a year ago, none will enter starting college experience whatsoever.
There are six more offensive line recruits set to arrive in the summer, headlined by U.S. Army All-American Brandon Linder. And we've heard lots of good things about redshirt freshmen Jared Wheeler and Cory White, who were on the scout team last season. But like I said, there will be a lot to prove for this unit over the next seven months.
Miramar High receiver Ivan McCartney has been hiding out since his trip to the University of Miami this past weekend, trying to avoid the pressure and the questions from people who want to know if he's decided between the team he grew up rooting for (Miami), the team with his former teammates (West Virginia) and the program he said he had secretly chosen (Florida) early in the recruiting process.
So which one will it be? "I don't even know yet," McCartney said. "The trip to UM definitely made it hard for me. It was awesome."
McCartney, a 6-3, 185-pound U.S. Army All-American, said he spent his two days hanging out with host and potential future quarterback Jacory Harris. "We started cooking from the moment we were in each other's presence," McCartney said. "He's real down to earth. We went to the Grove, walked the strip, ate a lot, the usual. We hung out with the players, played games. You can tell the University of Miami is just a big family."
Still, he left without making a commitment, rather a promise to coach Randy Shannon he would make a sound choice. "He said no matter where I go, he'll be happy for me," McCartney said. "He said just make sure wherever I chose to go make sure that's where I want to go, that it's the place for me. Coach Shannon is real cool like that."
McCartney said any rumors of him having picked a school already are false. He said people saying he'd choose West Virginia because of his academic situation "don't know what they are talking about."
"As far as I know, you need the same ACT or SAT score to get into Miami as you do as West Virginia. I think you need an 18," said McCartney, who has raised his GPA from a 2.1 to a 2.7 and scored a 15 on the ACT exam. "Regardless of which school I pick, I know I have more work to do in the class room. This decision will be based on the best fit for me."
So what are his family members and friends saying is the best fit? According to McCartney, his teammates would love for him to pick West Virginia, but are not pressuring him at all. And his mom, who would like for him to stay home, has told him the same.
"Believe it or not, Gino [West Virginia quarterback Eugene Smith] tell me to pick the best school for me," McCartney said. "My mom told me as long as I'm comfortable and able to do something after football with a degree, she's fine with wherever I go."
McCartney said that choice would have been the Gators at the start of the season. Florida's need for receivers and its rich recent history were attractive early on. But he said the way Miami and West Virginia have come at him this year have made it "a three horse race."
"To be honest, in the beginning of the football season Florida was the school I was going to go to," McCartney said. "But I kept it quiet. There's something about Florida I don't feel for the other schools, a very strong, loving feeling. The atmosphere is wild. The campus is outrageous. They have swagger. A lot of people thought Florida was going to drop when Billy Gonzalez, who recruited me, left. But I learned early on you can't go to a school off coaches. Any coach can leave at any given time. You success depends on how you work as a player. Florida is an awesome place with whoever is coaching there."
As for West Virginia, where former Miramar quarterback Eugene Smith is waiting to throw him passes, McCartney said he believes its only a matter of time before the Mountaineers win a national title. "They lack receiver depth, which is huge for me," McCartney said. "The coaches are very down to earth and cool. They have a family over there, just like Miami. One thing I noticed, though, is they lack the swagger. If I go up to West Virginia, I'd love to bring some of the swagger up there. Because to me, they have a chance to go to the national championship soon. With Eugene, Noel [Devine], they have a chance to do big things."
The Hurricanes, he feels, are also close to winning a national title. And if he had to sit out a season, redshirt and learn on the scout team, he said he'd have no problem with that. "There's nothing left to say about Miami, really," McCartney said. "It's The U. Miami is just a home away from home. Players are cool. Coaches are cool. Of all the schools I've visited, they are the most close in a family way. And nothing makes you feel better than a family."
McCartney will announce his decision Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. "I'm going to do it real big, maybe bring in 10 hats to confuse people," McCartney said. "Honestly, I just can't wait until Wednesday."
ANOTHER RECRUITING TIDBIT...
> UM lost out on defensive tackle Jeffrey Whitaker from Warner Robins, Ga. on Monday. The 6-3, 295-pound defensive tackle picked Auburn over Georgia and the Canes.
Word is UM feels better about its chances with Virginia prep school defensive tackle Ego Ferguson, who will announce his college choice on CBS College Sports Network Wednesday morning at 11 a.m.
Having a long break after a tough loss can usually hurt a team. But in this case, University of Miami basketball coach Frank Haith said Monday his team's long after last Tuesday's 79-75 loss to Boston College might be just what his team needs to get jump-started going again.
"I think it was great for us," Haith said during Monday's ACC Teleconference. "We got some really good practice time in. We have a lot of guys competing for playing time. We did a lot of scrimmaging. It was good for us because we got better during the time off."
Few Hurricanes could have needed a break more than freshman point guard Durand Scott. Haith said Scott recently returned home to attend his grandmother's funeral during the break. Haith said Scott and fellow New York guard Malcolm Grant "really struggled at times" getting their teammates good shots during the 10 minute stretch Tuesday that saw Boston College erase a 17-point deficit. Haith said he would like to see Grant become more aggressive again on the offensive end.
Scott is averaging 7.6 points and only two assists a game in ACC play. He averaged 8.3 points and 4.7 assists in non-conference games. "Durand can score more and we need him to do that," Haith said. "He's very capable of doing that... Hopefully, we can see Durand in terms of what we saw earlier in the year when he was aggressive on both ends of the court."
A FEW MORE TIDBITS...
- Haith said he expects senior Adrian Thomas to see starter minutes at small forward and power forward. Thomas replaced sophomore DeQuan Jones in the starting lineup against Boston College. Jones has only played a combined 34 minutes (20 against Virginia Tech) in his last four games.
- Look for redshirt freshman Reggie Johnson to continue to get more chances to score in the post. Johnson, who has started the last two games, fell just one rebound shy of his first career double-double with a career-high 15 points and nine rebounds. Haith said Johnson has a nice touch around the basket. Believe it or not, he's also the team's best free throw shooter at nearly 77 percent.
ROANOKE, VA. -- They grew up playing football together at the Pop Warner level and spent most of their lives in homes just a 10 minute drive apart in of the richest areas for football talent in Georgia. Tyrone Cornelius and Storm Johnson always thought there might be a chance they could be college roommates one day. They just never thought it would be at the University of Miami.
"We've known each other since we were little kids," said Cornelius, a 6-2 1/2, 190-pound outside linebacker with 4.5-speed from Stephenson High in Stone Mountain, who played up the road from Johnson, a 6-1, 217-pound All-American running back from Loganville with 4.48-speed.
"For the longest time I thought he was going to LSU. Then, he decommitted and joined the University of Miami in November. I was stunned. But it made me feel better. At least now I know I can go down there with somebody I have a bond with."
Little by little, the Hurricanes have begun creating stronger bonds with top-notch recruits in Georgia. Call it the Wesley McGriff factor. UM's defensive backs coach is from Tifton, a three-hour drive south of Atlanta. Last year, he plucked defensive end/linebacker Shayon Green (6-2, 225) from his hometown (Green missed the season with a knee injury). This year, McGriff was all over Cornelius and was ready to pounce on Johnson, an ESPN Top 150 player, the moment he parted ways with his first choice, LSU.
All three Georgia players represent more of what the Hurricanes are looking for in their recruiting classes: players that don't just have more size, but are smart enough to handle more complex schemes and have the grades to get into school early.
Cornelius, who hopes to add on 20 pounds of muscle to his frame, graduated from high school with a 3.0 GPA and scored a 20 on the ACT. When you talk to him, he sounds just as smart as Jordan Futch and about as football saavy as Sean Spence. Johnson, who graduated with a 3.2 GPA and ACT score of 20, seems destined to make the same type of impact Mike James made last season.
"Coach McGriff actually came at me and showed me a lot love the spring before my junior year," said Cornelius, who plans on majoring in Forensic Science.
"The one thing he said he loved about me from the start were me academics. I've always been on top of my books. I think I've made only one C in high school. Graduating early has always been a big deal for me. Starting off on college early, getting that head start on football and academics is huge."
The Hurricanes could certainly use reinforcements at both linebacker and running back. Last season, after Futch went down with a torn ACL, UM rotated four linebackers -- senior Darryl Sharpton, junior Colin McCarthy, sophomores Sean Spence and Ramon Buchanon -- the rest of the season. Entering the spring, Cornelius said he hopes to learn a lot from the veterans to put himself in position to compete with Arthur Brown and Futch for playing time.
"As long as I'm on the field and helping the team out, that's all I care about," Cornelius said. "Either side -- weak or strong -- is good for me. I think I'll be able to catch on pretty quick. Their run defense is a lot like the one we ran at my high school, a pro style 4-3. Zone coverages, blitzes, stunts, I've done those before. I'm actually a very smart kid on the field.
"I could be a big hitter. But I prefer to see myself as a real fast linebacker. I can get from one side of the field to the other in a matter of seconds. I'm fast, take on blocks as well. I can also drop back in pass coverage. I know a lot of linebackers can play the run extremely well, but can't drop back in pass coverage with ease. But I can do that. Coach McGriff told me he wouldn't be scared to put me at safety either."
Cornelius, a three-star recruit and Top 40 outside linebacker according to Rivals, Scout and ESPN, finished his senior season with 108 tackles, an interception, two forced fumbles, two blocked punts and eight tackles for loss and helped lead Stephenson to an 11-1 record and the second round of the playoffs.
He didn't get to play against Johnson, who literally lives 10 minutes from his house, because Loganville is in a different classification and county. But he respects his game plenty.
