The season got off to a fast start for sophomore Jacory Harris as his outstanding play led to wins over three top 25 teams in the first month. Harris then came back down to earth as interceptions became the norm instead of the exception. He struggled with the mental part of the game as he had a hard time checking the ball down. This was Harris’ first full year as starter and he battled through a serious thumb injury which he had surgery on two weeks ago. Harris was 16-for-29 for 188 yards in the Champ Sports Bowl. He only led the Canes inside the opponents’ 20-yard-line once in that game. Next year is Harris’ year.
Running Backs: B +
The Hurricanes still have yet to have a 1,000 yard rusher in quite some time but they had a three-headed monster in the back field that did a respectable job. Senior Javarris James, junior Graig Cooper and junior Damien Berry each contributed in productive ways. James’ 150 yards on the ground were the reason why the Canes defeated the perennial powerhouse, the Oklahoma Sooners. Cooper led the team in rushing with 695 yards. Berry was the biggest surprise of any player this season. The converted running back got his first carry in October and averaged 6.6 yards per carry.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: B +
Let’s start with the tight ends. The three senior tight ends had their ups and downs but played well overall. Dedrick Epps came back nicely from ACL surgery, Tervaris Johnson came up with some big catches although he is really just a blocking specialist and Jimmy Graham made a seamless transition from the hardwood to the gridiron. He had two big drops against Virginia Tech but was second on the team with five touchdown grabs. Junior wide receiver Leonard Hankerson had a break out year. Working with former Miami Dolphins star Mark Duper over the summer paid dividends; he had the best year of his Canes career. He will return for his senior season. Sophomore Aldarius Johnson had the catch of the year against Wake Forest on the fourth and 16th conversions.
Offensive Line: C –
Jacory Harris was sacked 35 times which is far too many. The Canes’ loss of senior Jason Fox in the Champ Sports Bowl was immeasurable. The o-line played well at the beginning of the year but faded down the stretch. They allowed five sacks in the bowl game. The Canes lacked depth as they only had a six-man rotation for much of the year which was why fatigue was a problem. The Canes lose 60 percent of their offensive line next year. They have big holes to fill.
Defensive Line: B +
New defensive coordinator John Lovett did not blitz much. The Canes had a hard time getting pressure on the quarterback. It hurt missing sophomore Adewale Ojomo for the entire year with a jaw injury. Fellow sophomore Marcus Forston played sparingly before being placed on injured reserve. Junior Allen Bailey, sophomore Micanor Regis and freshman Olivier Vernon all had continuous motors and showed heart and desire. Bailey was first team All-ACC. He had seven sacks and 11 tackles for a loss.
Linebackers: B –
Sophomore Sean Spence had a sophomore slump, but how about the job senior Daryl Sharpton did? Sharpton had a disappointing first three years but had a breakout senior campaign. His 71-yard interception return for a touchdown against Duke was electrifying. He was named co-MVP along with Jason Fox. He led the team with 106 tackles. Redshirt junior Colin McCarthy was second on the team in tackles. Negatives for the linebacking team were inability to defend tight ends. Also, former number one recruit Arthur Brown was never able to make it on the field and was limited to special teams duties.
Secondary: C +
Sophomore Brandon Harris was a stud and deserved postseason accolades. Senior Sam Shields struggled to tackle. Freshman Ray Ray Armstrong was hurt which slowed his progression. Junior DeMarcus Van Dyke made strides but still needs to be a lockdown corner. Redshirt freshman Vaughn Telemaque struggled mightily after head coach Randy Shannon compared him to Ed Reed in the spring for his play-making ability. Bottom line is, too many blown coverages and assignments and not enough game changing plays.
Special Teams: B+
Junior Matt Bosher simply did it all. Nothing better describes Bosher’s season than the onside kick with two minutes left in the Champ Sports Bowl. It not only had enough hang time, but Bosher recovered it as well. Sophomore Thearon Collier had two long punt returns for scores and the opening play in the Champ Sports Bowl was electric. The only negatives were kicking to C.J. Spiller at the end of the first half in the Clemson game, and there was poor punt protection by the up men all year.
Coaching: C +
Offensive coordinator Mark Whipple was a huge upgrade over the predictable Patrick Nix. Whipple’s pro-style offense was creative and he and Jacory Harris’ relationship will only grow. Defensive coordinator John Lovett did a solid job working with some tough injuries on defense though the defense still never made adjustments stopping slant routes by tight ends. Head coach Randy Shannon’s in-game management is still a major concern. For the third time in three years coach Shannon faded down the stretch. The Canes have never been able to play good football in poor weather conditions. They lost to Virginia Tech in the rain and lost to Wisconsin in the cold. Shannon is 0-2 in bowl games. Next year is a big year for him as his 2008 No. 1 rated recruiting class will all be juniors. It’s make or break in 2010.
Justin Antwiel may be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org.