ACC 2013 Spring Football Preview: Miami Hurricanes

Duke Johnson is One of 20 Starters Returning From Last Year's Hurricanes Team

Duke Johnson is One of 20 Starters Returning From Last Year’s Hurricanes Team

As the ACC‘s spring practices get under way, we’ll be previewing the big storylines for each of the league’s 14 (15, in this case) teams. Check back on weekdays for what to look out for during your school’s spring practices and spring game.

Team: Miami Hurricanes

Spring Practice Start Date: March 2

Spring Game Date: April 13

The ‘Canes offseason has been a mess of rumors; from Al Golden leaving the team, to the botched NCAA investigation and then the “lack of institutional control” verdict passed down. But on the field, things are actually looking up quite a bit for Miami. Should they be able to compete in this year’s postseason (I say it’s likely), they’re one of several contenders for the Coastal division crown, sporting some of the conference’s youngest offensive stars. And after robbing one of Florida State‘s top coaches (new offensive coordinator James Coley) and scoring another highly regarded recruiting class, suddenly things are appearing sunny again in South Florida.

In 2012, Miami’s offense fluctuated between awful and amazing with regularity, at times struggling to top 20 points, and at others, looking like a runaway freight train (scored 40 or more on five separate instances). So the goal this spring while installing James Coley’s new offense is to harness the latter energy even more often. With playmakers like QB Stephen Morris and halfback/returner Duke Johnson (darkhorse for conference player of the year), that doesn’t seem too hard on paper, and no doubt returning all 11 offensive starters is set to pay huge dividends. Though Coley’s value is mainly on the recruiting trail, his move within the state was actually about play-calling. Not handling those duties up in Tallahassee is what drove Coley to look elsewhere, and now he’ll look to re-harness what made him such a hot commodity after a stint as FIU‘s head play-caller. Coley relies on speed and a balanced attack — both of which Miami’s well-suited to handle, meaning we’re in for an up-tempo spring, the likes of which should please everyone at the U.

Defensively, there’s just so much that needs fixing, however, and that’s exacerbated by the fact that Miami brings back nine of last year’s 11 starters. The group that finished 120th in total defense last season, while failing to stop the run or pass with any sort of competence, and allowed 30 or more points to eight different opponents. So while there’s much to repair, they have to start somewhere — and it might just be the D-line. The team tallied just 13 sacks all last season (115th in the FBS) and also failed to stop running backs at the point of contact (114th in rushing yards allowed). To any onlooker, that’s the definition of a group that serves little purpose, and yet nearly everyone returns. Hopefully, with a younger group, they’ve learned from previous mistakes and are ready to lead going forward. Early returns haven’t shown much in terms of separation from the pack, though defensive tackle Corey King has managed to stand out in the weight room. That’ll need to change quickly, especially for veterans like A.J. Highsmith, Anthony Chickillo and Denzel Perryman.

Thus far, not much has changed for Miami, but there’s still plenty of spring ahead. With 20 starters returning, this group’s poised to ramp-up quickly, but again, the defense is sorely in need of some leaders. Expect the offense to continue humming along (especially if it’s true that Coley’s retained much of the terminology from the previous regime), while things sort themselves out across the line of scrimmage. No one expects overnight change from these young Hurricanes, but anything is better than the putrid defensive effort they put up last year, and this program and its fans want to see a much better effort out there going forward.

Previously: Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Maryland

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