Team preview: Miami

Blue Ribbon Yearbook previews the 2005 college football season, exclusively on Insider.

Originally Published: July 15, 2005
Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook
Editor's Note: ESPN Insider has teamed with Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook to provide a comprehensive look at all 119 Division I-A teams. To order the complete 2005 edition of Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook, visit www.blueribbonyearbook.com or call 1-866-805-BALL (2255).

(All information as of July 1, 2005)

COACH AND PROGRAM

Welcome to the ACC.

Miami, in its first season in the new league since moving over from the Big East, was thought to have clinched the 2005 ACC title when the 'Canes opened the season with an overtime victory over rival Florida State -- the program that had dominated the ACC for the last decade.

And when Miami traveled to Raleigh in mid-October to knock off dangerous NC State in front of a national TV audience, the path to the ACC championship, a fifth straight BCS bid and a potential spot in the national title game appeared to be smooth and clear of danger.

But on the night before Halloween, it all changed. The 'Canes visited North Carolina -- a middle-of-the-road ACC team that was coming off a 30-point loss at Utah -- and were stunned by freshman Connor Barth's late field goal. A week later, a 4-4 Clemson team visited the Orange Bowl and shocked the 'Canes in overtime.

Things like that just didn't happen to Miami in the Big East. And when Virginia Tech won the ACC title with a hard-fought 16-10 win in the Orange Bowl, Miami found itself third in its new league, headed for the Peach Bowl instead of the national championship game.

Even a victory over rival Florida in Atlanta couldn't salve the pain of Miami's worst season since 1999.

"We've set the bar pretty high here, not just me, but a lot of coaches before me," Miami coach Larry Coker said. "And we want to keep it high. I don't have a problem with that. I'm not happy with [our record]. I don't think our staff is and I don't think our players are."

Coker, a 21-year college assistant who inherited a national championship team when Butch Davis jumped to the NFL five years ago, lost as many games last season as he had in his three previous years. Overall, he's 44-6 as a head coach, but that gaudy record comes with a disturbing trend -- his losses have increased every single season, from zero in 2001 to one in 2002 to two in 2003 to three in 2004.

That's a progression that's got to stop ... fast.

The question that remains to be answered is whether Coker has recruited as well as his predecessor. Davis left Coker with an astonishing amount of talent -- in the four NFL drafts between 2001 and 2004, the 'Canes provided 19 first-round picks, the most of any team in history over a four-year period. And that doesn't even count second-round pick Clinton Portis, who became an all-pro running back.

No team could lose that much talent -- including stars such as Kellen Winslow, Sean Taylor, Santana Moss, Dan Morgan, Bryant McKennie, Jeremy Shockley and Jonathan Vilma -- without problems. The effects began to show last season when, racked by injuries, Coker and his staff found themselves scrambling to fill roles with young players who normally would have spent the season backing up NFL first-rounders.

The problems started early, when controversial recruit Willie Williams -- controversial for his off-the-field problems, but rated the top linebacker prospect in the nation -- tore up a knee in preseason practice and had to miss the season. It got worse when early in the fourth game, Eric Winston, the team's -- and maybe the nation's -- best offensive lineman suffered an ACL injury and was lost for the season. Top receiver Ryan Moore went down early. Tyler McMeans, a budding star at offensive guard, was lost at mid-season.

All in all, Miami's starters missed a total of 39 games due to injuries.

Against Virginia on Nov. 13, not one senior started on defense -- but three freshmen did. Only four players started in the same position against Florida State in the opener and Florida in the finale.

But last year's problems may have laid the groundwork for Miami's success this season. Williams is back, as impressive as ever on the practice field, to join five linebackers with starting experience. Winston has returned to anchor a line that returns four 2004 starters.

And the NFL draft, so cruel to Miami in recent years, stole just six players, including just one first-round talent (DB Antrel Rolle), one second-round pick (WR Roscoe Parrish) and two third-round selections (TE Kevin Everett; RB Frank Gore). That would be a strong showing anywhere else, but it's the lightest hit the 'Canes have taken in a decade.

So where does that leave Miami? Are the 'Canes poised to show the ACC why they were such a feared program in the Big East?

