ACC Sports Journal reached out to Brian ‘The Beast’ London of allCanes Radio this week for a Q&A regarding his outlook on the 2012 football season. For the version here at allCanesBlog.com, columnist Christian Bello chimed in as well.
ACCSports.com : Should I feel optimistic about Stephen Morris? Or should I note that Morris couldn’t beat out the underwhelming Jacory Harris and thus be pessimistic about Miami’s quarterback play this season?
Brian London : You should feel cautiously optimistic about Morris. While he’s seen action in 11 games during his first two years, most of his time last year was spent as a wildcat, switch-up, QB in relief of Jacory Harris. Morris started the first game of 2011 while Jacory Harris served his Nevin Shapiro related suspension and was 19-of-28 with 2 INTs and no TDs. It wasn’t exactly an overwhelmingly successful night for Morris on a rainy night in College Park.
The biggest question mark about Morris right now is his health. He missed most of spring ball with what was deemed a back injury, although there have been rumblings that it may have been his neck. After he recovered from the injury he seemed to rapidly become a leader on offense and from what I know, the battle between him and transfer Ryan Williams wasn’t much of a contest to see who would be the starter.
While Morris beat Williams with ease, and has a gun for an arm, I’m not totally convinced he can limit his mistakes, which have plagued Hurricane QBs since Ken Dorsey left the building.
Christian Bello : Morris deserves the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise, though not beating out Harris in 2011 shouldn’t have anything to do with one’s opinion on the junior quarterback.
Miami welcomed a new coaching staff last season, implemented a new offense and was a new-look program, marred in controversy weeks before kickoff. The premise of going with the experienced senior over the inexperienced sophomore is something a lot of new staffs would’ve done, for a slew of reasons.
Fans should reserve judgment as no one has really seen Morris with the keys to this offense since the end of the 2010 season. He got the start by default the the opener against Maryland last year, but knew he’d be relegated to the bench after Harris served a one-game suspension.
Coaches have talked of Morris’ maturity and leadership these past several weeks – as have a handful of players. How legit that is, time will tell, but last year’s quarterback battle and Harris “beating out” Morris should have no bearing on where things stand entering season two of the Golden era. If his decision-making abilities can match his arm strength, he could have a pretty good season.
ACCSports.com : So Seantrel Henderson is finally out on the practice field. Do you hold out hope that he can be a significant contributor in the early part of this season? If not, what does that do to the right tackle position?
Brian London : I don’t know what to make of the Seantrel Henderson saga, and it is a saga. Here’s a guy who reportedly showed up late for off-season workouts. There have been more than a few speculators out there that have thrown the idea out that his “head isn’t in the game.”
Despite all of that, when you look at him on the practice field, it’s quite clear he’s in the best shape he has been in since he got to Miami. If I had to base my answer simply on Seantrel’s physical being, I’d be pretty comfortable saying he’d work his way back into the lineup and maybe even meet the lofty expectations the entire nation had for him when he came out of high school.
Unfortunately, this isn’t just about Seantrel’s physique. There’s no way to know when or if this dark cloud will lift itself from Seantrel’s life. Nothing would surprise me when it comes to Seantrel. Your guess is as good as mine.
As for the right tackle position, the Canes could put redshirt junior Jermaine Johnson out there. Johnson started five games, playing in 11, in 2010, but only saw limited action last season. The guy who’s been seeing most of the time at RT in camp has been freshman Ereck Flowers. Flowers (6-6, 314) has proven to be mature, and able to handle the workload at tackle. It wouldn’t surprise me if Flowers got the starting nod.
Christian Bello : Always a shame when a player’s head and heart fail to match their physique. Henderson is a monster and as Beast mentioned, is in the best shape of his career.
The main question is motivation – what is his? There have been rumors he’s disenchanted with football. Another big man playing the game, simply because he has the build to – and the potential money is too hard to turn down.
The recent stories regarding the car accident, treks home for funerals and what not – disheartening on many levels, but mostly on the maturity front. You hope that by the time a kid reaches his junior season that he’s growing up and not making the same life mistakes he made as a true freshman.
Ray-Ray Armstrong got the boot for not growing up and learning from his ways, and you wonder if Henderson goes the same route. The opportunity is there but (1) how bad does he want it and (2) can this coaching staff properly push his buttons to motivate him?
As Beast mentioned, there are other guys ready to step in. Does this light a fire under Henderson, or does this give him an out and allow him to slide easily into a sub-par season?
I might’ve had a different answer a year or so ago, but after a 41-36 run over the last few years, coaching turnover and so many ‘misses’ on Randy Shannon’s watch, I’ve lost hope that Henderson will ever play like the larger than life left tackle most pegged him to be.
He can still have a decent career and will reach the NFL … but the belief that he’ll have a Bryant McKinnie-run over the next two years is long gone.
ACCSports.com : How much does losing Ray-Ray Armstrong hurt the Miami secondary? And outside of DE Anthony Chickillo. who are the real playmakers on that side of the ball?
