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March 5, 2011

Spring brings plenty of intrigue for Miami

MORE: Golden has eyes on recruiting south Florida

Perhaps no program in the country offers more intrigue this spring than Miami.

Coaching changes and quarterback competitions dominate most spring practice storylines. Miami offers both.

Miami fired Randy Shannon after closing the 2010 regular season with an overtime loss to USF in front of a half-empty stadium. The Hurricanes replaced him with Al Golden, who turned around Temple's program and previously worked in the ACC as Virginia's defensive coordinator.

Golden's most obvious challenge is deciding on a quarterback. Jacory Harris, the starter in each of the past two seasons, went 148-of-270 for 1,793 yards with 14 touchdowns and 15 interceptions and missed three full games with a concussion. Harris' injury caused true freshman Stephen Morris to start the last four regular-season games, and he went 82-of-153 for 1,240 yards with seven touchdowns and nine interceptions. Both will get a chance to compete for the job.

Here's a look at where Miami stands as it heads into spring practice.

MIAMI AT-A-GLANCE
Jacory Harris will have to fight to keep the starting QB job after a rough 2010.
THE BASICS
Coach: Al Golden
Last season: 7-6 overall, 5-3 in the ACC. Lost 33-17 to Notre Dame in the Sun Bowl.
Spring dates: March 5-April 16.
RETURNING STARTERS
(minimum seven starts last season)
Offense (6): WR Travis Benjamin, G Harland Gunn, QB Jacory Harris, T Seantrel Henderson, C Tyler Horn, G Brandon Washington.
Defense (7): LB Ramon Buchanan, T Marcus Forston, SS JoJo Nicolas, T Micanor Regis, LB Sean Spence, FS Vaughn Telemaque, E Olivier Vernon.
Special teams (0): None.
Positions of strength

Although Miami must replace two productive rushers in Damien Berry and Graig Cooper, the Hurricanes still have an enviable situation at running back. Lamar Miller rushed for 646 yards and six touchdowns on 108 carries as a redshirt freshman, while Mike James (70 carries, 398 yards, three TDs) and Storm Johnson (9-119-1) also have plenty of promise. Miami returns four starters on the offensive line and has an emerging star in Seantrel Henderson, who started at tackle as a true freshman last season. Miami also has three quality safeties in JoJo Nicolas, Vaughn Telemaque and Ray-Ray Armstrong.

Help is needed

Miami needs more consistency and fewer mistakes from its quarterbacks. The Hurricanes threw 27 interceptions last season, the most of any FBS program. Jacory Harris and Stephen Morris each threw more interceptions than touchdown passes. The Hurricanes also must find a go-to receiver to replace All-ACC selection Leonard Hankerson, who caught 72 passes for 1,156 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. No other Miami player had more than three touchdown catches. The departures of Brandon Harris and Ryan Hill leave the Hurricanes depleted at cornerback.

3 guys to watch

RB Storm Johnson: Although Miami's surplus of talent in the backfield prevented him from getting many carries as a true freshman, Johnson showed his star potential with a 71-yard touchdown run against USF in the regular-season finale. Miller should emerge as Miami's No. 1 running back this season, but Johnson's big-play ability should allow him to get plenty of carries.

OL Brandon Linder: He showed off his versatility as a true freshman last season by playing center, guard, tackle and tight end -- all in one game. Linder was named the ACC offensive lineman of the week for that impressive performance against Georgia Tech, but he's no one-game wonder. Linder -- from prep powerhouse Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas -- graded out above 90 percent for each of Miami's last seven regular-season games. He should be a big part of Miami's offensive line for each of the next three seasons.

QB Stephen Morris: He started the final four regular-season games in place of an injured Harris last season and added some juice to Miami's offense while also making some freshman mistakes. Although he finished the season with nine interceptions and only seven touchdown passes, Morris significantly outplayed Harris in the Sun Bowl and has a legitimate shot to win the starting job.

The pressure is on

QB Jacory Harris: Remember when this guy was being mentioned as a Heisman contender early in the 2009 season? His stock has taken a big hit since because of his penchant for throwing interceptions. He was picked off 17 times in 2009 and followed that up by throwing 15 interceptions and only 14 touchdown passes last season. After missing three games to recover from a concussion, Harris closed the 2010 season with a dreadful performance in the Sun Bowl, as he went 4-of-7 for 37 yards with three interceptions and no touchdowns. Harris has the ability to develop into an outstanding college quarterback, but he must stop throwing ill-advised passes into coverage. If he doesn't prove to the new coaching staff that he can reduce his interception total, Harris will have a tough time beating out Morris.

The buzz

The quarterback competition figures to get the most attention this spring, but Golden has plenty of other challenges. This spring will offer the first clues as to whether the grueling offseason workouts instituted by the new staff have helped improve Miami's discipline. The Hurricanes had 36 turnovers last season -- more than any FBS program other than Middle Tennessee -- and committed 8.3 penalties per game. Only Florida International, Baylor and Troy were penalized more often. This spring also marks the return of offensive line coach Art Kehoe, who was on the staff for each of Miami's five national championship teams before getting fired at the end of the 2005 season. The staff also features former Seattle Seahawks quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch as offensive coordinator, while defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio followed Golden from Temple. Miami doesn't plan any major scheme changes, though the Hurricanes might mix in some 3-4 looks to complement its usual 4-3 defensive alignment.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.


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