February 20, 2010

Miami looks for more with slew of veterans

Miami heads into spring practice without many of its biggest weapons.

The most serious injury involves senior running back Graig Cooper, who hurt his right knee in a 20-14 Champs Sports Bowl loss to Wisconsin. The injury leaves Cooper's status for the 2010 season in question.

MIAMI AT-A-GLANCE
Jacory Harris returns at QB for Miami.
THE BASICS

COACH: Randy Shannon
LAST SEASON: 9-4, 5-3 in the ACC. Lost 20-14 to Wisconsin in the Champs Sports Bowl.
SPRING DATES: Feb. 23-March 27
RETURNING STARTERS
OFFENSE (7): WR LaRon Byrd, RB Graig Cooper, G Joel Figueroa, G Orlando Franklin (likely to move to tackle), WR Leonard Hankerson, FB Mike James, QB Jacory Harris.
DEFENSE (11): E/T Allen Bailey, SS Jared Campbell, CB Brandon Harris, T Josh Holmes, LB Colin McCarthy, E Marcus Robinson, E Andrew Smith, LB Sean Spence, FS Vaughn Telemaque, CB DeMarcus Van Dyke, E Steven Wesley.
SPECIAL TEAMS (1): K/P Matt Bosher
Starting quarterback Jacory Harris also will sit out spring practice to rest his injured throwing hand. Other notable players who will miss spring practice to nurse injuries include guard Joel Figueroa and kicker/punter Matt Bosher.

Although those injuries offer some cause for concern, Miami still goes into spring practice with plenty of reason for optimism. The Hurricanes return several starters on both sides of the ball from a team that went 9-4 and knocked off Georgia Tech, Florida State and Oklahoma last season. Because of numerous injuries, UM returns 11 defensive players who started at six games last season, and the Hurricanes certainly have enough talent to contend for their first ACC championship game appearance.

Here's a rundown of where the Hurricanes stand as they prepare to open spring practice Tuesday.

POSITIONS OF STRENGTH

The passing game made great strides under first-year coordinator Mark Whipple last season. Jacory Harris showed in victories over Florida State and Oklahoma that he has the potential to develop into one of the nation's top quarterbacks. But he must reduce his interception total after being picked off 17 times last season. Harris' absence from spring practice because of an injury to his throwing hand could slow his development a bit. Leonard Hankerson, LaRon Byrd and Travis Benjamin give UM a trio of promising young receivers. Miami has talent all over the defense and has an impressive amount of depth on the front four, where Allen Bailey's ability to play both tackle and end make him a legitimate All-America candidate.

HELP IS NEEDED

Miami has to break in new starters at both offensive tackle spots and could have a tough time finding a replacement for four-year starter Jason Fox. Miami also has some concerns at running back, as Javarris James has departed and Graig Cooper suffered a knee injury in the Champs Sports Bowl that leaves his status for the 2010 season uncertain. Damien Berry and Lamar Miller give Miami two talented young running backs, but they remain unproven. Defensive coaches will be looking to ramp up the pass rush, which accounted for just 23 sacks last season. UM's 1.77-sacks-per-game average ranked 74th in the nation.

THREE GUYS TO WATCH

S Ray Ray Armstrong: Armstrong, a former five-star prospect, made 21 tackles in a reserve role as a true freshman last season. He figures to earn more playing time this fall as the Hurricanes look to replace departed safety Randy Phillips. The No. 12 prospect in the 2009 recruiting class, Armstrong showed glimpses of his enormous potential by delivering seven tackles against Oklahoma, including a highlight-worthy stop of DeMarco Murray.

RB Lamar Miller: Miller, a redshirt freshman, could inherit a featured role this fall - particularly if Cooper doesn't come back in time for the start of the season. Although Damien Berry likely would open the season as the Hurricanes' No. 1 back if Cooper isn't ready, Miami typically likes to have multiple backs share carries. Miller rushed for 1,749 yards and 22 touchdowns as a senior at Miami's Killian High.

DE Adewale Ojomo: After making three starts and recording three sacks as a redshirt freshman in 2008, Ojomo missed the 2009 season with a broken jaw. His return should fortify Miami's defensive line, which must apply more consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks this season.

THE PRESSURE IS ON

DT Marcus Forston: Forston, another former five-star prospect, recorded three sacks in 2008 and earned Freshman All-America honors from Rivals.com. But injuries wrecked his 2009 season. Now he's returning to action and trying to work his way up a depth chart filled with plenty of other promising young defensive linemen. Forston must prove he can stay healthy if he's ever going to live up to his potential.

THE BUZZ

Miami likely will open the 2010 season in the national rankings, but the Hurricanes still have plenty of questions to answer as they battle Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Georgia Tech for the ACC Coastal Division title. The questions surrounding Cooper's health won't be answered this spring, but the Hurricanes need to find out if Berry and Miller can handle an increased workload and if any other running backs are ready for additional responsibilities. Miami also must begin sorting out the top candidates to fill the vacant spots at offensive tackle. This spring also marks the return of new running backs coach Mike Cassano and defensive line coach Rick Petri. Cassano was a graduate assistant at Miami in 2005 and '06, and also worked under Whipple at Massachusetts from 1998-2004. Cassano most recently served as Florida International's running backs coach and recruiting coordinator. Petri worked as Miami's defensive line coach from 1993-95, and he spent the past five seasons coaching Kentucky's defensive line.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.


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