Coker Itching To Get Started

Coming off a double overtime loss to Ohio State in the national title Fiesta Bowl last January, the return of the University of Miami's football team to the practice field next week is likely to garner plenty of attention. But there is at least one person who has come to expect it.

"Another year, high expectations," said UM coach Larry Coker, during Thursday's media luncheon on the Coral Gables campus. "But we've kind of gotten used to that at the University of Miami. It's something we've kind to come to expect."

The Hurricanes have won 24 of 25 games under Coker and carried a 34-game winning streak into the Fiesta Bowl before losing to the Buckeyes. Coker opening admits that the Fiesta Bowl result still bites at him but with the help of his players he has slowly set his sights on the upcoming season.

"I tell you what just seeing the say these guys got back into thee weight room and rededicated themselves has help me," Coker. "Some of these guys had never lost a game and nobody enjoys a game they lost. But again it has to be painful."

Coker is sounding optimistic despite heading into the fall with a new starting quarterback (Brock Berlin), a starting running back coming off knee surgery, a reshuffled offensive line and uncertainties at defensive end and receiver.

Coker, entering his third year as coach, said that he feels comfortable with the progress Berlin and Gore made during the spring and declared them fit to start the season. But he would feel more at ease if one of the receivers on the roster steps up during camp and the Hurricanes solve some issues at defensive end. Without Andre Johnson, the third-overall selection in this year's NFL draft, and a host of injuries in the spring, Coker is still in search of a receiver can consistently rely on, other than Kellen Winslow. He hinted on putting that burden on senior Jason Geathers.

"I want to see Jason Geathers get somewhere and be a great player," said Coker. "Jason came to me and said, I don't care where you put me I just want to play. I still think he has it to be that big play, physical receiver like Andre was for us."

Coker did admit he is concerned over the lack of depth at defensive end and running back. He is looking for freshman running back Tyrone Moss to come in and strengthen that position. Baraka Atkins and sophomore Thomas Carroll are being counted on to give settle in immediately with the only two experienced returning defensive ends currently out.


Coker said that Joel Rodriguez (C), Chris Myers (RG), Joe McGrath (LG), Vernon Carey (RT), and Carlos Joseph or Eric Winston (LT) would make up the first unit offensive line when the team opens camp. Winston, a reserve tight end last season, was moved to left tackle in the spring after impressing the staff.

Winston, listed at 260 pounds a year ago, recently measured in at 6-7 and 303 pounds and ran a 4.79 40-yard dash, according to Coker. Although the coaching staff would not commit to anything publicly after Winston switched positions, it is believed the move was made to start Winston at left tackle. Coker said that Carey would see some time at guard but refrained from any other certainties beyond that.

"Eric is a very intelligent and tough player who loves to play," said Coker. "But we're going to play the best players whoever that may be."


Reserve defensive lineman John Square is coming off shoulder surgery and will have his contact guarded in camp. Coker, who said he did not know when Square had surgery, added that Square should be ready for the season opener at Louisiana Tech Aug. 28. Defensive end John Wood, a third-year sophomore who was suspended in the spring, remains off the team.

With Square and Wood out, the Hurricanes are left with a shortage of defensive ends. Square, one of the most experienced defensive ends returning, has played in 13 games over the two seasons and had five sacks in nine games in 2001 during being sidelined by a chest injury. Coker is hoping sophomore Thomas Carroll, and red-shirt freshman Baraka Atkins can be productive in the absence of Wood and Square.


Highly-recruited defensive tackle Nate Robinson, from Irvington, N.J., is headed to Rutgers after not obtaining a qualifying SAT score to gain entrance into UM. Robinson said he would not take the exam again.

"Its obviously disappointing when your lose not only a player but a person like Nate," But our philosophy has always been to worry about who we have not what we don't have."

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