|ESPN Insider artical "Miami to debut rocketship RB"????
Even after a season in which he led Miami to nine wins and back into the national consciousness -- at least for awhile -- Randy Shannon's future at his alma mater was still anything but certain.
And it had a distinctly negative affect on his recruiting last year.
That finally changed on May 12, when the former Hurricanes linebacker was rewarded with a four-year contract extension that rid him of the distinction of being the lowest paid coach in the ACC.
It was a development Shannon considered a major victory for his program, even if it didn't come soon enough to make an immediate impact on this fall's incoming freshman class.
"The biggest issue I heard recruiting last year was 'Coach, you changed it around, so why won't they give you a contract extension?' " Shannon said. "There were schools saying 'They don't want him there,' and no matter how much I said they do want me here, there were recruits and parents who weren't seeing that part."
Sept. 2 -- Florida A&M
11 -- @Ohio State
23 -- @Pittsburgh
Oct. 2 -- @Clemson
9 -- Florida State
16 -- @Duke
23 -- North Carolina
30 -- @Virginia
Nov. 6 -- Maryland
13 -- @Georgia Tech
20 -- Virginia Tech
27 -- USF
• 2009 Schedule and Results
• 2009 Statistics
Now maybe they'll finally believe Shannon, who went 12-13 in his first two seasons before turning things around with Miami's first nine-win season since 2005.
Shannon also won praise by keeping his players out of trouble and in the classroom. The Hurricanes were one of only two ACC teams (Duke was the other) to be recognized by the NCAA for being in the top 10 percent nationally in its Academic Progress Report scores.
"I'm here, and it's going to be for the long term," Shannon said. "For recruiting purposes, now people will see that instead of us telling them that."
The best recruiting tool Shannon has could be the team he'll put out on the field in 2010.
With a proven leader in quarterback Jacory Harris an opportunistic defense that swarms to the ball on every play and the kind of team speed reminiscent of Miami's glory days -- of which Shannon was a part -- the Hurricanes have a chance to improve even more on the strides they made in 2009.
Head Coach: Randy Shannon (Miami '89)
Record at school: 21-17 (4th year)
Career record: 21-17 (4th year)
Mark Whipple (Brown '79) a.ssistant Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks
• John Lovett (C.W. Post '73) Defensive Coordinator
• Michael Barrow (Miami '92) Linebackers
• Mike Cassano (New Hampshire '94) Running Backs
• Aubrey Hill (Florida '96) Wide Receivers
• Wesley McGriff (Savannah State '90) Secondary
• Joe Pannunzio (Southern Colorado '82) Special Teams Coordinator/Tight Ends
• Rick Petri (Missouri-Rolla '76) Defensive Line
• Jeff Stoutland (Southern Connecticut State '84) Offensive Line
The quarterback is, almost without exception, the most important player on every college team. But no quarterback in the nation may be as important to his particular team as junior Jacory Harris (6-4, 190) is to the Hurricanes.
After prevailing in a battle with classmate Robert Marve as a freshman -- leading to Marve's transfer to Purdue -- Harris blossomed last season in new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple's wide-open attack. He passed for 3,352 yards, tops among ACC quarterbacks, and 24 touchdowns to establish himself as an early Heisman Trophy candidate this year.
In order to realize that kind of potential, though, Harris must first learn to make better decisions with the football, especially when under pressure, as illustrated by his league-leading 17 interceptions.
Complicating matters is a thumb injury that required surgery to repair in January. Though Harris was held out of spring practice while completing his rehab of once-ruptured ligaments, he is expected to be back at full strength by the time fall camp begins.
Maybe it's just wishful thinking, but Shannon thinks Harris may have gotten almost as much benefit from not participating in spring drills as he would have if he'd been out on the field.
"You take something away from somebody, it wakes a lot of guys up," Shannon said. "I think that happened to Jacory. It makes you see things. A lot of times he was like, 'Why did he make that throw? What was he thinking?' If he were in the same situation, would he make that throw? I think he saw things from a coaches' perspective and not a player's perspective. It makes guys understand what needs to be done."
Another potential positive of Harris' absence during the spring is the opportunity it gave to his untested backups.
Sophomore A.J. Highsmith (6-0, 195) spent last season as Harris' understudy and got the majority of reps after attempting only six passes last season. Early enrolling freshman Stephen Morris (6-0, 186) also put in plenty of work and impressed his new coaches and teammates with his strong arm.
While Morris is likely to push Highsmith for the No. 2 job once fall arrives, the edge should eventually go to the more experienced and athletic sophomore -- whose father was a member of Miami's 1983 national championship team.
"We've seen improvement from A.J. Highsmith, Stephen Morris and also [walk-on junior] Spencer Whipple (6-2, 200), a young man who came up and had a great spring game," Shannon said. "We feel kind of confident in what we have. But like anything, you want to make sure you have depth [so] that the football team is where you need to be in case injuries come."
Whipple, the son of the Hurricanes' offensive coordinator, is a walk-on who transferred to Miami from Massachusetts. His presence gives Shannon the flexibility to red-shirt Morris with an eye on the future.
The Hurricanes are in basically the same situation at running back as they are at quarterback, with projected starter Graig Cooper (6-0, 205) missing spring practice while rehabbing from offseason surgery.
Cooper, a senior, injured his knee in Miami's bowl loss to Wisconsin. a.ssuming he's ready to return by his team's Sept. 4 opener against Florida A&M -- and his progress was described as being ahead of schedule -- the versatile back could rank fourth in the ACC in career rushing yardage after this season. He currently sits at 2,218 yards.
Almost 700 of those yards came last season when he not only led the Hurricanes in rushing, but was also an effective receiver out of the backfield and a kick returner.
