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Still Searching For Reliable Receivers

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

  September 20, 2004 CORAL GABLES — Miami's 2-0 start couldn't hide a potential problem area at receiver. Except for a four-catch, 112-yard effort by junior Sinorice Moss in the opener against Florida State, the Hurricanes were getting little contribution from the position.

Sophomore Ryan Moore, who finished second on the team in receptions last season with 44, dropped three passes in the opener. That caused Miami coach Larry Coker to drop the normally sure-handed Moore from the starting lineup for the Louisiana Tech game, inserting Moss instead.

But Moss, the younger brother of former Miami standout Santana Moss, couldn't duplicate his season-opening performance in the 48-0 victory over the Bulldogs. In his first career start, Moss was held without a catch. Moore also struggled against Louisiana Tech, finishing with a one-yard reception.

Things weren't much better on the other side, either. Coaches also decided to bench junior Roscoe Parrish, who had four catches for 45 yards against FSU, for the Louisiana Tech game. Coker indicated that he was unhappy with Parrish's effort against the Seminoles. Despite the demotion, Parrish played plenty in Miami's second game, but he was held without a catch.

True freshman Lance Leggett, who excited his coaches and teammates with his amazing skills during August practice, started against Louisiana Tech in place of Parrish. But Leggett had a game to forget, dropping both passes thrown to him. Like Moss and Parrish, Leggett also was held without a catch by Tech.

A fifth receiver, Darnell Jenkins, contributed two catches for 50 yards and an 11-yard touchdown. But even Jenkins had his problems, running a bad route in the first quarter that resulted in a Brock Berlin interception.

This is the second consecutive season in which the Hurricanes' production at receiver has been ordinary at best. Miami also struggled at the position last season, but the cause usually was attributed to inexperience and the growing pains of Berlin.

If not for the contributions of tight ends Kevin Everett and Greg Olsen (10 receptions, 148 yards), the Hurricanes' passing game would have been nearly non-existent.

Defense: Reloading, Not Rebuilding

The Hurricanes' defense seemed destined to take a step back after the loss of seven starters, including four NFL first-round draft choices. If anything, though, this season's defense has been more suffocating than that of the 2003 team.

Miami held Florida State (a 16-10 victory) and Louisiana Tech (48-0) without offensive touchdowns and did so thanks to the play of the defensive front and star cornerback Antrel Rolle.

The Hurricanes registered nine sacks and limited the Seminoles and Bulldogs to a combined 109 rushing yards. Against Lousiana Tech, Miami piled up 22 tackles for losses while holding the nation's leading rusher, Ryan Moats, to 81 yards on 14 carries.

Rolle is simply re-inventing the cornerback position. Everyone knew Rolle was as good a cover corner as there is in the country. The senior hasn't given up a touchdown pass since the first game of the 2002 season.

But the 6-1, 202-pound Rolle is being used far more aggressively this season by Miami defensive coordinator Randy Shannon. Against Florida State, Rolle blitzed a half-dozen times and finished with three tackles for 31 yards in losses. Rolle had two more tackles behind the line of scrimmage against Louisiana Tech and also recovered a fumble.

Shannon, who turned down an offer to become N.C. State's defensive coordinator this summer, deserves much of the credit for the play of Miami's defense in recent years.

A former Miami player and NFL linebacker, Shannon came back to the Hurricanes from the Miami Dolphins staff in 2001. In his first season, Shannon won the Frank Broyles Award as the national assistant coach of the year, after helping lead Miami to the national championship.

The Hurricanes have been among the nation's top defenses ever since Shannon became coordinator, despite an impressive loss of talent each year.

Hester Showcasing Special Skills

Miami coaches believe sophomore Devin Hester may be the most explosive player on the team's roster, although they've struggled to get him on the field much, on either offense or
defense.

But Hester has become a game-breaker on special teams. He made the biggest play of the game against Florida State, blocking a 34-yard Xavier Beitia field goal late in the fourth quarter to keep the Hurricanes within a touchdown.

Against Louisiana Tech, Hester was used as a punt returner for the first time in his career. He responded to the opportunity by becoming the first player in Miami history to return two punts for touchdowns in the same game.

Hester's biggest — maybe only — contribution last season as a freshman was as a kickoff returner, where his 28.7-yard average ranked sixth nationally.

Coker would love to use Hester more on an every-down basis. But Hester, who also serves as a "flyer" on punt coverage, has been unable to work his way onto the field.

The 5-11, 185-pound Hester spent his freshman season at receiver, where he struggled to pick up the offense. He never moved beyond third-team at flanker and caught only four passes for 116 yards.

Before fall practice in August, Hester requested to be moved to cornerback. Following his senior season at Suncoast High School in Riviera Beach, Fla., Hester was ranked as the nation's No. 2 defensive back prospect, so the position switch seemed to make sense.

But Hester also has struggled on defense. He did not play a down of defense in the opener against Florida State and saw only garbage-time action against Louisiana Tech. One Miami defender said Hester seemed lost at times in the secondary.

Miami-Florida Match Almost Set

Miami athletic director Paul Dee said an agreement is nearing for the Hurricanes to play rival Florida in either Orlando or Tampa during the 2008 season.

Division I-A teams will be permitted to schedule 12 regular-season games in 2008, providing an opening for the Gators and Hurricanes to play. The teams met in 2002 and 2003, when the schedules also allowed for 12 regular-season games.

Since the agreement will be for only the 2008 contest, the game will be played at a neutral site.

An agreement also must be reached with CBS and ABC before an official announcement can be made. ABC has a contract to carry ACC games, while CBS televises SEC games.