2011 Miami Preview - Offense
Miami OG Brandon Washington
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Miami Hurricane Offense
Preview 2011 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: After taking his time to name a coordinator, Al Golden is confident about his choice, former Seattle Seahawks quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch. Just 34 years old, Fisch plans to attack from a pro-style formation, while leaving his mark on Miami's inconsistent quarterbacks. His first starter? That remains to be seen, though either senior Jacory Harris or sophomore Stephen Morris is going to get the ball in September. As always, the ‘Canes have no shortage of exciting skill players, like running back Lamar Miller and receivers Travis Benjamin and LaRon Byrd. Of greater importance, last year's productive line, led by all-star G Brandon Washington, returns virtually intact. The lone departure is Orlando Franklin, whose old haunt at left tackle will be filled by an underclassman, either Malcolm Bunche or Seantrel Henderson. Above all else, the ‘Canes need to get a better grip on the ball after ranking 119th nationally in turnovers lost.
Star of the offense: Junior RG Brandon Washington
Passing: Jacory Harris
148-270, 1,793 yds, 14 TDs, 15 INTs
Rushing: Lamar Miller
108 carries, 646 yds, 6 TDs
Receiving: Travis Benjamin
43 catches, 743 yds, 3 TDs
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior QB Jacory Harris or sophomore Stephen Morris
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore RB Lamar Miller
Best pro prospect: Washington
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Washington, 2) Senior WR LaRon Byrd, 3) Senior C Tyler Horn
Strength of the offense: Speed and athleticism, the backs, the offensive line, yards after contact
Weakness of the offense: Consistency at quarterback, turnovers, left tackle, red zone conversions
State of the Unit: Two contenders. One job. And one pivotal decision for first-year head coach Al Golden to make before the opener. It's been a few years—too long—since Miami had a truly consistent quarterback leading the offense. While the new staff won't need its passer to necessarily be prolific, it will ask that he do a better job of managing the game and limiting mistakes. Coming out of spring, one of the most watched quarterback races has an "OR" separating the two primary competitors.
This is officially the final stand for 6-4, 195-pound senior Jacory Harris, the maligned veteran of the backfield. He's steadily declined since breaking out as a rookie, frustrating coaches and fans alike with his poor decision making and spate of mistakes. Although he'll probably wind up on the school's top 10 list for most categories, unfortunately it also includes picks. He's thrown 39, including 15 last year, which forced him to the bench. He wound up 148-of-270 for 1,793 yards and 14 touchdowns, the final one coming on Oct. 23. Loaded with intangibles and a live arm, he'll be relegated to mop-up duty if he can't become a better student of the game.
Going neck-and-neck with Harris is 6-2, 210-pound sophomore Stephen Morris, who took the reins at the end of October in his rookie year. He was predictably up-and-down, going 82-of-153 for 1,240 yards, seven touchdowns, and nine interceptions. With a strong arm, quick feet, and a good feel for the position, he has the ingredients to be a franchise quarterback. Like the competition, now all he has to do is smooth out the wrinkles of his game.
Lagging behind Harris and Morris at No. 3 is 6-2, 205-pound senior Spencer Whipple, a little-used transfer from Massachusetts, with the head to be a coach when he's done playing.
Watch Out For … the safer option to eventually get Golden's approval. While the coach wouldn't mind having the second-coming of Ken Dorsey at his disposal, it's not a prerequisite. He needs his quarterback to smart with the ball and willing to eat it instead of trying to make things happen where they don't exist.
Strength: Two players with starting experience. The upshot of Harris' struggles? It got Morris in the huddle at least one year earlier than expected. Now that he has half a season of starting experience, it affords the Hurricanes multiple players who are no strangers to pressure situations.
Weakness: Turnovers. Easily the biggest concern of the offense, Miami has to do a better job of protecting the football and keeping it out of the other team's hands. Harris and Morris have accuracy issues, combining to throw more interceptions than touchdowns in 2010, and the most picks in America.
Outlook: If Golden is to get out of the gates fast in South Florida, he'll need to initiate some kind of positive change behind center. It's a must. The good news is that he inherits two players with upside potential. Harris brings three years of starting experience and Morris is still only in his second year on campus. Both could play, with the starter carrying a heavy burden in 2011.
