September 13, 2005
CORAL GABLES -- Devin Hester might be regarded as Miami's most dynamic athlete, but the Hurricanes' three-way player wasn't much of a factor in UM's season-opening loss to Florida State.
The All-American return man had a number of miscues on special teams that hurt UM in the field-position battle of its 10-7 loss.
Hester muffed his first punt. The only reason UM didn't lose possession was because a review of the play showed that FSU's Fred Rouse had recovered the ball out of bounds. Hester also bobbled his first kickoff, a squib he returned for 13 yards. He fumbled a punt at the 45-yard line before falling on it. He also failed to fair-catch two other punts, which wound up pinning UM further into its own territory than it needed to be.
As a member of the punt-cover unit, Hester was called for interference when he ran into Florida State return man Willie Reid, after being pushed by the Seminoles' Pat Watkins. That mistake provided FSU with an additional 15 yards.
"I kind of forced a lot of things," said Hester, a junior who also played sparingly as a cornerback against the Seminoles. "I was trying to do too much."
Sure, his head (poor decision-making) caused the majority of his problems against FSU, but don't think the turf toe injury he's been battling all fall wasn't a factor, too.
"It's still nagging, but I'm trying to do the best I can to fight through it so I can be out there," said Hester, who scored four touchdowns on punt and kickoff returns last season.
The soreness in his left foot limits his ability to accelerate, and those familiar with Hester know that it's his acceleration more than his 4.3 speed that makes him special.
Along with his defense and special teams duties, Hester played two snaps on offense against FSU. However, as much as Miami's coaches would like to use him for the rest of the season in all three phases of the game, there's a great deal of concern about his injury lingering, and possibly worsening, especially considering how much corners rely on footwork.
Turf toe limited Hester's mentor, future Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders, for two seasons in his NFL career. Last season Hester, who led Miami with four interceptions, got his first few starts as a cornerback because former UM standout Antrel Rolle was plagued with turf toe for the second half of the season. Hester has consulted both players for advice on treatment.
"It's not too much you can do with a turf toe," Hester said. "It's one of those injuries you have to let heal on its own."
Until it does, look for Hester's contributions to be limited.
Reddick Injury Cause For Concern?
Even with freshman sensation Kenny Phillips in the starting free safety spot, which was opened by the season-ending knee injury Anthony Reddick suffered in Miami's loss at FSU, expect the Hurricanes' secondary to undergo an adjustment period.
While Phillips, the USA Today high school defensive player of the year in 2004, was one of the fall's top performers, and coaches apparently believe he's ready to handle a bigger role, he is replacing one of last year's most productive players.
Reddick, who started six games as a true freshman last season, is considered one of Miami's up-and-coming stars. He finished fourth on the team with 73 total tackles in 2004, also contributing one sack, one interception and one forced fumble, and Miami's coaches believed that was just the tip of the iceberg for him.
During the offseason, he was beginning to come into his own because he developed a better understanding of Miami's defensive schemes, but now the ACL tear in his right knee has set him back.
Despite Phillips' talent, don't be surprised if he struggles early this season, as he adjusts to the speed of college ball. However, the Hurricanes are confident enough in his natural skills to play him ahead of senior Greg Threat, who led the team in tackles last season.
"He's a guy that's a big playmaker," Coker said of Phillips. "He may make some mistakes. I'm sure he will. But he may make you make some mistakes also."
Phillips will be working alongside junior Brandon Meriweather, who has developed into an instinctive player and a better vocal leader than Threat. In the season opener, despite nursing a hamstring injury that's still bothering him, Meriweather finished second on the team with seven tackles, recovered a fumble and nearly picked off a pass.
Expect all three safeties to be on the field often. Meriweather likely will be part of Miami's nickel package, moving to the line of scrimmage while Threat takes over the strong safety duties. Phillips is being used only at free safety in an effort to speed up his learning curve.
"I understand the defense a lot better than when I first got here, and the things that I don't know I get a lot of help with," said Phillips, who picked off eight passes during fall camp. "Everybody is coaching me up, trying to make me the best they can."
Coker Deal Still Awaits Signature
Coach Larry Coker recently agreed to a five-year contract extension, which took his representatives eight months to negotiate. Now it has taken Coker upwards of a month to sign the deal.
According to sources, the new contract, which will pay Coker $1.75 million this season and annually increase by at least $100,000 for each year he's at the helm, has language issues that still are being hammered out. And although an agreement has been reached in principle, it doesn't seem as if either side is in a rush to finalize the paperwork.
Coker's agent, Jimmy Sexton, and UM athletic director Paul Dee began discussions around January, but neither side aggressively pursued coming to terms until Coker, who has three years left on his second deal with UM, pushed for something to get done for the sake of recruiting. Now, with the season underway, it's again been pushed to the back burner.
It's believed that Coker's new contract rivals those of Florida State's Bobby Bowden, who earns more than $2 million annually, and the new deal Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer has on the table.
Hoops: Graham Suffers Setback
North Carolina prospect Jimmy Graham graduated from high school a year early so he could immediately provide the Hurricanes with some much-needed inside muscle. But it appears that a knee injury he suffered while competing in the postseason for Charis Prep could prevent him from becoming the immediate-impact guy Miami needs.
A 6-8, 255-pound power forward, Graham is rehabbing from the surgery he underwent to repair a kneecap he broke in the spring. While his recovery is on pace, there is some concern about how ready he'll be to bang in the paint when the season begins.
Graham, a Ben Wallace-like defender who relies heavily on his energy and effort, is presently training with the team, but he's running and jumping very gingerly. Miami's coaches are crossing their fingers that he'll be healthy enough come November to split time with forwards Anthony King and Gary Hamilton in the post.
One freshman UM coach Frank Haith and his staff have been pleasantly surprised by is Adrian Thomas, a 6-7 forward from nearby Flanagan High. Thomas, who started attending classes and working out at UM in the summer, has shown a great deal of mental and physical maturity. He's added 12 pounds of muscle to his frame, bulking up to around 240.
Haith is hoping Thomas can replace some of the low-post scoring once provided by departed senior Will Frisby. That could help make Miami's guard-oriented squad a bit more balanced.