Even without Cooper or sophomore Lee Chambers (5-10, 192), who also sat out the spring and is also a question mark because of injury, Miami is hardly wanting for quality backs to carry the ball.
Senior Damien Berry (5-11, 217) is a proven commodity after rushing for 616 yards and a 6.6 yards-per-carry average with eight touchdowns despite not seeing action until the season's fifth game. Sophomore Mike James (5-11, 220) has also been moved back to tailback after a rookie season in which he was asked to fill in at fullback.
The coaching staff is also high on red-shirt freshman Lamar Miller (5-11, 205), a speed-burner running backs coach Mike Cassano said deserves the opportunity to contribute right now.
"He's a rocket ship," Cassano told the Miami Herald even before spring practice. "Defensive coordinators will hold their breath when he has the ball."
Another talented youngster with the natural ability to be a factor this season is true freshman Storm Johnson (5-11, 210), a power back with deceptive speed and lateral quickness. The Hurricanes may have a hard time finding playing time for all the backs in their stable, especially if Cooper and Chambers are ready to go from day one.
At fullback, senior Pat Hill (5-9, 255) is recovered from an ankle injury and is primed to return to his starting position. Junior John Calhoun (6-3, 255) performed so well during the spring as Hill's backup that Shannon and Cassano are confident enough to keep James at tailback permanently.
The competition at wide receiver promises to be even fiercer than at running back, with the top three pass catchers from last season all returning to go along with a group of talented newcomers that, in the estimation of Shannon, "can make things happen."
Senior Leonard Hankerson (6-3, 215) is the best of the bunch. He's a big, fast target who led Miami with 45 catches, six touchdowns and a 17.8-yard aver-age last year. His 801 yards were the most by a Hurricane receiver since Andre Johnson -- now with the NFL's Houston Texans -- in 2002.
Also back is junior LaRon Byrd (6-4, 215), an even bigger receiver who served as the team's possession receiver while ranking second with 33 catches for 460 yards. Junior Travis Benjamin (5-10, 175) provides Miami with a dangerous third option who, like Hankerson, averaged more than 17 yards per catch last season while scoring four touchdowns.
Even with all the production and experience those three receivers bring to quarterback Harris and the Hurricanes, there are others on the roster capable of pushing them to get better or even earn some meaningful playing time of their own. That's something Shannon said hasn't always been the case during his tenure.
"The biggest thing is that we're finally able to have some competition and be competitive," Shannon said. "If you have a young man who had a bad week and may have dropped three or four passes [in practice], you just go to the next guy and he knows 'I just can't rely on what I did week-by-week. I have to be totally committed to being the best I can be every time step on the football field.' "
Included in that second group of receivers is junior Thearon Collier (5-9, 192), who started one game and caught 18 passes last season while excelling as a punt and kick returner. Junior Aldarius Johnson (6-3, 208) also has experience having caught 16 passes for a 17.2-yard average in 2009.
Sophomore Kendal Thompkins (5-10, 180), who played mostly on special teams a year ago, made a significant jump up the depth cart with a strong spring, while Tommy Streeter (6-5, 205) showed what he can do with a 47-yard reception against Wisconsin in the Champs Sports Bowl. Alan Hurns (6-1, 170) is a true freshman who enrolled in January and went through spring practice.
The tight end situation isn't nearly as stable after the loss of both Dedrick Epps and Jimmy Graham.
The most experienced replacement is massive Richard Gordon (6-4, 270), a senior who played in all 12 games in 2008 but was injured in last year's season-opener against Florida State and didn't play again.
Redshirt freshman Billy Sanders (6-4, 248), a highly rated prospect from Arizona, is currently the next option, although it's almost certain that Shannon may end up seeking help from a recruiting haul that brought in three freshmen and a junior college transfer to help fill the need.
The JUCO, Chase Ford (6-6, 245), figures to bring the most immediate help because of his size and previous college experience.
The Hurricanes also have their work cut out for them on the offensive line, where replacements need to be found at three positions. The situation, however, isn't quite as desperate as it is at tight end because of the return of senior Orlando Franklin (6-7, 318) at left tackle and Joel Figueroa (6-5, 330) at one of the guard spots.
At the same time, though, both of those linemen -- along with projected starter Brandon Washington (6-4, 330) -- missed all or part of spring practice with injuries, further complicating the situation.
Franklin was an honorable mention All-ACC selection last season who has been moved to the left side to replace Detroit Lions draftee Jason Fox. He has started 25 career games at right tackle and produced a team-leading 51 pancake blocks last season. But he missed the final two weeks of spring practice with back spasms.
Figueroa, also a senior, missed all of spring practice while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. If healthy, he too will be a candidate for postseason honors. Sophomore Washington started the final two games of 2009 at guard, but his spring was also cut short by a knee injury. a.ssuming all three are ready to go by the season opener, they'll form the nucleus of a solid starting unit with the addition of junior Tyler Horn (6-4, 300) at center and red-shirt freshman Jermaine Johnson (6-6, 310).
Depth, however, is a major concern, with only eight scholarship offensive linemen still healthy and available for the Hurricanes' spring game. That includes a pair of true freshmen that enrolled in January, Shane McDermott (6-3, 275) and Malcom Bunche (6-6, 315).
Like Johnson, McDermott and Bunche, red-shirt freshmen Cory White (6-5, 260), Jared Wheeler (6-5, 330) and converted tight end Stephen Plein (6-6, 260) are promising line prospects but have never played a single college snap.
That would explain why junior Harland Gunn (6-2, 315) is listed on the depth chart as the backup at both guard positions, sophomore Ben Jones (6-5, 300) is the backup at both tackle positions and Washington, despite being listed as a starter at guard, is also the top backup at center.