By BOB HARIG
© St. Petersburg Times, published August 25, 2000
MOVING OVER: Nate Webster didn't really want to leave. He explored the possibility of making himself available for the NFL draft, decided to stay, but lost his collegiate eligibility in the process. Now he's on the Bucs roster. That left a big void at middle linebacker, one Dan Morgan was willing to fill. Morgan, a senior, simply moved a few steps over from his weakside linebacker spot. "I picked it up right away and made the plays all spring," Morgan said. "I feel real good." Morgan started most of the past three seasons at the weakside spot, where he has 394 career tackles. "Linebacker is linebacker," he said. "It's all about making plays. I'm only a few steps over."
FINDING A BACKUP QB: Sophomore Ken Dorsey is the starting quarterback by default. Although he might have given Kenny Kelly a strong push for the starting job, that point became moot when Kelly elected to sign a new contract with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and give up football for baseball. That means Dorsey, a sophomore who started three games last year when Kelly was injured, is the man. And it means that nobody behind him has any collegiate experience. Ethenic Sands, a converted wide receiver, is listed as the backup. But the Hurricanes signed two freshmen quarterbacks, Derrick Crudup and T.J. Prunty. "We brought them in with the idea that we want them to push," coach Butch Davis said. "They have to come in and be patient and learn."
DECISIONS: Solid depth at the running back position could possibly mean a redshirt season for someone. Senior James Jackson is back, as is fourth-year junior Najeh Davenport, who sustained a knee injury in the first game a year ago but already ran a 4.34 40-yard dash this spring. Clinton Portis and Jarrett Payton return for their sophomore seasons. Portis started five games last year due to injuries to Jackson and Davenport and responded with five 100-yard rushing performances. He also had 117 yards in the Gator Bowl victory over Georgia Tech. With Jackson, Davenport and Payton coming off of off-season surgery, Davis will wait to see what transpires.
NEW LOOK: The Hurricanes have new uniforms with sort of a Denver Broncos look. The sleeves are marked with green "U" stripes and the pants have a pad pocket system that reduces bulk. "I like them," Davis said. "The players like them. It's a racier, speedier, faster look. It didn't compromise the tradition. The helmet didn't change. The "U' is still the prominent feature. I hope the fans and everyone else likes them."
THE FUTURE IS NOW: Here's a solid indication that the Hurricanes are past their NCAA probation/scholarship limitation days. UM has rebounded from a 5-6 season in 1997 to play in two bowl games and post two victories. And Miami's 2000 recruiting class has been rated among the nation's best by several national scouting groups. Four recruiting services ranked Miami's class in the Top 10.
SCHEDULE QUIRK: Although the Hurricanes open the season at home on a Thursday night against McNeese State on Aug. 31, the move was not made to accommodate television, as is usually the case. Davis wanted the team to have a normal practice routine following the game and leading up to the Sept. 9 game against Washington. Because of the travel logistics, the team will leave for Seattle on Sept. 7, a Thursday. That early home start, however, leaves the Hurricanes without a September home game. They will not play in the Orange Bowl again until Oct. 7 against Florida State.
KICKING WOES?: The 'Canes spent the preseason trying to iron out their kicking situation. Although kicker Andy Crosland was inconsistent last season, replacing him is still a concern. Sophomore Todd Sievers is the new man. The 'Canes also had to replace long snapper Pat Del Vecchio and holder Jeff Popovich.
NOTABLE: The Hurricanes had 11 players earn All-Big East first- or second-team honors in 1999. Seven of those players are returning: Al Blades, James Jackson, Damione Lewis, Santana Moss, Dan Morgan, Mike Rumph and Edward Reed. ... Davis is 3-0 in bowl games, which the Hurricanes have won by a combined score of 105-37. Davis' predecessor, Dennis Erickson, lost his last three bowl games at UM. ... It is hard to believe, but Miami has not played rival Florida since the 1987 season. The two teams will meet Sept. 7, 2002 in Gainesville, with a rematch scheduled the following September in the Orange Bowl.