Replacing a handful of NFL draft picks no easy task, but here's where UM made strides this spring

The Miami Hurricanes have to replace 11 starters and potentially five players who look like they will get taken within the first three rounds of the NFL Draft next month: running back Duke Johnson, receiver Phillip Dorsett, offensive tackle Ereck Flowers, tight end Clive Walford and linebacker Denzel Perryman.

So is there enough talent in Coral Gables to improve upon a 6-7 season and contend for the Atlantic Coast Conference title?

That was a hard question to answer at Saturday's spring game especially with a trio of key players out with injuries (cornerback Tracy Howard, defensive tackle Calvin Heurtelou, safety Rayshawn Jenkins), another held out because he broke curfew (running back Joe Yearby) and 17 of the 22 recruits in the signing class still yet to arrive on campus.

But here's what offensive coordinator James Coley and defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio said they saw this spring in terms of growth: 

> Even though he split time this spring between baseball and football, redshirt freshman Malik Rosier (6-1, 212) has impressed all camp and was sound again Saturday. He engineered a 12-play, 84-yard scoring drive that ended with a four-yard touchdown pass to receiver Braxton Berrios and it's clear coaches feel better about its backup quarterback situation.

"He's juggling two different calendars right now," Coley said. "When he goes full time in the fall it's going to be fun -- because he can play man, he can run. He's a really good athlete."

Although he struggled Saturday and was picked off three times, starter Brad Kaaya "got better every week as well," Coley said. "His passing percentage was sick all spring long, 78-80 percent."

> Gus Edwards left Saturday's scrimmage with a left shoulder injury, but running backs coach Ice Harris said the junior has clearly taken the next step in terms of development.

Coley said Edwards will enter the fall as the No. 1-back ahead of Yearby. Coley said Edwards has some of the fastest "GPS numbers" on the team, which measures speed, effort and distance traveled and he isn't worried about him being too big for the position.

"You see consistency with the reads, the decision making, when he's running routes, his protections," Coley said. "With his overall consistency you can feel comfortable calling the base offense with him starting the game. Either way, they're both going to play."

> Replacing the speedy Dorsett, who helped stretch the field won't be easy, but Coley believes he has two receivers capable of it. 

"Stacy [Coley] and Herb [Waters]," he said. "Herb's got to come down with a couple of those catches, but he was open. He's just go to finish the play. Stacy, we just need to get him the ball. He's wide open. There was a couple times [Saturday] there where we missed a guy up front and Brad's got to scramble. He's got Stacy breaking open and can't get him."

> Who is the most improved offensive weapon? "I would say Malcolm Lewis because of the strides he hit with getting his weight down," Coley said. "He made so many plays this spring. I would say it's hard to say Malcolm Lewis isn't back to his speed."

> Replacing Walford at tight end, who led the team in catches (44), appears to be a tougher task. Junior Standish Dobard had another drop Saturday and Coley admitted he's been inconsistent in camp. Newcomer Jerome Washington also still needs to make a lot of strides. 

> UM's offensive line, which must replace four starters (right guard Danny Isidora is the only full-timer back), gave up six sacks Saturday and clearly has to make the biggest improvement of any unit. A healthy Kc McDermott (he was around for only four spring practices), Taylor Gadbois and the addition of five recruits will help, Coley said.

> Does UM have a linebacker that can remotely fill the shoes of Denzel Perryman at linebacker?

"One guy? Not one guy," D'Onofrio said. "He had physical gifts and the ability to time those [big hits] up and see them happen, annihilate the ball carrier. That's a skill that he had and he brought and not everybody has that level of explosiveness to them, but that doesn't mean they can't be great players. 

"Everybody has their own skill set and I'm pleased with the group. We have to build some depth, get guys in a position where they can impact the game. But I like the direction we went in."

D'Onofrio said senior Raphael Kirby is the leader of the group "that sets the standard in meetings, on the field, how he prepares."

"Obviously Jermaine [Grace] has a unique skill set in that he can run," he continued. "Darrion Owens is different. He's 6-3 and he can do a lot of things for us. They're all kind of different in their own way and they're all improving."

> Although the defensive line must replace two starters who logged a lot of playing time in Anthony Chickillo and Olsen Pierre, D'Onofrio said he's pleased he has six former first year players who garnered plenty of experience last season. 

