September 13, 2006
CORAL GABLES -- Standout Miami tailback Tyrone Moss, who suffered a season-ending injury in the Hurricanes' eighth game last season, made his 2006 debut in UM's 51-10 trouncing of Florida A&M.
Coach Larry Coker previously had determined that Moss, who is rehabilitating from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, wasn't healthy or fit enough to play against FAMU. Coker initially targeted the Sept. 30 home game against Houston for Moss' return but changed his mind on game day.
Moss, a senior who consistently has battled weight issues, didn't make his coach regret the decision. He was back bowling over defenders, gaining 11 yards on his second carry of the second half. He scored the first touchdown of the third quarter on a 20-yard run that put UM ahead 28-3.
Moss, who gained 701 yards rushing and led the ACC with 12 touchdowns last season, finished with 64 yards and one reception for seven yards.
"It felt great to get back out there and have a pretty good game," said Moss, who also was suspended for the season opener for missing too many study halls. "It was hard watching the FSU game, but I think that made me even more excited to get in there and play."
His performance proved to his pessimistic coaches that despite the added weight -- he's hovering around 235 pounds and constantly is being pushed to drop some pounds -- Moss is getting close to regaining his old form.
"He is going to get better and better as the year progresses," said Coker, who admitted that he was surprised by Moss' initial success. "I think it was good for him to get in the mix."
Moss is more suited for the one-back offense the Hurricanes presently are running, because he's the best option when it comes to finding inside running lanes. He also routinely falls forward, gaining an extra yard or two after the initial contact.
If Moss is able to contribute anything near the 5.1 yards per carry he averaged in 2005, the Hurricanes finally might have a workhorse in the backfield to take some pressure off quarterback Kyle Wright.
While junior Charlie Jones has been steady as Moss' replacement, he lacks that extra gear needed to break the big run, and he isn't as physical between the tackles as Moss.
Coker clearly wasn't pleased with his team's ground attack following its two-yard performance in the 13-10 loss to Florida State. While the Hurricanes gained 339 yards on the ground against FAMU, there's still room for improvement, especially with tougher opponents on the horizon.
"Where does a running back need to improve? If you've got to tell them that, they are not a running back," Coker said, assessing his personnel. "When I coached Barry Sanders, (it wasn't), Barry, you need to take this step. Move here.' No, it was, Barry, go that way. Run, Forrest, run.' When you have to talk too much, they probably aren't running backs."
TRUE FRESHMEN MAKING NOISE
It's not unusual for the Hurricanes to play true freshmen, but three players who just left high school steadily have worked their way up the depth chart, and they may be on the verge of becoming standout performers.
Jason Fox, who started the first two games at right tackle, become the first UM freshman to start on the offensive line since Richard Mercier in 1995. Now it looks as if Fox will hold onto the spot a while longer, considering how solid he was in every aspect of his game.
"I don't see anyone beating him out," Coker said of the 6-6, 280-pound Fox, who played tight end and left tackle at North Crowley High in Texas.
Receiver Sam Shields was one of August camp's biggest stars, even prompting offensive coordinator Rich Olson to script some plays for him. So far, he's caught only four passes for 26 yards, but the Hurricanes are expecting more.
Finally, tailback Javarris James has worked his way up to the No. 2 spot on UM's depth chart, and he's rising fast. James contributed 75 yards on eight carries and scored twice in Miami's win over FAMU, and he showed the same little sidestep move that enabled his cousin, former UM standout Edgerrin James, to become one of UM's better backs and one of the NFL's elite rushers.
"If they are the best player, fine, doesn't bother me," Coker said. "We did it at Ohio State with Orlando Pace and Corey Stringer. We did it here with Reggie Wayne and Santana Moss. They played over older guys. If they can play, and are ready to play, we'll give them an opportunity."
Their emergence is part of a youth movement Coker and the staff are banking on to replenish some holes on offense that have been brought about by numerous recruiting misses over the past few years.
TALENTED LINEMEN MUST PERFORM
Sacks to defensive linemen are like touchdowns to skill players. They indicate an end or tackle's value. At the current rate, Miami's defensive linemen might as well be paupers.
In UM's first two games, the Hurricanes' imposing defensive line, which features two potential first-day NFL picks in Baraka Atkins and Kareem Brown, managed just one sack.
UM's goal this season is to average at least three sacks per game, which means the front line has yet to carry its load on defense.
"We're real hungry," said Brown, whose 4.5 sacks last season ranked second on the team.
Going back to last season, UM's opponents have been doing pretty gimmicky stuff on offense -- e.g., regularly rolling out the pocket to avoid the rush, relying heavily on three-step drops and lob passes -- but the linemen still aren't beating single blocks to create negative plays.
As strong as Miami's front line has been against the run, holding FSU to one yard rushing and limiting Florida A&M to 82 yards, the Hurricanes' defense is built around putting pressure on quarterbacks to ease up the load being carried by a young secondary.
"We've got to get more pressure on the quarterback," said Coker, whose team had 36 sacks last season, averaging three per game.
UM's lack of pass-rushing success actually is taking a toll on its veterans. Atkins, the leader of that unit, had started 35 of 36 games until he was replaced by sophomore Eric Moncur for the FAMU game.
The demotion of a player who chose to return to the program instead of entering the NFL draft was made to send the team a message, and it got through loud and clear.
"We need to turn up the intensity and get there, whether it's only a three-step drop or when (quarterbacks) roll out," said Atkins, who tallied UM's lone sack against the Rattlers. "We have opportunities."