Ironically, the team's biggest concern heading into the 2005 season is replacing last season's most controversial player.

Miami fans never quite warmed to quarterback Brock Berlin. The Florida transfer had some spectacular moments for the 'Canes, including a 2003 comeback against Florida that ranks with anything Craig Erickson, Vinny Testaverde or Jim Kelly ever accomplished. But he never found the consistency that made predecessor Ken Dorsey so valuable.

Even when Berlin was leading last year's team to a 6-0 start and a No. 3 national ranking, there were fans who wanted to see backups Kyle Wright and/or Kirby Freeman play instead.

Now they'll get their chance. Miami fans like to point out that Bernie Kosar and Steve Walsh led the 'Canes to national titles in their first seasons as starters. Wright or Freeman might have to do the same to win their approval. Miami is loaded with proven talent at every other position. If one of the young quarterbacks come through, the 'Canes should reverse the downward trend under Coker and make Miami Miami again.

QUARTERBACKS

There's no question that Brock Berlin had his moments of excellence last season. The game-winning touchdown drive he engineered against Louisville and the school-record five touchdown passes he threw against NC State, the nation's top-ranked defense, were in a class with Miami's great quarterback tradition. He led the ACC in passing yards, passing touchdowns and passing efficiency.

The problem is that unlike his famous predecessors, Berlin was not always effective. As a senior, the Florida transfer proved curiously ineffective on some crucial occasions, such as late in the overtime loss to Clemson and in the home-field loss to Virginia Tech that cost the 'Canes a share of the ACC title.

His departure leaves a void that stands as Miami's biggest question mark entering the 2005 season. But at a school that's used to having a Heisman Trophy candidate under center, the prospect of replacing the talented, yet erratic Berlin might not be a big problem.

The key is the performance of Kyle Wright (6-5, 208), a sophomore from Danville, Calif., who won the starting quarterback job in spring practice. Three years ago, Wright was ranked by many services as the nation's top quarterback recruit after throwing for 2,825 yards and 37 touchdowns as a senior at Monte Vista High School. For two years, he's been hailed as a savior by Miami fans frustrated by Berlin's ups and downs. But Wright was never able to beat out Berlin on the practice field and last year saw token action in just two games.

"Last year was tough for Kyle, but a little bit of humbling is never a bad thing," offensive coordinator Dan Werner said. "It forced him to realize that nothing comes easy, especially at a place like this."

The experience Wright gained on the bench for two seasons (one as a red-shirt) gave him the edge in the spring battle for the starting job. His competition came from another celebrated prep quarterback, Kirby Freeman (6-3, 195), a red-shirt freshman from Brownwood, Texas.

"I really like both players," Coker said. "We have two outstanding quarterbacks, and I don't know that I've ever been around a program that has two quality quarterbacks like we have here. We can win with both players. Kyle deserves the nod at this time. From our standpoint, Kyle is further ahead. He's been here an additional year and he has more knowledge of the offense."

Wright demonstrated that knowledge in the Miami spring game, when he completed 10-of-13 passes for 159 yards and two touchdowns. He also demonstrated more mobility in the pocket than the 'Canes are used to in a quarterback.

"For years, the one thing that opponents could count on is that a Miami quarterback isn't going to be able to beat you with his feet," Werner said. "But even when the pocket breaks down and every receiver is covered, [Wright] can still take off running and make big plays."

Freeman, a former hurdler who has been timed in 4.62 in the 40-meter dash, can also move. He rushed for 20 yards in the spring game, while hitting 7-of-18 passes for 109 yards.

Walk-on Trey Burklin (6-3, 209), a red-shirt freshman, is the third-team quarterback, but he'll only play in the case of disaster to Wright and Freeman.

RUNNING BACKS

The words "what-might-have-been" will always haunt Frank Gore. The talented running back fought his way back from not one, but two major knee injuries to become Miami's leading rusher in 2004. But his 945 yards and 4.8 yards a carry are a far cry from what he might have accomplished without the injuries.

Miami doesn't have a running back to replace what Gore might have been, but junior Tyrone Moss (5-10, 221) should step in nicely for the post-injury Gore. The powerful Pompano Beach, Fla., product has rushed for 956 yards and 11 touchdowns over the last two seasons, averaging 4.6 yards a carry. Moss needs to improve his receiving skills (he's caught just one pass in his career), but he's a tough inside runner with excellent speed.