"Storm is a fast, bruising back, a North-South runner who you better be ready to take on," Cornelius said. "He's a strong worker in the weight room and very smart when it comes to the books. He does everything he has to do to stay on his game."
Johnson, who ran for 1,933 yards and 32 touchdowns on 252 carries his senior season in 11 games, said Cornelius "is gifted."
"Tyrone is a good guy, quiet, hard working and very smart," Johnson said. "He just flies to the football."
Johnson will arrive in Coral Gables Sunday night (a day after Cornelius) and said his goal is to make an immediate impact -- whether its carrying the football, blocking or handling kickoffs. With Javarris James gone and Graig Cooper (torn ACL) expected to miss all of 2010, UM's available backfield veterans are senior-to-be Damien Berry, redshirt freshman Mike James and junior Lee Chambers. Redshirt freshman Lamar Miller is also expected to make an impact.
Johnson's recent performance at the Under Armour game in Tampa elevated his recruiting ranking on Rivals from a three-star recruit to a far star level and his him ranked 106th nationally overall. He will be joined by Booker T. Washington running back Eduardo Clements, ranked 156th overall by Rivals, in the spring.
"If I could wear the number 5 [a jersey number expected to be available after the departure of Javarris James] that would be great," Johnson said. "But other than that, I just want to come down, be another hard worker and get after it.
You won't find Delmar Taylor on any national recruiting lists. And unless you attended one of the five high school football games he played in at Miami Beach High this past fall, you probably have never seen him.
But assuming all goes well over the next month, the 6-5, 260-pound Bahamian born defensive tackle will be one of the recruits who is a part of the University of Miami's 2010 signing class. Taylor is about as raw and unknown a player as there is in South Florida. But according to our recruiting coordinator Larry Blustein, who saw Taylor play twice, he is very, very talented.
"I came away very impressed with his quickness and strength," Blustein said. "This is an athlete who never takes plays off, which is something any college coach notices right away. This is an athlete who has a real chance to do some big things at the next level."
According to Miami Beach coach Ralph Jimenez, FIU coach Mario Cristobal was the first to spot Taylor and offer him a scholarship. Bowling Green and Western Michigan followed. Memphis was about to offer. But according to Jimenez, when UM assistant coach Wesley McGriff came in a day before students went on vacation for Christmas break and watched film of Taylor, it was love at first sight on both sides.
"If he stays injury free and stays hungry and shows me the way he has shown me since he showed up in January, he could definitely play in the NFL one day," said Jimenez, who has been at Miami Beach High for two seasons. "He has to stay coachable and watch a lot of film. All the things he's done with us, he has to continue to do. But once you meet the kid, you fall in love with him. He didn't even know how to get into a three-point stance when we got him last January. But he's got a lot of talent and a lot of hunger."
Taylor first came to South Florida, according to his uncle Tony Hamilton, when he was 14 and enrolled at Miramar High. But after his mom was involved in a bad car accident, he was forced to return home and work to financially support his mom and now eight-year old brother Malik.
"His mom is better now, which is why he was able to come back," Hamilton said. "But when he went back, he was working with his uncle in plumbing, learning the trade and making whatever money he could to take care of his mom and brother. It was pretty tough. He sacrificed himself."
According to Hamilton, Taylor returned to South Florida his junior year and went out for football at Miramar, where Taylor lives. But he never saw the field because he was still learning how to play. In January 2009, Taylor enrolled him at Miami Beach High, not far from where he works at a nearby Publix. Unfortunately, do to some eligibility issues, the Florida High School Athletic Association only allowed him to play in five games at Miami Beach. Still, Jimenez said, Taylor made his presence felt. He earned best rusher award at the Down & Dirty Camp and played well in his five games.
"One thing he's done is gotten a lot stronger," Jimenez said. "When he first got here he was 6-4, 225. Now, he's 6-5, 260. He was benching 185 and now he's up to 260. He was power cleaning 125 and is at 225. We really pushed himself in the weight room. He was one of the guys who broke records. Now, he's squating 385 pounds. He's a great story."
Jimenez said Taylor has the grades to get into UM. "He's got like a 2.8 GPA and an 18 on his ACT score," Jimenez said. "Believe me, UM wouldn't have offered if they didn't think he could make it into school. He's a qualifier."
Taylor isn't the only good recruiting news for the Canes in the last 24 hours. Monsignor Pace quarterback Stephen Morris said he's a full-go to begin classes next week at UM and participate in spring football. Morris had been waiting on clearance from his school's principal on graduating early. He got it. Pace usually doesn't let students graduate in January.
It looks like Morris will be joined by running backs Eduardo Clements and Storm Johnson, linebacker Tyrone Cornileus, center Shane McDermott and offensive tackle Malcolm Bunche as early entrants. UM is still waiting on word regarding JUCO tight end Chase Ford, who needs approval on a class he took at another school to begin this spring.
> Two current Cane commitments and cornerbacks -- Devont'a Davis from Gainesville High and Jeremy Davis from Cape Coral -- will take visits to other schools this weekend. Jeremy Davis is visiting North Carolina and Devont'a Davis is headed to Arkansas.
> Don't hold your breath on the top offensive tackle in the country, Seantrel Henderson, visiting UM on Jan. 29. The Hurricanes weren't probably going to land him anyway.
Here are some clips on Delmar Taylor...
After all that, it looks like the Hurricanes will get to play close to home after all.
Although it hasn't been officially announced yet (the bowl announcements will take place at 8 p.m.), the University of Miami will play in the Champs Sports Bowl at the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando Dec. 29 against the University of Wisconsin. According to reports, the selection process came down to a narrow vote between the Hurricanes and ACC runner-up Clemson, which has already agreed to play in the Music City Bowl in Nashville.
The Hurricanes, 9-3 and ranked 14th in the Associated Press poll, haven't played in an instate bowl game since it beat Florida State 16-14 in the 2004 Orange Bowl.
The Badgers, 9-3 and ranked 24th in the AP poll, will be UM's first opponent from Big Ten since it lost to Ohio State in the 2002 national championship game. Miami has played Wisconsin three times, beating the Badgers 51-3 the last time the teams met in 1989 up in Madison. The Badgers, who won at Hawaii 51-10 late Saturday night, played in last year's Champs Sports Bowl and lost to Florida State 42-13.
The Champs Sports Bowl began as the Blockbuster Bowl in Miami in 1990 and has since changed sponsors a handful of times. The Hurricanes won both of their appearances in the bowl game, beating Virginia 31-21 in 1996 and North Carolina State 46-23 in 1998.
TAMPA -- I've got one thing I need to get out of the way: Man, I was wrong.
I didn't think the Canes would be able to win Saturday's game without left tackle Jason Fox. Turns out, I didn't have nearly enough faith in Orlando Franklin and I had far too much respect for George Selvie and Jason Pierre-Paul.
Franklin, making his first career start at left tackle in place of Fox, didn't just "fill-in." He dominated Selvie, a two-time All-American and -- with the aid of freshman Brandon Washington (who made his first start at left guard) -- kept Jacory Harris' new all-white uniform pretty clean all afternoon.
Not only did Franklin help UM's offense roll up 240 yards on the ground and another 161 through the air by protecting Jacory's blind side, he may have answered a major question heading into the offseason: Who replaces Fox when he's gone.
Afterward, Franklin admitted to us he was nervous, but only because center AJ Trump opened his eyes in a team meeting Wednesday. "It was pretty much the biggest game of my life," Franklin said. "I've played in big games at guard, but I know what to do at guard. I never played tackle before. I was going against an end that was an All-American. I never really thought about it being the biggest game of my life until AJ Trump said it in a meeting a few days ago. I couldn't sleep at night because of him."
Maybe now Canes fans can sleep easy knowing Franklin can handle being the starting left tackle in 2010.
A few more thoughts/notes...
-- I didn't get a chance to speak with Jason Fox after the game, but he gave me a fist bump as he was heading to the team bus and nodded when I asked him if he was feeling better. UM is still saying Fox missed practice this week with an illness, but WQAM reported Saturday what I had been told by a source that Fox was in the hospital this week with an irregular heartbeat. Franklin said he's hoping Fox will be back for the bowl game. But at this point you have to be concerned. Fox has made 47 starts in his career at UM. He was really looking forward to moving into second place all-time behind William Joseph (50).
-- Hats off to UM's defense, who despite having a little trouble handling the elusive BJ Daniels in the third quarter, once again had another solid performance. UM hasn't given up more than one touchdown on defense in each of their final four games. Consider that as big a reason as any why they've finished this November 3-1 as opposed to 0-4 (2007) and 1-3 (2008) in Randy Shannon's first two seasons.
-- Linebacker Sean Spence, who returned a week ago to only play on special teams for one play, had a big sack in the third quarter in his first real action since hurting his hamstring against Clemson last month. It was his only tackle of the game in limited action. Spence told me afterward he expects to be healthy and have a bigger role in the bowl game.
-- Hats off to Leonard Hankerson who has put together the best season by a receiver at UM in a while. With his 44 catches, Hank recorded the most grabs by a receiver since Kellen Winslow's 60 catches in 2003. His 774 yards on the season are the most since Santana Moss in 1999. Maybe he will head to the NFL after this season.
The past couple of Thursdays have been chalk full of bad news when the Canes injury report has been released. This week, the news appears to be better. The only player out for Saturday's game against Clemson -- not having season-ending surgery -- fullback Pat Hill, who still isn't back from his high ankle sprain.
