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2008 Miami Preview - Offense
Miami WR Sam Shields
Miami WR Sam Shields

Posted May 2, 2008 2008 Preview - Miami Hurricane Offense

Miami Hurricanes

Preview 2008 - Offense

- 2008 CFN Miami Preview | 2008 Miami Offense Preview
2008 Miami Defense Preview | 2008 Miami Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Miami Preview | 2006 CFN Miami Preview 

What you need to know:
The winner of the quarterback derby will be taking his first career snap when Miami hosts Charleston Southern on Aug. 28.  The job may be Robert Marve’s to lose, but he’s getting challenged by Jacory Harris, a gem from this year’s class who already took part in spring practice.  Marve has moxie and the athletic ability that the program has never really had under center.  With Graig Cooper and Javarris James on campus, the running game should be much better than a year ago, but not unlike the situation at Florida State, the line shares a lot of the blame.  The ‘Canes are hunting for three capable linemen to go along with steady starting tackles Jason Fox and Reggie Youngblood.  It’s time for Sam Shields to emerge as a No. 1 target in a young receiving corps that’s brimming with upside.

Returning Leaders
Passing: None
Rushing: Graig Cooper
125 carries, 682 yds, 4 TD
Receiving: Sam Shields
27 catches, 346 yds, 3 TD

Star of the offense: Junior RB Javarris James
Player who has to step up and become a star: Redshirt freshman QB Robert Marve
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore OT Orlando Franklin
Best pro prospect: Sophomore RB Graig Cooper
Top three all-star candidates: 1) James, 2) Cooper, 3) Senior T Jason Fox
Strength of the offense: Running back, the tackles
Weakness of the offense: Interior of the line, inexperience at quarterback


Projected Starter: Not since Bernie Kosar was beginning his college career a quarter-century ago has Miami started a season with so little experience behind center.  Robert Marve is the old hand on the roster, and he’s just a second-year freshman that spent most of last year recovering from a frightening car accident that nearly took his life.  Although Randy Shannon will wait until August to name his starter, Marve is the pole-sitter, a position he enhanced in the spring.  While only 6-1 and 203 pounds, he can make all the throws, has a quick release, and moves well inside and out of the pocket.  A magnetic leader, Marve doesn’t just rhyme with Favre.  The way he plays the game, he’s also going to remind some people of the future Hall-of-Famer ... for good and bad.   

Projected Top Reserves: When Kyle Wright graduated and Kirby Freeman transferred, the ‘Canes knew they’d enter the season with a rookie in the No. 2 spot.  Heralded recruits Jacory Harris and Cannon Smith participated in spring ball because they want more to be more than just a backup.  Harris distinguished himself in March, playing with poise and picking up the offense faster than the coaches anticipated.  At 6-4 and 175 pounds, he’s a fluid overall athlete with plenty of upside as a passer once he gains more size and strength. 

Smith gets mentioned in the same sentence as Marve and Harris, but has been a clear No. 3 in the pecking order. At 5-11 and 189 pounds, he overcomes a lack of size with toughness, live feet, and good field awareness.  If Smith spends the summer buried in the background, he’d be a great candidate to transfer to a Memphis or Tulane, where he’d have a better shot at playing time.     

Watch Out For ... Marve to build some distance on Harris in the summer, and get the nod from Shannon a week before the opener.  He’s bounced back well from last year’s serious injury, attacking the opportunity as if he plans to be a four-year starter for the Hurricanes.
Strength: Athleticism.  At least for now, the days of lumbering quarterbacks, like Ken Dorsey, Kyle Wright, or Gino Torretta, are over at Miami.  While none of them are considered “runners”, Marve, Harris, and Smith are elusive quarterbacks that can escape pressure and make first downs with their legs when necessary.
Weakness: Game experience.  No matter how good a quarterback looks in practice, there’s no substitute for live action.  None of the ‘Cane quarterbacks are housebroken yet, which will become a liability shortly after the opener with Charleston Southern.
Outlook: Although youthful mistakes will be inevitable this fall, Marve and Harris are microcosms of the optimism that’s making its way back to the program.  Both exude potential and excitement.  Ideally, Marve can breathe some life into the Miami offense, while Harris gets a season to adapt to his new surroundings and bulk up in the weight room.   
Rating: 6.5

Running Backs

Projected Starters: Just because junior Javarris James suffered through a sophomore slump doesn’t mean he lacks the potential to be one of the nation’s premier backs.  His production dropped from 802 yards and 4.7 yards a carry to 582 yards and 3.7 yards a carry, while his longest gallop was for just 23 yards.  In his defense, James went most of the year with a nagging neck injury and didn’t always get a lot of help up front.  At 6-0 and 214 pounds, he doesn’t always have that extra gear to blow past defenders, but is quick to the hole and powerful between the tackles. 

