News & Notes: Miami

Read on for some of the latest news & notes surrounding the Miami Hurricanes football team.

INSIDE SLANT

Miami goes into the 2010 season spurred by a sense of unfinished business.

The Hurricanes have faded down the stretch in the past two years, punctuating the end of each season with a loss in their bowl games.

"We realize that after being here a couple of seasons that sometimes you may not be able to achieve your main goals right away," junior cornerback Brandon Harris said during a mid-summer press conference.

"It's a process. You can't get to the end and reach your goals until you've taken the proper steps to get to that point. A lot of us realize that now, being a lot older and mature.

"We realize college football is really a lot like a business and we have to apply ourselves that way."

Harris is one of several veterans who figure to have the Hurricanes contending for their first conference title since joining the ACC in 2004.

He is one of eight starters returning on defense, including three in the secondary. Six starters are back on offense, which is loaded with game-breaking potential at running back and wide receiver.

The key returnee on offense is junior quarterback Jacory Harris. Harris struggled the final month of last season because of a thumb injury, throwing 17 interceptions for the year, but he has thrown 36 touchdown passes in his two years as a starter.

"Throwing has been going good," said Harris, who did not take part in spring drills. "I've got good support from my teammates. Everybody around me has been giving me the confidence to keep on striving to get better and progress as my thumb gets better.

"I've been throwing since May. Soon as I got cleared, the next day I was on the field. So it hasn't slowed me down."

Harris has five of his top eight receivers back, including the top guy, senior Leonard Hankerson. Hankerson had 45 catches for 801 yards and six touchdowns last year after catching just 17 balls for 203 yards in the previous two years combined.

Senior running back Graig Cooper is coming off a knee injury that will limit him early. But the return of Damien Berry, last year's surprise star, along with sophomore Mike James, junior Lee Chambers and emerging redshirt freshman Lamar Miller puts the running back position in good hands.

The question is up front, where the Hurricanes are moving Orlando Franklin and Joel Figueroa from guard to the tackle spots. Three other starters will be new, and senior Richard Gordon is the only returning tight end with experience.

The defensive unit has the potential to return to the days when the Hurricanes dominated opposing offenses. Linebacker is a bit thin but has experience with big-play guys in senior Colin McCarthy and junior Sean Spence. Defensive end Allen Bailey could have been an early NFL draft choice had he not opted to return for his senior year.

In addition to Brandon Harris, the Hurricanes return starters DeMarcus Van Dyke and Vaughn Telemaque in the secondary.

NOTES, QUOTES

--The Hurricanes lost two prominent players less than a month before the start of fall drills. Senior DE Steven Wesley was dismissed for academic reasons, according to a report in the Miami Herald. Wesley had six starts last year, registering three sacks among his 17 tackles, and was projected to be part of the rotation up front.

And the Palm Beach Post reported that WR Thearon Collier was told in a meeting with coach Randy Shannon that he would not be part of the team this fall and would be released if he wanted to transfer. Collier was released because of a series of team rules violations since last spring, not because of academics, according to the newspaper. He had two punt returns for touchdowns. He also had one touchdown among his 18 receptions last year after catching 26 passes as a freshman in 2008.

--Miami benefited from Southern California's NCAA troubles when offensive line prospect Seantrel Henderson took advantage of the opportunity to withdraw his letter-of-intent with the Trojans to join the Hurricanes. Henderson, rated the top tackle in the country, might not see much action, if any, in 2010, even though the line looks to be a suspect area.

Henderson practice with the Hurricanes for the first time August 5. He was ranked as the top recruit in the country by multiple scouting services but the 6 feet, 8 inch, 330-pound tackle from Minnesota didn't turn to the other three programs who were finalists when he picked Southern Cal (Notre Dame, Florida and Ohio State).

Coach Randy Shannon hasn't disclosed it to media but has said Miami "has a plan" for Henderson. Henderson didn't speak to media after his first practice.