Nine other players are listed as probable -- including a few new names: RB Graig Cooper (hip), RB Javarris James (lower extremity), RB Mike James (ankle), WR Aldarius Johnson (shoulder), OL Joel Figueroa (lower extremity), DL Josh Holmes (lower extremity), DL Eric Moncur (groin), DB JoJo Nicolas (arm), DB Randy Phillips (torn labrum).
You never know who will really play on Saturday until kickoff. Somebody could come down with the flu like Randy Phillips did last week. Personally, I'd be shocked if Aldarius Johnson played. But that's just my opinion. We'll see.
The question on everyone's minds entering this week isn't how the Hurricanes will handle the Hokies. It's how they'll handle the hype of being a big deal again in college football. Of the 200 questions you left me on our weekly chat, 150 pertained to the mental focus of this team.
Are they overconfident now that they're in the Top 10? Is Jacory going to be affected by the Heisman talk? Are they taking the Hokies lightly?
We won't know for sure until Saturday when the Canes line up against the ACC preseason favorite in their house. But from everything we heard from coach Randy Shannon and his players Tuesday, this Miami Hurricanes team isn't drinking the Kool Aid yet.
In fact, when the Canes got word they had moved up to No. 9 in the latest Associated Press poll Sunday, Harris said he and his teammates shrugged it off.
"Not too many people knew – one person said it, and it was like `Oh, well, we just have to get better," Harris said. "We don't want No. 9. No. 9 is nine spots away from being No. 1. We want to be No. 1 in the nation. We want to be where Florida is. Where all the great teams are. That's where we're trying to get."
Shannon said his team learned enough harsh lessons from its losses last year to avoid future pitfalls or taking teams lightly.
"This football team has learned a lot from last year's losses that we had playing against certain teams, situations," Shannon said. "Now they can realize the importance of concentrating on the game at hand, not looking ahead.
"When you look at the football team now, have we got a lot better maturity-wise than last year? Yes. As a whole the biggest thing that has helped out is the seniors on this football team. They've done a great job making sure we stay focused on the big picture, not the small picture. The preparation this morning was good, we got a lot of things done. Now we have to take the next step tomorrow. If we stay focused the game is no problem because they're ready to go. If you see guys not doing the small things in practice then you have a problem."
Harris said he's seen his new Heisman website and heard about all the things some famous people have been saying about him. But he promises it won't affect him.
"It's still not overwhelming," Harris said. "I have to pay attention to what's ahead. I have to take it one game at a time. As long as I do that, my team will help me stay focused, and I'll help them stay focused.
"I've heard (the Heisman hype). But I try not to pay any attention to it. I really don't think I've done anything yet because we've only played two games and we still have 12 more game to go. I'm just trying to win all the games."
Harris said he and his teammates know all the attention can disappear quickly.
"Once you lose you start dropping in the rankings anyway," Harris said. "Last year we went up to play Georgia Tech. I know were happy, probably too happy. That's what we learned. It's not about what's written on paper, stats. It's what's done on the field. As long as we keep performing on the field we'll get the rewards and things we deserve."
A couple quick notes...
> INJURY UPDATES: Expect to see cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke back in the lineup this week... Receiver Aldarius Johnson and running back Lee Chambers could be back too. Both were back out at practice Tuesday... We still have not received any word or defensive tackle Marcus Forston's status. He left in the third quarter with a foot injury against Georgia... Tight end Jimmy Graham had his left hand bandaged up. Ditto for backup linebacker Arthur Brown.
> I'll have plenty more for you in the coming days including audio from today's media session. We spoke with Leonard Hankerson, Jacory Harris, Randy Shannon, Matt Pipho, Orlando Franklin and Randy Phillips. I had a one-on-one with receivers coach Aubrey Hill.
Last season, Randy Shannon entered the season knowing he was going to have to play freshmen all over the field. This year, he’s happy he won’t have to do that.
When Shannon met with the local media Thursday to discuss Monday night’s season opener at Florida State and the start of his third season at UM, he smiled when he was asked how many freshmen might see the field. “Four or five -- a lot less than last year and hopefully next year it will be a lot less too,” Shannon said.
In case you forgot, the Hurricanes played 18 freshmen in their season opener last year against Charleston Southern. By the end of the season, the Canes were counting on a number of first year players to deliver in key roles. One look at the Canes’ depth chart, released to reporters after Shannon’s press conference, tells us 2009 is going to be a different kind of season.
Only five true freshmen made the two-deep – quarterback AJ Highsmith, left guard Brandon Washington, defensive end Olivier Vernon, running back Mike James (kick returns) and right tackle Jermaine Johnson. And only one former scout team player from a year ago – right guard Harland Gunn -- was in the starting lineup. Shannon told our Susan Miller Degnan, during his private one-on-one interviews with reporters from each local paper, that the depth chart could change before Monday’s kickoff.
DEPTH CHART CHANGES: And apparently, the depth chart changed before UM’s Sports Information office even printed out copies and handed them to reporters before Shannon's press conference. According to the Palm Beach Post’s Jorge Milian, redshirt freshman Vaughn Telemaque – slated behind junior JoJo Nicholas – is actually the starter at safety alongside senior Randy Phillips. And redshirt freshman kicker Jake Wieclaw, who was entrusted to handle kickoffs according to the depth chart and teammates, really won’t be handling them just yet. Also of note according to the Palm Beach Post, Jake Byrne has passed Matt Perrelli in the walk-on battle for the third string quarterback job.
GUNN WINS STARTING JOB: Gunn may be the best story among players to win a starting job this fall. The 6-2, 315-pounder from Nebraska took over the job in the spring when Joel Figueroa had shoulder surgery and simply held onto the job when Figueroa – a four-game starter – returned for fall camp. Both should still end up rotating at the spot. But the fact Gunn did well enough to earn a starting job is a plus for the Canes.
Teammate Orlando Franklin said Thursday of Gunn: “He’s more mature, more patient. He’s always been a real good run blocker. In pass game in college you have to be patient because guys are fast and they’re just as strong as you. He improved with being patient and knowing what’s going to happen before it occurs.”
FRANKLIN CAN PLAY TACKLE: Miami’s offensive line has strength and depth in the interior. But at tackle consider the Canes thin. Shannon told our SMD neither redshirt freshman Ben Jones nor true freshman Jermaine Johnson are ready to see game action yet. So, it appears that if Jason Fox or Matt Pipho were to go down with an injury, Franklin would be the first player to slide outside.
“I play left guard, left tackle, right tackle. I take snaps everyday at both [tackle spots],” Franklin said. “I’m pretty sure that’s what would happen [if Fox or Pipho were injured]. Bottomline is I’d play any position they need me to.”
> Part of the reason the Canes could feel comfortable with Franklin at tackle is because freshman Brandon Washington can play anywhere inside. “Brandon is a real smart guy. For him to come in learn all three inside positions -- that’s crazy,” Franklin said. “I remember my freshman year. It was real hard for me just to learn left guard. You can put Brandon at left guard, right guard or center and you won’t miss a beat. He’s been doing a real good job.”
HANKERSON STARTING OVER A. JOHNSON: The fact Leonard Hankerson beat out sophomore Aldarius Johnson – last year’s leading pass catcher – for a starting job didn’t surprise safety Randy Phillips.
“He’s the leader at the wide out position. He’s the older guy. He works hard. He’s a different guy,” Phillips said. “He’s been lighting up things in practice. He always stays out there and gets things done. He has totally turned himself around. Hank worked his way into his starting position. A lot of the guys are way more than talented than him. But he got the job done. He’s a hell of a blocker. He runs precise routes, he’s catching the ball, doing the film room, doing all the little things right. He deserves it all.”
Hankerson may be starting, but I wouldn't take it to mean he's going to see more playing time than Johnson. This is the same team that started Khalil Jones in three of its first four games in 2008. I'm not saying Hankerson is like Jones, who caught just five passes last year. Hank is way better than Jones. My point is this football team has started guys in the past who weren't necessarily the best at their position. Shannon does it to send a message to the guys below them. Jones usually sat the bench after first two, three series. Hank will play more than that. But I still think when the game is on the line, Johnson will be in there.
JACORY'S FUNNY TAKE: I thought Jacory Harris’ days of providing comic relief and honest takes were over after his “enlightening interview” on Dan LeBatard’s radio show last month. But he came back strong Thursday when asked about playing on Monday night in front of a national TV audience.
“The only I thing I keep thinking about because its Monday night is if it’s the NFL,” Harris said. “I keep wondering if the man with the cowboy hat is going to come out and start signing on TV for us or something. It's going to be a fun experience for everybody."
> Harris said he wouldn’t necessarily play more cautiously this season after the transfers of Taylor Cook and Cannon Smith. But he isn't dumb either. "I know I won’t let it affect me because if I'm thinking `I can't get hurt,' I'm going to get hurt,” Harris said. “You got out and play timid, you have things you don't want happening happen. I'll take it as a regular game, have fun and let the team take care of me."
"If I see a linebacker running at me I think my first decision is to run him over. But I will be smart and take a slide. I’m not a dumb person. I know to take a slide when I have to. But if it’s to get extra yards, I may sacrifice my body.”
TWO-BACK COMMITTEE AGAIN: Despite saying on various occasions before the season he’d like for one running back to emerge as THE MAN, Shannon told reporters the backfield still belongs to Graig Cooper and Javarris James.
“I'm happy now,” Shannon said. “You can never have too many running backs because injuries always happen. We're happy with how Cooper and Javarris have been doing. They’ve always worked together. This is the best Javarris has ever done in camp since he was a freshman. He hasn’t been nicked. He's looks faster. Coop is Cooper, he's done a great job. And Lee Chambers has taken the next step. You go to the next group, Damien Berry, Mike James and Lamar Miller. A lot of guys are playing special teams, have some role against Florida State. When it comes down to it, Cooper and Javarris will be the two load guys and the other guys will play as needed.”