Brian London : Losing Ray-Ray hurts only because it’s one less experienced body on the field. There were countless times last year when Ray-Ray’s play let Hurricanes’ fans down. He was suspended twice last year and reportedly lied to the coaching staff during the summer when asked about his relationship with a PR executive who does work with NFL players. I don’t think the team will miss his bad decision making, even though they will be very young in the secondary.
While senior Vaughn Telemaque has hung around and should start, junior Kacy Rodgers has really upped his game since last season and highly touted freshman Deon Bush has been practicing well, according to coaches. As for CB, senior Brandon McGee has all the pressure on him to improve his consistency and transfer Ladarius Gunter should start opposite McGee. I’m sure at some point all-everything recruit, and now true freshman, Tracy Howard will see the field. It’s just a matter of how many reps the coaches are willing to give Howard.
The only other sure-fire playmaker on defense, other than Chickillo, is MLB sophomore, Denzel Perryman. Perryman dominated in the spring, and has not lost a beat in camp. If there was one guy who could replace Sean Spence, it would be Perryman.
Christian Bello : The loss of Armstrong hurts depth and experience as the position is in need of more bodies. That said, look back at productivity in 2011 when Armstrong returned to safety game five.
The secondary didn’t necessarily improve and stats-wise, there wasn’t a big difference. One interception. One fumble recovery. Thirty-four total tackles. He wasn’t exactly a game-changer, though that could’ve turned around his season as coaches had applauded his leadership and off-season conditioning. Unlike Henderson, he seemed to turn a corner on that front. He just couldn’t stay off of Twitter.
As far as the playmakers, the door is wide open for someone to step up. Coaches have dubbed Chickillo / Perryman the youthful leaders and next greats. Outside of them a collection of would-be stars in the newbie freshmen, or older guys looking to turn things around with their final chance.
Miami’s defense was chewed up early last season as they tried to learn the playbook of defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio. As the year rolled on, things tightened up, so the hope is that year two, things will continue falling into place. It also helps that guys like Tracy Howard are getting on board — not just for physical skills, but for football intelligence. UM needs talented athletes, but also smart kids who understand the game.
Seems to have been an either-or type thing the past few years – especially at linebacker, where Shannon took the head and experience of a lesser athlete like Glenn Cook or Romeo Davis, over the physical skills of an Arthur Brown.
Looking forward to Miami getting back to an era where guys on both sides of the ball have the look, the build, the skill and the IQ.
ACCSports.com : Al Golden seems to have kept his popularity with the fans even after the 6-6 2011 season and even after multiple player defections. But has the latest salvo from Charles Robinson and Yahoo! damaged Golden’s standing within the Canes community?
Brian London : I don’t think so. The fans still have faith in Golden as of now. The question is, will they still have faith in him if Robinson’s report that Golden committed some wrongdoings is found to be true or if this team has a sub-par season? That, I’m not so sure about. Miami fans tend to be fickle and I’m not sure how long they’ll hang with Golden if the wheels start to come off the bus.
Christian Bello : Unfortunately the “Canes community” is a tree with many branches. Some fans are bleeding hearts, while others are eternal pessimists. Some fans live and die with this program, while others only tune in when things are on a roll. It’s a fickle fan base and there isn’t one lone answer to this question.
Logically, if you’ve followed Miami for any period of time, you know the only thing that seems to cure-all is winning. Golden has to win, though the timetable on that varies regarding fan logic.
Year two, based on what he inherited, can’t solely be judged by wins and losses. Last year, amidst controversy, scandal and suspensions, Golden’s Canes went 6-6, which on paper isn’t impressive – but based on what he was dealing with, was.
That .500 run was also a few plays from 9-3 and the intangible was a team that never quit – which used to be a ‘gimmie’ for Miami football, but hadn’t been the case in half a decade.
Unfortunately, the knee-jerk reaction of many was not to look past 6-6 and to make a direct comparison to the 7-6 squad Shannon left behind a year before, taking nothing else into consideration.
The latest Yahoo! report surrounding Golden seems much ado about nothing, but we’ll see. Personally, I want to see improvement. I want to see a better conditioned team, a smarter team, a hard-working team and a more mature team. If all that is the case year two, I’ll be thrilled, regardless of the record.
This fan base can turn like the South Florida weather, so for Golden, just keep implementing his “process” and make the program better. The wins will come.
ACCSports.com : It seems like the only positive football news out of Coral Gables in the past few months has been that 2012 recruiting class. But how much of an impact will those players be able to make this season? Which freshman do you expect to get immediate playing time?
Brian London : Freshmen make up almost half of the team. There are only five seniors listed as starters right now on the depth chart. Golden has said that 15-18 freshmen will play this season. This team really has no choice but to play the latest class to get on campus. The problem with playing freshmen though, is that sometimes talent does not make up for lack of experience.
Miami will need several freshmen to play more like veterans if they are to have success this year. I expect OT Ereck Flowers, RB Duke Johnson, WRs Malcolm Lewis and Herb Waters, DL Jelani Hamilton, DeQuan Ivery, Earl Moore, and Tyriq McCord, LB Gabe Terry, and DBs Tracy Howard, Deon Bush, Antonio Crawford and Rayshawn Jenkins to see playing time early on.