The backups at tailback will all be young, but all bring impressive physical skills to the position.

Red-shirt freshman Derron Thomas (5-9, 185) is a jet who has been clocked at 4.33 in the 40. He averaged more than nine yards a carry as a senior at East St. John's High School in Louisiana. He was the leading rusher in the spring game and added a 21-yard pass reception.

Sophomore Charlie Jones (5-11, 206) saw limited action last season, rushing six times for 25 yards and a touchdown. He once rushed for a school-record 348 yards in a single game at Dade County High School in Homestead, Fla. Jones is not as fast as Thomas, but he's one of the strongest tailbacks on the team.

Sophomore Andrew Johnson (5-10, 211) also saw action as a freshman last season, rushing 16 times for 41 yards and a touchdown. He was a state sprint champion at North Hills HS in Pittsburgh, where he rushed for 3,670 yards and 54 touchdowns in his career. Red-shirt freshman George Timmons (6-0, 193) was an unheralded recruit from Lake City, Fla., who brings a lot of speed (4.4 in the 40) to the position.

Coker has two strong starting candidates at fullback, where senior Quadtrine Hill (6-2, 221) is fighting to hold off impressive sophomore James Bryant (6-3, 235).

Hill is a veteran with 19 career starts to his credit. He's never been asked to carry the ball that often (just 27 career rushes for 131 yards), but he's a devastating lead blocker and a surprisingly good receiver out of the backfield (41 career catches for 432 yards.

Bryant, who played last season on special teams, was rated one of the nation's top linebacker prospects coming out of Reading (Pa.) High School. But he made the conversion to fullback in the spring and has the Miami staff excited about his potential there.

Senior walk-on Jean Volcy (5-10, 220) is also available at fullback, although incoming freshmen Jerrell Mabry (6-0, 255) is an impressive physical specimen from Columbus, Ga., who could get an early chance to play,

WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS

The departure of wide receiver Roscoe Parrish and tight end Kevin Everett to the NFL and of wide receiver Devin Hester to the secondary could be seen as a blow to Miami's receiving corps.

But seeing that Hester's move was voluntary should provide a clue to the depth at this position.

Take tight end, where Notre Dame transfer Greg Olsen (6-6, 247), a sophomore, will be touted for national honors in his second season at Miami. The former prep All-American suffered a broken wrist last season against North Carolina, but he returned after missing one game and still ended up catching 16 passes for 275 yards and a touchdown.

He'll be backed up by senior Buck Ortega (6-5, 224), a former quarterback who played in all 12 games last season and started in the Peach Bowl. He caught eight passes for 82 yards, mostly late in the season, when Everett and Olsen were banged up. Red-shirt freshman Chris Zellner (6-2, 215) could use some more weight and strength, but he has 4.5 speed in the 40 and could bring a new dimension to the position.

Speed is not a problem at wide receiver, where Coker once described his candidates at the position as a track team.

Ryan Moore (6-3, 215), a junior, appeared to be on the verge of stardom when he caught 44 passes for 627 yards as a red-shirt freshman. But a foot injury in the third game ruined his sophomore season. The Orlando, Fla., product played in just six games and finished with just nine catches for 85 yards.

The void his injury created was filled by sophomore Lance Leggett (6-4, 174), who started seven games as a true freshman and finished with 17 catches for 349 yards and four touchdowns. His 20.5 average per catch was the best on the team. He possesses an impressive combination of size, agility and speed.

Now Coker has Moore and Leggett available, along with a third starter in senior Sinorice Moss (5-8, 182). The younger brother of former Miami star Santana Moss has seen action in 36 games at Miami and has caught 31 passes for 492 yards and three touchdowns.

Moss is one of eight Miami players timed last spring at under 4.5 in the 40. But he's not the fastest receiver. That honor goes to junior Akieem Jolla (6-4, 188), who hauled in 15 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown last season. Of course, Hester is even faster, and while he'll primarily play cornerback, look for the speedy back to return for a handful of plays each game at wide receiver.