Unit Rating: 7
State of the Unit: No Damien Berry. No problem. Miami will be without last year's leading rushing, but is confident in the young backs lining up to replace his production. Whoever winds up getting the bulk of the touches will benefit from being the focal point of an offense that figures to lean heavily on the ground game. The Hurricanes have struggled to birth a true feature back of late, going nearly a decade since producing a 1,000-yard rusher.
The leader coming out of spring is 5-11, 212-pound sophomore Lamar Miller, who was second to Berry in his first year of action. When given chances, he showed flashes, rushing for 646 yards and six touchdowns on 108 carries. Also a member of the Miami track squad, he possesses uncommon speed for such a thick player, a blend that'll someday land him in the NFL. That ability to navigate inside as well as outside is his greatest asset.
The line forming behind Miller begins with 5-11, 222-pound junior Mike James . A former fullback and can't-miss recruit from 2009, he's enjoyed his best offseason with the program. More of a north-south runner, with soft hands, he ran for 398 yards and three scores last year.
Watch Out For … Miller's time to be now. It's an ideal situation of talent meeting opportunity. The Hurricanes are in the market for a feature runner, and the sophomore has the right combination of size, speed, and vision to fill the job description. After getting 20 carries in a game just once in 2010, he figures to be much busier this fall.
Strength: Powerful runners. Of the program's main three runners, Miller is the lightweight at 212 pounds. The Hurricane backs hit the hole with authority, are strong enough to carry tacklers, and possess the jets to beat defensive backs in a footrace to the end zone.
Weakness: Hands. In their defense, the backs haven't been asked to do much as receivers out of the backfield, but that could change this season. The staff would like to find new ways to get the ball in their hands, and screens and dump-offs is one way to accomplish that goal.
Outlook: The talent is lined up. Randy Shannon made sure of it during his tenure. It's now up to the new staff to leverage it optimally and make sure that the young backs blossom. Miller and James all have high ceilings to go along with a chance to be the sparkplug that the ground game is desperately seeking.
Unit Rating: 7.5
Projected Starters: The most important—and toughest—objectives of the receivers this offseason will be to develop a replacement for Leonard Hankerson. After catching 21 touchdown passes over the last two years and rising to All-ACC, it might take two ‘Canes to offset his production. As if the passing game doesn't have enough issues already, it's imperative that the wide receivers and tight ends give the erratic passers reliable targets to hit.
Though the physical antithesis of Hankerson, 5-10, 175-pound senior Travis Benjamin has the skills to be a nearly effective playmaker. One of America's fastest players and an improving pass-catcher, he's a big play waiting to happen, busting through the defense before his stride can be broken. More of a homerun hitter than a go-to guy, he's averaged 17 yards a reception for his career, catching 43 balls for 743 yards and three touchdowns in 2010.
A more likely choice to be a quarterback's best friend is 6-4, 220-pound senior LaRon Byrd, a huge target with a friendly catch radius. Although he's yet to peak as a player, he has the kind of measurables that are impossible to ignore. On triangle numbers alone, he has the size, speed, and jumping ability to become the team's most prolific receiver in his final year. Ranking third a year ago, he had 41 catches for 441 yards a touchdown.
A trio of little-used players, 5-10, 182-pound junior Kendal Thompkins, 6-5, 215-pound junior Tommy Streeter, and 6-3, 185-pound sophomore Allen Hurns exited spring with a shot of being the first man off the bench. Although they combined for just two catches, Streeter and Hurns, in particular, did not perform like spare parts during the offseason. The healthy return of 6-3, 205-pound senior Aldarius Johnson could shake up the depth chart, but his track record indicates he might be headed toward being one of the notable busts from the 2008 class.
Tight end is one of the positions that's completely up in the air heading into the summer. No starter has been named, though out of three seniors, one should emerge into a viable target. Blake Ayles is a 6-5, 265-pound transfer from USC, who'd like to use his last year of eligibility to attract the attention of NFL scouts. Chase Ford is a downfield threat, a 6-6, 245-pounder in his second year out of Kilgore (Tex.) College. The jack-of-all-trades is 6-3, 250-pound John Calhoun, a converted fullback who can also play H-back.