Christian Bello : Beast summed it up well. Flowers. Johnson. Lewis. Howard. Bush. McCord. Crawford. All, and more, will be in the mix.
Look at any preseason rag this summer. There are no Miami superstars. No All-Americans. No conference studs. The only Hurricane getting mentioned anywhere was punter Dalton Botts – a second-year JUCO transfer.
How quick the freshmen come along is the unknown, but at least in the modern era of college football, there are early enrollees. Some of these guys were on campus in January, working out, starting class, participating in spring ball, lifting all summer and just went through fall ball. Hard to really call those kids “freshmen” after eight months with the program, so hopefully that, combined with football intelligence, hard work and talent will remove some of the freshmen jitters … but still, all theory until game day.
Miami fans remember 2001 and guys like Ed Reed and Mike Rumph leading the Canes to a national championship … but there was also 1999, when both were sophomores and they allowed Kevin Thompson to hit Chafie Fields for an eighty-yard touchdown, leading No. 2 Penn State to a, 27-23 comeback win over Miami.
Point being, even the greats were green at one point and make rookie mistakes. UM has some great kids coming on board, but they will have some rough moments. You just hope one moment doesn’t directly impact a win or loss as the season rolls on.
ACCSports.com : Okay, time to put you on the spot. Give me a won-loss record prediction for this season, as well as best-case and worst-case scenarios for the Canes.
Brian London : I’ve been saying it for a few weeks now, but if this team goes 6-6, that should be celebrated with a party in the Gables. That sounds crazy to say about a program that has won so much. The problem is, there hasn’t been much winning lately and this is a team that lost most of its playmakers off a 6-6 team in 2011.
It’s easy to get pumped up about a recruiting class, but unless several of them are garnering freshman all-american status, I really feel like it will be a tough year. Best case scenario is eight wins. Worst case scenario is three wins. Other than Bethune-Cookman, and maybe Duke and BC (and that’s a big maybe), there aren’t any other games on the schedule that I can pencil in as most likely victories.
Christian Bello : Disagree with Beast a bit on this one. Don’t feel that 6-6 should be “celebrated”. Despite the youth and lack of depth, the schedule is hardly Murder’s Row and the ACC is pretty much a two-team race (Florida State and Virginia Tech). This ain’t the SEC.
You can’t pencil in wins, but if guys stayed healthy and Miami played it’s best ball all season, 8-4 would be as good as 12-0, based on circumstance.
Without truly knowing how this offense will move under Morris and how this defense will play year two in D’Onofrio’s system, I would feel comfortable predicting 7-5 and really can’t see anything worse than 6-6.
The key this year is a good start and some consistency. Last season, with the suspensions and distractions, there simply was no continuity, which killed momentum. Miami also lost so many mini, in-game battles where a win would’ve gone a long way for momentum.
Maryland was winnable, but came apart due to some early mistakes that wound up thwarting the would-be comeback. A win over Ohio State was squandered when a comeback fell short a week later against Kansas State. Same thing two weeks later at Virginia Tech. All three losses could’ve just as easily have been wins. Instead it was 2-3.
The other side were the ones that did go Miami’s way, wins against North Carolina and South Florida could’ve been losses.
Some early momentum could’ve really given coaches something to build on last year, but Miami didn’t make – or get – any breaks.
With such a young squad in 2012, coaches needs some early wins so they can sell the kids on hard work paying off, while keeping them focused, driven and motivated to succeed.
The most-pivotal game the first half of the season is Kansas State. Miami has the horses to beat Boston College in the opener, but a loss the following week would be tough to swallow. Miami typically sleepwalks through a Bethune-Cookman and going into Georgia Tech week four off, a road loss in Atlanta could be very demoralizing.
The Canes can’t let winnable games get away this year. There’s no shame in losing to a Kansas State, Notre Dame, Florida State or Virginia Tech – but everyone else on that schedule is beatable and don’t necessarily instill fear.
ACCSports.com : Pure self-interest here: Which Miami player do you think would be a good sleeper pick in an ACC fantasy football draft?
Brian London : Oooh, great question. If you get points for all-purpose yards, I might pick freshman Duke Johnson, simply because he’ll see time at RB and on special teams. For a safe pick I’d probably go with Allen Hurns, who will most likely lead the team in receiving, although Rashawn Scott had a great spring and might be enticing as well.
Christian Bello : Beast took a good one in Hurns, who can be this year’s Tommy Streeter. For the sake of being different, I’d throw Phillip Dorsett in the ring, who has as good a shot as Hurns to shine. I’ll also throw out a wild card in Eduardo Clements.
Mike James will get the carries early, but should he falter Clements / Johnson will get their shot. Clements worked hard this off-season and impressed coaches and he showed some toughness late last year, getting some third down carries coaches gave to him over Lamar Miller. I think Clements is the forgotten one this off-season and think he has the toughness to work his way into the line up. Especially if James gets fumble-happy.