Thursday, August 7, 2008

season preview: Miami


8/28: Charleston Southern (Th.)
9/6: @Florida
9/20: @Texas A&M
9/27: North Carolina
10/4: Florida State
10/11: Central Florida
10/18: @Duke
10/25: Wake Forest
11/1: @Virginia
11/13: Virginia Tech (Th.)
11/20: @Georgia Tech (Th.)
11/29: @North Carolina State

Skip: Clemson, Boston College, Maryland

Projected starters:

QB: ???
RB: Javarris James (Jr.)
FB: Pat Hill (Jr.)
WR: Sam Shields (Jr.)
WR: Kayne Farquharson (Sr.)
TE: Chris Zellner (5Sr.)
LT: Jason Fox (Jr.)
LG: Orlando Franklin (So.)
C: Xavier Shannon (Sr.)
RG: Joel Figueroa (rSo.)
RT: Reggie Youngblood (Sr.)

DE: Eric Moncur (5Sr.)
DT: Antonio Dixon (Sr.)
DT: Joe Joseph (rJr.)
DE: Allen Bailey (So.)
SLB: Colin McCarthy (Jr.)
MLB: Glenn Cook (6Sr.)
WLB: Darryl Sharpton (rJr.)
CB: Bruce Johnson (Sr.)
S: Lovon Ponder (5Sr.)
S: Anthony Reddick (5Sr.)
CB: Demarcus VanDyke (So.)

K: Jake Wieclaw (Fr.)
P: Matt Bosher (rSo.)

Coach: Randy Shannon (2nd year)

(Italics indicate new starter.)

Media prediction: 3rd, Coastal Division

All-ACC selections:

2007 1st team: S Kenny Phillips (graduated)
2007 2nd team: OG Derrick Morse (graduated)
2007 HM: DE Calais Campbell (left for NFL)
2008 preseason: none

Miami is the seventh team on our tour of the ACC, and so far, by far the hardest to figure and the hardest preview to write. (Ma! The blogger's whining again!) It’s true. Some of these things practically write themselves. Georgia Tech was unbelievably easy. Why is Miami so hard? Reasons one through five involve the depth chart. It is as unsettled as it’s possible to be. Reason number six is that Miami doesn’t have a single standout player to build around. Way it used to be around these parts, Miami was First Round Draft Pick U. Just two years ago they had three of them; chances are pretty good that the lengthy streak of NFL teams calling out a name from the Miami Hurricanes ends this year.


The two dreaded words: quarterback competition. Robert Marve and Jacory Harris are the two candidates. Both are freshmen, though Marve has a redshirt year under his belt. The competition may not end when fall practice does. Randy Shannon intends to use both but there will be a starter and backup – we just don’t know who.

Graig Cooper and Javarris James both return to carry the football in the running game. They’re the same age, but Cooper redshirted in 2006 while James made a name for himself as the freshman. James is thus the more experienced, and was the more highly touted recruit, but it was Cooper who stole the show in 2007. James had more carries, but not many more, and they look set to split the duties again this season. Both will be of paramount importance to Miami’s success, as it’s imperative Miami establishes a running game that takes pressure off of the freshman quarterback, whoever it is. The Canes are hoping to get help in this regard from Pat Hill, a juco transfer who they are looking at to steady the fullback job that saw too much rotation for their tastes last year.

Wide receiver is part of why this damn thing is so hard. Sam Shields is back, and that is a start, but after that is a jumble of names you‘ve never heard. Kayne Farquharson is the coolest name in said jumble, which is why he gets to be listed as the projected starter on this page. Means nothing. The Canes also like Leonard Hankerson and Khalil Jones, and the fact is, you’re going to see some true freshmen lining up as well, though a run through the fall practice sifter will be needed to find out who. Frankly, in this case “starter” is really just a label. There’s Shields and a whole mess of guys who’ll be rotated in and out, and there won’t likely be much continuity here until the third or fourth week of the season. Fortunately the wide receivers aren’t the only targets; Chris Zellner will provide badly needed consistency and steadiness from the tight end spot while the receivers sort themselves out.

The line is also going to see a lot of shuffling. Miami has three tackles they want to rotate in and out and only two spots. At guard there will be rotating too. Orlando Franklin is likely to stay put for the most part, but the other side is less settled. Center is even more shaky. Xavier Shannon has the experience as a senior and has that whole coaches’-son thing going for him besides, so he gets the edge. But look for his margin for error to be small.


Similar to the offense, the starter label on defense doesn’t carry with it the guarantee that the guy with the label sees most of the snaps. Miami will be trying to replace recognizable, name-brand starters with a lot of guys nobody’s heard of, or “depth.”

However, that doesn’t mean you won’t have heard of them by season’s end. DE Eric Moncur has been considered a starter for some time now but was always overshadowed by Calais Campbell on the other side. He might be again: Allen Bailey was Miami’s highest-rated prospect in the 2007 class and is ready for his breakout party, having drawn comparisons to Ohio State’s back-in-the-day superstar Alonzo Spellman. The interior of the line should also be solid: Antonio Dixon and Joe Joseph have starting experience, particularly Dixon, who was hampered by injury last year.

The real rotation will be happening in the middle of the defense where the linebackers roam. All three starters are solid, but not quite good enough to hold off the dogs barking from the bench. Colin McCarthy is the team’s leading returning tackler, and Glenn Cook is coming off a medical redshirt season, having been a starter during all of 2006. One-time starter Romeo Davis is lurking in the background, however, and will be itching to see the field. But the real threat to everyone’s job is the freshman class. Miami went on a linebacker spree and signed, among others, 5 of the top 7 in ESPN’s list of outside linebackers, including the top three. Rivals wasn’t quiiiiite as high on the class. Only three of the top five. Whatever. If Arthur Brown and Sean Spence, both of whom enrolled early, don’t get significant playing time, it will be a mild surprise. Brown in particular could end up as a starter by the end of the season. Miami’s linebacking crew may be a bunch of no-namers going into 2008 but the ACC (particularly the ACC’s running backs and quarterbacks) will know their names by the end of 2009.

Miami is replacing a pretty solid group of safeties, especially ACC first teamer and NFL first round pick Kenny Phillips. However, both Lovon Ponder and Anthony Reddick are one-time starters (Reddick is more of a once-upon-a-time starter, but had the misfortune of exploding both his knees in the span of three years) and are no strangers to the field. The Canes will be fine at corner too, where there is a plethora of players who have at least one start (though Bruce Johnson is the only one to have started a majority of last year’s games), and most of them will probably get at least one more before the season is up. The Canes like to cross-train their corners to play both sides of the field, so they’re insured against both injury and sudden inexplicable suckitude from one of their players.


Matt Bosher is the punter, and it will stay that way – he is solid, and just a sophomore. Miami should be so lucky at kicker. There are only three listed on the roster – Bosher being one of them – and one is a walk-on, leaving Jake Wieclaw as the only actual scholarship kicker and the guy who should end up with the job.


The large number of Hurricanes haters may want to enjoy this season. Miami has had some down years, culminating in an actual losing season last year – their second since 1980. That’s going to change. This year, there’ll be growing pains as Canes fans watch a freshman quarterback get all excited and overthrow a few receivers, and Miami may even have to settle for their second trip to Boise in three years. Don’t get used to it. There’s too much talent waiting to be coached up for the Canes not to become ACC title contenders again in the near future, if not outright dominate a conference ripe for the domination. And it should be noted that the Canes skip Clemson and get VT and hated rival FSU at home; if the freshmen are quick learners, they’re going to put the conference on notice, fast.

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