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What you need to know:
Bill Young’s departure back to Big 12 country has
Miami breaking in a new defensive coordinator for a
second straight year. John Lovett, most recently the
special teams coordinator at North Carolina,
inherits a defense that has a nice mixture of
veterans and young players. This is not, however, a
vintage Hurricane defense. The ‘Canes had trouble
stopping the run and creating takeaways in 2008,
both of which Lovett hopes to address. His front
seven has depth and talent, including budding stars
in DT Marcus Forston, DE Marcus Robinson, and LB
Sean Spence. The biggest concern rests with a
mediocre secondary that was painfully short on big
plays a year ago.
Tackles: Sean Spence, 65
Interceptions: Multiple players, 1
the defense: Sophomore LB Sean
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore CB Brandon Harris
Unsung star on the rise:
Sophomore DT Marcus Forston
Best pro prospect:
Junior DT Allen Bailey
Top three all-star candidates:
1) Spence, 2) Bailey, 3) Senior DE Eric
Strength of the defense:
Depth up front, preventing big plays, getting to
Weakness of the defense:
Creating turnovers, run defense,
inexperience in the secondary
Depth will not be a concern for this group. Keeping
everyone involved? Now, that is going to be a
challenge for the staff. A ton of lettermen return
to the front, headed by junior
one of the most freakishly explosive athletes on the
roster, if not the entire state. An uncommon blend
of speed and burst in a 6-4, 285-pound frame, he has
the quicks to play end, but is more likely to line
up on the inside. Despite being slowed by a torn
pectoral muscle and starting just four games, he
still collected 36 tackles, nine tackles for loss,
and five sacks. He has an enormous ceiling that
could be reached in 2009.
Lining up next to Bailey will be 6-2, 308-pound
sophomore Marcus Forston, a Freshman All-American in 2008 and one of the gems
of last year’s star-studded recruiting class. In a
short period of time, he’s already shown the
quickness and disruptive tendencies that could
someday land him on other All-American squads. In
his debut, he had 25 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss,
and three sacks, despite starting just one game.
The ‘Canes got great news when senior DE
was granted an additional year of eligibility by
the NCAA. The team’s best pass rusher heading into
2008, he suffered an injury and was limited to just
four games. A speedy, powerful player coming off the
edge, he showed flashes in 2007, making 48 tackles,
11.5 tackles for loss, and six sacks. He’s hoping to
be at full strength by the start of the season.
Whether he’s in the starting lineup or coming off
the bench, sophomore
Robinson is going to find a way on to the field.
A classic speed rusher, he started five games as a
rookie, making 35 tackles, nine tackles for loss,
and four sacks. Three of those sacks came against
Virginia Tech in a microcosm of his potential to
simply blow past dumbfounded tackles. At only 6-1
and 242 pounds, he needs to prove he can hold up
against the run and is more than just a situational
player on obvious passing downs.
Projected Top Reserves: Senior DT
Joe Joseph has started 14 games over the last two seasons, and has
hardly stopped competing for a top job heading into
his final year. At 6-3 and 302 pounds, he moves well
laterally and has the quickness to beat his man into
the backfield. In his most productive season on
campus, he finished 2008 with 35 tackles, 4.5
tackles for loss, and a sack.
Also providing depth on the inside is 6-2, 321-pound
Micanor Regis, a space-eater capable of helping
the defense in run defense. Coming off the bench in
his first year, he had 16 tackles, flashing the raw
power and leg drive that sometimes makes it
difficult for one blocker to handle him.
When pure speed is needed off the bench, Miami can
look to sophomore
a 6-3, 248-pound end with the explosiveness and
agility of an outside linebacker. He plays in all 13
games as a first-year player, earning three starts
and making 17 tackles, four tackles for loss, and
Ojomo and 6-3, 255-pound senior Courtney
will be working to keep Robinson out of the starting
lineup this summer. Harris was actually making a
push up the depth chart a year before suffering a
knee injury that sidelined him for the entire
season. While he has just one career sack in 19
appearances, he has good enough size to be a factor
against the run.
Watch Out For ... a very fluid
depth chart. Miami has so many equal parts at end
and tackle that the competition for playing time
will be as hot as the South Florida sun this summer.
Even the coaching staff has no idea what the
two-deep will look like in September, especially
with a couple of players still working back from
Depth. Miami likes to rotate its linemen liberally,
which will not be a problem this fall. The
Hurricanes are flush with an immense amount of depth
inside and especially outside. An unheard of 10
linemen have lettered at this level, allowing one of
last year’s starters, DE
to moonlight at tight end during the spring.