Junior Darnell Jenkins (5-10, 183) also brings great speed to the position. The Miami native is the team's top returning receiver from last season, when he caught 21 passes for 230 yards and one touchdown.

Further depth -- and speed -- will be provided by sophomore Terrell Walden (6-0, 162) and red-shirt freshman Khalil Jones (6-2, 210). Both players were timed in under 4.4 in high school.

OFFENSIVE LINE

The early loss of Eric Winston (6-7, 310) was one of the big blows suffered by the 2004 Hurricanes, but it was the best thing that could happen to the 2005 'Canes.

It is likely that if Winston, a senior, had had the kind of 2004 season he was projected to have, that the huge Midland, Texas, product would have taken his game to the NFL last spring. Instead, he's back at Miami to anchor who could be the nation's strongest offensive line.

Veteran line coach Art Kehoe does have to replace offensive guard Chris Myers and center Joel Rodriguez, but in addition to Winston, he has four other linemen who started a combined 32 games last season.

Senior guard Tony Tella (6-5, 298) was a rock who started all 12 games at left guard. A Texan like Winston, he allowed just 2.8 sacks and was a solid run blocker. The other guard spot is likely to go to senior Tyler McMeans (6-5, 337), who started the first six games last season and was playing All-ACC quality ball before suffering a knee injury just before the UNC loss. A 24-year-old former Marine who came to Miami out of Lackawanna Junior College, McMeans was credited with 10 pancake blocks.

The right tackle spot opposite Winston is slated to go to senior Rashad Butler (6-5, 286). A two-year starter, he missed the first three games last season with a preseason ankle injury but returned just in time to replace the injured Winston at left tackle, protecting Berlin's blind side by allowing just 1.8 sacks in his eight starts.

The only newcomer to the starting lineup will be red-shirt freshman Tyrone Byrd (6-6, 283), who started last spring as Winston's backup and heir apparent at left tackle, but shifted to center and dazzled the Miami coaches with his skills there.

Sophomore Derrick Morse (6-5, 325), who started six games as a red-shirt freshman last season, will back up both starting guards. Sophomore Andrew Bain (6-3, 334), who played in 10 games last season, and red-shirt freshman Jonathan St.-Pierre (6-3, 316) are also available at guard.

Depth at tackle will come from sophomores Cyrim Wimbs (6-5, 325) and David Howell (6-4, 284), who both lettered in reserve roles last season, and red-shirt freshman Chris Rutledge (6-7, 290).

Juniors Alex Pou (6-4, 281) and Anthony Wollschlager (6-6, 291) were given the chance to win the center job in spring, but both were out-performed by Byrd. The two veteran reserves will provide depth at center, along with sophomore John Rochford (6-3, 293), who will also handle long-snapping duties on special teams.

Junior walk-on Chris Napoli (6-3, 285) also lettered last season and is available for backup duty at guard or center.

KICKERS

Junior Jon Peattie (6-3, 207) earned first-team All-Big East honors as a freshman, when he hit 22-of-28 field goals and didn't miss an extra point.

In his first ACC season, Peattie continued his perfection on extra points, but bothered by a groin pull most of the year he slipped just a bit as a field goal kicker. It's not that his 15-for-24 season was bad -- three of his misses were from beyond 50 yards.

From inside the 30, Peattie is close to automatic, converting 15-of-17 tries in his career. His streak of 82 consecutive extra points is already a school record.

He handled kickoffs early last season, but soon gave up the job to punter Brian Monroe (6-2, 201).

Senior Mark Gent (6-1, 207) once made a 56-yard field goal in a preseason scrimmage and has seen considerable action as a kickoff man in his career. He's also 4-for-4 in extra points, but has never tried a field goal in a game. A number of walk-ons are also vying for playing time, including sophomore Grant Brown (6-2, 192) and red-shirt freshmen Francesco Zampogna (5-9, 207), Chandler Cleveland (6-5, 182) and David Strimple (5-10, 179).

DEFENSIVE LINE

Miami defenses usually don't give up 155 yards a game on the ground. But last year's defensive front did. The inability to stop the likes of North Carolina's Chad Scott (25 carries 175 yards rushing), Clemson's Reggie Merriweather (20 carries for 114 yards) and Virginia Tech's Cedric Humes (27 carries for 110 yards) played a huge role in the 'Canes three unexpected defeats. And giving up 109 yards on just 13 carries to Louisville's Lionel Gates was a big reason Miami had to fight for its life to beat the Cardinals.