We all figured Adewale Ojomo was going to be out for awhile, but we finally got confirmation from coach Randy Shannon that senior Eric Moncur will not lineup against the Seminoles Monday night.
Shannon told reporters during his ACC Teleconference an hour ago that Moncur and Ojomo were the only two defensive ends who will not be going to Tallahassee. "We got maybe two guys that will be out for the game -- Ojomo and Eric Moncur," Shannon said when asked about the state of his defensive ends. "... We'll miss them and their experience. We have confidence in Olivier Vernon, Marcus Robinson, Andrew Smith and Steven Wesley. We have a lot of guys who have played football here."
Shannon spoke for about 10 minutes during his ACC Teleconference and for about another 20 with WQAM's Joe Rose Tuesday morning. Here are a few notes from those conversations.
> Shannon said the key to beating Florida State will be winning the turnover battle and tackling. "We got to be able to stop the run. If you can stop the run defensively you can let your pass rush get after the quarterback and do some other things," he said. "Last year we weren't able to do that. We're a better football team just because of experience wise. All of those young guys got a lot of experience with playing reps which is vital for a game against Florida State."
> Last year, the Seminoles and quarterback Christian Ponder torched the Canes on the ground. Shannon said UM wants to keep him contained. "We want to keep him inside the pocket and make decisions. We're expecting our defensive line to do a great job. We expect our pressure to get after him."
> Shannon said the biggest improvement he's seen in Jacory Harris is in third down situations. "He doesn't let many things bother him," Shannon said when asked what's impressed him about Harris now that he's the full-time starter. "He's the guy this year and he takes it just like business. He practices with the mentality he's going to get better. When he makes a mistake, he'll take the blame. If he holds it too long, he'll go and tell the offensive line he held it too long. If he throws it to high for a receiver or just out of reach, he'll tell them 'My bad.' He's not a me guy. He's a team guy."
> Shannon said backup quarterback AJ Highsmith has done well, but hinted if he gets into the game he probably will not be asked to do a lot. "We got a small package for him," Shannon said.
> Shannon told WQAM he and his coaching staff will sit down after Thursday's practice and determine the depth chart and who will be traveling with the team. When asked if any true freshmen would play, Shannon said "none will start."
> As for the rotation at receiver, Shannon said "we're going to play four or five guys at maximum. You can't play eight anymore. The guys know whoever makes plays for us will be playing for us."
> Shannon said he feels confident with the depth on his offensive line. "We got eight guys we feel comfortable with," he said. "We have guys we can rotate and give us a chance to win games."
Ryan Hill doesn't want to be known as Bubba Gump. But when it comes time to throwing down shrimp, there might not be a better cook on the Hurricanes team.
It's why on Saturday nights during the summer, the entire team flocked to his place about as often as they did to Colin McCarthy and Jason Fox's house for "Fish Fry Night." So, who is the best cook on the team?
"My vote would have to go with Ryan Hill," sophomore cornerback Brandon Harris said. "His shrimp, he's got something special on that. He'll fry it, bake it, sautee it, grill it, we'll have a shrimp party all night."
Hill, a senior, actually shared his special shrimp recipe with me Monday: "The one the guys really love is the barbeque grilled shrimp I do. I do it on a shish kabob stick, put some lemon pepper spices and then add the Sweet Baby Rays BBQ sauce. And then, I stir fry some on the stove. I give them the best of the best."
Whether its cooking, hosting parties or playing designated driver, Hill has always aimed to be a good teammate off the field about as often as he's been one on it.
When he signed with UM in 2005, the Tallahassee native thought he was destined to follow in the footsteps of Antrel Rolle and become the Canes next great cornerback. But when he got to UM, Larry Coker had a different plan for him. With the Canes short on receivers, Hill made the move to offense and in two seasons caught 19 passes for 182 yards and two touchdowns. Last season, he made the move back to defense -- but was learning how to play safety. He did OK, starting five games, making 34 tackles and deflecting two passes.
But now, as he enters his final year at UM, the 6-foot, 205-pounder is happier than he's ever been. Why? Because he's finally back where he was meant to be -- corner. This spring, he split time at corner and safety. But with UM still a little short at corner, the decision was made this offseason to let him return to corner full time -- with the possibility he could slide back to safety if needed.
"One thing I wanted to do is get better in shape and fine tune myself," said Hill, who ran the fourth fastest 40 time on the team this spring (4.40) and ranked in the Top 20 in all five testing categories. "With coach Swasey and his program, I think I took full advantage of it. I'm healthy, big and as fast as I've ever been. I'm going to take it to the field. Whether I'm at corner or safety, I'm comfortable. I'll do whatever it takes to win a national championship."
Through UM's first three practices, Hill said he's been working primarily at field corner with freshman Brandon McGee and junior Demarcus Van Dyke. That would leave Brandon Harris, Sam Shields and Chavez Grant working at boundary corner. Hill said Monday he worked with the second team during 11-on-11 drills and with the first team during 7-on-7s. "We have three groups and we're all rotating," Hill said.
Last season, the Hurricanes finished with just four interceptions (tied for fewest in team history). Hill said he wished media and fans would also give the Canes more credit for finishing seventh in the nation in pass defense (165 ypg). "It's tough when people grade you just off turnovers and interceptions," Hill said. " To me, we finished seventh in pass defense and only had four INTs. What if we get 19 or 20 this year? We could be No. 1. People shouldn't underestimate what we can do with this secondary. We have a lot of great athletes and a lot of guys who are no longer freshmen."
MCGRIFF EXCITED ABOUT SECONDARY
I had a chance to sit down for a one-on-one interview with defensive backs coach Wesley McGriff Tuesday and here are some nuggets from our conversation.
> I asked McGriff to explain what exactly a boundary corner and a field corner is and what is needed to play those spots. He also let me in on his philosophy coaching his players.
"In football, the majority of the game is played at the hash [mark]. The boundary coner covers the short side, sideline in. The field corner has got to cover a lot more ground, and a lot more routes are thrown at him. The field [corner] needs to have good feet, but more vertical speed because that's where you have to cover more ground. You may get more throws into the boundary, but the routes in the boundary are going to be in a smaller area. So, you have to have really quick feet and be good against the run. You usually cover more physical guys there.
"Brandon Harris, and Chavez Grant are more boundary guys. A guy like DVD can play both, but he's a big asset to the field because of that speed. Ryan Hill too. Sam Shields could play both also. But the key is you can't limit yourself. If you are my third best corner, you have to get into the game. You strive to get those guys in field and boundary to learn both and then try to train them for a particular area. But ultimately you got to get your best on the field, the combinations that work."
> Although we don't get to see practice -- all reporters must get accounts from players and coaches as to how practice went -- we've definitely been hearing about the secondary creating more turnovers through the first three days of camp. McGriff said its a result of a maturity. "Once you get older as a unit, those things start coming," McGriff said.
"When you are young, your just trying to line up in the right spot. Now, they're going to take the next step. We were 7th in the country [in pass defense]. But that wasn't good enough for the University of Miami. That's just the starting point. We have to affect the game, we have to take the ball away from the opponent. That's all we keep stressing to these guys. Don't be afraid to make plays."
> McGriff said moving Hill to corner full time was necessary for depth. "We needed some knowledge there. Ryan is going to help us at that spot. Ryan could be a really great corner. He has all the tools and abilities to be a great corner. I think it's a benefit to have a guy we can move to the edge and cover man to man and has all the change of direction, the ball skills. That kid really, really works hard. He's going to be a good kid for us."
> As for safety Ray Ray Armstrong, McGriff said its too early to judge how much of an impact he could make as a freshman. "He's got to get more comfortable in the scheme," McGriff said. "He may not be playing fast because he's not sure. Just like Brandon [Harris] and Vaughn Telemaque had to get past that freshman stage. It's hard to come in as a true freshman and make plays. How much training did they get in high school? Was he a fulltime DB? No. Now, he is. What I like is his attitude, his size, he's a winner. He's really smart and he just loves the game."
> I asked McGriff if some of the expectations for Vaughn Telemaque, whom Shannon compared to Ed Reed last season, are too high for a player who played in just three games last year. "He's got to play good for us. He's one of our guys for us," McGriff said.
"I don't think anybody could put higher expectations on Vaughn than Vaughn himself. He's really critical of himself. He has to play good for us. He's worked hard all summer to get himself in that position. He'll live up to his own expectations. He knows he has to watch film over and over again. I tell him all the time he has to be the QB on defense. He wants to be good. The one thing about Vaughn is he's going to use all the resources around him to make sure he's great. Whether its an NFL player, coaches, film, he's going to use whatever. I know he spent one day with Ed Reed this summer, asking him questions. I told the guys when they're walking around the building, you have to ask guys these questions. He did."
> As for freshman Brandon McGee, McGriff said the Plantation High star needs to pick up schemes more. "Brandon's biggest thing is he's not 100 percent comfortable and sure of what he's doing. Once he does, he's going to be a great corner. He and I talked about it yesterday. Let it go and stop worrying about making a mistake."
> I caught up with redshirt freshman Ben Jones. He told me he's been moved back to left tackle, after playing only right tackle in the spring. That means Jermaine Johnson has moved back to right tackle, where he started out in the spring before moving to the left side.
"At first it was kind of a weird adjustment because I was so used to the right side and I'm right handed," Jones said. "But I'm learning from [Jason] Fox and he's teaching me, correcting me when I make mistakes."
