Miami came into the ACC expecting to intensify the importance of their rivalry with Florida State. In the end, it was a familiar face from the Big East that denied Miami the ACC title. Brock Berlin took a lot of heat for the Hurricanes struggles, but it was an inability to stop the run that did Miami in.
Berlin is now gone, and Kyle Wright is ready to step into the limelight. Wright beat out the more mobile Kirby Freeman in spring practice. The Miami camp is counting on Wright’s arm to return the Hurricanes to the top. Wright has a stronger arm than Berlin, and he could give Miami a stronger vertical passing game, which was non-existent under Berlin. Last season, Wright looked like a redshirt freshman. He seemed to be overwhelmed by the speed of the game at times, but he should benefit from the experience. If Wright struggles early, do not expect Coker to be very patient. Freeman is very close to Wright and is waiting for Wright to slip, plus Coker exasperated all of his patience with Berlin.. Wright will start his career with back-to-back road games with Florida State and Clemson.
It has been two seasons since Miami had a 1,000 yard rushers. Injuries have been a major problem, but there has been a big drop-off in talent since Willis McGahee. Junior Tyrone Moss looks to bounce back after a sophomore slump. Moss looked like the next big thing in 2003 as a freshman. He rushed for 511 yards with a 4.8 yards per carry average. He was unable to overtake Frank Gore, and he saw his yardage drop to 445 in 2004. Now, Moss is feeling the heat from sophomore Charlie Jones. Coach Coker speaks of Jones as the next great Miami back. Jones is difficult to bring down at 5-11, and he may be more of a home run threat than Moss. Redshirt freshman Derron Thomas is in the mix as well at running back.
Miami’s running game will have the benefit of Quadtrine Hill for one more season. Hill is one of the top fullbacks in the country. He has good hands and surprising speed for a fullback. The Hurricanes are looking to return to the traditional I-formation, and Hill will be plowing holes for the running backs.
The wide receivers should be improved at Miami this season. Sophomore Lance Leggett has the largest upside, and he will likely become Wright’s favorite target on deep balls. The word coming out of spring practice was Ryan Moore was finally playing up to his potential. Moore was very disappointing last season (9 catches), and he has a lot of room to improve. Sinorice Moss may be the Hurricanes most improved receiver this season. Before Moss was injured, he was one of Miami’s best receivers. Expect Moss to breakout in his final year with the Hurricanes. Darnell Jenkins provides stability for the ‘Canes when they go four-wide.
Of course when you look at the Miami offense, you look for the tight end. Greg Olsen could be the best tight end Miami has had. Many believe he will surpass Jeremy Shockey and Kellen Winslow, Jr. Olsen averaged 17.2 yards per catch last season, and he will likely see his catch total increase significantly in 2005. Buck Ortega and Chris Zellner are backups that would start at almost any other school in the ACC.
Miami’s initial ACC run began to unravel when Eric Winston was lost for the season. Winston is expected to be back at 100% this season to anchor the offensive front in his senior season. When healthy, Winston was the best left tackle in college football. After Winston went down, the line was average at best. Miami only averaged 3.7 yards per carry in 2004. Senior Rashad Butler is slated to man the right tackle position, and he is a solid but not great performer. Butler will be pushed heavily by sophomore Cyrim Wimbs. Wimbs has a big upside at 6-5 325 pounds. If Wimbs develops, Butler could also spend some time at guard. Seniors Tony Tella and Tyler McMeans are the projected starters at left and right guard. Tella missed spring practice with shoulder surgery and may not be ready for the start of the season. Sophomore Derrick Morse is the first option on the interior after Tella and McMeans. Morse started six games for an injured McMeans last season. Juniors Alex Pou and Anthony Wollschlager will battle it out for the starting spot at center. Neither player has a tremendous amount of experience, and this may be question the Hurricanes do not have an answer for.
It was clear by the end of the season, if Miami was spread out on defense you could run right at them. Clemson and North Carolina took advantage of it to upset the Hurricanes. Miami has an experienced front four returning in 2005. Junior Bryan Pata and senior Thomas Carroll provide Hurricanes with a solid pass rush. Senior defensive tackle Orien Harris is the player defensive coordinator Randy Shannon would like to see step up as a leader. Harris was a solid performer for Miami last season. Junior Baraka Atkins could be playing out of position at tackle, but he still peformed admirably last season. He had 6.5 sacks, though some of his sacks were from the defensive end position.
The run defense woes were put on the shoulders of an inexperienced linebacking corps. All three starters return in 2005, and this unit should be vastly improved. Junior Leon Williams is expected to start at middle linebacker, but most believe he is keeping the seat warm for super soph Willie Williams. The elder Williams was very inconsistent last season, as he did not register a tackle against NC State. If the junior falters, he will be overtaken by the mega talent. Junior Tavares Gooden will start at weakside linebacker. Gooden had 83 tackles last season, but he too will fill some heat for his job. Sophomore Glenn Cook finished right on Gooden’s heels in the spring, and Willie Williams may see time at WLB. Senior Rocky McIntosh completes the starting trio at strongside linebacker. McIntosh has battled some injuries, and he will battle Jon Beason. McIntosh has the most breathing room, but there is a considerable amount of healthy competition within the Hurricanes linebacking core.
All four starters return in the secondary. Senior Kelly Jennings and junior Devin Hester hold down the corner spots. Hester will also see time at wide receiver and is one of the most dangerous players in America. Junior Brandon Merriweather, senior Greg Threat, and sophomore Anthony Reddick all have starting experience at safety. Threat and Reddick are listed as the starters heading into the fall. Reddick has good speed and coverage skills which fits well into Miami’s cover 2 scheme. Threat is a physical presence, who did a solid job of stepping up in run support last season. Merriweather and true freshman Kenny Phillips are expected to push for major playing time.
The special teams are in very good shape for Miami. Placekicker Jon Peattie and punter Brian Monroe return for their junior seasons. Peattie holds the Miami record hitting 82 consecutive extra points. Peattie was 15 of 24 last season with a long of 49 yards. Monroe averaged 41.2 yards per punt and placed 20 punts inside the 20 yard line.
Hester will handle the return duties. Hester is one of the most dangerous return men in the country and most teams will try to avoid Hester. Hester returned four kicks for touchdowns last season.
Miami is probably the second best team in the ACC this year behind Virginia Tech once again. It is a big year, as Coker is feeling the heat in South Beach. The Hurricanes defense will be very stout, and could be the best in the ACC. The schedule does not favor Miami. Two of Miami’s toughest road games are the first two games of the season. Doak Campbell and Death Valley are difficult by themselves, but FSU and Clemson have talented defenses that will present problems for Wright to start his career. If Miami survives the two openers, expect the ‘Canes to be 8-0 heading to Blacksburg, where a berth in the inaugural ACC title game will likely be on the line versus the Hokies.