September 6, 2004 CORAL GABLES The next great Miami tight end may not be in the starting lineup this season.
Senior Kevin Everett was handed the job following the departure of Kellen Winslow, but it was redshirt freshman Greg Olsen who stood out most during preseason practice.
A 6-6, 254-pounder who originally signed with Notre Dame, Olsen caught everything thrown his way in August and displayed a surprising ability to out-run smaller players. A week into preseason drills, Olsen often was taking snaps with the first-team offense. He will play a major role in Miami's two-tight end sets, and if Everett falters at all Olsen could wind up getting serious playing time.
"He's been very impressive," Miami coach Larry Coker said. "He's physical. He runs good routes. He's tough. He catches the ball extremely well. He's an excellent blocker. Man, you just don't see redshirt freshmen doing the things that he's doing. Everything I've seen him do, he's been a cut above."
Olsen, from Wayne, N.J., was one of the nation's top recruits two seasons ago. One of three finalists along with Kyle Wright of Miami and Chris Leak of Florida for the 2002 Gatorade high school player of the year award, Olsen initially decided to join his brother Chris at Notre Dame.
But two days after Chris decided to leave Notre Dame last fall, Greg took the same route. This time the Olsens decided to split up, with Chris going to Virginia and Greg signing with Miami. Greg, who attended two Miami football camps as a high school player, said he should have signed with the Hurricanes from the beginning.
"Coming here is the best decision I've made my whole life," said Olsen, who was required to sit out last season in accordance with NCAA transfer rules. "I've gotten so much better here."
Olsen was so impressive that he allowed Brandon Sebald to be switched to right tackle from tight end, after injuries began to dig into Miami's offensive line depth. Olsen also leapfrogged past junior Buck Ortega, who began camp as the backup to Everett.
That's the way it works at Miami sometimes. Entering 2004, Everett was being touted by some NFL draft gurus at the best senior tight end in the nation. By the end of the season, he might not even be the best player at his position on his own team.
Don't Count Williams Out Yet
The question of when and how much freshman linebacker Willie Williams will play this season became moot to some during August practice, when the Hurricanes' controversial recruit sustained a torn ligament in his right knee. The injury required surgery and will cause Williams to be sidelined for eight to 12 weeks.
Even if Williams returns in two months, he'll miss at least seven games. Question: Would the Miami coaches burn a year of their star rookie's eligibility just so he could play in three or four games? Answer: probably.
When Williams signed with the Hurricanes in February, he allowed reporters to listen in on a cellphone call during which he and Coker spoke of a "three-year plan." Williams, considered one of the nation's top prospects, later explained that the idea called for him to play three seasons at UM before bolting for the NFL.
So if Willams is thinking of sticking around for only three years anyway, why not play him this season so he can get his feet wet? After all, Williams still would have three years of eligiblity remaining maybe even four if a recent NCAA proposal passes and no one believes he's going to be at UM for four more seasons if he redshirts this year.
What does Williams think of all this? Who knows? UM has kept Williams off-limits to reporters since the school allowed him to enroll despite an extensive criminal history. Williams, who has been arrested 11 times, including four times on felony charges, currently is serving three years of probation.
As part of his enrollment, Williams agreed to a list of conditions he must meet in order to maintain his scholarship. One of them had called for Williams to miss the season's first four games while he concentrated on achieving certain academic goals.
Despite that, Coker was so impressed with the performance of the 6-2, 225-pound Williams in early August that he guaranteed the freshman would play this season. Williams still may end up playing this year, but not nearly as much as originally hoped.
New Coordinator Under Pressure
No member of Miami's team will be under a hotter spotlight this season than new offensive coordinator Dan Werner.
Werner was the Hurricanes' quarterbacks coach until he replaced Rob Chudzinski, who left for the NFL, as the offensive coordinator in February. Sources said Coker passed up the chance to interview several strong candidates interested in the job in order to promote Werner, who joined Miami's staff in 2001.
Werner will have his work cut out for him with an offense that struggled greatly last season, after setting school records for scoring in each of the previous two campaigns. His first order of business is to straighten out senior quarterback Brock Berlin, whose first season as Miami's starter had more forgettable moments than memorable ones.
But Miami's offense had more problems than just Berlin last season. There was no go-to receiver to bail out the quarterbacks, and after Frank Gore's injury the running game was just a little better than average. The result was Miami's lowest scoring average since 1995, a figure that would have been far worse if the Hurricanes' defense and special teams hadn't contributed nine touchdowns.
Enter Werner, who survived several career bumps before being named Miami's offensive leader.
Werner's career appeared over before it started, when he quit his first job as an assistant at UNLV before coaching a single game because of a conflict with the team's head coach. He also was fired from two jobs and became embroiled in a controversy two years ago at Miami, when quarterback Derrick Crudup and his father accused him of making inappropriate racial comments. Crudup and his father, former NFL player Derrick Crudup Sr., later apologized for making the accusations.
Werner survived all that and now is serving in what he calls his dream job.
"My goal was to be a head coach like my dad in high school," Werner said. "Then one thing leads to another. There's thousands of great coaches out there who never got the break that I'm getting. Hopefully, I can take advantage of it."