2009 Miami Preview - Offense
Miami RB Javarris James
CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Miami Hurricane Offense
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need to know:
Three years, three different offensive coordinators.
In an effort to ignite an offense that’s been
inconsistent for much of the last six years, Randy
Shannon has turned to Mark Whipple, a respected
veteran of the college and NFL ranks. He plans to
install a pro-style attack that seeks balance and
more use of the backs and tight ends in the passing
game. More important than the complexities of the
new system, he’s being asked to coach up a
precocious bunch of ‘Canes, who are a tweak here and
a tinker there away from being so much better. The
kids at running back and wide receiver, like Graig
Cooper and Aldarius Johnson, are just waiting to
explode, but they need sophomore QB Jacory Harris to
light the fuse. If he can begin to reach his
potential under Whipple, this group is capable of
surprising the rest of the ACC.
Star of the offense: Junior RB Graig Cooper
Passing: Jacory Harris
118-194, 1,195 yds, 12 TD, 7 INT
Rushing: Graig Cooper
171 carries, 841 yds, 4 TD
Receiving: Aldarius Johnson
31 catches, 332 yds, 3 TD
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore QB Jacory Harris
Unsung star on the rise:
Sophomore WR LaRon Byrd
Best pro prospect:
Top three all-star candidates:
1) Johnson, 2) Cooper, 3) Senior T Jason Fox
Strength of the offense:
Speed, athleticism, and depth at the skill
Weakness of the offense:
Converting on third down, youth under center,
the offensive line
Unlike a year ago, there’ll be no quarterback derby
at Miami. Inconsistent Robert Marve is transferring
from the school, leaving sophomore
Jacory Harris as the undisputed starter. He played in every game as
a true freshman, completing 118-of-194 passes for
1,195 yards, 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions,
while rushing for 101 yards and two scores. A
slender 6-4, 190-pounder, he moves well around the
pocket and has a great feel for the position. While
he won’t shatter the Jugs Machine with his arm
strength, he does have adequate zip and accuracy on
his passes. In terms of intangibles, such as poise,
leadership, confidence, and intelligence, he’s the
best ‘Cane quarterback since Ken Dorsey graduated.
Projected Top Reserves: Without Marve,
there’s a big empty space behind Harris. If the
offseason is any indication the No. 2 job is going
to be handed to redshirt freshman
a massive 6-7, 232-pounder who can chuck the ball
70-75 yards. On the short stuff and the touch
passes, however, he needs work. His primary goals in
the offseason will be to learn the new offense and
prepare as if he’s one late hit from being in the
Cook’s competition is coming from
though the redshirt freshman didn’t gain any ground
in the spring. At just 5-11 and 200 pounds, he has
limited physical skills relative to the competition,
and will only be used in the event of an emergency.
At some point, he’s the ideal type of kid to
consider transferring to a smaller school, like a
Memphis, where playing time is more realistic.
Watch Out For ... Harris to blossom
under the guidance of new coordinator Mark Whipple.
Randy Shannon made a shrewd hire here, landing a
proven quarterback tutor and a creative tactician.
The Harris-Whipple marriage has a chance to really
flourish over the next three years.
has a long way to go, naturally, but he’s flashing
the physical and intangible signs of a budding star.
Harris can do a little bit of everything for the
Hurricanes, including make plays in the clutch,
which will become more apparent as he adapts to the
Weakness: Proven backups. For the
second straight year, youth will prevail at
quarterback in Miami. Harris is the veteran, and
he’s just a little over a year removed from high
school. The two backups have a single pass attempt
between them, which means any prolonged injury could
ruin the team’s season.
Is the situation at quarterback better or worse than
last season? On one hand, Harris is much improved
from his rookie year and on the brink of becoming
special. On the other hand, the departure of Marve
greatly impacts the depth at the most important
position on the field. Provided Harris stays
healthy, this should be a nice building block year,
with even brighter days ahead.
If there’s a starter here, Randy Shannon isn’t
telling anyone. In reality, the coach has two
players capable of handling the load, 6-0, 215-pound
Javarris James and 6-0, 202-pound junior
Both players have gotten plenty of work the last two
years, in part because James has had trouble
remaining healthy. Last year, for instance, he
missed a handful of games and finished with only 286
yards and four scores on 68 carries. In fact, he
hasn’t been the same since breaking through with 802
yards on the ground as a freshman. When at full
strength, he’s a powerful, next-level runner, who’ll
do most of his work between the tackles.
Lightning to James’s thunder, Cooper is a bona fide
gamebreaker, who can go the distance with a little
help from his blockers. He accelerates through the
hole quickly and has the cutback ability to make
defenders whiff in the open field. When an opening
presented itself in 2008, he capitalized with a
team-best 841 yards and four scores on 171 carries.
