Spring practice is under way for the Miami Hurricanes as they look to improve on their 2008-2009 season and get better for the 2009-2010 campaign. The Canes are coming off a 7-6 season and looking to develop more under third-year head coach Randy Shannon.
Still, spring ball is in its early stages.
“You can’t really tell much the first couple of days,” Shannon said. “You’re in shorts and guys are flying around, chasing the football. The offense is catching and throwing. That’s really all you can do the first couple of days. Guys are excited though.”
With the departure of quarterback Robert Marve, the team is completely under the guidance of starting quarterback Jacory Harris. Harris threw for 1,195 yards last year and had 12 passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns. Unlike the past two years, the starting quarterback has already been named.
Harris was thrilled to get back on the field.
“I was really excited to be back out here,” Harris said. “We came out fired up. Everyone came out here having fun. We’ve been wanting to get back on this field for a long time. The offense went out and did great, and the defense did well too.”
Freshman wide receiver LaRon Byrd, who caught all four of his touchdown passes last season from Harris, is eager to have Harris as the starting quarterback for a full season.
“It’s his team,” Byrd said. “I told him to lead us to a championship. He’s got a Peyton Manning mind with a Tom Brady arm.”
Harris and the offense will learn a new scheme under first-year offensive coordinator Mark Whipple, who has an NFL background with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Philadelphia Eagles. Instead of watching college football game film, Whipple has had the offense watch NFL film.
When Harris first gazed at the playbook, he said, “It was 10 inches high.” But Harris was impressed by the playbook and feels the team has a strong grasp on it.
“We’ve learned 75 percent of the offense,” Harris said. “It’s a lot of plays. It’s fun. I love the offense because there’s always something open. It gives you time to progress through your reads. It’s something we have fun doing.”
Whipple, so far, has noticed Harris’s composed attitude.
“[He’s] a confident kid, not cocky,” Whipple said. “I think he has a good presence.”
With time, Whipple believes the Hurricanes will develop into a better team.
“The biggest thing is to improve,” Whipple said. “If we get better every play and if we get better every practice, we [have] a chance to be pretty good.”
One problem for the Hurricanes might be the tight end position. Miami is thin at the position, with Dedrick Epps and Tervaris Johnson being injured.
As a result, senior tight end Richard Gordon will have every opportunity to led the Hurricanes.
“I told Richard it’s his time now,” Shannon said. “We have guys out that are out until fall. This is his opportunity to put his stamp on the tight end position. You’re big, fast, now it’s up to you to get it done.”
“It is my opportunity, and I just feel I have to do it on the field this year,” Gordon said.
After practice on day one, Gordon even showed some leadership and stayed behind to encourage wide receiver Thearon Collier, as Collier had to do extra conditioning.
Besides the seniors and guys who have been around, early enrollee Brandon McGee, a cornerback, was excited to practice as an official Miami Hurricane.
“It was what I expected,” McGee said. “It’s the University of Miami. You come here to work hard. You come here to compete and get better every day.”
Also, a few players have changed their number for the upcoming season. Wide receiver Travis Benjamin no longer wears the number 80, as he has switched to 3. Sam Shields, who has converted to cornerback from wide receiever, will wear number 9. Freshman Andrew Smith will wear number 48.
Byrd summed up the beginning to their spring practices for the Canes.
“Everybody’s a little rusty,” Byrd said. “We have to put a little oil in the tank [and] loosen up, but I think we’re going to progress.”