Weakness: Run defense. It’s been two
straight years now that Miami has been pushed around
in run defense. Last year’s group finished last in
the ACC in that department, getting exposed over the
final three-quarters of the year.
Outlook: Although Miami doesn’t
boast any shoe-in all-star along the defensive line,
it has as much depth and overall talent as any unit
in the ACC. Now, it has to back it up, especially
against the run. With Moncur returning and players,
such as Bailey, Forston, and Robinson, ready for
take off, the Hurricanes should be markedly better
at the point of attack than a year ago.
Three of last year’s key contributors are gone,
included steady Glenn Cook, putting more pressure
than ever on the underclassmen to chip in. One of
those youngsters, sophomore
has already proven in one season that he’s on the
verge of stardom. As a highly-touted true freshman,
he parlayed 82 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, and
two sacks into being named ACC Defensive Rookie of
the Year. Don’t be fooled by his 6-0, 211-pound
frame. He’s a guided missile and one of the hardest
hitting players in the conference.
The veteran of the unit is 5-11, 235-pound senior
Darrryl Sharpton, a fifth-year player and a veteran of 39 games and
20 starts. Tough in run defense and explosive in all
direction, he’s gotten progressively better as his
career has developed. Seeing his most extensive
action as a Hurricane, he was fourth on the team
with 66 tackles, adding six tackles for loss and a
handful of quarterback hurries.
The key to this group in 2009 will be the health of
senior Colin McCarthy, who missed the last couple of months of 2008 with a
season-ending shoulder injury. A year earlier, he
had the look of a budding star, displaying great
speed and instincts, while racking up 74 tackles, 12
tackles for loss, and two sacks. Very athletic for a
6-3, 235-pounder, Miami needs his playmaking ability
on the field.
Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore
Arthur Brown, not Spence, was the headliner of the 2008 recruiting
class. Yet, Brown never quite got comfortable in the
system and wound up spending most of the year on
special teams. His talent, however, remains
exceptional. An outstanding all-around athlete at
6-2 and 223 pounds, he reads and reacts well,
exploding on impact when reaching his target.
Less heralded from that 2008 class, 6-2, 215-pound
Jordan Futch will get a chance for considerable
playing time on the outside. He was adapting nicely
to the speed of the game in September before an
injury limited him to just five games. After playing
well in the spring and showing he was healthy, he’s
ready for an increase in reps.
Watch Out For ... Brown’s
development. There’s been an overreaction to the
fact that Spence was better out of the starting
blocks. Brown is no less of a blue-chip athlete than
when he was considered the No. 1 prep linebacker in
America. It’ll be worth monitoring how far he’s come
along from his first season on campus. Miami didn’t
need him a year ago, but it does now.
Spence. He’s just one of those unique young players,
who’s capable of wreaking havoc all over the field
with his athletic ability. In many ways, he looks
like a throwback Miami linebaceker of the 1980s and
1990s, who weren’t very big, but had great lateral
speed and intensity.
Weakness: Proven depth. Losing
Cook, Spencer Adkins, and Romeo Davis means the
‘Canes will lean heavily on unproven players on the
second team. If Brown and Futch happen to not be
ready for primetime, there really aren’t many other
options for the coaching staff.
While the potential exists for this to be a terrific
group, the linebackers still have plenty to prove.
In particular, McCarthy needs to show that his
shoulder won’t be a problem and Brown and Futch have
to perform as if they’re ready to enter the huddle
at a moment’s notice.
Certainly by the program’s usual standards, this is
a very ordinary Miami secondary. There have been
some losses due to graduation, and none of the
returners have an all-star pedigree. Fortunately,
6-0, 208-pound senior
Randy Phillips was granted a medical hardship after missing all but
two games with an injury in 2008. The veteran of
this crew, he’s played in 34 career games, earning
13 starts along the way. While he never panned out
as a corner, he’s a solid run defender and an
intimidating presence to unsuspecting receivers.
One of the pleasant surprises in March was 6-1,
Telemaque, who really emerged from the pack at
safety. Following a disappointing, injury-filled
first year, he arrived a little bigger and stronger
and a lot closer to a starting assignment. He has a
special set of physical gifts, drawing comparisons
to a young Ed Reed, but needs to dedicate himself,
particularly in the film room.
