Can the Hurricanes rebound after a disappointing 2011 season?
By: Steven Lassan | 5/31/12, 9:18 AM EDT
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ACC Coastal PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Al Golden, 6-6 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Jedd Fisch | DEF. COORDINATOR: Mark D’Onofrio
Stephen Morris seemed to be the favorite to win the quarterback job until he underwent back surgery and missed spring practice. That gave Ryan Williams, who started 10 games at Memphis as a freshman in 2010, a possible leg up in his competition against Morris heading into fall camp. Morris isn’t as big as Williams, but he has the better physical tools, including the ability to get out of trouble with his feet.
After waiting three seasons, Mike James gets his chance to be the primary ball-carrier, although no one is expecting him to replace Lamar Miller’s 1,272 yards on the ground. There’s great anticipation for the arrival of dynamic Randy “Duke” Johnson, one of the big prizes in the 2012 recruiting class.
The departures of Tommy Streeter, Travis Benjamin and others cost the Hurricanes just over 55 percent of their receiving yards and left the team short on experience at the position. Rashawn Scott, one of the stars of spring practice, and Allen Hurns, the team’s third-leading receiver last season with 31 catches, provide a couple of big targets. Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch says he expects his tight ends to double their production from last season, when the position accounted for only 29 catches and 270 yards.
Only two starters — Brandon Linder and Jon Feliciano — return on the offensive line. Feliciano is making the move from right tackle to left guard.
Three starters and two key reserves are gone, leaving the defensive line woefully short on experience. The best of the group is Anthony Chickillo, a budding star and solid pass-rusher with a non-stop motor. Starting opposite Chickillo is expected to be either injury-prone Shayon Green or converted linebacker Kelvin Cain, neither of whom has ever started a game at defensive end. The tackles are Darius Smith, a seven-game starter last season and the defensive line’s only scholarship senior, and Curtis Porter, who has shown flashes but been dogged by injuries.
Denzel Perryman, the team’s second-leading tackler as a freshman, has moved from the outside to middle linebacker, where he will dole out ferocious hits. Ramon Buchanan, back for a fifth season after blowing out his right knee early last year, is the only senior among the linebackers.
Ray-Ray Armstrong had all the physical tools you want at safety, including size, speed and toughness. But he was dismissed from the team in mid-July. Without Armstrong, Vaughn Telemaque and Brandon McGee — both seniors — could start in the secondary along with true freshman Tracy Howard, a 5-star prospect. Last season, the Hurricanes managed only six interceptions, with just one by a cornerback.
Dalton Botts is coming off a solid season and could be one of the ACC’s best punters, while kicker Jake Wieclaw is steady but doesn’t have a huge leg. The kick and punt coverage units are typically first rate at Miami, but the return game has been lacking since Devin Hester was handling those duties for the Hurricanes.
With huge personnel losses to overcome and a very youthful roster, the Hurricanes appear to be in rebuilding mode. There’s good young talent and more coming in from a top-10 recruiting class, but it’s going to take time to develop. The schedule includes nonconference games with Notre Dame, Kansas State and South Florida. The Hurricanes will likely also have to deal with the distraction of imminent NCAA sanctions. Matching last season’s 6–6 record won’t be easy.