Revamped secondary, tough road schedule await UM

At the Rose Bowl post game press conference, UM coach Larry Coker quipped that he was returning for the 2002 season amidst speculation of some early Hurricane entries into the NFL Draft.

Not everyone wanted to follow suit.

Cornerback Phillip Buchanon, Running back Clinton Portis and tight end Jeremy Shockey – all juniors – decided to forgo their senior year of eligibility, instead opting for the riches of the NFL.

Buchanon and Shockey both figure to be first round selections, while Portis may be chosen in the second or third round.

“What else can I do,” said Portis, who ran for 1200 yards and averaged 5.5 yards per carry in his first season as the Hurricanes’ featured back.

Buchanon did everything he could do this year – literally – ranking seventh nationally in punt returns average at 14.97 yards per return, while compiling 23 tackles (15 solos), two tackles for losses (22 yards), one quarterback sack (17 yards). He also broke up seven passes, while preventing any receiver from catching a touchdown pass.

Shockey led the Hurricanes in receptions this season with 40 catches for 519 yards and seven touchdowns. He was Dorsey’s main target this season, utilizing his speed and large hands to exploit opposing defenses.

The Hurricanes will have a hard time replacing the three juniors as well as nine senior starters, but Coker warned not to discount the abundance of talent at UM.

“It’s been my goal to compete at a national level,” Coker said. “Year in and year out, we should compete at a high level at the University of Miami.”

The ‘Canes will try to defend their title against the likes of Florida and Tennessee on the road and Florida State and Virginia Tech at home.

Quarterback Ken Dorsey will be back for his senior campaign to lead an offense that put up 475 points in 2001. Dorsey won’t have the luxury of 3/5 of arguably the best offensive line in the nation. Tackles Bryant McKinnie and Joaquin Gonzalez as well as guard Martin Bibla all figure to be taken in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft. The line allowed Dorsey to be sacked only four times this past season.

“We’ve got a lot of young guys who played a lot this year,” McKinnie said. “They should be fine.”

Carlos Joseph will likely replace McKinnie, while Vernon Carey is expected to fill in for Gonzalez. Brett Romberg will be back at center but might move over to right guard. Left guard Ed Wilkins, who started the final five games, could fill in at right guard, while Sherko Haji-Rasouli, who started the first seven games, is expected to make a full recovery from a season-ending knee injury.

The receiving corps looks pretty much intact with Daryl Jones the only departing senior. Andre Johnson, Kevin Beard, Ethenic Sands, and Jason Geathers are Dorsey’s returning targets.

The backfield loses its starters with Portis and Najeh Davenport, but should be fine with the emergence of Frank Gore and Willis McGahee. Red-shirt freshman Quadtrine Hill should see plenty of time as well.

On defense, the front seven will be identical to the package Hurricane fans saw in the Rose Bowl. Chris Campbell graduates, but Howard Clark looks primed to take his place. William Joseph returns for his senior campaign on a line that exudes experience. Returning starters Andrew Williams, Matt Walters, Joseph and Jerome McDougle as well as Jamaal Green and Cornelius Green will all be seniors.

The biggest question mark for the ‘Canes is its secondary, which will feature four new starters. Gone are Mike Rumph, Buchanon, James Lewis and Ed Reed – a group that helped Miami lead the nation in takeaways. Reed will be especially missed because of the leadership and emotions he displayed on the field as well as in the locker room.

Al Marshall, Antrel Rolle, Maurice Sikes and Sean Taylor are the new generation with Marshall, a junior-to-be, having the most experience. They all had the opportunity to play in fourth quarters this season, but Marshall played in nickel packages as well.

Despite losing almost half of the starting lineup, the Hurricanes are ready to defend the crown they worked so hard to earn. The 2002 ‘Canes may look young, but what they lack in experience they make up with in talent.

“With a program like Miami, we reload,” Rumph said. “You don’t lose too much talent too fast.”