Jones, who said he shed 10 pounds in the summer and now stands 6-5, 290, said he realizes the importance of playing well on the left side because it protects the blind side of quarterback Jacory Harris. "You have to be on your Ps and Qs on your left side. You have to be on your A game when your blocking for Jacory. I'm treating it like I was in high school, protecting him like he's my baby."
> UM coach Randy Shannon complimented the play of tight end Jimmy Graham Monday, saying he ran routes well with shoulder pads on. He also had good things to say about receiver Leonard Hankerson, saying he's become a leader and is "much better."
Hankerson spent this summer working with former Miami Dolphin great Mark Duper on catching. "It was fun and exciting," Hankerson said of working with Duper. "I just worked on catching the ball, looking it in, running routes better and concentrating on the ball. Now, I'm just looking at catching the point of the ball." Hankerson said its worked so far in practice. "I'm catching everything now," he said.
If there is one position that usually ends up being resolved early in the world of recruiting, it's quarterback. For the past few years, every top school in the country has usually settled on who its future QB is going to be long before they've even thrown a pass as a high school senior.
The Hurricanes appear close to pulling that off again this year with Monsignor Pace quarterback Stephen Morris. The 6-3, 184-pounder drove down to UM Wednesday with his parents and was genuinely surprised by what he encountered. He said he had a 40-minute meeting with coach Randy Shannon and checked out the Canes playbook with new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple, who finally mailed him his scholarship offer this week.
"They are in the lead right now," said Morris, who completed 64 percent of his passes for 2,005 yards and 19 touchdowns and led Pace to the state semifinals last year as a junior.
"It's a great school. I didn't think it was like that. Everyone is so family oriented. Coach Shannon was talking to my mom about how he went to Norland and she went to [Hialeah-Miami Lakes] and how their schools were rivals. I talked to Jacory [Harris] for awhile and Demarcus Van Dyke -- who is a real funny dude. It's such a small school. I thought it would be a bigger school. I didn't think it would be like that. There's such great academic support too. It opened my eyes."
Morris would like to choose a school before high school football practice opens Monday, Aug. 10 and plans on deciding in "a week or two." He said he will visit UCF this Friday and still has plans to visit Purdue during the season even after he commits. He started the spring with three offers (FIU, Purdue and Central Michigan) and now has 11 total. Virginia is his other finalist.
Originally, Michigan was Morris' dream school. His father, a high school wrestler and football player, grew up in Ann Arbor. But the Wolverines, who had been courting him since he was a junior, spurned their relationship with Morris.
Now, it could be just the Gators who stand in UM's way. This past weekend, Morris participated in the Friday Night Lights camps in Gainesville and impressed Gators coaches. He said quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler told him there's a chance UF could send him an offer come Sept. 1.
"I like the Gators," Morris said. "I know coach [Loeffler] from his days up at Michigan when I went up there in my eighth grade year."
When asked if the Gators would trump Miami if they offered, Morris said: "I don't know. The way Miami welcomed me today, it was a good feeling. Florida is a great school too. But I'd have to take a visit and feel the same way I felt about Miami."
WHO EARNS ALL-ACC HONORS AT THE END OF THE YEAR? The Miami Hurricanes accomplished something Wednesday they weren't able to do last year. They put somebody on the All-ACC First Team. Two players, actually. Kicker Matt Bosher and left tackle Jason Fox earned the honors.
But my question is this: Which Canes will be representing The U when the season is over? Last year, nobody did. Bosher, who earned second team honors, was the only Hurricane to find his name among the season-ending honors.
Of course, being worthy and being selected are two totally different concepts. Just a little history for you -- making all-ACC isn't easy, at least for the Canes. Only eight players have ever earned first team honors: safety Kenny Phillips (2007), tight end Greg Olsen ('06), defensive end Calais Campbell ('06), cornerback Kelly Jennings ('05), running back Tyrone Moss ('05), offensive tackle Eric Winston ('05), defensive back Antrel Rolle ('04) and Devin Hester ('05, '04).
I think the Canes end up with four this year: Bosher, Fox, receiver LaRon Byrd and linebacker Sean Spence.
UF CAMP BOOT HELPED CANES Unless you've been hiding under a rock since Saturday, you know all about what happened to 2010 Hurricanes recruit Tavadis Glenn at the aforementioned Friday Night Lights Camp this past weekend.
The 6-6, 280-pound future Canes offensive lineman got booted for flashing The _ during the camp. I caught up with his high school coach, Jacksonville Raines' Deran Wiley tonight and he told me Glenn is ready to move on.
"What really happened was one of the kids he was going up against that was a UF recruit started talking a little trash. Tavadis just fired back like any other kid having fun and competing would," Wiley said. "If anything, I think it cleared up however he felt about Florida. Louis [Nix] too."
Wiley said Florida coaches called an apologized about the incident earlier this week.
Mid May has traditionally been the time of year on the South Florida sports calendar when the UM baseball team suddenly begins to draw interest from folks that didn't really care about them except during those early season FSU or Florida series.
Right about now is when coach Jim Morris and his team begin popping up on nightly sports telecasts, and the fairweather fans who no longer have the Heat or Panthers to watch in the playoffs -- or are tired of the up-and-down struggles of the Marlins -- begin wondering how their team is doing in the old "ping league." Even UM football diehards who are glued to Canesport's football recruiting wire will lift their heads up from their computers for five minutes to ask: How many weeks until Omaha?
It's what Morris and his team has gotten us South Floridians accustomed to. They've spoiled us really. What we expect is for the most reliable team in the sports market -- the one that always has that hefty national ranking, the slew of big home run bats, and that combo of left-handers who bring the heat -- to be ready to deliver excitement for about three weeks, to have us on edge and suddenly yearning for that sound (PING!)
Sorry to break it to you casual observers, but the forecast for the pinging Canes doesn't look good. Unless the Canes turn it around big time and in a hurry, the milkshake guy at The Light has served his last Omaha Express. And fans who were hoping to watch Scott Lawson do his stanky leg dance are going to have to hope TV cameras catch it.
Earlier this week, I caught up with the Canes before they left Wednesday in must-win mode for their final regular season ACC series at Wake Forest. Miami, ranked 24th by Baseball America, has gone 8-10 over the past month. The Canes have had plenty of icky losses. North Florida beat them. Bethune-Cookman took two of three from them last weekend at The Light no less.
Players know the only way they'll get to play at home again is if they get hot and stun everyone at next week's ACC Tournament in Durham. So can they do it? And more importantly, can they get back to Omaha? Ask closer Kyle Bellamy that question and he might spit venom at you.
“Of course we can get hot,” said Bellamy who with a 3-1 record, 1.15 ERA and 14 saves has been the only consistent arm on the staff Miami has had all season. “We were No. 2 in the nation for awhile. We’re definitely capable. We just have to get that mentality back we had when we swept the Gators in Gainesville and we took 2 of 3 from FSU. I think we just need to get that chip back on our shoulder – the one we had when were trying to prove to everyone we were a pretty good team."
The problem for Miami is that it's going to take more than an attitude adjustment. It's going to take a major overhaul. Only three hitters -- Scott Lawson (.348), Chris Hermann (.314) and Jason Hagerty (.313) -- are batting better than .300. While ace Chris Hernandez has gotten his act together (he's now 6-3 with a 4.24 ERA after a horrendous start), No. 2 starter David Gutierrez is still looking for his first win since March 7th.
Morris had loftier expectations when the season began despite the fact he lost three first round picks and a boatload of talented players from a team that went 53-11 and entered the College World Series last year expecting to win a fifth national title. But despite the recent setbacks Morris hasn't lost hope. Heck, if Fresno State did it last year why can't the Canes?
“We’ve proven we can beat some of the best teams in college baseball and we’ve proven if we don’t go out and play well we’re not going to win,” Morris said. “We’ve put our backs against the wall no question about that. But I know we can respond. I think we’ve swung the bats really good against some good teams, and any team in the Top 25 has a chance to get hot this time of year. Fresno State was 82nd last year and they won it. We have a lot of young players who can grow up quickly over the next few weeks."
As it stands, even if Miami were to win next week's ACC Tournament, the likelyhood remains they could be on the road in the regionals because the NCAA isn't likely to grant more than two in-state teams the right to host. Both the Gators and Seminoles are ranked higher than UM at the moment and both have had much better regular seasons to this point. As it stands, Baseball America projects Miami will be making the trip to Gainesville.
That doesn't bode well for UM. When the Canes have reached Omaha in the past, they've usually done it playing at home. Of their 23 trips to the CWS, only four were achieved by winning a regional on the road (2006, 1996, 1989, 1984, 1974). Morris said this team in his eyes compares a lot to his 2002 team, which won a regional in Gainesville, but then loss a heart breaker to South Carolina in the Super Regional a week later.
“It’s very important for us to host regionals,” Bellamy said. “There was a lot of inspiration we got our own fans last year in those tight games. Sometimes traveling and being in the airplanes and the hotels can wear on you. Hosting Regionals would definitely be a huge lift. Hopefully, it’s not too late and we can turn it on.”
JUST A FEW QUICK NOTES...
> After spending the past month on Marlins detail, I will be going on the road with the baseball team to Durham next week. So, if you want to talk baseball while I'm there, shoot me some questions on the blog or email. I'll probably be live blogging the games.
> This week with the Marlins on the road and Clark Spencer on the beat, I got a chance to make my rounds to a few local high schools to catch up on the recruiting front. For those of you interested, I posted three videos -- including an interview with Booker T. Washington running back Eduardo Clements.