Chad Scott? Reggie Merriweather? Cedric Humes? Lionel Gates? That's hardly a murderer's row of Heisman candidates.

"Our defensive front was pretty inexperienced last year," Miami defensive coordinator Randy Shannon said. "Part of it was inexperience and part of it was scheme. When you have inexperienced guys, you feel like you can't do certain things with them. Towards the end of the season, I thought they started to respond better and that makes me feel better going forward to this year."

The Hurricanes return six linemen with starting experience, losing only part-time starter Santonio Thomas.

Anchoring the middle of the line will be senior tackle Orien Harris (6-4, 300), who had 55 tackles last season while starting all 12 games. He's the team's best run-stopper up front and is an effective pass rusher with 46 career quarterback hurries to his credit.

Harris has a chance to challenge for national honors.

"Orien can be that player, but we don't want to put that much pressure on him," Shannon said. "Orien didn't go through spring and we didn't miss him. There are a lot of guys on this defense who can be leaders. We have a bunch of tough guys and they've played extensively."

Junior Baraka Atkins (6-4, 263) is another proven tackle after starting all 12 games last season. He had 33 tackles and 6.5 sacks as a sophomore, when he started at both end and tackle. Junior Kareem Brown (6-5, 301) brings more size and just as much experience to the middle after recording 28 tackles and one sack last season. He had two sacks in the spring game.

Another tackle with an exciting upside is sophomore Teraz McCray (6-0, 286), who is a question mark after suffering a knee injury during spring drills. It's not clear if he'll be ready to go this fall.

If McCray's progress is slowed or the 'Canes need more depth up front, Shannon will look at freshman Joe Joseph (6-4, 270), a premier 2004 recruit who didn't qualify in time to play last season. The former prep All-American from Orlando enrolled last winter and went through spring drills.

There's even more depth at the ends, where returning starters Bryan Pata (6-4, 267) and Thomas Carroll (6-5, 230) are fighting off strong challenges from red-shirt freshmen Eric Moncur (6-3, 264) and towering Calais Campbell (6-8, 232).

"I feel good about the ends," Shannon said. "Moncur and Campbell did a great job in the spring."

Pata, a junior who started five games last season, had 19 tackles and six tackles for loss last season. Carroll, a senior who started nine games in 2004, had 60 tackles and has record 11.5 sacks the last two years. Senior Javon Nanton (6-3, 240) also started twice last season and is a pass rush specialist who has recorded 11 sacks and 21 quarterback hurries over the last two seasons.

Also available up front are sophomore Vegas Franklin (6-3, 240) and red-shirt freshmen Rhyan Anderson (6-4, 285) and Dwayne Hendricks (6-4, 246).

LINEBACKERS

Linebacker is another position where the Hurricanes have gone from woefully inexperienced to loaded with proven players.

"We've got depth now," Shannon said. "I feel like we've got six starters."

The 'Canes also have a lot of flexibility from guys like sophomore Jon Beason (6-1, 220), who has started in the middle and strong-side linebacker spots, but will start this season listed as the No. 1 weak-side linebacker.

Of course, that could change, especially with red-shirt freshman Willie Williams (6-3, 230) breathing down his neck. Williams, the nation's most celebrated linebacker recruit in 2004, missed last year with a preseason knee injury. He'd appeared to be fully recovered last spring and displayed the combination of toughness and quickness that made him such a celebrated recruit.

Beason, who started three games last year after being converted from safety, had 29 tackles, including four for loss.

Senior Leon Williams (6-4, 237) was a Butkus finalist last season, when he had 56 tackles and eight tackles for loss. He'll be backed up in the middle by sophomore Romeo Davis (6-2, 208), who played in 10 games as a true freshman, starting twice. He recorded 15 tackles, including three tackles for loss.