Who is the best pass rusher?

"I'd rather talk about most improved," D'Onofrio said with a chuckle. "I think [Ufomba] Kamalu made some really big strides. Chad [Thomas] is gifted, so he's got an opportunity where he can just beat guys easily at times. I think Trent Harris has made really big strides. For a young player, he's really a technician both in the run game and the pass game. He knows how to use his hands to beat guys, knows how to setup moves and do all that kind of stuff."

> D'Onofrio said new defensive line coach Randy Melvin has been stressing a different technique when it comes to pass rushing that he prefers. 

"If you meet a point of resistance we can't stop and try to bat down balls," D'Onofrio said. "We want to keep collapsing the pocket, keep making progress on the quarterback. That was a big goal and I think we did that. I see the guys doing that right now, working their countermoves. Randy has done a great job."

> As for the secondary, which lost only senior Ladarius Gunter to graduation and junior Antonio Crawford (he quit the team), D'Onofrio feels like the safeties made tremendous growth.

"The No. 1 thing back there that they have to be able to do, they have to be able to communicate, get us in the right call," D'Onofrio said. "[Jamal Carter] and Dallas [Crawford] made huge strides in that area. Very proud of what they've done there."

The Hurricanes have three corners and one safety coming in the fall. If needed, D'Onofrio said, Deon Bush would be his first choice to switch from safety to corner in a pinch. Gunter did that the other way, moving from corner to safety, last season.

"Deon played some corner today," he said. "He'd been doing it throughout the spring. That's something we always try to do, look ahead and down the line, move guys around a little bit."

January 25, 2009

Canes pick up 19th commitment

BANKUNITED CENTER -- I'm here at the BUC for today's showdown with the Hokies. I've come to realize the courtside blogs don't get much attention. So, I've decided to abandon them until we get into some bigger games later in the year (I'll try to keep up with Beyond The Boxscore blogs for you hoop fans for now).

Let's get to the football news. For those of you who missed it, Barry Jackson reached the Canes' leading cadidate to fill the offensive coordinator position, Mark Whipple. UM is waiting to see if Whipple will take the job. If not, the search will continue. I'm not going to speculate on any other names until Whipple officially declines.

Shayon Green As for immediate news, the first of two big recruiting weekends ended earlier this morning. Miami was able to pick up one new commitment from the group of eight visitors, linebacker/defensive end Shayon Green from Tift County, Ga. I caught up with Shayon when I got to the arena to ask him what happened over the weekend to make him switch his commitment from Purdue to the Canes.

"It was just a great visit. I saw it with my family and from the moment I got there I knew I wanted to be a Cane," Green said. "I had come here last year and stopped by and I liked it then. But after I talked with Coach Shannon, he made me realize this was the place I needed to be. I'm excited."

Green said he was hosted by linebacker Darryl Sharpton and said he spent a lot of time with Sean Spence during his visit. But he said the special relationship which helped UM sway him from Purdue and the other 15 offers he received during recruiting was his relationship with fellow Tifton County native Wesley McGriff, UM's secondary coach. The fact his grandparents lived in Homestead also helped.

Green said Miami coaches told him he'd likely start out at linebacker when he gets to UM in the summer. But he could play anywhere. At 6-3, 225 pounds with 4.67 speed, his high school coach played him at defensive tackle, defensive end and linebacker during his three seasons on the varsity level. As a senior playing mostly at linebacker, Green tallied 67 solo tackles, 48 assisted tackles, eight tackles for loss, one sack and one caused fumble. 

"He's got a pretty good knack of getting off really well on the snap," his coach Jay Walls told me before the visit on Thursday. "I think you'll see him play [weakside] linebacker or defensive end. He's going to get bigger too. He'll probably get close to 250 pounds. We've got a real good weight program here already. He power cleans over 300 pounds and benches over 300 pounds and squats about 600. He's a good one."

> The other non-commitments UM hosted this weekend included linebacker Sam Barrington and offensive lineman Malcolm Bunche and Marcus Hall. I'm going to try and reach them or their coaches sometime this week. I know Barrington is expected to announce his decision Feb. 3.

January 22, 2009

Another surprise visitor in store?

