Don't Look Like Champions - Yet

Before anybody goes off jumping from the nearest building in Coral Gables let me preface this by declaring that as of today, don't forget it's only the second week in April, the University of Miami football team does not resemble a national title contender or champion for that matter.

Spring practice is all but wrapped up and the same Hurricanes who came one Terry Porter away from heading back south from the Fiesta Bowl with a second consecutive championship have a something-is-missing feel. It's clear that 15 practices five months before the season kicks off for real should in no way be a definite indication of which way a college football team is headed.

But as of this very moment this collection of Hurricanes pales in comparison to the UM team that was sucker-punched in the desert by Ohio State. It may turn out to be that Brock Berlin or Derrick Crudup will make everybody forget Ken Dorsey, Roscoe Parrish will soften the blow of losing Andre Johnson, and that Vince Wilfork and friends will create plenty of chaos up front. Yet all those possibilities still hang over this team as big IFS. And they remain that way until the Hurricanes answer them like they usually do- resoundingly.

"We still have a lot of questions about our football team and a lot of them are going to stretch into the fall," says Miami coach Larry Coker. "We're not close to where to we want to be as a football team."

That's not exactly a surprise.

When fall camp opens in August the Hurricanes will still be in need of a starting quarterback (if you believe that Crudup really has a shot even though Berlin transferred from Florida, has spent over a year learning the offense and has already ordered 7,788 tickets for the season opener at Louisiana Tech), a primary wide receiver (not counting Kellen Winslow), a reliable running back behind Frank Gore, consistency on the offensive line (although the coaches feel they have found it by moving Eric Winston to left tackle) and a set rotation on the defensive line.

Coker said that the team will not choose between Berlin and Crudup until early fall at the latest. And although it's not entirely necessary that a quarterback be in place by now most coaches will tell you, off to the side of course, that they would prefer to have a No. 1 guy in place to get a jump start on individual meetings, gameplans, etc. Whatever is keeping Coker from making a decision, especially with Crudup in the running, it should be solved sooner than later. The offense hasn't really sparkled this spring and it will only continue to struggle with the uncertainty behind center.

Making matters even worse are the problems experienced by the offensive line this spring. The unit, although it has improved of late, failed repeatedly in opening running lanes consistently and more glaring had trouble giving the quarterbacks ample time to throw the ball. According to the staff, moving Eric Winston from reserve tight end to starting left tackle was in part an experiment and in part a way to give the Hurricanes enough depth at each position.

Word has it that the staff is doing cartwheels over Winston's potential, to the point of whispering that Winston has a better upside than former UM pancake specialist Bryant McKinnie, but it seems odd that the offensive line would be reshuffled this late into the preparations for the upcoming season. Most games, if not all, are decided at the line of scrimmage and moving guys isn't the way to get it done. The Hurricanes are using the one-week this guy, the next-week that guy philosophy, which could come back to bite them at some point in the season.

As soon as the Hurricanes declare a starting quarterback Berlin or Crudup can then start developing a primary ‘wide receiver' which will be a task in itself because the team doesn't have one right now. Jason Geathers has been given every chance but doesn't seem like the obvious choice, while Kevin Beard, Sinorice Moss, Akieem Jolla and Ryan Moore have all been set back because of injuries. That leaves Roscoe Parrish, who has had a spectacular spring, as the likely candidate to take the reigns from Andre Johnson. Only Parrish's slight body frame may not allow for the pounding that an entire season brings. Kellen Winslow better get ready to dig the Hurricanes out of some holes.

The questions don't end there.

There is little doubt about the skills that Frank Gore brings to the table, only running in the spring against his own teammates isn't the same as going up against Florida in September. Although the coaching staff has declared Gore completely heeled we won't know for sure until the fall for sure. One thing that is certain, until Tyrone Moss arrives in the fall, is the Hurricanes' thin backfield behind Gore. As recently as Saturday Jarrett Payton showed he isn't capable of getting it done, while Quadtrine Hill may be better suited at fullback.

Replacing six defensive line players won't be easy either. Miami has some speed up front and the ends remain a question until a set rotation is put into place. This team is a work in progress.

Who knows?

Miami might finish the 2003-04 season by hoisting another national championship trophy in New Orleans next January. But as of right now it looks as though the Hurricanes have some work to do before they start thinking about parading down Bourbon Street.

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