May 2, 2006
CORAL GABLES -- The NFL hasn't exactly gone from feast to famine when it comes to drafting Miami Hurricanes. But UM's unprecedented quantity of first-rounders -- 44 since 1984 -- has slowed down over the past two years, with only cornerbacks Antrel Rolle (2005) and Kelly Jennings (2006) being picked that high.
When the Seattle Seahawks chose Jennings at No. 31, it stretched UM's record of consecutive years with at least one first-rounder to 12. That's an important nugget for coach Larry Coker, because Miami's draft success is his ace in selling the program to recruits.
"It's a badge of honor. It is pretty special," Coker said. "I am very excited that the streak has continued."
Over the past 23 drafts, UM has had 84 players selected in the first three rounds. Among all programs, Florida State is next with 67.
When you factor in that 44 of UM's picks were first-rounders -- including quarterbacks Steve Walsh and Bernie Kosar, who were taken in the first round of supplemental drafts -- the figure becomes even more remarkable.
"It's an overwhelming feeling," Jennings said of maintaining the streak, which started with Tampa Bay's selection of Warren Sapp in 1995. "I did all I could do. I prayed to God, and I feel like he blessed me."
Safety Brandon Meriweather, defensive lineman Baraka Atkins and possibly tight end Greg Olsen, if he has a sensational junior season and enters next year's draft early, present UM with the best chance of extending the streak again in 2007. But there is some concern from the NFL scouting community over the dip in the team's production of top-tier talent.
SWASEY FACES SUMMER CHALLENGES
One of the secrets to UM's success on the football field over the years has been strength and conditioning coach Andreu Swasey.
Swasey is known around the program as a taskmaster, and the Hurricanes respond to him because they see what he's done for most of UM's NFL players, who continue to come back to train with him.
Swasey works with the players more than any coach because he's allowed to instruct them year-round, but that's not the sole reason he's so valuable. Other than his demanding nature, Swasey's biggest asset is the fact that he's a go-between for the coaches and players. He usually can drive UM's athletes to greater heights because of the respect he's earned.
This summer, one of Swasey's primary responsibilities will be reshaping the bodies of four Hurricanes: Olsen, fullback Jerrell Mabry, defensive tackle Antonio Dixon and receiver Lance Leggett. Their productivity will be critical to UM's success in 2006.
Mabry, who checked in this spring at approximately 270 pounds, and Dixon, who is in the 340-pound realm, must drop weight to increase their stamina and effectiveness. Olsen and Leggett, who are expected to be two of UM's top playmakers on offense, must add weight and strength to become more durable.
Before this spring, Olsen had been hindered by two offseason injuries -- shoulder problems in 2004 and a fractured wrist last year -- that prevented him from building on his upper body, which would help him in run blocking. But Swasey said a healthy Olsen is quickly making up for lost time.
"This is the first full spring Greg has had, and he's taken advantage of it," Swasey said. "He's power-cleared the most on the team at 352. He's back-squatted 455. He's getting stronger and bigger in the upper body, and we really haven't had a chance to really hit it like we're going to this summer. This is going to be a really good offseason for him."
Leggett, a rail-thin receiver who was limited last season by a foot injury he suffered last spring, put together a productive April this year. He's added 16 pounds to his 6-4, 186-pound frame, and Swasey believes more is to come. His goal is to help Leggett build the physique needed to create separation at the line of scrimmage between him and defensive backs.
"The size he's gained is all muscle," Swasey said. "He's not a fat kid by any stretch, so what he's gained is muscle mass. That's what we focus on in the spring."
UM's coaches believe that Dixon, a sophomore, has a chance to be Miami's most productive defensive tackle since Vince Wilfork because of his ability to collapse the pocket. But Dixon's poor conditioning prevented him from playing more than a handful of snaps per game last season.
"He's not far off. He came into the program at 355 pounds and is now down to 341. We're trying to take it off the right way, (with) hard work, effort, eating properly," Swasey said. "This is going to be a life lesson that he takes with him when he's done here. It's training. I know he hasn't done this before, so his body is going through a difficult change. Remember, muscle weighs more than fat."
If Dixon can improve his conditioning, he'd likely become the third defensive tackle in UM's three-player rotation, which would address a major depth concern on defense. If Dixon isn't fit enough to play major reps, it's likely that ends Baraka Atkins and Bryan Pata will be called on to work inside at times.
Mabry, a redshirt freshman, inherited UM's starting fullback spot when junior James Bryant requested a move to linebacker, but Mabry's body wasn't ready to handle the elevated role. He came into the program a bit on the heavy side at 260 pounds, and a foot injury he suffered at the end of the fall limited his ability to run. That prevented him from losing the weight, drawing criticism from Coker.
"He already came in behind the gun, couldn't run and it just piled up on him," Swasey said. "It's not all his fault. The problem is it caught him early, and he couldn't be active, which hurt him and makes my job harder. That's what I love. It's a challenge. I like challenges."
HAITH COMMITTED TO HURRICANES
Miami basketball coach Frank Haith plans to sign the five-year contract extension he agreed to in mid-April in the coming days once he returns from the road, where he's recruiting and taking part in speaking engagements.
Haith's in a hurry to get a deal done in order to end speculation that he's interested in, or being pursued by, N.C. State. He followed the Wolfpack, and the rest of the ACC, while growing up in North Carolina.
Haith is 34-29 in two seasons at UM, leading the Hurricanes to two straight NIT appearances. Entering May, he said he still had not been contacted about the NCSU opening.
"I'm happy at Miami. I've agreed to a deal, and I'm not interested in other jobs," said Haith, who struck a deal with UM that landed him and his staff raises after he was approached by Oklahoma to fill its coaching vacancy. "I consider myself a builder, and this is the program that I want to build."
Along with recruiting for the 2007 signing class -- he likely will hold onto the one available scholarship for this season -- Haith is interviewing assistants to fill the position that became vacant when Billy Kennedy left UM to become the head coach at Murray State.
Kennedy is the second of Haith's assistants to leave the program for a head coaching position. Barclay Radebaugh led Charleston Southern to a 13-16 record last season, after spending one year under Haith in Coral Gables.