GRASSY - I am a big believer in winning the battle of the trenches and this season Miami will be very tough up front and they will be led by senior Orien Harris. Both Harris and fellow defensive tackle Baraka Atkins are the quiet type but Harris does play with emotion and can lead by his actions. Miami is solid in the secondary and has more depth at linebacker than they have had in some time but it starts with the guys up front and stellar play from the defensive tackle position will be what makes this defense special.
Orien Harris has developed from a high school phenom to a top-tier college defensive tackle. With the supporting cast he will have around him, I look for him to put together a domination senior season and if that happens I look for this Hurricane defense to be as good as many think they can be.
BAKAS - There are no Dan Morgans or Ed Reeds or Warren Sapps out there. Despite that, this UM defense has a tremendous amount of talent. Whoever emerges as the top guy from this unit will probably be pretty special. Who will it be?
The defensive line is loaded. Thomas Carroll showed flashes of having a breakout season a year ago. He was UM's most consistent defensive end and it would be a major plus if he can elevate his game to the next level. Bryan Pata has dropped some weight and also showed flashes late in the season of taking his game to another level. Baraka Atkins has steadily been a difference maker along the defensive front. Orien Harris was better in '03 but is capable of adding his name to the list of great defensive tackles who have played here.
At linebacker, I dare someone to find a team that's got more talent. If they don't produce as a unit this season, serious changes need to be made somewhere. Rocky McIntosh has been hurt most of the preseason. Jon Beason and Tavares Gooden could be those types of players and everyone is excited about Willie Williams. I dont think any of them are that much better than the rest, however.
That leads us to the secondary. Teams will be afraid to pick on Devin Hester because of his playmaking skills. The coaches hope Marcus Maxey puts it all together this season. The safeties have a lot of experience.
However, it's cornerback Kelly Jennings who's the leader of this group. He has more starts under his belt than any other Hurricane. He's quiet but he's a leader. Many people, including some opposing players and coaches, felt he was UM's best cover guy last season. He knows what's up and so do opposing coaches. He'll provide leadership (been there, done that). He'll take away the best receiver on the other team and he'll force people to pick on Maxey and Hester. That could get fun to watch. He may not have the flash of a Duane Starks or Phil Buchanon because he doesn't return punts. He may not have the NFL body and tools like Antrel Rolle. However, Jennings is UM's best defender and he's proven it over and over again. Why change now?
Jennings gets my vote.
STOCK - There are nine seniors on the defense and nine returning starters. That combination should lead to plenty of leadership for Randy Shannon's crew.
However there is one guy who has already emerged as a leader on the defense and it is senior defensive tackle Orien Harris.
Harris has the potential to be a special player on the field this season after having a sub-par season by his standards in 2004 when he recorded 1.5 sacks and had 12 tackles for loss.
He has a strong personality that his teammates really enjoy being around. His positive energy and natural leadership abilities make him the ideal candidate to be the leader on the defense. However, he must produce on the field to really gain even more respect from his teammates. This year, according to defensive line coach Greg Mark, he expects Harris to maintain a level of consistency on the practice field, which will also help his teammates follow his lead even more. Although he hails from the state of Delaware, he relates well to a number of different individuals and is a vital ingredient for the success of the Hurricanes in 2005.
Bryan "Grassy" Knoll - DT Orien Harris
Mike Bakas - CB Kelly Jennings
Christopher Stock - DT Orien Harris
Look for Question #3 tomorrow, August 24.