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Shannon Emphasized Team-first Lesson

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff



April 17, 2007

CORAL GABLES — One conversation Randy Shannon had with a former Miami great this spring personified what UM’s new head coach is trying to accomplish in his revitalization of the Hurricane way. After watching the conclusion of the first week of spring practice, former Miami tailback Edgerrin James shared his feedback with Shannon, including a statement that surprised the coach. “My nephew isn’t the best back right now,” James said after assessing UM’s tailbacks, including Javarris James, whom Edgerrin has been grooming personally for nearly two decades. “(Graig) Cooper is the best back right now, and you should play Cooper.” Never mind that Javarris established himself as Miami’s top offensive weapon last season, contributing 1,002 total yards and scoring five touchdowns as a true freshman. Cooper, who enrolled at UM in January after one semester of prep school, tore it up in the first week, showing off Devin Hester-like playmaking ability, and Edgerrin cared more about Miami getting back to the old Miami than he did about looking out for his own blood. That conversation reinforced to Shannon that his main mission of the spring, which was to make Miami about team again, was even more important than identifying the starting quarterback or re-tooling the sputtering offense. “This is a guy talking about, his nephew should be a backup. That’s what Miami is about. It doesn’t make a difference who it is, play the best players and find a way to make them effective,” Shannon said. “But in turn, Javarris says, ‘My job is to make sure Cooper knows enough to beat me out, but I’ve also got to be the best that I can be to keep Cooper on the bench.’ “That’s the mentality we need to have. In turn, if we’ve got two guys that are equal, we’re going to wear people down. That’s how it’s supposed to be.” Two scenes from UM’s spring scrimmages illustrated the changes that have been underway in Coral Gables. The first came about three weeks into spring drills. The mini-scrimmage was close to its conclusion, but while the offense drove down the field, defensive tackle Antonio Dixon tried to take himself out of the action. The 335-pounder, who has struggled with his conditioning for the past two seasons, trotted to the sideline. But defensive line coach Clint Hurtt pulled him back onto the field, physically forcing Dixon to finish the defense’s stand. While Dixon, a projected starter UM is counting on to complement senior Teraz McCray, did little but lean on his offensive lineman for the rest of the series, he was being pushed to his limits, as was the rest of Shannon’s team. “You are only as good as the guy next to you,” Hurtt said. “Look at all the great ones we had. When you had Cortez Kennedy, you had Russell Maryland. When you had Vince Wilfork here you had William Joseph, and Orien Harris was pretty good next to him. These guys have to work together.” They also have to be accountable to one another, which is why Dixon is among a handful of overweight players who have been working out twice a day (including a 6 a.m. jog) to improve their conditioning. The second moment came in the final scrimmage, on the very last drive of UM’s first split-squad scrimmage in more than two decades, as offensive guard Chris Rutledge was spotted from the sideline yelling instruction to defensive end Steven Wesley. Rutledge was giving Wesley, one of his teammates on the white team, pointers on how to exploit a weakness of starting right tackle Reggie Youngblood, whom Rutledge plays next to on the line. Usually, the team is divided in an offense-defense manner for the final scrimmage, but Shannon split the squad into two separate teams in another effort to foster better team unity. Shannon, UM’s former defensive coordinator, knows that under his predecessor Larry Coker the division between the offense and the defense ate away at the team. At times, the defensive players resented the offense for not carrying its load. There will be no more division of offense and defense, which is why Shannon created assigned seating in the locker room and meeting rooms, with an offensive player sitting next to each defender. There would be no more quitting. No more pampering. No more “me and I before we,” Shannon said. Shannon admitted that UM’s success in preparing players for the NFL has provided the program with a significant boost in recruiting, but it also has made the team’s goals secondary at times. He’s trying to kill that mentality. “We had to learn to put the team before ourselves,” said junior defensive end Calais Campbell, an All-ACC selection. Along with building team unity, Shannon’s spring agenda included fortifying the offensive line, identifying defensive tackles to use in a three-man rotation, finding a kicker and punter, getting former secondary coach Tim Walton settled in as the new defensive coordinator, and pushing Kyle Wright and Kirby Freeman’s buttons to see who will be UM’s starting quarterback in 2007. The offense was down in numbers at receiver and on the line, which hindered that unit’s development this spring. UM’s coaches initially wanted to move Jason Fox from right tackle to left. But Fox, who established himself as the team’s top blocker last year as a true freshman, injured his Achilles and missed the spring. However, Youngblood, last year’s left tackle, was moved to the starting spot on the right side. The Hurricanes also wanted to move senior Derrick Morse, last season’s starting right guard, to center, hoping that he could learn to snap and gain a level of comfort at the position. But Morse sprained his left knee during the first week of spring practice and couldn’t work his way back into action. While James and Cooper showed that Miami likely will have a productive running game if they can stay healthy, the passing game left much to be desired. Neither Wright nor Freeman separated himself at quarterback, leaving the door open for incoming freshman Robert Marve, a Parade All-American, to compete for playing time this fall. But more problematic was UM’s inability to identify reliable receivers. Lance Leggett’s spring participation was limited because of his commitments with UM’s track team and a knee injury he suffered in week three, and Darnell Jenkins was excused from practices to deal with lingering family issues. Without them, the Hurricanes had only three healthy scholarship receivers — Sam Shields, Khalil Jones and Ryan Hill — on hand, and as a result the passing game remained stale. It appears that UM again is going to rely heavily on its tight ends. DajLeon Farr has talent on par with Greg Olsen, but he needs to be more consistent to beat out Chris Zellner. The Hurricanes also will need immediate help in August from incoming receivers such as Kayne Farquharson, Leonard Hankerson, Jermaine McKenzie and/or Daniel Adderley. There’s a strong possibility that UM will sign Mississippi receiver Ronnie Tubbs if he finishes out his final semester strong and qualifies academically. Shannon also might add another kicker (maybe Homestead’s Julio Moraga, who participated in the U.S. Army All-American Game) because of the on-going inconsistency of Matt Bosher and Daren Daly.

