Coker Spring Preview

The team has been in their off-season workouts, but today at 3:00 the coaches will meet with the players for the first of 15 spring practices. Spring practices will be open to the public and conclude with the spring game on April 9 at Lockhart Stadium.

Last year the Hurricanes went 9-3 earning a spot in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl and coming away with a 27-10 victory over Florida finishing 11th in the final AP poll.

"We won nine games last year and I think we can do better," head coach Larry Coker said. "We are very anxious to get things going in spring practices to see if we can improve upon that."

When asked how far the team is from contending from the national championship this upcoming season, Coker responded, "I don't really know that. I think we have a chance to have a good team. I think we will know more when we get into spring practice and get into the fall. The thing we are not going to have is we are not going to have any excuses. We are going to take it one step at a time and see where that takes us."

QUARTERBACK

Sophomore Kyle Wright and freshman Kirby Freeman are the only two quarterbacks on scholarship this spring and will be competing for the starting position.

"We think it will be good competition between Kyle and Kirby," Coker said. "Both are very excited about that opportunity."

Kyle Wright will take the first snap, but that does not guarantee him a starting position for the 2005 season.

"To say that it is his job is not the case," Coker said. "We are going to play the best player and will see how the spring goes."

Coker, a former offensive coordinator, has a simple idea when judging quarterbacks.

"There is a real easy way to judge a quarterback and that is who is getting the team in the end zone and score touchdowns," Coker said.

Both players will get a lot of work with the top unit and with spring practices open to the public fans will be able to evaluate every throw.

" I want them to just go out and play and not worry about where they are on the depth chart," Coker said.

Spring practices conclude on April 9, but that doesn't mean there will be a starter named by then.

"In all honesty I don't know who the starter will be and to say by the end of spring practices and know who will be there, I really wouldn't say that," Coker said.

RUNNING BACKS

Tyrone Moss has rushed for 956 yards in his first two seasons as a backup. Now it is his turn to have the spotlight as the leading role. Moss had shoulder surgery in the off-season and will be held out of contact drills.

Moss has lost 11 pounds in the off-season and is still looking to shed more weight. All indications have pointed towards a quicker, more mobile back.

With Andrew Johnson still recovering from an ACL injury that leaves three running backs competing for time. Sophomore Charlie Jones, freshman Derron Thomas, and freshman George Timmons are looking to take advantage of the opportunity.

"We have Derron Thomas and I really like Charlie Jones," Coker said. "Those two guys will get a lot of work with Andrew Johnson out and Tyrone Moss not participating in contact drills."

Last year was their lowest rushing total in seven years. As a team they rushed for 1,572 yards after averaging over 2,200 yards in the previous six years.

"Running back is the position that I look at that we need to get better at," Coker said. "I like these guys that we have, but we need them to step up in the spring against a good defense."

James Bryant has been moved to fullback and is another player that could receive carries in the spring.

WIDE RECEIVERS

The Hurricanes have four sold wide receivers in Sinorice Moss, Ryan Moore, Darnell Jenkins, and Lance Leggett. Moss, the lone senior of the group, has been impressive in the off-season.

"Sinorice Moss has been exceptional," Coker said.

Moore led the team in receiving during the 2003 season as a freshman. He caught 44 passes for 627 yards. Last year he only had nine catches for 85 yards in an injury-plagued season.

"I've seen him really step his game up," Coker said. "I was very encouraged with him in the Peach Bowl game, not that he caught a lot of balls, but it was the effort he put in the two weeks of preparation. I think the thing Ryan has realized that to play at this level is not easy. I don't care how talented you are. If you don't really put your nose to the grindstone, then things normally don't quite work out as well. But I think he has a chance to really step up and have a good year."

Leggett caught 17 passes for 349 yards last season as a freshman.

"I think Lance Leggett has a chance to be a great receiver here," Coker said.

Akieem Jolla, Khalil Jones, and Terrell Walden are also receivers looking to add depth to the position.

"I really like the group we have and I have been very encouraged by the wide receiver position," Coker said.

TIGHT ENDS

Greg Olsen appears to be the next great tight end at Miami after catching 16 passes for 275 yards as a freshman last year before injuring his wrist, which could keep him out of spring practices.

"I don't need to see a lot of Greg Olsen this spring," Coker said. "I know what he can do. It's not about winning in spring practice. It is a matter of competing against Florida State."

Buck Ortega and Chris Zellner will be the primary tight ends in the spring.

"We need to see what some of these other guys can do," Coker said.

OFFENSIVE LINE

The offensive line could have its troubles this spring with a number of guys down with injuries. Facing a tough defensive line is always tough in the spring, but with younger players it could be even tougher.

"Both Tony Tella and Anthony Wollschlager will compete in the spring, but to what level remains to be seen," Coker said. "If we had a scrimmage today they would not be able to scrimmage."

The struggles in the running game last year also attribute to the play of the offensive line—a unit that is counted on for improvement in the spring.

"There definitely needs to be a different attitude now than before," Coker said. "We didn't run the ball very well last year. When we run the ball well, we are generally successful. I think we can run the ball better than what we did last year."

With Wollschlager hampered by injury, Alex Pou looks to earn positive snaps on the first unit as the team's center.

"It is time for him to step up and be a player," Coker said.

DEFENSIVE LINE

The defensive line looks to have a solid four-man rotation at defensive end again this year starting with Thomas Carroll and Bryan Pata.

"I think we are very deep at defensive end," Coker said. "Calais Campbell, Eric Moncur, and Rhyan Anderson are three young players ready for spring practices to start."

Baraka Atkins will start off at defensive tackle in the spring and appears to be the favorite for the starting left defensive tackle position next to Orien Harris.

"We need help inside," Coker said. "I was really impressed with what I saw in Baraka Atkins when he played defensive tackle in the Peach Bowl."

LINEBACKERS

A number of guys saw quality action a year ago and all are competing for time in the spring. Most of them have moved around to different linebacker positions.

"I like to have guys plugged into a position where guys are going to play," Coker said. "It takes a special guy to move around and pick up on things quickly. We still have to get the best players on the field."

Willie Williams was a highly touted linebacker out of Carol City High School and is ready to put injuries behind him so he can show his skills. Williams will be competing for the starting middle linebacker position this spring.

"Willie is going through everything with our workouts and has been doing well in school," Coker said. "I think he is very anxious to get going and he is healthy. We are really looking forward to him competing. It was a bit of a concern that he was going to redshirt and sometimes players get lost in the shuffle."

Tavares Gooden started the 2004 season as the team's starting weakside linebacker and started eight games before injuring his shoulder. He appears to be healed and ready to go for spring practices, but this time he will be at strongside linebacker.

"I think he can play weak or strong, but I think strong side is probably the best side for him once he gets healthy and I think he is healthy," Coker said.

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Devin Hester will be a focal point of the team in the spring and is counted on to take over the starting cornerback position left open by Antrel Rolle's departure to the NFL.

"He really improved a lot last year," Coker said. " He still has more improvement he needs to do. The key to Devin is just how good he wants to be because the sky is the limit for him."

Christopher Stock is a Senior Writer & Assistant Editor for CanesTime and can be contacted by emailing him at stock@canestime.com.

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