Named the team’s most versatile player, he’s also a
talented pass-catcher, which Mark Whipple covets in
One of the more uniquely constructed players in all
of college football, senior FB
is back to open holes for James and Cooper. A
5-9, 262-pounder bowling ball, he was plucked out of
El Camino (Calif.) Junior College to get under the
pads of linebackers and knock them off their base.
One of the team’s unsung heroes, he played in all 13
games last year, earning four starts.
Projected Top Reserves: Junior
Damien Berry thrust himself into the crowded backfield with a solid
spring performance. The 5-11, 207-pound former
defensive back proved to be a hard-charging force in
the spring game, leading all rushers with 124 yards.
His toughness could lend itself to short yardage and
goal line opportunities.
When Miami needs instant offense off the bench, it’s
liable to turn to 5-10, 185-pound sophomore
More of an all-purpose or third-down back, he has
the speed and quickness to take a short hitch and
turn it into a long gain. In the Emerald Bowl versus
Cal, he had a career-high 60 yards on nine carries.
When Miami wants more than just a plower at
fullback, it’ll summons 6-3, 254-pound redshirt
Calhoun from the bench. A far more athletic and
versatile option than Hill, he can be used as a lead
blocker, an H-back, or as a runner in short yardage.
He’s a rugged, no-frills player with a bright future
as a ‘Cane.
Watch Out For ... true freshman
Mike James. It takes a special rookie to command playing time on a
team with this much running back depth. And he’s
going to get it this fall. At 5-11 and 220 pounds,
he’s a downhill runner, who can break through
tackles and contribute right away. He’s the future
at the position, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be a
part of the present as well.
Depth and talent. If given the opportunity in a
feature role, Miami has two runners, Cooper and
Javarris James, capable of booking for 1,000 yards
and all-conference honors. Plus, with the emergence
of Berry and Mike James, there’s no shortage of
quality backs on the two-deep.
Weakness: Production, While the
fault is certainly shared with others, like the
coaches and the line, the backs have lacked
consistency for the past two seasons. The
durability, or lack thereof, of James has also been
a factor in the Hurricanes struggles to mount a
steady ground game.
Isn’t it about time for Miami to produce the type of
results that are commensurate with all of their
talent? The ‘Canes were 78th nationally
at running the ball, which is one of the things that
Whipple is aiming to fix. His biggest hurdle might
be keeping everyone well-fed, especially now that
Mike James is showing he deserves to have some role
in the rotation.
Projected Starters: Yeah, the Hurricane receivers are young, but, boy, do they have a high
ceiling. Miami went with a slew of freshmen in 2008,
which will begin to really pay dividends this fall.
The face of the youth movement is sophomore
Johnson, a physical 6-2, 205-pounder, who’s
eliciting comparisons to former ‘Cane Andre Johnson.
Polished well beyond his years, he has good hands
and great body control on jump balls. He had a
team-high 31 catches for 332 yards and three scores,
showing great chemistry with QB Jacory Harris from
their high school days.
No matter what it takes, Miami must invent ways to
get the ball in the hands of 5-10, 170-pound
Travis Benjamin, the most electrifying player to
wear the colors in years. One of the fastest players
on a very fast team, he can take a handoff, pass, or
punt and go the length of the field with just a hint
of daylight. He’s the type of gamebreaker who’ll
force teams to know where he is at all times. As a
rookie, he caught 18 passes for 293 yards and three
touchdowns, adding a rushing touchdown and some big
plays on special teams, despite missing time with a
The situation at tight end is not as sound as it’s
been in the past. The best of the group is senior
a three-time letterwinner and 10-game starter in
2008. A good all-around athlete at 6-4 and 253
pounds, he had a career-high 22 receptions for 304
yards and two touchdowns last fall. He has the
wheels to beat defenses down the seam if they don’t
Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore
LaRon Byrd hasn’t gotten as much attention as Johnson or Benjamin,
but he still has a great future after debuting with
21 grabs for 228 yards and four touchdowns. In fact,
the way he played in the spring, he’s liable to
challenge hard for a starting assignment. At 6-4 and
215 pounds, he can fly, a size-speed combo that
creates constant match up problems on the outside
for defensive backs.
If Byrd resembles Johnson, then sophomore
Collier is the B team’s version of Benjamin. A
dangerous player out of the slot, he quietly opened
with 26 catches for 324 yards and two touchdowns.
While only 5-8 and 184 pounds, he’s a tough kid with
good quickness off the line and sudden changes of
direction in space.