Watch Out For … Byrd to take flight. What better motivation for a budding receiver than the arrival of pro scouts to watch you perform? He needs some fine-tuning, but has the hardest part covered, namely terrific size and athleticism. He's an ideal candidate to offset the loss of Hankerson and put career numbers.
Strength: Versatility of weapons. For track speed, the Hurricane quarterbacks can look for No. 3, Benjamin. When they want to take advantage of a mismatch, No. 2, Byrd, is the leader of tall group of pass-catchers on the outside. In terms of skill set, the Miami wideouts have the luxury of diversity.
Weakness: A sure-fire No. 1. When the quarterbacks were in trouble last season, they always knew that Hankerson could bail them out. Throw it up, and there was a good chance he'd pull it down. This fall, such a luxury might not exist. Benjamin isn't that guy and Byrd must still prove capable of handling the role.
Outlook: Raw ability and athleticism isn't a problem with this unit. It never is. Miami rarely has an issue attracting talent. However, help is needed in order to transform what looks good on paper to what delivers on grass. If former elite recruits, like Byrd, Ayles, and Streeter, put it all together at once, the group's grade is capable of soaring.
Unit Rating: 7.5
State of the Unit: The good news along the offensive line is that nearly everyone is back from a front wall that played very well last season. The concern is at left tackle, where massive all-star Orlando Franklin leaves an enormous void. If he can be replaced without there being a wicked backlash, the Hurricanes will once again boast one of the ACC's more effective blocking units.
The star of the offensive line is 6-4, 320-pound junior RG Brandon Washington, who's on his way to becoming the best Miami blocker since Bryant McKinnie was on campus. Living up to the hype of being a 2009 blue-chipper, he took off last year, earning a spot on the All-ACC first team. Powerful, yet surprisingly light on his feet, it'd qualify as an upset if he doesn't declare early for the NFL Draft at the end this season.
As it pertains to the line, the big news has been the play of 6-7, 320-pound redshirt freshman Malcolm Bunche, who has jumped the more heralded Seantrel Henderson at left tackle. It's still early, but no less impressive. A converted guard, Bunche dedicated himself to improving in all areas and has not disappointed during the offseason. Of course, it's way too early to throw any dirt on Henderson, a 6-8, 345-pound sophomore behemoth and one of the country's top recruits of 2010. There's also a close fight taking place at right tackle between 6-6, 320-pound sophomore Jermaine Johnson and 6-5, 310-pound Ben Jones . Johnson started five games, scratching the surface of his sizable potential. Jones has far less experience, but has made up ground since the end of last season.
Back at the pivot for one more year is 6-4, 305-pound senior Tyler Horn, who started every game in 2010. A steady performer, who gets out of the blocks quickly, he was third on the team in pancake blocks. Rounding out the line at left guard will be 6-2, 310-pound senior Harland Gunn, another ‘Cane blocker to start every game a year ago. A versatile, veteran player, he can also be used at center in emergencies. The top backup at guard will be 6-6, 310-pound Brandon Linder . The precocious sophomore started five games in his debut, flashing the quickness and agility that made him a can't-miss recruit.
Watch Out For … the battle at left tackle. Quarterback aside, this might be the most important competition of the summer. Practical reasons aside, Bunche vs. Henderson is flush with interesting sidebars. By all accounts, this was supposed to be Henderson's domain, but if he begins the year on the bench, does he consider transferring to a third school in two years?
Strength: Run blocking. Regardless of who starts the season, Miami will harbor a massive front wall that's capable of bullying opposing fronts off the line of scrimmage. Almost half of the current two-deep tips the Toledos at no less than 320 pounds, a key factor in last year's improved ground game.
Weakness: Left tackle. Just how much of a weak area this is remains to be seen, but it's unlikely that one of the kids will match Franklin's play this early. Miami is poised to go with a raw second-year player to protect the quarterback's blindside, which will always be wrought with peril.
Outlook: Miami has come a long way with its offensive line, finally putting together a formidable collection of blockers. With Washington paving the way, the ‘Canes will once again open holes for the explosive backs and afford the passers time. Of course, if left tackle becomes an obvious weak link in the chain, the entire unit is liable to suffer.
Unit Rating: 8
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