--PK Matt Bosher could be a key weapon as he enters his final collegiate season. He is a career 88.9 percent field goal kicker (32 of 36 in two seasons) and finished 2009 by making his last 12 attempts. He also is averaging 40.9 yards in his three years as Miami's punter (42.5 yards last year).

SPOTLIGHT ON SEPTEMBER: Miami's schedule is loaded early with a trip to Ohio State as the second game of the season on Sept. 11. After an open date on Sept. 18, the Hurricanes are back on the road to face Big East favorite Pittsburgh on Sept. 23. That just gets things going for the ACC schedule that opens with games against Clemson (road) and Florida State (home) to start off October.

KEYS TO SUCCESS: The Hurricanes have enough talent at the receiver and running back positions to stock a couple of rosters. QB Jacory Harris likes to spread his passes around, but WR Leonard Hankerson really stepped up his game last year and became his favorite. The senior heads a receiving corps that also features talented juniors LaRon Byrd, Travis Benjamin and Aldarius Johnson. The defense has lacked a big-play guy in the last couple of years, but LB Sean Spence and CB Brandon Harris should remedy that.

AREAS OF CONCERN: The offensive line has been juggled on both sides with senior Orlando Franklin moving from left guard to left tackle, and Joel Figueroa going from starting guard to tackle on the right. Sophomore Brandon Washington and junior Harland Gunn will take over the guard spots, leaving three new starters in the middle in an offense that gave up 35 sacks last year. As good as the secondary looks on paper, the defensive backs have had only seven interceptions total in the past two seasons.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's football. That's how the game is played. I'm pretty sure back in the days when the helmets didn't have a face mask they didn't complain about broken noses, so I don't think I should complain about a finger." -- Junior QB Jacory Harris, who is coming off a thumb injury that hampered him late in the season and kept him out of spring practice.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

HEAD COACH: Randy Shannon, fourth year, 21-17.
MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: QB Jacory Harris must stay healthy. There is no doubt about that. Backing him up is little-used sophomore A.J. Highsmith and two players who have never taken a snap in college -- freshman Stephen Morris and walk-on junior Mark Whipple. Harris is coming off thumb surgery but looks to be healthy heading into the fall.
BREAKOUT STAR: LB Sean Spence -- Spence made some spectacular plays as a true freshman in 2008, earning ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. But he had a disappointing 2009 season, when he missed three games while recovering from a knee injury. He is healthy again, however, and hungry for a big year. His play will be a key on defense.
NEWCOMER TO WATCH: RB Lamar Miller -- Miami is solid at running back, even with Graig Cooper likely limited early while recovering from a knee injury. But Miller, a redshirt freshman, was impressive in playing for the scout team last fall and was even more so in the spring. Junior college transfer Chase Ford also should be in the rotation at tight end, where the Hurricanes return only senior Richard Gordon.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP:

Offense -- QB Jacory Harris, RB Damien Berry, FB Patrick Hill, WR Leonard Hankerson, WR LaRon Byrd, TE Richard Gordon, LT Orlando Franklin, LG Brandon Washington, C Tyler Horn, RG Harland Gunn, RT Joel Figueroa.

Defense -- DE Allen Bailey, DT Micanor Regis, DT Josh Holmes, DE Andrew Smith, LB Sean Spence, LB Kylan Robinson, LB Colin McCarthy, CB Brandon Harris, CB DeMarcus Van Dyke, S Ray-Ray Armstrong, FS Vaughn Telemaque.

ROSTER REPORT:
--Senior OL Joel Figueroa, who started nine games at guard in 2009, has been moved to tackle on the right side of the offensive line. Matt Pipho started there last year. Figueroa sat out the spring while recovering from shoulder surgery.

--RB Graig Cooper, who is coming off a serious knee injury, looks to be ahead of schedule in his recovery. Cooper may not be 100 percent by the opener (Sept. 2, Florida A&M) but should work his way onto the field early in the season. Cooper rushed for 695 yards last year, averaging 5.2 per carry.


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