While I'm still very skeptical UM will be able to get any of the Tornadoes' top recruits, you should know the Canes at least have a new constant presence on campus. Tim Harris Jr., the son of former coach Ice Harris and a star in track at UM, has begun his high school coaching career this spring at Booker T. He's coaching the quarterbacks. That alone should help Miami stay in contention for Clements, receiver Quinton Dunbar, and defensive end Lyden Trail, who recently picked up an offer from USC.
> As for Miami Springs highly-touted receiver Willis Wright, Miami has definitely offered Wright and is intered in him. But they aren't nearly as interested as Florida State, which has already had five coaches come down to meet with the 6-3, 200-pound receiver in the past year. Miami Springs coach Alex Pacheco told me Monday Wesley McGriff visited the school last year, but no one from UM has been out there yet this spring. Wright got his formal offer from UM in the mail. Physically, Wright is one of the most impressive receivers I've ever seen in Miami-Dade. I'd throw him in the same category as Aldarius Johnson, Dwayne Bowe and Andre Johnson.
> For those of you still on edge over Frank Haith's chase of John Wall, Miami is definitely in the race for the nation's top available recruit. The people I spoke to this week on Wall's behalf told me UM is in his top three and under serious consideration. Wall, by the way, is apparently considering stretching his decision making process past the May 20th deadline.
> In case you missed it, our live weekly Q&As on MiamiHerald.com have been shut down until the start of football season. I'm now doing Marlins Q&As on Tuesdays at 2 p.m. If you want to shoot me questions, feel free to email them to me or place them on the blog. I'm thinking of starting up a Monday Mailbag session if I get some good questions from you.
The Miami Hurricanes took their best shot at the nation's No. 1 available basketball recruit this weekend. So, did staying on South Beach and hanging out with Jack McClinton this weekend convince future NBA Lottery star point guard John Wall that UM could be the place he spends one year before collecting a multi-million million dollar paycheck at the next level?
Let's just say the Hurricanes might now really be in the mix. After reading several interviews Wall gave various media outlets in the time since his visit, it appears at the very least Miami made an impression.
“Now they are up there," Wall told Scout.com's Evan Daniels. "I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t really considering them that hard, but I hadn’t taken a visit there and I didn’t know how it was going to be and how the coaches were. After I took the visit it really opened my eyes up."
“I feel like I like the school better than I did before,” he said. “I had Miami on my list but I never really considered them. I didn’t know how it was. I knew it was going to be nice in Florida, but didn’t know how it was school wise and that all the players from different sports get along great.”
“From talking to coach [Frank] Haith, I really got a chance to sit down and talk to him one-on-one for a few hours and we watched some film and I just felt like it was a great place.”
Great place? Sure, we've heard that before. But could UM really be the final destination? That remains to be seen. This week, Wall told several reporters he would cut his list of finalists -- Miami, Kentucky, Florida, Duke, Baylor, N.C. State, Memphis -- down considerably before making a final decision.
"I'm going to sit down this week and really talk it out," Wall told TheDevilsDen.com "I think I will have it down to two or three schools by the end of the week. After that I can concentrate just on those schools and make a decision I'm comfortable with."
What will he be considering?
"There's just a lot to think about, really," Wall told TheDevilsDen.com. "Do I want to leave home for a year? I mean you can't control where you get drafted, so this would be my last year at home. Which coaches do I fit well with? Which teams? How do I like the campus? That kind of thing. There's just a lot to think about."
You got to give coach Frank Haith some credit. At the very least, he not only got the nation's No. 1 available player to visit UM, but make them sound great, too. And believe me, other recruits listen.
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.
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."
In a little more than a year, John Wall will walk to a podium in New York City, shake NBA commissioner David Stern's hands and walk out a happy 20-year old millionaire. But until then, the 6-4, 175-pound point guard has a year he has to spend in college.
Next week, Wall -- this year's recruiting version of Derrick Rose -- is supposed to decide where he'll spend that year. Every big name in college basketball has taken their shot. Duke's Mike Krzyzewski got another Wednesday when Wall and his mother drove over to Durham from their home down the road in Raleigh. Sidney Lowe and N.C. State would love it if Wall decided to spend an extra year at home with his mom, while helping Lowe keep his job at least for one more year. Most, though, expect new Kentucky coach John Calipari to win the Wall sweepstakes. After all, look what he did for Rose, this year's NBA Rookie of the Year.
But before John Wall decided who will get those rented services, he'll be making a trip this weekend to visit a school that doesn't usually host NBA Lottery Picks. That would be your University of Miami and coach Frank Haith, who -- despite being told repeatedly by experts he has no chance at landing Wall -- has continued to chase after the future NBA star with a supreme man crush.
Like the rest of the one-hit wonders who have made their way from fab freshman to the NBA Lottery, Wall will probably end up going to Kentucky or Duke and making a run at a national title on a team loaded with talent. After all, that's what all the big stars have been doing (look up Carmello Anthony, Greg Oden and Kevin Durant). But if Wall really wanted to be different, really wanted to enjoy his one-year of college, he'd pick Miami. Where else is he going to get everything South Florida has to offer?
Do you think in Lexington or Durham he would be able to pick the brain of Dwyane Wade, or spend his off nights down at a nearby NBA arena like Jack McClinton did? Out in the Bluegrass or in the safe haven of Cameron, would he be able to celebrate a 50-point night the way he could in the hometown of Playboy Magazine's No. 1 party school in the country? No way. OK, so Duke and Kentucky may offer more tradition, a chance to follow in the footsteps of other greats and win a national title and really boring Saturday nights. But at UM, Wall could spend his 12 months in NBA purgatory being a king, being the first future NBA superstar to lead the Hurricanes places they've never been before, and to enjoy South Beach while he does it. Honestly, what is better than that?
> For what it's worth, not everyone believes Wall is headed to Kentucky or Duke. Tonight, I caught up with Dave Telep, Scout.com's National Recruiting Editor, who told me he no longer can put a finger on where he thinks Wall will end up.
"My gut feeling went out the door a long time ago," Telep said. "[Miami] definitely is not the favorite. But he hasn't visited yet. If you have what Miami has in terms of opportunity and environment and a guy like Haith, who is from North Carolina, grew up in the same environment Wall did, you have a lot to sell. It's a great idea to take a shot at the guy. Sometimes you have an advantage being the team no one expects."
> Even without Wall, Haith deserves kudos for inking one of the nation's Top 20 classes this season. ESPN ranks UM 16th in its rankings. Scout currently has UM 15th, but the Canes could move up or down depending on what happens according to Telep with a few top-tier recruits in the next week.
Wednesday, Antoine Allen -- the 6-2, 183-pound combo guard who played for the same Baltimore-based AAU program Jack McClinton did -- became the fourth high school senior to join UM's class when he received the necessary paperwork he needed to get into UM. Allen joins a class that features Scout.com five-star recruit Durand Scott, who played in the Jordan All-Star Game in New York this past weekend, and fellow Rivals.com Top 150 recruits Garrius Adams, a 6-5 guard from North Carolina, and 6-8 forward Donnovan Kirk. They'll be among the five new players on Haith's team next year, which will also add highly-touted point guard Malcolm Grant, who sat out the season after transferring in from Villanova.
Telep told me while it will be hard for UM to replace McClinton's offense, he sees this class as a nice foundation for the future, one that should help the Canes get back into the NCAA Tournament quicker than most expect.
"Nobody is taking Jack McClinton's place offensively," Telep said. "But Durand Scott is going to be one of the best defensive players in the ACC. He's better than advertised offensively. But he carved out his niche and forces his way onto the court because he's a very prideful player on defense. Over four years, he's going to be one of the best defensive players in the country. Much like the role Marcus Ginyard plays for North Carolina, Frank Haith has his Marcus Ginyard in Durand Scott."
"It's a balanced class. They've replaced some guys on the wing and add a Malcolm Grant, it's a good group of guys. They're all different. Garrius Adams has size and could be a good offensive player down the road. Antoine Allen is the junkyard dog in this class. Donnovan Kirk does a good job as a rebounder and a nice job scoring around the basket. It's a nice foundation for the future."
But it's a foundation that needs a cherry on top, a star to tie it all together. Even if that star is a one-year rental named John Wall, the Canes should do everything in their power to sell him on South Beach.
Jimmy Graham hasn't played football since the ninth grade. But he's not letting it stop him from giving it another shot.
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.
Cover your eyes Canes fans, or just turn away. What you are about to read might burn your eyes and cause your blood pressure to rise. Consider this your final warning.
Outsiders are beginning to make serious recruiting inroads into South Florida. Did you hear me? There's been a breach in the Great Wall of Canes. The green and orange protective layer that used to shield the hearts of players born in the area codes of the 954 and 305 is beginning to disappear like the ozone. And if the University of Miami isn't careful, the hole could get bigger. The intrduers could end up becoming permanent residents.
No, I'm not hitting the Hurtt Alert button because the Gators picked up their first commitment from a Miami-Dade player since 2005 in Ransom Everglades linebacker Gideon Ajagbe earlier this week. I'm sounding the Shannon Siren because I'm starting to hear a change in the voices of the kids from just around the corner. I'm starting to get the feeling the Miami magnet -- the one that always seemed to yank kids in South Florida naturally toward Canes nation -- is losing its pull.
Thursday, The Miami Herald hosted a media day for local 2010 recruits. We filmed interviews, took pictures and I got a chance to sit down and talk with many players (and their coaches) who are part of what is expected to be a loaded local signing class this coming February. One by one, I heard the same answers from the recruits I've heard for years. Hialeah defensive end Corey Lemonier, running back Jakhari Gore, Booker T. Washington offensive lineman Jose Jose and Miramar receiver Ivan McCartney all told me they grew up huge fans of the Canes. But what was different listening to these recruits was that there was no longer that overriding sense that their childhood love for UM is going make the Canes the team to beat in the end. What I sensed was a greater awareness from our local players, that there are more choices out there and just because you are from Miami doesn't mean you have to play for the Canes. It sounded to me like many of them have been listening to the other guys.
