Coker optimistic despite injuries

Healthy running backs or fullbacks aren't exactly at a premium these days at the University of Miami, but the reshuffling in the Hurricanes backfield hasn't caused head coach Larry Coker to reach for the panic button. Not yet, anyway.

"Obviously, you always want all your players in there and healthy, but this is just part of football and something we're going to have to deal with," said Coker, after the Hurricanes practiced for two hours Monday morning at Greentree Field in Coral Gables. "We've had to move some guys around a bit and some young guys are getting a chance to get their feet. We have talent back there, it's just a matter of how fast they develop and are ready to play."

Injuries to several running backs, including projected starter Frank Gore, and starting fullback Kyle Cobia, who missed a second straight day of practice Monday with a left knee strain, has resulted in three members of the Hurricanes backfield being sidelined and a reshuffling at both positions.

Result: The Hurricanes currently have two running backs and no fullbacks with college game experience at their respective positions.

Gore, who said earlier this month he expects to return in October from a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in the spring, was slated to open the season as the team's starting running back. Junior Jarrett Payton, originally slated to back-up Gore, has been slowed by back spasms and unable to participate in practice.

Cobia said that he felt a sharp pain ‘on the side' of his left knee after being hit during practice Saturday. He was been out since and results of a MRI have not been determined yet. Cobia, who was a wearing a blue protective sleeve over the knee, still had a slight limp walking off the field this morning.

"The doctors said it's no ACL, but they have really not given me a final answer," said Cobia. "I'll know a lot more by the end of the day, but in a worse case scenario it'll be a week and a half. I'll play whatever it is."

Cobia had six carries for 16 yards, along with three receptions and 15 yards, last season. Geathers played in nine games as a reserve running back his freshmen season

With the elevation of Willis McGahee to starting running back in place of Gore and the injury to Payton, Coker recently moved junior Jason Geathers from receiver to back-up running back. Cobia's injury bumps up Talib Humphrey to first-string fullback and Quadtrine Hill is practicing at third-string running back and back-up fullback.

"Humphrey is going to be alright and I think Willis is in for an outstanding season," said Coker.

Humphrey, a former standout at Miami Southridge High, said that he knew coming in for spring practice that he was going to have plenty of responsibilities on the team. His promotion at fullback- be it temporally or not- isn't going to change that.

"From the first day I walked in here the coaches told me I was in the plans," said Humphrey, who signed with UM in December of 2001 after rushing for 400 yards at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M. "This just adds a little more responsibility on my shoulders at fullback. That's why I came here. I just learning and trying to cut back on the mistakes."

Said Running Backs coach Don Soldinger: "Right now he's just learning, but I feel comfortable with his ability as a football player. He's a tough kid."

Coker added that the possibility still exist of using tight ends David Williams, Eric Winston, along with Hill, as H-Backs coming out of the backfield. Coker said that having those players in the backfield would not be out of the ordinary.

"They just have to know the plays," said Coker.

Winston, 6-7 and 270 pounds, said after practice that he only carried the ball two times in four years of high school football. Still, he would accept any role if it benefits the Hurricanes.

"It's the same set and the same plays even though I don't think they will be handing the ball off to me," joked Winston.


Coker said he was encouraged by the defense's performance this morning and that the first-team offense isn't were he expected them to be on this point.

"I felt the defense really had a good practice, but that the offense was sluggish," Coker said. "All in all, it was certainly a good learning day."


Gore dressed for practice Monday morning and participated in light drills on the side with Payton (back spasms).

Gore, expected to miss the entire season after reconstructive surgery to repair an ACL, has targeted the first week of October for his return. Soldinger said Payton ‘is getter better' in addition to ‘he's in the meetings and knows what's going on'. Soldinger expects Payton to practice by the end of week ... Defensive end Jerome McDougle (strained pectoral muscle), reserve right end Andrew Williams (knee) and offensive lineman Alex Pou (knee) did not practice. Coker said he did not know when the players would resume practicing ... Red-shirt freshmen receiver Roscoe Parrish was praised by Coker after making several crowd-pleasing receptions this morning.


Coker said that incoming freshmen Devin Hester and Terrell Walden, along with junior college transfer Alton Wright, have not been cleared by the NCAA to report to the team. Coker said that ‘we should know more this week.'

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