The veteran of this inexperienced group is 6-3,
Hankerson, who’s played in 15 games with four
starts over the last two seasons. While he’s being
passed by the underclassmen, he does bring good size
and a couple of letters to the second team. In eight
games a year ago, he had 11 grabs for 140 yards and
It wasn’t long ago that senior
Gordon was battling for the starting tight end
job. Today, he’s just trying to remain relevant. An
afterthought in the offense, he caught just three
balls for 24 yards. Still, he should not be
overlooked. At 6-4 and 270 pounds, he has soft hands
and runs very well, a combination that hasn’t been
lost on NFL scouts.
Watch Out For ... more big plays. With
the size of Johnson and Byrd, and the explosiveness
of Benjamin, Harris has a diverse and dynamic set of
playmakers at his disposal. The freshmen were
feeling their way around a year ago. This year,
they’ll begin haunting ACC secondaries.
Strength: The future. Although
the present isn’t so bad, the future is ridiculously
bright. Not only is the corps loaded with talent and
diversity, but they’re all growing up together along
with Harris, another second-year player.
Weakness: Consistency. When your top
four wide receivers are just a little over a year
removed from high school, mental mistakes are going
to come with the territory. It’s inevitable. The
baby ‘Canes still need a little more polish in the
areas of route running and dropped passes.
There’s no question this group is going to be
improved from a year ago, but how much? That’ll
depend on their collective maturation process and
the development of Harris at quarterback. No matter
how high the bar gets set, these guys are worth all
of the hype. Johnson, Benjamin, and Byrd, in
particular, have the raw ability to eventually
emerge as All-ACC performers.
An already marginal Miami offensive line will be
looking to plug a couple of holes at right tackle
and center from last year. First dibs at the pivot
will go to versatile 6-3, 308-pound senior
who started two games at left guard and eight at
right guard a year ago. A natural leader with 20
games of career experience, he’s quick off the snap,
athletic, and steady enough to take control of this
For now, junior
has a slight edge at right tackle, but that’s
subject to change as the season approaches and the
competition increases. While he’s been around the
program for a while and looks the part at 6-7 and
307 pounds, he’s yet to log a start, mainly
appearing on special teams, and really needs to step
it up this offseason.
Left tackle, however, is fraught with far less
uncertainty. Rock-steady senior
is back for a fourth year as the starter. A one-time
tight end, he remains the line’s best athlete even
after beefing up to 6-7 and 310 pounds. Light on his
feet and improving his technique all the time, he’s
the program’s most dependable pass protector.
The frontrunners at guard will be two of the largest
athletes to ever play in Miami, 6-7, 334-pound
Orlando Franklin and 6-5, 344-pound junior
Franklin enjoyed a solid first season as a regular,
logging 11 starts on the left side and flashing some
of the dominant run blocking ability that portends a
bright future with the ‘Canes. He can be a little
stiff and slow at times, which need to be addressed
if he’s going to move closer to being an all-star.
Figueroa, on the other hand, was a disappointment in
his first season of extensive action, struggling to
hold on to the job at right guard and getting beat
too often. The potential and upper body strength are
there for him to rebound, but if he doesn’t get in
shape and sharpen his fundamentals, his job could be
in jeopardy. It didn’t help that he sat out the
spring recovering from a shoulder injury.
Projected Top Reserves: If Figueroa
doesn’t get his act together, 6-2, 315-pound
Harland Gunn stands to be the biggest
beneficiary. He has limited relevant experience, but
got plenty of reps with the first team in the
spring, and is poised to make a strong push for
playing time in the summer. An explosive drive
blocker with quicker feet than Figueroa, he can also
contribute at center.
Trump’s biggest challenge at center is coming from
6-4, 289-pound sophomore
An athletic lineman with good feet, he’ll need to
earn some playing time before getting a more serious
look from the coaching staff. He spent last fall
with the scout team, while getting a little bigger
and stronger in the weight room.
Watch Out For ... the true freshmen.
The Miami staff showed no hesitation using
first-year players last season. Considering the
depth concerns heading into 2009, it’ll have no
choice but to throw more than one kid into the deep
end of the water.
Washington have already participated in spring
drills, staking their claims for playing time at
tackle and guard, respectively.
Strength: Raw power. The ‘Canes
are flush with hulking individuals, who should be
able to blow their guy off the ball. The tackles are
tall, the guards are behemoths, and the center won’t
struggle to hold his ground at the point of contact.
Overall depth. Miami is hurting with its
depth after losing four players from last year’s
two-deep to graduation. If the true freshmen don’t
show an ability to perform right away, the
Hurricanes will be perilously thin at just about
It’s been a long time since the ‘Canes had a truly
dominant offensive line that can bully the other
team. And it’s going to be another year. This is an
average unit that did an average job of run blocking
and pass protecting a year. Fox and Franklin are
nice building blocks, but Miami needs a few more
like them to make a marked improvement over 2008.