An Offseason Look: Miami

QB Brock Berlin seemed to cement his place as the team's starter this spring after drawing criticism at times last season and being benched for a game. Coach Larry Coker says Berlin is his starter ... unless game performance shows otherwise, of course.

"We're going to play the best player we feel has a chance to help us win games, and right now, we feel like that's Brock," Coker told the Naples News. "From that standpoint, yes, we are committed to him, but we're not committed to the point where we're not going to play somebody else if he's not getting the job done."

The vaunted Miami defense is going to have a few new faces, with seven starters gone from that side of the ball. There's plenty of experience along the front line, with Baraka Atkins, Orien Harris and Thomas Carroll all back, but a lot of players were tried out at other positions during spring practice as Miami coaches searched for the right lineup.

It will definitely be a season of transition for the Canes, from the Big East to the ACC and to some new players after losing a boatload of talent -- including six first-round NFL draft picks. But the spring seemed to help the team start the process of moving forward.

Miami's talent might be younger than in the past few years, but, make no mistake, the talent is definitely there.

There will be plenty of new talent available in another fine recruiting class, including, possibly, star linebacker Willie Williams, who is reportedly much closer to enrolling at Miami and joining the team. While Williams has been arrested 12 times and recently admitted to a Broward (Fla.) County judge that he violated his probation, UM officials have given indications that Williams will be admitted. However, Williams must meet eight conditions if the university is going to accept him.

According to the Miami Herald, those conditions include 50 hours of community service and 10 hours of study hall each week. It seems unlikely that Williams will face jail time because Broward County judge Michael Kaplan said it was "in society's best interests if [Williams] were in college as opposed to not being in college.''

Preseason Predictions: Ranked eighth by Lindy's; seventh by Street & Smith's; fourth by Athlon. CB Antrel Rolle, 1st team All-America by Lindy's, Street & Smith's and Athlon. OG Chris Meyers, 2nd team All-America by Lindy's, 3rd team by Street & Smith's. OT Eric Winston, 2nd team All-America by Lindy's and Street & Smith's; first team by Athlon. KR David Hester, 3rd team All-America by Athlon. WR Ryan Moore, 3rd team All-America by Athlon.

Also, Miami's receiving corps is ranked fourth by Athlon, seventh by Lindy's. Offensive line ranked sixth by Athlon, ninth by Lindy's. Defensive line ranked fourth by Athlon, sixth by Lindy's. Defensive backs ranked eighth by Lindy's.

Key Game: The Hurricanes ended 2003 with a victory over hated rival Florida State in the Orange Bowl and they'll get to start 2004 -- and their first ACC experience -- with yet another meeting with the Seminoles. Not only will the season opener set the tone for Miami's chance at a national title run, but it'll also count toward the ACC standings, an added significance to an already significant game.

The Mindset: An 11-2 season isn't too bad in most parts of the country, but for the Hurricanes, who won the national title in 2001 and played in the championship game in 2002, two losses is two too many. Miami has some spots to fill, especially on defense, where only four starters return, but coach Larry Coker will have the 'Canes ready to contend again by the time the fall comes around.

Big Shoes to Fill: Now that Kellen Winslow, Jeremy Shockey and Bubba Franks have set the bar high for Miami tight ends, it's going to be up to Kevin Everett to continue the tradition. Everett caught just nine passes in 2003, but three were for scores, tying him for the team lead in touchdowns. He'll need to be even more of a threat -- coaches say he might be faster than Winslow -- to make up for the loss of Winslow to the NFL.

Quote to Note: "Brock really stepped it up and made plays. He was able to lead the team to touchdowns, which is all you can ask of your quarterback." -- Head coach Larry Coker on QB Brock Berlin's performance in the Miami spring game. Top Stories