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With a total of only eight starters returning Randy Shannon's Miami team needs some relatively inexperienced talent to step up in hopes of moving the program forward in 2008. One of the first, and perhaps best, opportunities to identify those ready to contribute comes during the spring.
Randy Shannon doesn't have a huge number of returning starters to work with.
Offense?3: T Jason Fox, TB Javarris James, TE Chris Zellner.
Defense?4: CB Bruce Johnson, LB Colin McCarthy, E Eric Moncur, CB DeMarcus Van Dyke.
Special teams?1: P Matt Bosher
POSITIONS OF STRENGTH
Miami returns its top two tailbacks from last season in Graig Cooper and Javarris James. Cooper technically isn't listed as a returning starter because he was behind James on the depth chart, but he still ran for a team-high 682 yards and ranked eighth in the ACC in rushing as a freshman. James ran for 582 yards to help Miami rank third in the ACC in rushing offense.
HELP IS NEEDED
The Hurricanes are so untested at quarterback that they almost certainly will open the season with a redshirt freshman (Robert Marve) or a true freshman (Jacory Harris or Cannon Smith) running the offense. Miami also lacks depth at wide receiver after losing Darnell Jenkins and Lance Leggett, who combined to catch 46 passes for 857 yards in their senior seasons.
KEEP AN EYE ON
Here are five young players who have a chance to win starting jobs this spring.
DE Allen Bailey: Coaches are moving Bailey from linebacker to defensive end this spring, which could give him a better chance of earning playing time as the Hurricanes seek replacements for potential first-round pick Calais Campbell.
LB Arthur Brown and DT Marcus Forston: Rivals.com rated Forston as the No. 1 defensive tackle and Brown as the No. 2 outside linebacker in the 2008 recruiting class. Both enrolled in school in time to participate in spring drills, which should boost their chances of earning immediate playing time.
QB Jacory Harris: Harris may have the ability to give Marve a real challenge in the quarterback competition. Harris also is already on campus after throwing 49 touchdown passes with only six interceptions while leading Miami Northwestern to the Class 6A state title. Harris' 49 touchdown passes broke the state single-season record set a year earlier by Marve at Tampa's Plant High School (though Marve's successor at Plant, Aaron Murray, now holds the state record after throwing 51 touchdown passes last season).
WR Jermaine McKenzie: He was redshirted last season after breaking a vertebrae in the same preseason car wreck that injured Marve, but he has stood out in workouts.
HIS TIME IS NOW
Wide receiver Sam Shields arrived at Miami as one of the most highly touted prospects in the Hurricanes' 2006 recruiting class, but the former four-star prospect hasn't lived up to his billing. Shields has caught a total of 64 passes for 847 yards in his first two years, but he needs to develop more consistency to develop into a star. If Shields regresses at all, he could have trouble holding off challenges from a talented incoming freshman class that includes six wide receivers.
Much of the blame for the Hurricanes' struggles last season could be blamed on the recruiting failures of the Larry Coker era, but this now is unquestionably Shannon's team. Miami brought in the nation's fourth-ranked recruiting class, and many of the top recruits from that class already are on campus ready to challenge for playing time. Now that Shannon has many of his own recruits on the roster, will he be able to help this program bounce back from two consecutive disappointing seasons? Shannon's biggest challenge this spring involves finding a quarterback ready to take over the offense.
Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.