Much like at safety, the competition at cornerback
figures to be intense throughout the summer.
Brandon Harris laid a nice foundation in his
first season on campus, starting six games and
getting in on 26 tackles. One of the top cornerback
prospect in the country in 2008, the 5-10,
190-pounder has great hips and instincts, but needs
to tighten up his fundamentals and overall technique
in pass coverage. That ought to come with more
An ever so slight lead at the other corner spot
belongs to 6-1, 177-pound
Dyke, a spot starter during each of his two
Although he’s yet to fulfill all of his potential as
a lockdown pass defender, the frame and the speed
are still there for him to begin blossoming. He had
16 tackles and just one pass breakup, making 2009 a
crossroads year for the junior.
Projected Top Reserves:
Bucking for playing time at safety will be 6-1,
an eight-game starter in 2008. He contributed 31
tackles and a couple of pass breakups, rarely
standing out or delivering a big play. He’s a
quality all-around athlete and heady player,
providing an edge in a tight race for reps.
Hill is another one of the experienced safeties
vying for playing time in 2009. A former wide
receiver with 19 career receptions, he made the
full-time switch to defense last fall, starting five
games and making 34 tackles. Still learning the
position, the 5-11, 203-pounder needs to get a
little more physical if he’s going to make it back
into the lineup.
The ‘Canes most experienced corner out of the
reserves is 5-11, 180-pound senior
a veteran of 37 games and 17 starts. An active pass
defender with good ball skills, he had 25 tackles
and a team-high seven pass breakups a year ago. At
worst, he’ll play nickel back and have an integral
role on passing downs.
Watch Out For ... senior
Sam Shields. Didn’t he used to be the next big thing at wide
receiver? Yup, but sensing a need, the Hurricanes
are trying one of their best athletes at cornerback
this offseason. A smooth 6-0, 186-pounder with
legitimate 4.3 speed, if he shows any ability to
cover, he’ll get a chance to contribute this fall.
Keeping the ball in front of them. For all of the
griping and hand-wringing, the ‘Canes didn’t give up
many big plays last fall, while allowing just 165
yards a game through the air. Plus, opposing
quarterbacks completed just over 51% of their passes
in 2008, second nationally to only Florida State.
Weakness: Turnovers. Playing in a
league short on top-notch quarterbacks, it’s
borderline criminal that Miami picked off just four
passes all year and only one in the final eight
games. This group needs to produce more big plays,
turning some of those batted balls into drive-ending
While last year’s numbers were very solid, part of
the results were due to playing in the passer-poor
ACC. Miami needs to be more dynamic in pass defense.
And it knows it. Any potential star power in the
defensive backfield is inexperienced, meaning Harris
and Telemaque will be asked to mature and excel in a
While not your typical dual-threat, junior
was every bit as valuable for the Hurricanes in
2008. In fact, he was named the team’s MVP, a
testament to his skills as a punter and a
placekicker. A member of the All-ACC second team at
both positions, he nailed 18-of-20 field goal
attempts and was among the league leaders in net
punting. More than just accurate, he has terrific
leg strength, connecting on a 52-yarder against Wake
Forest last fall.
While Bosher sat out spring with a shoulder injury,
got a chance to stretch out his leg and show the
staff that he’s ready to handle kickoffs. Ideally,
the ‘Canes would prefer that Bosher get a rest once
in a while, provided Wieclaw is up to the challenge.
Watch Out For ... sophomore
Benjamin. In Benjamin, Miami is cautiously
optimistic that it has the second-coming of Roscoe
Parrish. A dynamite all-around athlete with
electrifying speed, he should be better in his
second season as the primary return guy. While he
led the ACC in punt returns a year ago, he was just
ordinary on kickoffs.
Strength: Coverage units. Beyond
Bosher, the obvious hero of this group, the coverage
teams consistently do an outstanding job of shutting
down lanes. On punts, in particular, Miami was No. 2
in the country, allowing under 17 yards a return.
Weakness: Mistakes in the punt game.
Most programs go an entire season without having a
punt blocked. The Hurricanes have allowed two in
each of the last two seasons. Bosher shares some of
the blame along with the snappers, who haven’t
always been on target.
Outlook: Thanks in large part to the
leg of Bosher, Miami will contend for the ACC’s best
all-around special teams unit. If Benjamin begins to
fulfill all of his potential, the ‘Canes won’t have
many serious challengers in this category.