By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
The journey to claim the 2012 national title begins in February, March and April, as 124 college football teams open up spring practice over the next three months. Athlon will preview some of the top teams and storylines across the nation, as the countdown to 2012 inches closer.
Miami Hurricanes 2012 Spring Preview
2011 Record: 6-6, 3-5 ACC
Spring practice: March 3-April 14
Returning Starters: Offense – 5, Defense – 5
Passing: Stephen Morris, 26 of 37, 283 yds., 0 TD, 2 INTs
Rushing: Mike James, 72 car., 275 yds., 7 TDs
Receiving: Allen Hurns, 31 rec., 415 yds., 4 TDs
Tackles: Denzel Perryman, 69
Sacks: Anthony Chickillo, 5
Interceptions: Three players tied with 1
Redshirts to watch: DB Dallas Crawford, DE Ricardo Williams
Early Enrollees: QB Gary Crow, QB Preston Dewey, DE Dwayne Hoilett, CB Larry Hope, OL Ereck Flowers, OL Taylor Gadbois, LB Raphael Kirby, DB Ladarius Gunter, LB Josh Witt
JUCO Transfer to watch: DB Ladarius Gunter (JC)
Transfer to watch: QB Ryan Williams (Memphis)
Sept. 1 at Boston College
Sept. 8 at Kansas State
Sept. 15 Bethune Cookman
Sept. 22 at Georgia Tech
Sept. 29 NC State
Oct. 6 Notre Dame (Chicago)
Oct. 13 North Carolina
Oct. 20 Florida State
Nov. 1 Virginia Tech
Nov. 10 at Virginia
Nov. 17 South Florida
Nov. 24 at Duke
Offensive Strength: There is a lot of turnover surrounding Miami’s offense in 2012, but the cupboard isn’t completely bare. Mike James, Eduardo Clements and Duke Johnson will be a capable trio at running back, while Allen Hurns is a promising receiver. The offensive line should benefit immensely with a healthy year from tackle Seantrel Henderson.
Offensive Weakness: While the cupboard isn’t bare, Miami has several question marks to answer. Jacory Harris has finished his eligibility, leaving an open quarterback competition this spring. Although Hurns, Phillip Dorsett and tight end Clive Walford is a good start in the receiving corps, there’s not a ton of depth.
Defensive Strength: Even with the departure of All-ACC member Sean Spence, the Hurricanes should have a solid linebacking corps. Denzel Perryman had a solid freshman year, collecting 69 tackles and six tackles for a loss. Ramon Buchanan started the first four games, but missed the rest of the year due to an injury. Jimmy Gaines capped off a steady sophomore year with 58 tackles and made nine starts. The Hurricanes also have to be excited about the potential of sophomore end Anthony Chickillo with another spring practice under his belt.
Defensive Weakness: The Hurricanes are losing some key contributors from last season’s group, including Spence and defensive linemen Olivier Vernon, Micanor Regis, Marcus Forston and Adewale Ojomo. Depth up front could be an issue, as well as replacing the leadership from the departed players.
Spring Storylines Facing the Hurricanes:
1. Jacory Harris took a lot of criticism (and rightfully so) throughout his career, but he turned in a solid senior year. Harris finished with 2,486 yards and 20 scores, while tossing nine picks. The battle to replace him wasn’t expected to be sorted out until the fall, but the most likely replacement (Stephen Morris) will miss spring practice due to a back injury. With Morris sidelined, Miami will get an extended look at Memphis transfer Ryan Williams and incoming freshmen Preston Dewey and Gary Crow. Williams started 10 games as a freshman at Memphis in 2010, throwing 2,075 yards and 13 touchdowns. With Morris sidelined, it’s unlikely the Miami coaching staff will develop a ton of clarity related to the quarterback battle. However, the door is open for Dewey, Crow and Williams to make an impression. In addition to the quarterbacks stepping up, the coaching staff needs to find a few more playmakers in the receiving corps.
2. Lamar Miller’s first season as the No. 1 running back proved to be quite a success, rushing for 1,272 yards and nine scores and earning second-team All-ACC honors last year. Miller decided to bolt to the NFL, but Miami doesn’t lack options at running back. Veteran Mike James is back for his senior year and has 719 yards and 11 scores through his first three years. Junior Eduardo Clements was among the top running backs coming out of high school and should capitalize on the opportunity for more playing time. Miami will also get an extended look in preseason workouts at incoming freshman Duke Johnson and redshirt freshman Dallas Crawford. Johnson won’t join the team until the fall, but ranked as the No. 36 overall prospect in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100. Miller will be missed, but Miami’s rushing attack shouldn’t suffer much of a drop in production this year.
3. Three starters are gone from an offensive line that gave up an average of 1.6 sacks per game and paved the way for rushers to average 4.4 yards per carry. Center Tyler Horn earned second-team All-ACC honors last year and will be missed. Brandon Washington was expected to be one of the top linemen in the conference in 2011, but was a disappointment and chose to enter the NFL Draft a year early. Harland Gunn also departs after making 12 starts. While this group loses some key cogs, this unit shouldn’t be a weakness. Guard Brandon Linder started 12 games last year, while Jon Feliciano started eight games at tackle. Seantrel Henderson had offseason back surgery and never appeared to be 100 percent last season. However, assuming Henderson returns to full strength, he should become one of the ACC’s top linemen and the anchor of the front five. Malcolm Bunche, Shane McDermott and Jermaine Johnson will also figure into the mix and have previous experience. With any turnover on the line, it’s important to develop some cohesion throughout preseason workouts – especially with a new quarterback taking over.
4. Five starters return on defense in 2012, but this group will be missing some key contributors. Linebacker Sean Spence earned first-team All-ACC honors last season and was one of leaders for this unit. The defensive line loses a couple of key contributors, but sophomore end Anthony Chickillo is a rising star. The secondary returns two starters and could get a boost if safety Ray-Ray Armstrong lives up to his potential. Miami ranked 17th nationally in points allowed and 45th in total defense last season. However, considering the losses in the front seven, this unit could be more susceptible to the run in 2012. Also, there’s not a ton of depth returning, so this will be an important spring for coordinator Mark D’Onofrio. The defense will also get a boost in the fall, as top cornerback recruit Tracy Howard will join the team. Howard ranked as the No. 18 overall prospect in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100.
5. There is one dark cloud hanging over the Miami program as spring practice kicks off. The NCAA has yet to rule on any penalties as a result of the Nevin Shapiro scandal, leaving the administration and coaching staff uncertain as to what will happen. The Hurricanes chose to sit out a bowl game in 2011 and could be forced to do the same in 2012. Miami may also have to give up some scholarships over the next few seasons as a result of the investigation. However, coach Al Golden and his staff continue to do a good job on the recruiting trail, and the Hurricanes have a lot of promising young talent in the pipeline. There has been varying degrees of reports on any possible sanctions, but until something is decided, its going to be something that hangs over the program.
Related Content Links
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College Football's Top Spring Storylines for 2012
College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat
2012 Recruiting Rankings: No. 8 Miami
2012 Very Early ACC Predictions