Coker Welcomes Restocking Challenge

What now? That's the question a number of football programs around the country would be tossing around after losing nine players to the NFL draft. But nobody is reaching for the panic button at the University of Miami even after the latest defection of Hurricanes to the pro ranks.

Despite watching six of his former players (nine overall) snatched in the first-round of the draft, UM coach Larry Coker isn't losing any sleep over what the team's roster may look like come August. Instead, Coker welcomes the challenge of developing some of the new talent to replace the departed.

However, don't bring up the R-word in Coker's presence.

"This football team is pretty good, so rebuilding might be too strong a word," said Coker. "This team has an agreement to set our sights high. Guys that nobody's ever heard of could make people say, 'Wow, look at this guy. ' Will he be as good?"

After watching Sean Taylor, Kellen Winslow, Jonathan Vilma, D.J. Williams, Vince Wilfork and Vernon Carey set a school-record for most first-round picks in the draft, UM will have at least six new starters for their 2004 season-opener against Florida State. But if recent history is any indication the Hurricanes won't miss a beat.

In 2000, UM lost five players to the draft, including starting tight end Daniel Franks and linebacker Nate Webster, both currently in the NFL. All the Hurricanes did was replace them with All-Americans Jeremy Shockey and Dan Morgan.

Shockey, a two-time All-Big East first team selection, caught 61 passes for 815 yards and 10 touchdowns in two seasons before being selected 14th overall by the New York Giants. Morgan, the first player in college football history to win the Butkus Award, Nagurski Award and Bednarik Award in the same season, set a UM career record with 532 tackles (a Big East record).

When Morgan, receiver Santana Moss and running back James Jackson walked away in 2001 the Hurricanes filled the void with Vilma, Andre Johnson and Clinton Portis. Portis rushed for 2,523 yards in three seasons and was taken by the Denver Broncos in the second round of the 2002 draft. Portis is preparing for his season in Washington after a blockbuster trade.

Last season the Hurricanes lost eight players to the draft, including Johnson, running back Willis McGahee, quarterback Ken Dorsey and defensive tackle Matt Walters. Among their replacements: Frank Gore (currently rehabbing from a second knee surgery), quarterback Brock Berlin and receiver Ryan Moore.

"You know somebody is going to step up. That's just the way it is at the University of Miami," said Vilma. "I'm not even worried because I know there is plenty of talent to go around here. It's going to be like that for years to come."

The Hurricanes are hoping that case - at least this season. Replacing Vilma at middle linebacker is junior Leon Williams. Williams, who recorded 23 tackles in 13 game last season, came to Miami accompanied by plenty of hype. Now, he gets to back it up.

"It's exciting, but I can't focus on the past," said Williams. "I can only worry about what Leon Williams can do."

While Williams prepares to assume the role of starting middle linebacker, tight end Kevin Everett, defensive tackle Santonio Thomas and linebacker Tavares Gooden are all in line to replace this year's crop of drafted players.

Coker thinks the Hurricanes will be fine despite losing so much talent.

"I think this is one of the programs in the country that could sustain this," said Coker.

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