Two veterans are battling for the starting job on the strong side. Junior Tavares Gooden (6-1, 220) came out of spring on top, but that's only because senior Roger McIntosh (6-3, 237) sat out spring practice with a shoulder injury. A year ago, McIntosh led the linebacking corps with 111 tackles, including four sacks and 13 tackles for loss. Gooden wasn't far behind with 83 tackles and 10 tackles for loss.

Those are Shannon's six "starters," but he can also count on help from sophomore Glenn Cook (6-1, 222), a special teams star who recorded 17 tackles, including five for loss last season.

Further depth will come from sophomore Willie Cooper (6-1, 201), who has bounced back and forth between safety and linebacker, and freshman Demetri Stewart (6-3, 199) a recruit from Oakland Park, Fla., who graduated early and enrolled at Miami in time to go through spring drills.

DEFENSIVE LINE

Miami has one big hole to fill on defense this year, but Shannon thinks the 'Canes are quite prepared to fill it.

All-American Antrel Rolle, who played safety and cornerback last season and finished with 71 tackles, an interception and 10 pass breakups, was Miami's only first-round draft pick in 2005.

His departure was softened by the return of senior cornerback Kelly Jennings (6-0, 177) and veteran safeties Brandon Meriweather (6-1, 184) and Greg Threat (6-2, 193), plus the development of precocious young safety Anthony Reddick (6-0, 188).

However, the most exciting player in the Miami secondary could be junior Devin Hester (5-11, 185), an All-America quality kick returner who will finally focus on cornerback after starting games at tailback, fullback, wide receiver and nickel back in his first two seasons at Miami.

The fastest of the fast -- Hester's 4.29 time in the 40 last spring was the fastest recorded by the 'Canes -- Hester recorded four interceptions and five pass breakups last season in limited duty. He could be a national all-star candidate as a fulltime corner ... well, almost fulltime.

"Devin will still be used on offense from time to time," Shannon said. "On defense, he's got to learn a lot of schemes, a long of sets. On offense, he just needs to learn seven or eight plays."

Jennings, who has 29 starts in his career, will open at the other corner, while junior Glenn Sharpe (5-11, 181) and senior Marcus Maxey (6-3, 198) also slated to see action at cornerback.

The safety spot is so loaded that Threat, who led the 'Canes last year with 139 tackles and added three interceptions, will not start. Instead, Meriweather, a junior who was limited by a shoulder injury last season when he had 62 tackles and two interceptions, will start at strong safety, while sophomore Redick, who started six games as a true freshman, will start at free safety.

And don't discount the possibility of true freshman Kenny Phillips (6-3, 195), the USA Today Prep Defensive Player of the Year, making the same kind of impact this season Reddick did last season.

If that's not enough, the 'Canes can call on promising youngsters such as sophomore Carlos Armour (6-3, 188), red-shirt freshmen Rashaun Jones (6-1, 187) and Lovon Ponder (6-0, 195) and even walk-on Joe Tolliver (5-11, 183).

"This is the deepest, most experienced position on the team," Shannon said of the secondary.

PUNTER

Brian Monroe (6-2, 201) struggled at times as a true freshman kicker in 2003, but last year as a sophomore, he matured into one of the nation's most solid punters.

Monroe upped his average per kick from 36.7 to 41.2 yards. He put 20 of his 64 punts inside the 20 with just seven touchbacks.

Peattie is available to take over the punting chores if anything happens to Monroe.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Does anybody have a better special team lineup than the 'Canes?

The two kickers -- Peattie and Monroe -- are excellent. The coverage teams are spectacular as opponents averaged just 5.4 yards a punt return and a mere 18.9 on kickoff returns.

And with Devin Hester returning punts and kickoffs, the 'Canes have a weapon that no one else can match. The speedy junior has returned five kicks for touchdowns in his career -- two kickoffs and three punts. A year ago, he averaged 17.2 yards on 19 punt returns and 25.9 yards on 15 kickoff returns.

Wide receiver Darnell Jenkins also has experience as a kick returner, while Anthony Reddick and Sinorice Moss have showed promise as punt returners. Coker even has his choice of long snappers. Sophomore John Rochford (6-3, 293) earned the job in spring, but tight end Greg Olsen has experience if needed.

For the most comprehensive previews available on all 119 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college football, the 2005 Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbook.com or call 1-866-805-BALL (2255).