And the fact local players are beginning to realize that, should scare the heck out of the University of Miami. It may only be the second week of April -- 10 months before anything becomes official on the next National Signing Day. But there are serious signs the old Miami mystique is evaporating. The truth is outsiders have been working hard to make advances for years, and they aren't just knocking on the door anymore. They're busting through it and really are getting into the mind of local players once considered untouchable.
How else can you explain how a player like Booker T. Washington running back Eduardo Clements (the top RB on UM's board) has Georgia as his leader despite the fact his former high school coach works at UM and three of his former teammates are in Coral Gables? How else can you explain why receiver Quinton Dunbar, who committed to UM last month, decided recently he made a mistake and was reopening his recruiting? What started out with the University of South Florida stealing Monsignor Pace's Kayvon Webster on National Signing Day last February is beginning to smell a lot to me like just the start of a fire.
Don't take my word for it. Listen to the kids themselves. The first school out of Lemonier's mouth Thursday was Florida. He said the Gators speak to him more than any other team. Same for about 20 other kids. With two national titles in the last three years, the Gators have the attention of both Dade and Broward -- something they couldn't achieve before. Even FIU is gaining steam. Miami Springs receiver Willis Wright and 2011 recruit Rakeem Cato both told me, "Mario Cristobal is the truth. He recruits you the way you are supposed to be recruited. We can believe him when he says we can go to FIU and be stars there."
Believe me, I'm not relaying this message so guys like Canesrule and FIUFanatic come over to the blog,(which they will) beating their chest and telling the Greens and SarasotaCanes of the world I told you so (which they will). I'm just saying as a guy who has stood on the recruiting fence for 13 years in South Florida, the enemy is moving in and the battles aren't going to be so easy to win anymore. Consider it a warning.
> For those of you interested in watching some of the interviews we conducted, look for the Recruiting Report in our video section to pop up over the next couple of weeks.
BLOG NOTICE: I know many of you have been wondering why I haven't been posting many blogs lately and why I didn't participate in this Tuesday's Q&A. Here's the answer: The Herald moved me late last week onto the Marlins/Baseball beat. It's the result of the loss of four other sports writers following budget cuts last month.
For now, during the offseason, I'll focus more on the Marlins and local recruiting. I'm going to try and stay on the Canes beat as much as I can between those assignments. But I've got to tell you expect a slow down in production until news happens or football resumes in August. As it stands, other than Canes baseball, it's going to be pretty quiet around UM for the next few month outside of recruits making early commitments. One thing I'd like to do, though, is welcome topical questions through my email as news happens. I'm still going to be talking to sources at UM every now and again to provide you with fresh stuff. But during the down period, I'll welcome topics you guys would like for me to address. It will at the very least keep the blog going.
Florida State and Miami are rivals when it comes to every sport. But there may not be more real hate involved in any of them moreso than in baseball. At least that's what it seems like.
Thursday, with UM set to host the Seminoles in a three-game series at The Light, I caught up with several players and coaches to see exactly where the rivalry is at. After last year's heated battle in Tallahassee, which saw the Seminoles refuse to shake hands (and fans get ugly) after the Canes escaped with a series-clinching Sunday win, consider the rivalry on orange alert.
"It was definitely more of a fun rivalry for me when I played," said pitching coach J.D. Arteaga, who pitched for the Canes from 1994 to 1997. "I had players I knew on their side. Mickey Lopez and Doug Mientkewicz were my high school teammates. We went to dinner after it was over. I don't know if we have that anymore because we usually don't recruit the same kids. It's a little more different rivalry now after a few things that have happened over the past six, seven years. It's a little hotter to say the least."
Hot for even the two guys are supposed to be setting the example, Jim Morris and Mike Martin. Morris got his first coaching job under Martin. But each year their relationship has higher levels of stress, especially after Morris beat Martin to win the 1999 national championship.
"That's part of the reason why I don't like to schedule friends," Morris said. " People think it's a game - it's a game to people in the stands. But to me it's my life. To Mike Martin, it's his life. I think about it all the time. It's my life. It's not just a game."
Players agree, especially when it comes to this series. Shortstop Ryan Jackson said he got sprayed with Sunkist and middle fingers by FSU fans last year at the end of Sunday's wild finish. He says while players from both sides don't like each other, playing in atmosphere where you don't like your opponent jacks up players and makes the games even more excting.
"I'm not going to beat around the bush. We don't like them. They don't like us," Jackson said. "I'm sure they're saying the same thing up there. We're looking forward to playing good, clean baseball and hopefully come out on top."
SOME HELP FROM BIG BRO: Earlier this week, David Gutierrez found out he would be making the move from No. 2 starter to Friday night ace. The redshirt junior right-hander didn't have to think twice about who would be the first person he'd call to share the news with -- his big brother, former Hurricanes closer Carlos Gutierrez.
Why big bro and not mom and dad? Because it was big bro that taught him that new pitch this summer past summer -- a hard sinker -- that has helped David put together a 2-2 record and the lowest ERA (1.51) in the ACC the first half of the season.
"We worked on it a lot this offseason while he was training down here," the younger Gutierrez said Thursday. "That's what's helped me take the next step. Last year, I didn't throw it all. Now, I use it on every batter at least once. It's an effective pitch because it looks like a fastball and dies. They'll roll over it and I get groundouts."
As for the elder Gutierrez, drafted in the first round by the Twins last June, David says his older brother expects to begin High-A ball in the coming days.
WHAT'S SLOWING DOWN CHRIS HERNANDEZ?: While Gutierrez has thrived for UM this season, last year's ACC Freshman of the Year and ace, left-hander Chris Hernandez has hit a hard sophomore slump. In six starts and 33 2/3 innings, Hernandez has given up 22 earned runs and walked 12 batters. He gave up 18 walks and 34 earned runs all of last year.
Arteaga said the difference is while Hernandez is throwing harder, he has less command. Morris said Hernandez is trying to be "too fine," and is losing two strike battles he won with opposing hitters last year.
"The first thing we talked to him about was not worrying about duplicating what he did last year. And that's exactly what he's trying to do. He's trying to be perfect," Arteaga said. "This game is to hard to be perfect. As soon as one bad thing happens, it kind of multiplies because you're waiting for the next [bad thing to happen]. Like I said, he's throwing the ball better. But it's nowhere near where he was last year. I didn't expect what he did last year to happen again. He's 2-2 right now. If he ends the year 11-3 with a 3, 4 ERA, it's still a great year."
OUT OF THE SLUMP?: Jackson began the season hitting third in Morris' lineup. But a first half slump ultimately has had him moving all over the place, from 1, 2, 3 to 7, 8, 9. Thursday, Morris said Jackson put too much pressure on himself to start the year and was hitting too many flyballs. But both Morris and Jackson see signs the .283 hitter could be on the verge of turning the corner.
"In my last 10 at bats, I think I've hit seven balls hard," Jackson said. "I feel like I'm getting back on track, staying positive.
"I came out of the shoot trying to do too much. I had a good spring and fall and sometimes when you do that you come out trying to do more than you can. My stride was a little too big. Sunday's game versus Georgia Tech was kind of the turning point for me in terms of how I felt my season was going to go. I hit some balls hard in every bat. I carried it over against Barry. I'm optimistic about the rest of the year. I know what I can do. That's why I got the second half."
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.
> 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.
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 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.
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.
> 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.
> 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.
His team has been to the postseason four of the five years he's been here, second only in the ACC to North Carolina, Duke and Maryland which have been there all five. He's made the University of Miami a major player for some of the nation's top recruits -- from Devin Ebanks a year ago to the country's No. 1 recruit this season John Wall (who will be making an on-campus visit sometime after the McDonald's All-American Game). And he's elevated Miami's basketball program from the depths former coach Perry Clark left it at by making the Hurricanes a relevant player in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
So why does it feel like Frank Haith is getting the Rodney Dangerfield treatment instead of the love Norman Dale felt at the end of Hoosiers? Why are some crazy fans calling Haith a failure and calling for his head after he couldn't take Jack McClinton and a senior-laden team back to the NCAA Tournament? Because there are very few people in South Florida who appreciate and understand how tough it is to win in college basketball. Because at The U (forget that, every sport in Miami) everything is measured by championships and greatness.
Haith understands that. He's learned that in his five years on the job. But just because the 43-year old coach knows there's still work to be done to get the Canes where he wants them to be and to turn more fans onto college basketball in South Florida, he's not about to jump ship. Even though some internet message posters and people on this blog say UM needs a bigger name coach, Haith sees signs of progress, hope, believers in him and his program. Although he admits it hurt him to see only 2,000 people in attendance on Senior Day when Jack McClinton was honored earlier this month (that was before the game started and when the ceremony took place), Haith said he was touched last week when he received a standing ovation from fans when he walked out of AmericanAirlines Arena during the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
Friday morning when I caught up with Haith for about an hour interview over the phone, he sounded just as passionate about his aspirations for this program as the day when I first met him a little more than three years ago. But he also sounded like someone whose learned a lot and is willing to try new things to make basketball work at UM. He talked about why no one should believe he'd leave no matter if the job pays more or has better tradition or support from its fan base. He made a passioned plea about how fans shouldn't see his team's 19-13 season and loss to Florida last week in the second round of the NIT as a step back. And he talked about the future, how he expects a Top 20 recruiting class (one that could strengthen even more) to take his program to the next level, and how the 2009-10 season should not be seen as a rebuilding year. Here are some of the highlights of our conversation...