Recruiting coordinator Clint Hurtt, running backs coach Tommie Robinson and strength coach Andreu Swasey pulled off a nice surprise earlier this week when they were able to convince Missouri commitment U.S. Army-All American Sheldon Richardson (who grew up dreaming of playing for Miami) to agree on taking a visit to the University of Miami on the final recruiting weekend before National Signing Day.

Greg Reid played mostly running back for Valdosta this year and gave an early commitment to the Florida Gators. He could take his last recruiting visit to UM. Now, it looks like Hurtt may be on the verge of pulling off some more magic by getting the Defensive MVP of the Under-Armour All-American Game, blue-chip cornerback Greg Reid to take a visit to UM that same weekend. That is, if Reid (5-9, 175) backs out of his scheduled visit to Georgia. The Valdosta Lowndes standout has been getting tugged Miami's way for awhile now, especially after learning in late November he's actually related to another Canes recruit -- cornerback Jamal Reid.

"We actually found out in late November that our granddaddies were brothers," said Jamal Reid, who played against Greg Reid in the Under-Armour Game. "Our families are originially from Jasper and we never knew it. Ever since then, we got each other's cell phone numbers and have been talking to each other. I'll call him every now and then to tell him he should be a Cane with me. I was supposed to be visiting Miami this weekend, but I changed it so we could come together on the 30th. Hopefully, he can come with me."

Greg Reid originally committed to the University of Florida nearly a year ago but recently upset Gators coach Urban Meyer on his official visit to Gainesville when he told him he wanted to continue taking visits. He is supposed to be taking his final two visits to Alabama and Georgia the next two weekends.

Jamal Reid catches a TD pass in the Under-Armour game over fellow Canes recruit Prince Kent. He is being recruited to UM as an athlete. As for Jamal Reid, he says he's keeping his fingers crossed his cousin will give the Canes a shot. "He’s a good athlete. He’s got great skills," said Jamal, who said Canes coaches have told him they are bringing him in to play wherever he can help UM the best -- receiver or corner. "He said he wants to get playing time wherever he goes. I told him what better place than Miami. They'll play you there as a freshman. The best man sees the field. I think it would be awesome for us to line up against each other every day in practice."

> For those of you crossing your fingers about possibly seeing Andre Debose pull a similar surprise and joining Reid and his two Sanford Seminole teammates on the last recruiting weekend of the year, don't hold your breath. I've been told Debose has made it clear to UM he's sticking with the Gators.

> Earlier today, I came out with what I thought was the right list of visitors for this weekend based on conversations I had with high school coaches and in some cases the players themselves. Turns out, some of my dates were a little mixed up. I was told the correct list of visitors for this weekend are: QB A.J. Highsmith (Fort Bend, Tx.), OL Cory White (Fleming Island, Fla.), OL Malcolm Bunche (Newark, Del.), OL Marcus Hall (Cleveland, Oh.), OL Jared Wheeler (Plantation American Heritage), DE Shayon Green (Tift County, Ga.), LB Sam Barrington (Jacksonville Parker) and CB Kayvon Webster (Monsingor Pace).

The visitors for the weekend of Jan. 30 are expected to be OL Andrew Tiller (Nassau CC, NJ), OL Peter White (Washington D.C., St. John’s College Prep), TE Sheldon Richardson (St. Louis, Mo.), CB Jamal Reid (Mayo Lafeyette), DE Dyron Dye (Sanford Seminole), DB Ray Ray Armstrong (Sanford Seminole) and DB Prince Kent (Norcross, Ga.). Greg Reid will join them if he decides to switch his visit (we could find out as early as tonight). Another possible surprise visitor could include former commitment and tight end Billy Sanders, who switched his commitment to UCLA but I'm told is now having second thoughts and UM is under the impression he will visit that weekend.

> As for the Bryce Brown drama, I was told by a staffer tonight the Hurricanes fully expect Brown to sign with UM on national signing day. But he has expressed interest to the coaching staff about knowing who the offensive coordinator will be. Brown could take a visit to UM on the weekend of the 30th too.

> Earlier today, I reported linebacker Greg King and tight end Terrell Mitchell as possible targets and visitors over the next two weeks. Consider them backup plans at this point. King's coach told me himself after I posted my earlier blog this morniing that UM coaches had been cooling off King, who is likely going to pick someone else anyway. Mitchell's coach told me they just began recruiting him last week. Smells like a fall back plan to me.

