Winston fits offensive line ‘like a glove'

Just last spring Eric Winston was busy issuing warnings to prospective recruiters that he wanted no part of the offensive line and was only interested in playing tight end no matter where he went to school. Last week Winston walked into University of Miami offensive line coach Art Kehoe's office and made a bold prediction.

"Eric looked me straight in the eyes and said I think I can win the Outland Trophy (given to the country's outstanding offensive lineman)," Kehoe said. "And you know what? It's hard to argue with the kid."

Towards the end of his career at Lee High in Midland, Texas Winston was so fixed on lining up at tight end that he waved several potential schools away, including the University of Oklahoma and Texas, because they would not make the sole promise of keeping him at the position. Miami put it in the hands of offensive coordinator Rod Chudzinski to bring Winston to Coral Gables.

"Chud did a great job of getting him," said Kehoe.

That was step one. Step two came several weeks ago when Winston was moved from reserve tight end to left tackle. But it didn't end there as Winston was inserted at first-team left tackle bumping projected starter Carlos Joseph to right tackle.

And Winston doesn't seem mind.

"I'll be honest with you at first I didn't know what to think," said the 6-7, 290-pounder who made two receptions for 13 yards but was used mainly as a blocker as a freshman last season. "But I couldn't be happier right now. I'm not the biggest guy in the world but I feel I'll be able to make up for it with my quickness."

UM coach Larry Coker said that Winston isn't being counted on as an instant savior along the offensive line. But Coker went on to add that Winston has the knowledge and tools to be a standout offensive lineman.

Winston said Wednesday that he is over wanting to play tight end and that maturing had a lot to do with it.

"I was being stubborn but there have been a lot of guys that have made the transition," said Winston. "I feel good with the decision I made."

Kehoe believes that Winston is just beginning his development.

"He's 295 right now and he was dieting to stay at 275 so I don't think he'll have a problem growing," said Winston. "He's going to be 310 pounds, a 400-pound bench presser and 500-pound squatter and run under 5.0 by the time he gets out of here. When he gets to the NFL combine they'll think he's a freak."

There had been speculation brewing that the recent reshuffling of the offensive line that resulted in three projected starters moved to different positions was a product of the coaching staff wanting to insert Winston in the starting line-up. But Kehoe would only say that having Winston on the offensive line makes his unit better and adds depth.

"If you're playing Florida State and with (Chris) Myers I want the next best center in there and that's the way I feel about Eric. He makes us that much better."

Kehoe pointed out that when the move was about to be made Chudzinski asked him if he wanted him on the offensive-line.

"That's like asking me if I wanted Tony Boselli and Leon Searcy there too," said Kehoe.

High praise indeed.

PROTECTION IMPROVES: Coker was pleased with the improved play of the offensive line that allowed for quarterbacks to have more time during Wednesday's practice.

"We had a lot of third-down situations and the pass protection really improved," said Coker. "The protection makes a big difference."

AS THE QB'S TURN: Coker said that junior quarterback Brock Berlin had his best day of the spring Wednesday and wasn't making the decision of naming a starter any easier. Berlin, who transferred from Florida last winter, looked sharp during drills at the end of practice.

And Coker was there to take notice.

"I really though Brock had his best day of the spring by far," said Coker. "He made some good reads and is showing a knack for the offense. It's good to see a guy step up like Brock did today."

But Coker added that the quarterback competition between Berlin and third-year player Derrick Crudup would probably extend into the fall.

"We'd like to have a guy in place sooner than later if possible. But you can't force the issue either," said Coker. "We'll continue to breakdown film and evaluate these guys on a daily basis so we can make the best decision possible."

Said Berlin: "I felt I had a good day. I feel the offense is coming along more and more each and I'm just having fun with it. Whatever coach wants to do it's his call and I'll take it from there."

LOOKING FOR A GOOD CROWD: Other than saying he is looking for efficiency on both sides of the ball, guys competing and an injury-free scrimmage, Coker also expects a solid crowd turnout Saturday at the Orange Bowl.

"I'm looking for 15,000 in the Orange Bowl," said Coker. "We'll hopefully see some people in the seats."

INJURY UPDATE: Tailback Frank Gore (bruised shoulder) took part in practice. Defensive back Brandon Merriweather is expected to miss the remainder of the spring with a high ankle sprain.

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