Will it be Derrick Crudup or Brock Berlin who wins the starting quarterback position, replacing the departed Ken Dorsey? What receiver, other than tight end Kellen Winslow, will emerge at the position and offset a handful of injuries? Has Frank Gore completed his return from a serious knee injury? Is the defense this good or the offensive line a couple of strides behind?
The search for answers to the team's most pressing issues, and a few other matters of business, will take center stage Saturday, April 5, at the Orange Bowl as the Hurricanes hold their annual ‘spring game' public scrimmage. Coming off a 12-1 season, which included a second straight appearance in the national championship game, UM coach Larry Coker is usually doing some fine-tuning in March.
But rather than lament the process of having to replace a good portion of the roster Coker has enjoyed the spring and is looking forward to a highly competitive scrimmage in a few days.
Coker, who said recently that he would like the quarterback situation to start taking shape by the end of the week, is still debating on whether Berlin or Crudup is the obvious choice. At this point, largely in part to a defense that has applied constant pressure on both players throughout the spring. But the third-year coach will be paying close attention to the scrimmage in hopes that either quarterback takes the lead heading into the fall.
"We're at this point now that we want to see some progress in some areas of our football team and it would be ideal to have Derrick or Brock distance themselves a little bit," said Coker. "We don't need a starting quarterback tomorrow. But again it would be beneficial to everybody involved to have one guy take the reigns. Before you know it the start of the season will be right on us and we can't drag this thing out forever."
Crudup, a junior, has turned in mixed reviews after being designated as the Hurricanes starting quarterback the first day of practice. The 6-1, 201-pounder out of Deerfield Beach has completed six passes in 10 attempts in two scrimmages this spring. But Crudup has also been forced into a handful of misguided throws by a swarming defense.
In the team's most recent scrimmage Crudup was sacked three times and was on the move for most of the evening. Some members of the Hurricanes coaching staff have privately questioned if Crudup will ever run the offense adequately.
Nonetheless Crudup remains confident.
"I still believe it's my job to lose," Crudup said last week. "Give the defense a lot of credit to because they are one of the best in the country. But I still believe I can get this done. There is no doubt in my mine about it."
Berlin, the University of Florida transfer who was expected to open the spring behind center, has looked impressive at time but sluggish in other instances as well. Berlin led the Hurricanes on their lone scoring drive during the team's first scrimmage of the spring but followed that up with a 2-for-8 (48 yards) performance last Friday.
And despite having to sit behind Crudup after being considered the early favorite heading into spring Berlin believes that the best player will win the position.
"I feel comfortable with what I've done and I'm just going about my business," says Berlin who sat out 2002 after throwing for 653 yards and 11 touchdowns at Florida from 2000-01. "I'm doing whatever the coaches have asked. I don't really look at this as some tough obstacle I have to overcome. That's one of the reasons I came to Miami because I knew there would be competition. I don't expect anybody to hand me anything."
But with only three spring practices after Saturday's scrimmage left Berlin is intent on making the most out of his next opportunity, especially in a stadium expected to be filled with Hurricane fans.
"I'd like to go out there and have a good one, but you also have to take into account that our defense is really playing well. That never makes it easy."
The Hurricanes offensive line will also be watched closely on Saturday after struggling last week, which includes an unimpressive performance in Friday's scrimmage. Although Coker said that some of the changes made earlier this week along the offensive line are experimental and were not meant as demotions the first-unit has been reshuffled with sophomore Eric Winston being inserted at left tackle and Joe McGrath at left guard.
Coker added that projected right tackle Vernon Carey would be given a look at guard, while Chris Myers, slated to start the season at right guard, is being given some reps at center.
Coker did say after last week's scrimmage that he was concerned with the offensive line's productivity because the defense was using a lot of five-man fronts and not applying all-out blitzes on a consistent basis.
"It's definitely something that we have to address and an area of our football team that we have to improve," said Coker. "We have some talent, don't get me wrong, but I don't think we're there in terms of what we can be in the future."
UM would also welcome a couple standouts at wide receiver into the fall after being decimated at the position even before the spring started. Miami is currently without Kevin Beard (knee), Ryan Moore (hamstring) and Sinorice Moss (ankle). Akieem Jolla, still hobbled by a groin injury, returned to practice earlier this week. But the Hurricanes would welcome the presence of any receiver willing to take control at the position.
Coker will also be in search of a receiver, possibly Roscoe Parrish or Jason Geathers that could take the go-to-guy reigns for the Hurricanes. Parrish, a sophomore who is making a strong case to unseat Kevin Beard at one of the receiver spots, has put together a steady camp with five receptions in two scrimmages.
Parrish, who has put on 10 pounds this off-season, is saying all the right things. But he didn't rule out the possibility of starting the season with the rest of the first-team.
"That's what I'm striving for I'm not going to kid you," said Parrish who had 19 receptions and 340 yards last season. "I'm a competitive person and any competitive person would love a chance to start."
One of the overly impressive units for the Hurricanes this spring has been the defense. All the quarterbacks have had to deal with pressure and the running game, even with Frank Gore's success so far has been limited. Coker would like to see the offense catch up.
"We need a little better protection that's for sure," said Coker. "We need some time back there in order to run our offense some."
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