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February 24, 2009

Miami looks to improve for 2009 season

It may be late February, but it's already time to starting thinking about football. Miami and Stanford begin spring practice today, and they're not even the first to open - Nevada began last week.

Today, Rivals.com begins its spring practice breakdowns; we will take a look at all the "Big Six" teams, all the teams in our early preseason top 25 and all the teams in the Mountain West Conference as they open spring drills.

Graig Cooper should be even better this season without having to carry the RB load.
Coach: Randy Shannon
Last season: 7-6, 4-4 ACC. Lost to California in the Emerald Bowl.
Spring dates: Feb. 24-March 28
Offense (6): RB Graig Cooper, TE Dedrick Epps, T Jason Fox, G Orlando Franklin, WR Aldarius Johnson, G A.J. Trump.
Defense (6): CB Chavez Grant, T Joe Joseph, S JoJo Nicolas, LB Darryl Sharpton, LB Sean Spence, E Steven Wesley.
Special teams (1): K/P Matt Bosher.
Positions of strength

Miami will be strong at linebacker. Sean Spence was surprisingly good as a freshman last season and should be better this season. There will be some mixing and matching going on in the spring to find the best position for each of the 'backers, but this is a good group. Running back will be fine if Javarris James can stay healthy. Graig Cooper is versatile and can be better used when he doesn't have to worry about being the every-down back.

Help is needed

The Hurricanes' offensive line needs a lot of work. Other than Jason Fox, who is headed into his fourth season as a starter, no lineman stands out. Of the teams expected to contend for the ACC title, Miami has the weakest offensive line. There is talent at receiver, but one or two guys need to separate themselves from the pack during spring practice and become go-to candidates. Miami had 22 touchdown passes last season, but no receiver caught more than 31 passes and the average completion was just 10.8 yards. Miami also has work to do at safety, and it's hoped that the return from injury of Randy Phillips will help.

Keep an eye on

DT Allen Bailey: Bailey signed out of high school as a linebacker, moved to end before last season and now is a tackle. He was a key reserve last season and will be looking to win a starting role this spring. He'll be battling Marcus Forston, incumbent starter Joe Joseph and undersized Josh Holmes for a starting role. Bailey's first-step quickness could be impressive in the middle.

LB Arthur Brown: He came in as a five-star recruit but underwhelmed last season as a true freshman. He has moved from the outside to the middle, and coaches think he'll be best-served by having less ground to cover. Miami has moved Darryl Sharpton to the middle from the strong side, so Brown will vie with Sharpton for the starting job.

TE Richard Gordon: Incumbent tight end Dedrick Epps is coming off a severe knee injury and will miss spring ball and he also could miss the season. Thus, it's imperative that Gordon, a senior who really has done nothing, gets things done in the spring. If he struggles, Miami could be in trouble.

His time is now

Senior Sam Shields is making the move from wide receiver to cornerback, and he needs to impress this spring. There is a lack of bodies at corner and coaches like Shields' physical nature. A good spring could mean Shields will be the No. 3 or No. 4 corner in the fall. If he struggles, he'll finish out his career on special teams.

The buzz

Miami has a ton of young talent, especially at wide receiver and on defense. But there are issues, mainly along the offensive line. The offense is going to bog down again unless the line is noticeably better than it was last season. Sophomore Jacory Harris is the unquestioned starter at quarterback, but he remains a bit raw. Coaches also need to focus on coming up with four starters in the secondary.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.

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