Warming Up

University of Miami senior linebacker Jonathan Vilma is tired off all the pre-season rhetoric, interviews and team functions. The former Coral Gables standout and clutch defender is just itching to get back on the football field- even if it means long and sweltering days under the South Florida heat.

"I've been ready for a while man," said Vilma. "I'm just dying to hit somebody and get this thing rolling."

Hang in there big guy.

Vilma and the rest of the Hurricanes only have to wait until Monday at 3:30 p.m. to open fall training camp and begin final preparations for the upcoming season. Thanks to a new NCAA rule mandated earlier this spring that limits two-a-day practices to every other day, the Hurricanes will hold single practice sessions for the first five days of camp in place of the customary two-a-day workouts. But nonetheless the Hurricanes will practice 28 times before hitting the road for the start of the 2003.

"We have a lot of guys chomping at the bit and ready to get back out there," said UM Coach Larry Coker. "I think this team is anxious to put the gear on and start piecing things together."

The head man is as well. Coker, entering his third season as coach, has guided the Hurricanes to 24 victories in 25 games since taking over at the start of the 2001 season. But the only blemish on his record came last January when the Hurricanes fell in the national championship Fiesta Bowl to the Ohio State Buckeyes.

So despite a three-year run in which Miami has won 35 of 37 games, a national championship and appeared in two Bowl Championship Series title games, Coker is faced with the burden of molding a squad that is over six months removed from one of the toughest setbacks in program history.

"I think you learn to move on but I can't say that I will ever forget what happened in the Fiesta Bowl," Coker said. "And you know what? That's not necessarily a bad thing because I'm pretty sure if you go around and ask these guys they will tell you that they're intent of having that chance again (of playing in the national championship game). They're extremely driven to get back there."

After months of countless individual workouts and hours in the weight room, the Hurricanes might already have their sights set on New Orleans, site of the Sugar Bowl and this year's BCS national title game. But even Coker confesses that there is plenty more edges to sharpen – besides the team's mental make-up – before the start of the season.

Coker did not give away any secrets on what the Hurricanes will be paying close attention to in the next few weeks. But with a season-opening date with Louisiana Tech lurking it's safe to assume he will be occupied keeping tabs on some of his players in camp- namely starting quarterback Brock Berlin and running back Frank Gore, perhaps the two most critical players in the Hurricanes offense this season.

It will be interesting to see if Berlin has improved his precision and timing with fellow receivers and adopted a better grasp of the offense after having an up and down spring. Berlin, who transferred from Florida after the 2001 season and sat out a year per NCAA rules, will follow in the footsteps of former UM quarterback Ken Dorsey after being named the starter earlier in the spring.

While not being able to suit up and play, Berlin participated in practice and had every chance to learn the Hurricanes offense. Now, 18 months after throwing his last pass in a game he is being asked to direct it. Berlin isn't shying away from the challenge.

"Obviously there are going to be pressures," said Berlin, passed for 653 yards and 11 touchdowns in 12 games while at Florida. "But that's why you play this game. I like that pressure of being the guy called on."

"I don't think I would have come here if I didn't believe I couldn't get the job done. But being here is going to offer the highest levels of competition of college football and that is one of the reasons why I came here. Being the starter, obviously I'm going to be a little nervous in the first game. But once we get going it'll be time to roll."

Offensive coordinator Rod Chudzinski has overseen a Miami offense that has scored 1,514 points the last three seasons, including a record 527 last season. Chudzinski doesn't see much of a drop with Berlin at the controls.

"I mean from the beginning of the spring to the end of the spring I don't think there was a day that Brock didn't get better," says Chudzinski. "He's just taken the bull by the horns and become one of the leaders of this football team. Brock just has that intangible of believing its his show out there."

Whatever positive strides third-year sophomore running back Frank Gore takes starting Monday will also be a strong indicator on the Hurricanes national title hopes. Gore returned this past spring after suffering a torn ACL in his right knee that sidelined him for the entire 2002 season. With little depth at the position, besides incoming freshman Tyrone Moss, if and how Gore responds to the yet-to-come pounding on his knee might very well be another point of contention during camp.

"Believe me when I say that I'm not losing any sleep over Frank Gore," Coker said earlier in the spring. "From everything I've seen Frank looks fit and is ready to go 100 percent."

Said Gore: "I don't even think about it to tell you the truth. I feel ready and the knee hasn't been a problem. I've worked too hard to get back. There is no doubt in my mind that I'll be at full strength. You'll just have to wait and see."

The position switch in the spring of sophomore Eric Winston from reserve tight tend to starting left tackle will also be a little more magnified as the season opener approaches. Despite no offensive line experience, Winston is behind called on to protect the quarterback's blindside, considered the most important position on the offensive line.

Chudzinski will be one of the interested observers.

"Eric is a tremendous athlete that has a lot of potential," said Chudzinski. "I think he's going to be a great tackle but let's remember he hasn't done it yet."

Also on the agenda in the coming weeks: settling the back-up running back position and the receiving unit, and deciding on a set rotation on the defensive line.

With Gore returning from injury and the Hurricanes short on help behind him, the development of freshman running back Tyrone Moss will likely be accelerated. Even before graduating from high school, Moss publicly spoke about his desire to take Gore's spot. Now, he has to prove to the coaching staff he's ready to play immediately. Getting everything squared away at the receiver position after dealing with a handful of injuries in the spring is key. Returnees Ryan Moore, Sinorice Moss and Aikeem Jolla missed most of the spring, while Roscoe Parrish and Jason Geathers were subpar.

All practice sessions are open to the public through August 13. Miami opens its 2003 schedule at Louisiana Tech, Thursday, Aug. 28.

? UM announced that Missouri asked out of its games in 2004 and 2005 against the Hurricanes and was granted their wish. Miami athletic director Paul Dee said that the school is talking to Louisville as a possible replacement on the schedule.

? Miami recently received an oral commitment from Denver South High School defensive end/tight end Calais Campbell. Campbell, 6-7 and 230 pounds and regarded as the top defensive high school player in Colorado, is the state's all-time sack leader with 38.

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