2009 Miami Preview - Offense
Miami RB Javarris James
Miami RB Javarris James
Posted Jul 15, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Miami Hurricane Offense

Miami Hurricanes

Preview 2009 - Offense

- 2009 CFN Miami Preview | 2009 Miami Offense Preview
2009 Miami Defense Preview | 2009 Miami Depth Chart
- 2008 Miami Preview | 2007 Miami Preview | 2006 Miami Preview

What you 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.

Returning Leaders
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

Star of the offense: Junior RB Graig Cooper

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: Johnson
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 positions
Weakness of the offense: Converting on third down, youth under center, the offensive line


Projected Starter: 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 Taylor Cook, 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 huddle.

Cook’s competition is coming from Cannon Smith, 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.

Strength: Harris. He 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 new playbook.    
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.

Outlook: 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.
: 7

Running Backs

Projected Starters: 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 senior Javarris James and 6-0, 202-pound junior Graig Cooper. 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 his offense.

One of the more uniquely constructed players in all of college football, senior FB Patrick Hill 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 Lee Chambers. 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 freshman John 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.
Strength: 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.
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.
Outlook: 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.
Rating: 8


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 Aldarius 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 sophomore 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 leg injury.

The situation at tight end is not as sound as it’s been in the past. The best of the group is senior Dedrick Epps, 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 pay attention.   

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 Thearon 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, 215-pound junior Leonard 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 two scores.

It wasn’t long ago that senior Richard 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.
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.   
Outlook: 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.
: 7.5

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: 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 A.J. Trump, 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 assignment.

For now, junior Matt Pipho 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 Jason Fox 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 junior Orlando Franklin and 6-5, 344-pound junior Joel Figueroa. 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 sophomore 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 Tyler Horn. 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. Jermaine Johnson and Brandon Washington have already participated in spring drills, staking their claims for playing time at tackle and guard, respectively.
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. 
Weakness: 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 every position. 
Outlook: 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.  
: 7


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