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O-line comprised of big men, bigger talent

Dorsey drops back to pass. Has plenty of time. Sees Johnson in the end zone. Touchdown!

Sound familiar.

It was a recurring theme in a season that saw the Hurricanes’ offense put up a record 475 points – provide protection for the talent and let them overwhelm the competition.

Miami’s dominant offensive line allowed Ken Dorsey to be sacked four times all season. Four sacks – Miami’s defensive line is capable of that feat in one quarter.

I heard critics in the preseason say that Dorsey’s 200-pound frame was too fragile to handle the weekly bodily punishment of football. Maybe they’re right, but you sure couldn’t tell this season.

Dorsey could have drank a cup of coffee on the field and still not be touched behind this offensive line.

In what’s considered one of the most underrated positions in football, UM’s O-line made headline news each week.

Consider Bryant McKinnie, a 6-9, 335-pound junior college transfer, whose name I believe means “big mama jama”. When he stepped off the plane in Los Angeles, locals thought they were experiencing another shift in the fault lines. And this guy’s protecting Dorsey’s blindside.

McKinnie entered this season with the reputation of never giving up a sack in his collegiate career. So week after week, some ignorant young man would spout off about how the left tackle really wasn’t that good, and how he was going to make it onto ESPN’s Sports Center after he got by McKinnie.

I recall one such pass rusher – Syracuse’s sack machine Dwight Freeney – who was totally shut down that he didn’t even record a tackle against Miami.

That was after Freeney was named a finalist for the Lombardi Award (given to the nation’s best lineman), while McKinnie was not.

McKinnie ended up winning the Outland Trophy (given to the best interior lineman) and finished his collegiate career without giving up a single sack.

At the other tackle spot, there isn’t much of a drop off, except for about 30 or 40 pounds. Joaquin Gonzalez, a former walk-on who happens to be one of the most intelligent football players you’ll ever meet, passed on Harvard for an academic scholarship at UM.

Five years later he’s been the most durable player in Hurricane history, starting all 49 games he has played in.

A projected first or second round NFL pick, Gonzalez has given up only one sack in that span.

The man in the middle is Brett Romberg, calling most of the blocking signals on the line. Romberg has developed into a great center after previously playing guard and tackle during his UM career. Romberg was recognized as one of the best after being named as a finalist for the Rimington Award, given to the nation’s top center.

He is another lineman who has not given up a single sack in his collegiate career. Not bad for one of the few returning starters on UM’s offense.

Then there’s Martin Bibla – a guard that fits right into the underrated nature of an offensive line. Bibla has amazing offensive lineman skills, but wasn’t on any award list.

‘Canes O-line coach Art Kehoe considers him the best player on the line and Bibla figures to be the first guard taken in the NFL Draft. His run-blocking helped pave the way for Clinton Portis and his 1200 yards.

Bibla also has never given up a quarterback sack in his collegiate career.

So we’re down to the left guard position, one that was housed by Greg Laffere in 2000 and was a question mark entering this season.

Sherko Haji-Rasouli was the answer, picking up where Laffere left off, while starting the first seven games. An injury suffered in practice ended his season abruptly, and questions resurfaced about left guard.

Enter Ed Wilkins.

Wilkins started the final four games and the Rose Bowl, and the O-line did not miss a beat. Wilkins came back himself from an injury in 2000 that caused him to miss the majority of that year.

That’s the type of line Miami threw at opponents this year. Nothing could faze these guys – not even injuries, questions, all the hype and especially not opposing defensive linemen. Even McKinnie’s severely sprained knee couldn’t keep him from the Rose Bowl and protecting Dorsey.

The O-line plus Laffere held a streak of 12 games without allowing Dorsey to be sacked – 12 games – a streak that is as unfathomable as it is a testament to their talent and character.

And what transpired when they actually did give up the first sack? It was Nov. 3 against the lowly Temple Owls, and the ‘Canes were cruising along. Maybe it was a missed assignment, maybe it was one of the backs’ faults … maybe both.

Whatever the case, the sack was so monumental to Temple that you might’ve thought they had just won the national championship. Players danced and jumped up and down at the sight of Dorsey on the ground. Temple lost that game 38-0.

That’s how good this line was – it may go down as the best in college football history. Dorsey, Portis and the rest of Miami’s weapons flourished behind the massive unit on their way to the school’s first national crown in 10 years.

There were many reasons for Miami reaching college football’s pinnacle, and the offensive line was a big one.

Like Bryant McKinnie big.

January 18, 2002

Reporters

The Miami Hurricane

Student newspaper at the University of Miami


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The Miami Hurricane is the student newspaper of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. The newspaper is edited and produced by undergraduate students at UM and is published weekly on Thursdays during the regular academic year.