Hurricane fullbacks didn’t block very well last year, which is why the program went so hard after Patrick Hill of El Camino Junior College.  At stocky 5-9, 262-pounder, he’s able to get under the pads of his guy and blow him off his base.  Hill will be an integral part of the Miami running game, even though he has no expectation to carry the ball.

Projected Top Reserves: If James is the No. 1 option in the backfield, sophomore Graig Cooper is 1A.  He was as good as advertised as a rookie, rushing for a team-high 682 yards and four scores on 125 carries, adding 13 catches for 129 yards and a touchdown.  Lightning to James’ thunder, Cooper is an explosive runner with the change-of-direction to make defenders look silly in the open field.  He bulked up to 6-0 and 202 pounds in the off-season, which will help in the event his workload increases. 

While obviously behind James and Cooper, sophomore Shawnbrey McNeal is someone Cane coaches believe needs to be on the field more this fall.  The fastest of the running backs at 5-11 and 190 pounds, he’s an ideal option as a third down back that can turn a swing pass into long jaunt down the sidelines.

Trying to keep Hill out of the starting lineup is freshman John Calhoun, one of a number of true freshmen that participated in spring practice.  A tough, no-frills fullback at 6-3 and 246 pounds, he could be used as a lead blocker or an H-back in this offense.    

Watch Out For ... James and Cooper to be used at the same time…a lot.  Coordinator Patrick Nix wants his two best offensive weapons on the field as much as possible, with one in the familiar spot behind the quarterback and the other lining up in the slot as a receiver.
Strength: Top talent.  In James and Cooper, Miami enjoys the luxury of having two outstanding runners capable of earning All-ACC honors with enough carries.  Cooper, the backup, would start for about 90% of FBS programs.    
Weakness: Blocking.  The play of the fullbacks was a weak area a year ago, and none of the backs did a particularly stellar job of picking up blitzes.  Newcomers Hill and Calhoun are being counted on to bring an element of toughness and physicality to the ground game.  
Outlook: James’ power and Cooper’s explosiveness give Miami a dangerous complement in the backfield.  While a motivated James got faster in the off-season, Cooper got stronger, two reasons why the Hurricanes expect to run the ball far better than last season.
Rating: 8


Projected Starters: New receivers coach Aubrey Hill inherits a talented group of athletes that’s raw and lacking consistency.  Junior Sam Shields has the potential to be the best of the bunch, provided he can stay out of Randy Shannon’s doghouse.  A 6-0, 180-pounder gamebreaker, he’s a smooth overall athlete that can glide past the secondary and elevate above the defender to pluck balls out of the air.  In two seasons, he’s caught 64 passes for 847 yards and seven touchdowns, numbers he’s capable of matching if his head is on right.  It might be months before the ‘Canes decide on the other starting receiver.  For the second straight year, Shields is the fastest Miami player, remaining in the 4.2 neighborhood in the 40. 

Senior Khalil Jones made a strong case in the spring, coming off his best off-season with the program.  Both big and fast at 6-2 and 220 pounds, he’s had a career-long problem with dropped balls, which has impacted his playing time.  If Jones can win over the confidence of the staff, he’ll have a chance to dwarf his eight career catches for 96 yards.

The battle at tight end is a good one between juniors Dedrick Epps and Richard Gordon.  The coaches raved about in March Epps, a downfield threat that’s gotten a little bigger and faster in the off-season.  A 6-4, 255-pound mismatch for linebackers and safeties, he’s poised to improve on last season’s eight receptions for 83 yards.  Like Epps, Gordon has the combination of size, speed, and athleticism to pick up big chunks of yardage after the catch.  At 6-4 and 260 pounds, he has soft hands, holds up well as an in-line blocker, and can jet past linebackers with 4.5 speed.

Projected Top Reserves: Thanks to some outstanding recruiting, youth, athleticism, and upside dominate Miami’s second and third units.  The best of the group may wind up being true freshman Aldarius Johnson, who already began distinguishing himself in the spring.  A 6-2, 217-pound possession receiver that’s drawing comparisons to a couple of other Johnsons, Calvin and Andre, he’s strong and physically mature for his age.  As long as drops don’t become an issue, Johnson is ready to contribute right away, lighting a spark under a Miami receiving corps that needs it. 

Redshirt freshman Jermaine McKenzie sat out last season recuperating from the same car accident that shelved QB Robert Marve, but is back with an eye on breaking into the rotation.  At 6-2 and 173 pounds, he’s quicker than he is fast and has terrific ball skills. 

Sophomore Leonard Hankerson gained valuable experience as a freshman, starting two games and catching six passes.  Like Johnson, he’s an imposing 6-2, 218-pounder that will fight to win balls that are up for grabs. 