MN: At the beginning of this season you guys were ranked in the Top 25, picked to finish fourth in the ACC and you fell short of that. But I get the sense you don't see it as huge of a disappointment as others. How would you sum up the season?
FH: "I think it was disappointing what happened to us, but it was not a disappointing season. Other people may look at it differently. But I think this team had a lot of bright moments, beating a Top 10 team like Wake Forest by 27 points at home. Jack [McClinton] makes All-ACC First Team for the second year in a row. Here's the thing, you can't just look at what we're doing here year-by-year. When you look at a five year period, we've won more games than anybody in the history of the program, more postseason games than anybody in the history of the program. There are a lot of positives you can draw. I think we've made basketball pretty relevant. It's not because we're winning, but because attendance is getting better. Our student section has gotten a lot better. We're getting involved with big time recruits. Every year, there are a lot of teams that would love to do what we've done. that. I think other than UNC, Duke, Maryland we've been to the postseason more than anybody. I'm really proud of that. That's a nice thing this program can hang their hat on as far progress."
MN: But is that going to be enough for you to want to stay here? There have been rumors out there linking you to other jobs like Alabama, Georgia, Arizona. Here's a two-part question: Have you been contacted by anybody? And ultimately, what would it take for you to leave Miami?
FH: "For the record, I have not been contacted by anybody. Not this year. I have been in the past and I've told you about that. But right now, it's only rumors and speculation. Here's the thing, I don't work everyday looking for my next job. I'm really seriously looking to stay here for the long haul. I love living here. But I do want to win."
MN: So does it bother you when fans say things like 'He should be fired'? Do you take it to heart?
FH: "I know our fan base is kind of disgruntled about this season. It is a little mind boggling. We've improved. I know what the program was like when I got here. Like I said, we've made UM basketball relevant. But in terms of jobs, I don't look at certain jobs and say I want that one day. I just really want to win. And I want to win big here. Obviously, every coach will say that. But I really want to win big. I want to do to help that program win big. I don't know. Are there things we can get better at? Yes. Do we still have areas we need to improve on? Yes. Our fan base is getting better. Our student turnout has improved tremendously. The energy in the building has gotten better. We just need it more consistently. To win big, we need a home court advantage."
MN: Do you feel like you can have that here? Do you feel like the support you have or could have will be enough to make you feel comfortable, to make you feel like you can win big here?
FH: "As long as I can feel like... [pause] Here's the thing, [athletic director] Kirby [Hocutt] and the president [Donna Shalala] have been great. As a coach, you are always skeptical when the guy that hired you is no longer here. But Kirby and I have a really good relationship. It's made me even more comfortable being here. And I have the best president in the world, who is so, so supportive. You don't know how many times I've gotten pick me up texts or emails from her. It honestly makes it difficult to look elsewhere. I'm very loyal and appreciative of people giving me opportunities. That's just who I am and I want to be here as long as Miami people want me to be here. And I hope that's for a long of time."
MN: So is there something that could drive you away?
FH: "If I don't feel there's appreciation and support. Not just from the fans, but from the athletic department. But that's not what I feel. I feel like people want to see us succeed. It definitely made me feel good last week when I was leaving the Cleveland State-Syracuse game and fans got up and gave me a standing ovation. Like I said before, I'm real proud of the support we've come to earn from the students, too."
MN: Let's get back to basketball. Not to put the blame on anybody, but were there guys you were counting on this past season that just didn't come through for you that ultimately led to the 19-13 finish and the second round loss in the NIT?
FH: "I don't point to guys, I point to situations. Who would have known Lance Hurdle was going to be hurt at the beginning of the year and miss, four or five games. Who would have known the situation with Eddie Rios would play out the way it did? It definitely hurt us not having that third ball-handler, having to put Jack at the point. Who would have known Dwayne [Collins] would turn his ankle down toward a crucial part of our schedule? Who would have known Jack would have an injury at the worst time of the year. You talk personnel, but we were one win away from getting back to the NCAA Tournament. We lost four games on final possessions. I don't know if we can point to one guy or one situation. The one thing I can point to as a whole was free throw shooting. That won us a lot of close games last year. And we really didn't shoot free throws well all year. That made a difference."
MN: Let's look ahead to next year. In the five years you've been here, you've had that go-to guy for big shots. Guillermo Diaz and Rob Hite and then Jack McClinton. Are you guys going to have that guy next year? Can you survive without one?
FH: "I think if you go back to when Rob was a senior and Guillermo decided to go pro, you asked me the same question then. Nobody then knew about Jack McClinton. Yet, he turned out to be that guy. I think the same thing could happen with this team. And if it doesn't, tha's still OK, too. This team may not have a 20 point scorer when those guys leave. But I think we're going to have a number of guys that can score for us. I think our offense will be spread around. We're going to be young, but athletic and we're still going to have a few seniors, too. I think James Dews, Dwayne Collins, Malcolm Grant, Dequan Jones, Durand Scott, all those guys could score. Maybe that will be good for this team, more guys that can score. I would think Dwayne could be that go-to scorer in the post."
MN: Speaking about Dwayne, there were moments this year -- I think back to that dunk over UConn's Hasheem Thabeet -- when he lookied so promising, so dominant. And then, there were moments when he could not score, couldn't do much at all. Do you worry at all he's just not ever going to be that consistent guy?
FH: "I think with Dwayne it's his motor. He's a really good player, who can defend. But he's got to get that consistent motor. When he does, he can be one of the best big men in the country. When he realizes that potential. We're going to hammer it home this summer. He's going to be one of the best big men not only in the ACC, but the country. He has to be a tremendous spark all the time. You're right. At the beginning of the year, he played with tremendous energy and had moments where he was not as good. But I think he played really hard. He just didn't have a lot of breaks. I think that's what he boils down to. He has to realize great players can't turn it on and off."
MN: Without Jack and the offense you guys ran for him and with a lot these new additions, one has to believe you guys are going to look a lot different on both sides of the ball this coming season. Can we expect a different attack?
FH: No question. I think athletically, we'll be our most athletic team ever next year. With Dequan being able to play more of his style next year, I expect him to be a totally different player. I think the one thing we will be able to do, which we really haven't is extend the floor more. We didn't have a lot of depth. I'm not saying we're going to be a full court press team. But we'll spread the team more with our length and have our hands in guys' faces more because we're bigger and more athletic.
MN: What is Malcolm Grant going to be able to give you guys that maybe you didn't have this season?
FH: "He's going to give us a true point guard that can score. The type of player he is, he'll do things help guys become really good. He's going to make guys around him better. He'll get them shots. I think Malcolm can do that. He's also really skilled. He can shoot the basketball. He's not your typical New York guard. He's also got a great feel for the game. Him and Durand [Scott] both are guys who can drive the ball. That's one thing we weren't very good at. We're not going to be as good a three-point shooting team. But we'll be able to run. When Jack played the one this year, we could not run. We were a little bit better when Lance [Hurdle] had the ball. But there's no question he was not the same Lance he was two years ago. I think next year's team will have more athletes, Dequan, Garrius [Adams], Durand and even with Dews coming back. Plus, a couple other guys we'll add on our team. I think this will be a team that can run. Don't get me wrong, we'll still have a bruising effect. Julian [Gamble], Cyrus [McGowan], Dwayne, there will be big bodies. Plus, a guy like Adrian Thomas, who had a nice run, will add his abilities. I think we got a lot of guys who will contribute."
MN: It sounds like you feel pretty confident about next year's team. Most people probably think you won't be very good without Jack, that this might be a rebuilding year. But it sounds like you feel differently...
FH: "I think we're still going to be good. Yes, it's going to be an extremely young team with only two, three seniors. But I don't ever want our team not to focus on postseason. Our goal is to make postseason. Obviously we'll be young and most people probably won't expect us to be competitive. But maybe that will be great for us. We won't be on anybody's radar and that will be good for us. What I want is for this team to be tough. I don't know if we were as tough this year as we were last year. I think we'll be a tougher team. That's the thing that hurt us this year. We could not do all the things we needed to do all the time because we had knicks and pains we didn't want to turn into something else. We need to be bruisers and have a tough man mentality. If we do, I think we'll definitely be back in the hunt."
MN: Beyond Malcolm Grant, it seems like right now you don't have another primary ballhandler lined up for next year with Eddie Rios gone. Is this something you'll address through recruiting? FH: "[Recruiting is] one way. But to be honest with you I think we have a few other guys who could handle the rock. Durand is a guy who can play all over the floor. At 6-6, he's a lot like [ACC Rookie of The Year] Sylvan Landesberg. I'm not saying he's him. But Durand can play the 1, 2, or 3. We also have another young man I can't talk about [Antoine Allen] who will be coming and we could sign another perimeter player [possibly John Wall]. We definitely don't want to go into next year without enough ballhandling. You got to have enough ballhandlers to be successful. That being said, we did win 19 games with only two ball handlers."
MN: Last question: Anything you can tell us about next year's schedule?
FH: "Here's what I know for sure. We're playing in Charleston in a preseason tournament ESPN is putting together. I hear South Carolina and Penn State are going to be there, too. We're going to play FAU again and we're going to have a Big Ten Challenge game at home because we'll play an ACC game at home in December. The Big Ten game might be against Indiana. We're still looking for a home and home series. Our schedule just won't be as heavy as it was last year. We'll still have some very good matchups. Right now, because Rick [Pitino] and I are good friends, there is talk of us maybe playing at Louisville. But that's kind of still in the air."