-- Omar Kelly
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Spring 2007 Overview

The PooP

New coach Randy Shannon, a former Miami player and assistant, knows and understands the high expectations for UM football. His predecessor, Larry Coker, was fired despite winning a national championship (2001) and averaging 10 victories per year over the past six seasons, but only eight wins over the last three years. Shannon’s short-term challenge is one Coker would recognize well — winning big with a strong but no-longer-overwhelming talent base, and doing so with an offense that still has almost as many questions as answers.

Probable 2007 Starters

Offense

Pos. Name Ht./Wt. Class
QB Kyle Wright^ 6-4/220 *Sr.
RB Javarris James^ 6-0/210 So.
HB Chris Zellner^ 6-2/238 *Jr.
WR Lance Leggett^+ 6-3/188 Sr.
WR Sam Shields^ 6-0/177 So.
TE DajLeon Farr 6-5/248 Jr.
LT Jason Fox^+ 6-6/265 So.
LG Andrew Bain^ 6-3/330 *Sr.
OC Derrick Morse^+ 6-4/326 *Sr.
RG Chris Rutledge 6-5/325 *Jr.
RT Reggie Youngblood^ 6-5/305 Jr.
PK Daren Daly 6-1/173 *Jr.

Defense

DE Calais Campbell^ 6-8/282 *Jr.
DT Teraz McCray^ 6-1/300 *Sr.
DT Antonio Dixon 6-3/335 Jr.
DE Eric Moncur 6-2/260 *Jr.
LB Colin McCarthy 6-3/222 So.
LB Darryl Sharpton+ 5-11/227 *So.
LB Glenn Cook^ 6-0/215 *Sr.
SS Kenny Phillips^ 6-2/202 Jr.
FS Lovon Ponder^ 6-0/207 *Jr.
CB Randy Phillips^ 6-0/195 Jr.
CB Glenn Sharpe^+ 6-0/187 *Sr.
P Matt Bosher 6-0/170 *Fr.

  • — redshirted ^ — six/more 2006 starts
  • — injured/missed spring drills

Coming On Strong

James, Shields, Fox, Campbell and K. Phillips have All-ACC ability, and those who played in March/April were outstanding. Also: Farr, Rutledge, McCray, McCarthy, RB Graig Cooper, DE Josh Holmes, DB Anthony Reddick.

Cause For Concern?

Miami has a strong linebacker corps, with six players of significant experience, but the program still is looking for its next dominator at the position. Also: major worries at punter and kicker, new offense, injuries to key players.

2007 Schedule

Date Opponent 2006 Record
Sept. 1 Marshall 5-7 (4-4)
Sept. 8 at Oklahoma 11-3 (7-1)
Sept. 15 Florida International 0-12 (0-7)
Sept. 20 Texas A&M 9-4 (5-3)
Sept. 29 Duke 0-12 (0-8)
Oct. 6 at North Carolina 3-9 (2-6)
Oct. 13 Georgia Tech 9-5 (7-1)
Oct. 20 at Florida State 7-6 (3-5)
Oct. 27 OPEN
Nov. 3 N.C. State 3-9 (2-6)
Nov. 10 Virginia 5-7 (4-4)
Nov. 17 at Virginia Tech 10-3 (6-2)
Nov. 24 at Boston College 10-3 (5-3)

Spring Cleaning

The following scholarship athletes left the program in the last 12-24 months with eligibility remaining but were not listed as departures in our previous (annual) reviews: DE Rhyan Anderson (transfer), LB Jon Beason (NFL draft), RB Andrew Johnson (transfer/Akron), DB Rashaun Jones (transfer), DE Chris Lewis (transfer/Fresno State), TE Greg Olsen (NFL draft), OL Jonathan St.-Pierre (transfer/Illinois State), WR Terrell Walden (medical/knee), LB Willie Williams (transfer/juco/Louisville).

Chart By: David Glenn