ACC 2012 Spring Practice Expectations: Miami Hurricanes

Veterans Like Jimmy Gaines Will Be the Key to This Miami team Having a Productive Spring

As spring practices get under way, we’ll be previewing what needs to happen for the teams and players of the ACC, culminating with notes on all 14 spring games.

Today’s featured team: Miami Hurricanes

After a respectable 6-6 season amidst off-the-field distractions, there was a predictable mass exodus for the Hurricanes on both sides of the ball. While senior quarterback Jacory Harris was an expected departure, underclassmen like RB Lamar Miller and WR Tommy Streeter declared early to avoid the repercussions of an NCAA investigation, sprinting from Coral Gables as fast as their 40-yard dash times (each recorded a 4.4) would imply. To replace them, head coach Al Golden will rely on a cast of young, unproven players. Just four offensive starters returned for the ‘Canes in 2012, none of whom beyond senior receiver Allen Hurns play at the big-three skill positions. The leadership role in this young, retooled group then falls to junior QB Stephen Morris — or rather, it would if he wasn’t missing spring practice due to back surgery. Without Morris for the time being, Miami stands little chance at developing the type or rhythm and comfort with the system necessary to succeed at this level. Adding in the fact that you’re dealing with an inexperienced team at nearly every position and it’s a recipe for disaster. The only senior starter is predicted to be running back Mike James, who put up seven touchdowns in limited relief of Miller last year. For the spring at least, he’ll be the glue that helps these players mesh while they wait for their quarterback to heal up.

On defense, Miami returns seven starters, but most notably losses underclassmen Olivier Vernon and Marcus Forston, along with graduating senior Sean Spence. Despite the departures though, the Hurricanes have also brought in a strong recruiting class to assist with perceived depth issues to bolster a defense which allowed just 20.1 points per game in 2011. Five times this unit allowed 14 points or less, and while Spence was a large part of that effort in many cases, there are candidates to pick up that mantle. Rising junior linebacker Jimmy Gaines may have some size issues at times (he’s just 6’3″ and 220 pounds), but if his strong opening to 2011 is any indication, he should flourish as a more central piece of this defense. Outside of the linebacker spot, however, the ‘Canes have shown a general inability to get after opposing quarterbacks (just 24 sacks in ’11), which results in less interceptions (only six last season). Though players like Gaines can surely cause disruption in the middle of the field, Miami needs players on both the front four and back four to step up to make those critical, late-game stops. Competitions for starting roles are poised to open up at every position in the secondary this spring and last year’s paltry turnover numbers may give leverage to ball-hawks. For linemen, the stress will of course be on an aggressive pass-rush, something few beyond rising-sophomore Anthony Chickillo has experience with. The second-year player will be another Hurricane leading by example this spring.

As Al Golden attempts to fill the many roster spots that have appeared over the past nine months, he’ll be leaning heavily on upperclassmen to bring the highly-touted recruits into the fold quickly. While Golden has been given a decent runway from the Miami administration, assembling a top-10 recruiting class also carries its own expectations with it. With luck, they’ll get on campus and push out the off-field chatter immediately.

Previously: Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Maryland

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