Senior Kayne Farquharson is a late-bloomer that didn’t play high school football, and came to Miami via El Camino (Calif.) Junior College.  A blend of speed and size at 6-2 and 185 pounds, he started three games in his Miami debut, catching nine passes for 75 yards and a score.        

Chris Zellner is the best of the blocking tight ends, a blue-collar 6-2, 247-pounder who’s built more like a fullback.  A former defensive end with 17 games of starting experience, he’ll make a grab every now and again, pulling down a career-high 13 receptions for 105 yards and a score last year.

Watch Out For ... Johnson’s role to increase as the season develops.  On a team that plans to keep it conservative in the passing game, he’s an ideal receiver to get position on short and mid-range routes, providing the inexperienced quarterbacks with a big, reliable target. 
Strength: The future. If you like the ‘Cane receivers this year, you’re going to love them in 2009.  Only Jones and Farquharson are seniors, and Johnson, Hankerson, and McKenzie have the look of future stars of the ACC.
Weakness: Consistency.  Until the training wheels come off, the receivers are going to make as many bonehead mistakes as big plays.  They still dropped too many passes, and need to improve on their yards after the catch.
Outlook: Shields is the key for a unit that’s best days lie ahead of it.  If he can be an outside threat that finally emerges into a steady force, the young receivers will get a chance to develop with less pressure and on a more manageable timetable.  Johnson, in particular, is a microcosm of the kind of athlete that Miami hopes will get the program back on a winning track.   
Rating: 7

Offensive Linemen

Projected Starters: The Hurricanes have enough size and experience to improve on the interior.  Now, they have to go out and do it.  The program is set at tackle, where junior Jason Fox and senior Reggie Youngblood are back for a third season together as the starters.  A converted tight end who has bulked up to 6-6 and 306 pounds, Fox has drawn comparisons to former Cane All-American Eric Winston.  Light on his feet and very athletic, he’s the team’s most dependable pass blocker. 

Although Youngblood hasn’t become the linemen many expected when he left high school, he has one more season to put it all together and impress NFL scouts.  At 6-5 and 305 pounds, he moves well, needing to get more physical and eliminate the ill-timed holding penalties.

The Miami staff believes it harbors a pair of emerging stars in sophomore guards Orlando Franklin and Joel Figueroa.  At 6-7 and 345 pounds, Franklin is a masher on running plays that gets off the ball quickly and moves unusually well for his size.  With a dozen games and three starts already on the resume, Cane coaches are quietly suggesting he could be the program’s best lineman in a long time. 

Figueroa locked down a starting job with a solid spring and a stellar off-season in the weight room, showing off tremendous upper body strength and a great motor.  Once he hones his technique, the 6-5, 344-pounder is going to be impossible to move off his base.

By far, the biggest concern is at center where no one has adequately stepped up to replace John Rochford.  The front-runner is senior Xavier Shannon, the coach’s son.  At 6-1 and 298 pounds, he was a starter at Florida International before transferring to Miami to fill a need in his final year of eligibility.  Shannon’s main competition is coming from redshirt freshman Tyler Horn, a 6-4, 295-pounder that can also play guard.  A decent athlete, he has the work ethic to keep the coaches from making a call here until the summer.            

Projected Top Reserves
: Seniors Chris Rutledge and Tyrone Byrd give the Hurricanes ample experience at tackle on the second team.  The 6-5, 314-pound Rutledge has filled in for Youngblood in each of the last two seasons, starting nine games and showing that he’s ready to contribute whenever the need arises. 

Byrd, too, has experience, playing in 15 games over the last three seasons.  At 6-5 and 309 pounds, he has a long reach and is versatile enough to play any of the positions on the line.

Challenging for playing time at guard will be juniors Chris Barney and A.J. Trump.  Barney has an imposing frame at 6-5 and 340 pounds, can also play some tackle, and has been known to block with a nasty streak.  Trump is a natural leader, who’s quick off the snap and athletic for a 6-3, 308-pounder.  In other words, he’s another option at center if Shannon and Horn can’t handle the assignment.

Watch Out For ... the uncertainty at the pivot to be an issue all season long.  No matter how competent the tackles and guards are, if the center is inconsistent, the entire line will suffer.  If the spring is a good indication, bad snaps and missed blocks will be too common.
Strength: The tackles.  While Fox and Youngblood are on the fringe of being All-ACC-type blockers, Rutledge and Byrd give the unit flexibility and a rotation that’ll keep everyone fresh.
Weakness: Depth on the inside.  Although the ‘Canes are set at tackle, the depth at center and guard is going to become a crisis if any of the starters are forced to miss significant time.  
Outlook: It’s about time that Miami becomes more physical in the running game, allowing Javarris James and Graig Cooper to make plays in space.  The unit isn’t there yet, but with Figueroa and Franklin settling into the lineup, there’s hope that the ‘Canes will be able to out muscle more opponents than a year ago.   
Rating: 7



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