Most of the names you will hear associated synonymously with the Miami Hurricanes 4-0 start this season are those of returning starters. There is Ken Dorsey, arguably the favorite for the Heisman Trophy, Brett Romberg, college football’s best center and the anchor of a talented offensive line, the combination of Jerome McDougle and William Joseph, two fixtures on the ‘Canes deadly D-Line.
However, a further investigation into the nucleus of the 2002 Hurricanes discovers 11 players whose names were not in the Hurricanes starting lineup on a regular basis last year. Some of these names were immediately recognizable before the season began, others took a while before people like you and I recognized them as solid players. All of these players share one thing in common, though: They all should count themselves as major reasons for the continuance of Miami’s success.
Let’s begin with the most recognizable name of the bunch, sophomore sensation Willis McGahee. Inheriting a tailback slot originally slated for Frank Gore before he went down with an ACL injury, McGahee has silenced critics, myself included, and then some. Numbers like 7.8 yards a carry, and 662 all-purpose yards are the sign of a talented tailback, but it’s McGahee’s vision and ability to read defenses and make last second improvisations that vault him into Heisman contender territory.
Of course, let’s give a lot of credit to the men opening up the gigantic holes for McGahee to enter through. The player normally in front of McGahee, freshman fullback Quadtrine Hill, doesn’t see the football on a regular basis. That’s because he’s busy putting his 213-pound frame to the test against much bigger linebackers and defensive lineman, and succeeding.
Thanks to the immediate work of Hill, McGahee is able to exploit his best asset, an opportunity to run between the tackles. This is where the work of offensive tackles Carlos Joseph and Vernon Carey come in. Both have punished any defensive lineman looking to get to No. 2 before he heads up field. Lets not leave out the biggest question mark on the offensive line, right guard Chris Myers, who has performed so well that the coaching staff has not missed the services of last year’s starter Ed Wilkins, currently working with the second-team unit.
Sophomore tight end Kellen Winslow, the final piece to the high-powered offense, stepped right into the great tight end tradition of Bubba Franks and Jeremy Shockey over the past couple years. Not only is he as good of a blocker, but more importantly has stepped out of Shockey and Franks’s shadow as a pass catcher with his size, quickness, and stunning agility.
But folks, we haven’t gotten to the defense yet. Let’s begin with the supposed problem area everyone brought up before the season started, the “young and inexperienced secondary.” Boy, do we look bad now. I’ll be the first to apologize for making the aforementioned statement; I guess I never recognized the talent and willingness to learn from this bunch. Cornerbacks Kelly Jennings and Antrel Rolle have quickly formed into two of the best cover men in the nation, shutting down the likes of Taylor Jacobs and Jamal Burke. Safeties Maurice Sikes and Sean Taylor are built more of the risk-taking, playmaking mold, but their uncanny ability to read defenses allows them the ability to take risks.
Six of the front seven return from last year’s national champions. However, don’t underestimate the new blood at the strong side linebacker spot. The coaching staff has called Howard Clark one of the hardest working members of the team, and freshman Rocky McIntosh, who got the start against Boston College, outshined his fellow linebackers with an immediate jump to the ball.
Of course, credit must be given to the veterans as well. While Dorsey’s numbers haven’t been Heisman-like, the senior quarterback continues to make the big throws, especially with a sometimes-depleted receiving corps. Andre Johnson has lived up to his hype, the defensive line is scarier than ever, and Todd Sievers and Freddie Capshaw give the Hurricanes every advantage possible on special teams.
At the same time, let’s imagine where this team would be without the 11 new starters. Who would have run all over the Gator defense for 204 yards? Who would have shut down Taylor Jacobs one week after a near 250-yard game? Who would have stepped into the spotlight when Andre Johnson went down? And most importantly, would the Hurricanes still be looking at a Fiesta Bowl berth at this point?
Thankfully, the 11 new starters have erased any concerns to these questions out of our minds.
You can reach Jeremy Marks-Peltz at email@example.com.