> Also of note, I was told earlier today Miami is not hell-bent on using all 27 scholarships on NSD. They could hold a few. As of now, I've been told UM coaches figure on only having 15 scholarships available for 2010.

January 21, 2009

What we're hearing: The OC search

Is there any news on the offensive coordinator front? Do we know who has been interviewed or contacted? 

In short, my answer is no. I have nothing concrete from anyone at UM. Randy Shannon has always been somebody who keep his thoughts close to the vest. What I do know is the vacancy could be filled by Friday. Here is what I'm hearing in terms of candidates along with what is being reported by others across the country.

Eagles assistant Mark Whipple (left) watches Ben Roethlisberger throw the ball in 2006. > From conversations I've had with sources, the No. 1 guy on Shannon's OC wish list has been Eagles offensive assistant coach Mark Whipple. The former coach at UMass won a I-AA national title and has a Super Bowl ring as Ben Roethlisberger's position coach in 2006.  Whipple, 50, has spent his entire coaching career in the Northeast (except for one season with the Arizona Wranglers of the USFL in 1984). That reason, and because he's now been in the NFL since 2004 (once you move up you rarely see guys move back down to college) makes me believe he'll likely pass -- or has passed -- on the job. Also of note, an early morning report Wednesday out of Philadelphia said Eagles quarterbacks coach Mark Shurmur is leaving for the Rams offensive coordinator job. Whipple could become his replacement in Philly.

> I've been told the new top candidate is Rutgers offensive coordinator John McNulty. I received a phone call Tuesday night from a friend very deeply connected in the coaching circles who said McNulty has been offered the job at Miami and is now mulling it over. McNulty, 40, previously interviewed for the UM job in 2007. He passed and returned to Rutgers with a pay raise. Last year, McNulty interviewed with Nick Saban at Alabama and returned to Rutgers again.

Rutgers offensive coordinator John McNulty is believed to be one of UM's top choices for its vacant offensive coordinator position.. From what I was told, McNulty passed on the UM job the first go around because of the lack of talent on the offensive side of the football. Now, he likes what he sees (except for the offensive line). McNulty apparently would like to bring assistant coach Kyle Flood with him. Rutgers gave up the fewest sacks in the nation under Flood in 2007 and 2006. As for McNulty, Rutgers set school records for total offense (5,841 yards), points scored (421) and first downs in his first full season in 2007. The Knights also became the first Bowl Subdivision team to boast a 3,000-yard passer, a 2,000-yard rusher and two 1,000-yard receivers in the same year.

> Other names have popped up aside from those two. The ones who might appear to have some substance are former Minnesota and Syracuse offensive coordinator Mitch Browning, Cleveland Browns quarterbacks coach Rip Scherer, former San Diego State coach Chuck Long and Ron Prince, formerly of Kansas State. Long told The Miamih Herald he has had no contact with UM. Browning is apparently considering joining Lane Kiffin's new staff at Tennessee and Prince will likely end up in the NFL. Scherer signed a deal to be the quarterbacks coach with the Carolina Panthers Tuesday.

January 20, 2009

Shannon could take on role of DC again

We waited all afternoon to hear what Randy Shannon was going to say about losing his defensive coordinator. He released the following statement -- I consider the ending a bit eye-opening -- a few moments ago.

Randy Shannon “I appreciate Bill’s contributions to our football program and thank him for that," Shannon said. "I understand and respect Bill’s strong ties to his alma mater and his family’s ties to Oklahoma. I wish him and his wife, Lawana nothing but the best. I will be looking for the best possible defensive coordinator to replace him. If that candidate is not out there, those responsibilities will fall to me.”

Shannon told us when he first fired Tim Walton he preferred to find someone to coach the defense because being a head coach brought on too much responsibility. Now, it appears Shannon may be welcoming the idea.

As for Bill Young, this is what he said through UM's sports information department.

Bill_Young “I could not have worked for a finer man than Coach Shannon. It was a privilege to be associated with him and be part of an outstanding staff of coaches. Coach Shannon welcomed me and my family into the program from day one. I don’t think everyone realizes the caliber of kids that play at Miami. Not only are they great athletes but their character is what stands out the most and is something I will remember. The draw to go back home, be near family and coach at my alma mater was just too great to pass up."