2009 ACC Football Preview: Miami

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Miami Hurricanes

Returning Starters: 16 (8 offense, 8 defense)

Key Returnees: QB Jacory Harris, RB Graig Cooper, RB Javarris James, WR
LaRon Byrd, WR Travis Benjamin, WR Aldarius Johnson, WR Thearon Collier, TE
Richard Gordon, TE Dedrick Epps, C A.J. Trump, OG Orlando Franklin, OT Jason
Fox, K/P Matt Bosher, DE Marcus Robinson, DE Eric Moncur, DE Steven Wesley, DT
Marcus Forston, DT Joe Joseph, DT Allen Bailey, LB Colin McCarthy, LB Darryl
Sharpton, LB Sean Spence, CB Brandon Harris, FS Randy Phillips

Key Losses: QB Robert Marve, WR Kayne Farquharson, WR Khalil Jones, TE
Chris Zellner, C Xavier Shannon, OT Reggie Youngblood, OT Chris Rutledge, DT
Dwayne Hendricks, DT Antonio Dixon, LB Glenn Cook, LB Romeo Davis, LB Spencer
Adkins, S Anthony Reddick, CB Bruce Johnson, S Lavon Ponder, CB Carlos Armour

Overall View

Miami returns a lot of experience, and they should be better at just about
every position on the field. They will have some experience at quarterback and
wide receiver this year, unlike last year, and they have two capable running
backs in Graig Cooper and Javarris James. They also have arguably the best
offensive lineman in the ACC in left tackle Jason Fox.

The defensive front seven looks to be stout, though there is a notable lack
of talent and depth in the defensive backfield. Miami has a very difficult
schedule. Their first four games are against Florida State, Georgia Tech,
Virginia Tech and Oklahoma, so we’ll know how good they are before the halfway
point of the season.

Offensive Strength

Miami has an impressive amount of talent at wide receiver. They played
a number of freshmen last season, and they all showed flashes. There is speed
and size, and overall it appears to be Miami’s most talented group of receivers
since their old Big East days.

Travis Benjamin is a speedster who runs a 4.26 in the 40. Aldarius Johnson is
6-3, 215 and he led the team with 31 catches as a true freshman. He went to the
same high school as quarterback Jacory Harris, so they have good chemistry
together. LaRon Byrd (6-4, 215) and Thearon Collier also provide playmaking
ability on the outside.

With so many young receivers in the mix, Miami shouldn’t have trouble
catching the football over the next few years.

Offensive Weakness

Miami’s offensive line loses quality contributors Xavier Shannon,
Reggie Youngblood and Chris Rutlege. There is talent up front for the ‘Canes,
particularly at left tackle with Jason Fox, but the ‘Canes don’t appear to have
rebuilt their offensive line as well as they have their receiving corps.

If the offensive line does play well in 2009, then the ‘Canes should have a
pretty good offense, assuming quarterback Jacory Harris plays well.

Defensive Strength

Miami will have a talented and imposing defensive line in 2009. The
‘Canes lose defensive tackles Antonio Dixon and Dwayne Hendricks, but they
replace them with more talented players. True sophomore Marcus Forston had a
nice freshman season in 2008, and Allen Bailey slides in from the end position,
giving Miami some athleticism on the interior. Depth could still be a question
at tackle, but the starters should be good.

Defensive end Eric Moncur has been granted a sixth year of eligibility, and
he will look to anchor the Miami defensive line. The other starter will be true
sophomore Marcus Robinson, who abused the Virginia Tech offensive line in 2008
for four TFLs and three sacks. Former starter Steven Wesley will provide solid
depth at end.

Defensive Weakness

Miami doesn’t have big-time talent in the defensive backfield anymore. True
sophomore Brandon Harris is going to be very good, but everyone else has been
very average recently. Miami lost seniors Anthony Reddick, Bruce Johnson, Lavon
Ponder and Carlos Armour from the secondary, and none of them were
drafted. Considering Miami’s history of great athletes in the secondary, that’s
hard to believe.

Besides Brandon Harris, Miami is attackable in the secondary this year.
Cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke is solid, but unspectacular. Senior free safety
Randy Phillips is very experienced, but he is coming off a knee injury that
forced him to miss all but two games in 2008.

Key Game

Monday, September 7 at Florida State is a huge game for Miami. Every
year we hear about how the ‘Canes and ‘Noles are “back”, or are close
to being “back”, and this year is no different. Both teams return a
lot of talent on the offensive side of the ball, and each should have a good
defense as well.

One of these teams is going to be disappointed after the opening ballgame.
Each team has aspirations of winning their respective division, and an
opening-night loss could hurt confidence. This game is especially important for
Miami, as their next two games come against Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. A
3-0 start would be really tough, but 2-1 is possible.

Chris Coleman’s Thoughts

I think Miami’s talent level is improving. In the Larry Coker era, the ‘Canes
talent dropped off year by year, because the coaching staff admitted to using
internet recruiting rankings rather than their own scouting reports when
offering scholarships. Randy Shannon has fixed that problem, and Miami has good
young talent at virtually every position on the field.

So Shannon can recruit, but can he coach? Can he run a program? The jury is
still out. TSL’s Raleigh Hokie heard a Shannon interview before last year’s
Georgia Tech game, and when asked how he planned to defend the option, Shannon
said the key was to “get everybody running to the ball as fast as
possible”, or something to that effect. That’s the exact opposite of what
you should do against the option, and Georgia Tech went on to thrash Miami’s
defense for 472 yards rushing in a 41-23 win. (The Jackets led 41-10 going into
the fourth quarter.)

Miami and Randy Shannon also go through coaches like Al Groh, if not worse.
Mark Whipple is the third offensive coordinator at Miami in the last five years,
and new defensive coordinator John Lovett is Randy Shannon’s third defensive
coordinator in his third year as a head coach! Miami can’t pay coaches very
well, and there is a lot of pressure down there, which creates a lot of staff
turnover. That’s why the ‘Canes have to recruit super players. Their coaching
staff isn’t going to be there long enough to develop typical recruits.

Miami is a definite contender in the Coastal Division this year, but they
can’t afford a bad start. If they go anything less than 2-1 in the opening three
games, they are likely out of the race. Later in the season they must also
travel to Wake Forest and North Carolina, as well as host Clemson. There are
plenty of opportunities for losses.

I like Miami’s talent level, and they have improved as a program since Randy
Shannon took over, but I don’t think they can overcome that killer schedule this
year.

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