One of the youngest teams in the country may be a little closer to growing up.
Miami played 21 freshmen last season, including 10 who started at least one game. That made the Hurricanes one of the youngest teams in the country. On the field, it showed -- particularly on defense. The ‘Canes endured a three-game losing streak in October and had one of the worst defenses in the league.
Yet Miami finished 7-5 overall and 5-3 in the ACC despite having the prospect of a bowl game and a conference title game yanked away midseason. Al Golden returns with 14 players who started at least seven games, but that does not include a handful of players who contributed greatly -- including budding star Duke Johnson.
Miami Hurricanes 2013 Spring Preview
2012 Record: 7-5 (5-3)
Spring practice dates: March 2-April 13
Returning Starters: Offense – 9, Defense – 5
Passing: Stephen Morris, 245 of 421, 3,345 yds., 21 TDs, 7 INTs
Rushing: Duke Johnson, 139 car., 947 yds., 10 TDs
Receiving: Phillip Dorsett, 58 rec., 842 yds., 4 TDs
Tackles: Shayon Green, 67
Sacks: Anthony Chickillo, 4
Interceptions: James Gaines, 2
Redshirts to Watch: LB Jawand Blue, DL Jacoby Briscoe, WR Jontavious Carter, QB Preston Dewey, DL Dwayne Hoilett, OL Danny Isidora, WR D'Mauri Jones, DL Jake O'Donnell
Early Enrollees to Watch: TE Standish Dobard, OL Hunter Knighton
JUCO Transfers to Watch: LB Devante Bond, DL Ufomba Kamalu, TE Beau Sandland
Aug. 30 FAU
Sept. 7 Florida
Sept. 21 Savannah State
Sept. 28 at USF
Oct. 5 Georgia Tech
Oct. 17 at North Carolina
Oct. 26 Wake Forest
Nov. 2 at Florida State
Nov. 9 Virginia Tech
Nov. 16 at Duke
Nov. 23 Virginia
Nov. 29 at Pittsburgh
Offensive Strength: Start with sophomore Duke Johnson, who become Miami’s most explosive offensive threat in several seasons. The running back was ninth in the nation in all-purpose yards per game and averaged 10.7 every time he touched the ball. He finished the season with 14 total touchdowns, including 10 rushing, one receiving, one passing and two on kickoff returns. He’ll be back in 2013 running behind an offensive line that returns all five starters. Quarterback Stephen Morris is also back after passing for 3,354 yards, the fifth-highest total in program history.
Offensive Weakness: Johnson will be the Hurricanes' top threat on offense, but Miami’s meager rushing averages are surprising. Miami ranked 81st nationally at 144.9 yards per game and 42nd in yards per carry at 4.7. Mike James, who carried eight more times than Johnson last season, is gone. No other tailback had more than 16 carries. With Eduardo Clements battling injury, Miami may look to newcomers to spell their star running back. Johnson topped out 16 carries in a game last season, but twice in the final three games. Developing depth will be a major question during the spring.
Defensive Strength: Miami graduated one senior starter on each side of the ball. On defense, the Hurricanes will have to hope last season’s youth contributed to producing one of the worst units in the ACC. With a full season under its belt, this group of returning veterans may be improved simply by having more experience. The Miami defense could also be a takeaway-prone group at times last season. Four times last season, Miami forced three or more turnovers as UM averaged two takeaways per game.
Defensive Weakness: The Hurricanes were a mess on defense last season, finishing last in the ACC in both rushing yards and passing yards allowed per game. The run defense may be more pressing, however. Miami mixed and matched its starting lineup all season, but nowhere more than in the linebacker corps. Most of the Canes’ personnel there returns, with the exception of starting linebacker Gionni Paul. Eddie Johnson, another returning starter at outside linebacker, is suspended indefinitely.
Spring Storylines Facing the Hurricanes
1. Miami v. The NCAA. This is an off-field story, but one that could have repercussions throughout college sports. University president Donna Shalala’s fiery response to the NCAA notice of allegations indicated Miami is not going to take many more sanctions without a fight. If more news develops during spring practice, coach Al Golden will continue to be the public face, especially concerning Miami’s postseason eligibility.
2. Miami’s revamped offensive coaching staff. The Hurricanes scored a victory in the assistant coaching carousel when they hired James Coley from Florida State as offensive coordinator to replaced Jedd Fisch, who took the same position with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Coley will call plays at Miami, an opportunity he didn’t have at Florida State with Jimbo Fisher manning those duties. The ‘Canes didn’t do too much shuffling on his staff, moving Hurlie Brown from an administrative role to running backs coach, Brennan Carroll from tight ends coach to wide receivers and hiring Larry Scott from USF to coach tight ends. With the nine returning starters including Duke Johnson and Stephen Morris, there might not be much reason for Coley to change things drastically.
3. Getting the most out of the defensive line. Miami needs help all over the defense, but the Hurricanes have a substantial chance to improve across the defensive front. Tackle Curtis Porter played only the final four games last season. Having him healthy could be a huge asset to Anthony Chickillo and the pass rush. Expectations have been high for Chickillo, but his 2012 production was similar to 2011. Added talent at the tight end position from the junior college ranks enabled Miami to move starting tight end Dyron Dye to defensive end.
4. Adjusting personnel in the back seven. Linebacker and defensive back will see the most changes of any position on the team. Besides losing a full-time starter at linebacker and cornerback, outside linebacker Eddie Johnson, who was fourth on the team with 59 tackles, is suspended indefinitely. Part-time starting cornerback Thomas Finnie also left the team.
5. The arrival of Beau Sandland. Miami was once a home for great tight ends from Jeremy Shockey to Kellen Winslow to Greg Olsen and Jimmy Graham. Like many position groups at Miami, tight end took a dip in the last few years. Miami is eager to add a true difference-maker at the position, and the Hurricanes may have one in 6-4, 250-pound junior college transfer Beau Sandland.
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