Coker Has Holes To Fill

Coming off a 11-2 season that included an Orange Bowl victory over Florida State, University of Miami football coach Larry Coker doesn't see the Hurricanes taking a step back anytime soon. But Coker admits that the Hurricanes will have a lot of 'holes to fill' when spring practice opens later this month.

"I've been told we might have five first-round (NFL) draft choices, which is great," said Coker, during his pre-spring practice press conference on Wednesday. "But it's not great because you now have holes to fill."

Although spring practice begins Mar. 23 Coker is already taking an early look at life without Sean Taylor, Jonathan Vilma, Vince Wilfork, Kellen Winslow and D. J. Williams, five players who were an integral part of the 2001 national championship squad and combined suffered just 17 losses. Their departures leave UM with key openings that will be addressed in camp.

One of the positions that Coker and his staff will be watching closely is linebacker. Junior Leon Williams is expected to replace Vilma in the middle, while Rocky McIntosh is slated to start at the strongside. Sophomore Tavares Gooden will get the first crack to start at weakside.

"Tavares is a tremendous football player," said Coker. "He brings a lot of energy. He's going to be fine."

Coker recently got a boost when Jon Beason informed him he wants to play linebacker. Beason will open the spring as a reserve at middle linebacker.

"Jon wants to have the opportunity to play there," Coker said. "I really think he can help us a lot."

Getting some running backs to step up will also be something that Coker desires - especially with the absence of redshirt junior Frank Gore. Gore, who tore the ACL in his right knee last October, will be held out of contact in the spring as he continues to rehab. Coker said Gore's biggest hurdle will be keeping his emotions in check.

"He was giving us 100 yards every time out," Coker said.

With Gore out, Coker will use junior Quadtrine Hill and senior Talib Humphrey at running back behind projected starter Tyrone Moss. Coker will also have the services of several freshmen in the fall including Charlie Jones and Bobby Washington.

"I'd like to give Quadtrine the opportunity to play running back," says Coker. "We have to find somebody to play there."

Coker silenced any speculation - at least for now - of a change at quarterback by saying that senior Brock Berlin will head into camp as the starter. Although the former Florida Gator struggled with his consistency last season, Coker noted that Berlin had a 68 percent completion ratio in the 22-14 bowl win over the Seminoles. Coker hopes that the experience Berlin has had in the offense should only help him next season.

"There are a lot of good things that Brock did," said Coker. "We're just hoping that a second year will only help him."

But Coker did leave the door open for a change by adding that senior Derrick Crudup and sophomore Kyle Wright both will get plenty of work. Wright, a 6-4, 200-pounder, could be elevated to the starter's role if Berlin falters at any point during camp. And Coker isn't going to shy away from any competition that may eventually develop.

"I'll tell Derrick and Kyle, especially Kyle, that don't just let this year get away," said Coker. "I don't want them to think, well Brock is going to start so I'll just wait until next year. I want you to go in there and take somebody's job."

The first day of practice is March 23. The team will have its annual Spring Game April 17 at the Orange Bowl.

WILLIAMS ISSUES

Coker said he was aware of some issues in Willie Williams' past although he did not know detailed specifics of his troubles.

"I was aware that he'd had some issues in the past," said Coker. "Did I know the specifics? No. The coaches and people at Carol City had really rave reviews about the young. His academic transcripts and test scores were really good."

Williams, one of the top prep players in the country, signed a letter of intent with the Hurricanes before his legal woes came to light in a published report after a recruiting trip to the University of Florida. The former Carol City star has been arrested over 10 times, and failed to comply with his probation period after being involved in several separate incidents in Gainesville.

"We're just hoping it all works out for the young man," said Coker.

SIDELINES

In addition to Gore, defensive back Glenn Sharpe and wide receiver Ryan Moore (shoulder surgery) will be held out of spring practice. Coker said that defensive end John Square has left the team.

"I don't think John sees a future in football and he just doesn't want to play football anymore," said Coker. "We'd like to keep John in the program in some capacity." Senior Kevin Everett is expected to start at tight end although Notre Dame transfer Greg Olsen will likely get significant playing time. Olsen will compete with Brad Kunz and Curtis Justus for the long-snapper position.

"You'd like to have someone that isn't in on every play," said Coker.

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