Originally posted on Crystal Ball Run  |  Last updated 3/2/12

First Practice: March 3
Spring Game: April 14

With spring practice set to open Saturday, it’s no secret that the University of Miami’s football program has fallen on hard times. As the school still awaits the fallout on the Nevin Shapiro saga, the Canes enter spring ball with holes on both offense and defense, and an apparent lack of leadership in their upperclassmen. Injuries to key players like starting quarterback Stephen Morris only muddy the mess.

Still, Year 2 of the Al Golden era does still bring hope.

One of the nation’s top recruiting classes will arrive in the summer, and it will be met by a thin- but talented- group of returnees, especially on defense. The Canes won’t be anyone’s favorite in the ACC Coastal when they open play in September, but there are enough good football players on this roster to surprise some people.

Here’s what to watch out for this spring:

 

Stability Factor (1= Chaos; 5= Rock Solid): 2.5

 

 

While it’s hard to say that this program is “stable” (it isn’t), given everything that they’ve dealt with the last 10 months, things could be much, much worse.

The program survived the Nevin Shapiro storm, and was able to hold onto Golden, who resisted overtures from other schools in the off-season to remain in Coral Gables. And as was already mentioned, a top recruiting class headlined by five-star safety Tracy Howard will come in the fall.

Given everything that’s happened lately, things are going about as well as anyone could’ve expected.

Under The Microscope: The Highly-Touted Upperclassmen

Of the few upperclassmen that remain on campus, most are there because they’ve really got no choice, given that pretty much every draft eligible player that could bolt to the NFL did. Miami lost a staggering six players with eligibility remaining to the NFL Draft, including top running back Lamar Miller, leading receiver Tommy Streeter and defensive stalwarts Marcus Forston and Olivier Vernon. While each had their own motives for leaving, it seemed as though most wanted to get out of Miami before the Nevin Shapiro-fueled storm hit.

However, what has been a fascinating subplot at Miami this spring is that of the upperclassmen that remained, most are fighting for their positions. Cornerback Brandon McGee- who started 12 games last year- is listed as third-string on the depth chart, and the most recognizable names on both offense (left tackle Seantrel Henderson) and defense (safety Vaughn Telemaque) are listed as back-ups too.

Whether this is a ploy to motivate his seniors, only Al Golden knows.

Still, the point remains clear: Everybody is going to have to come to work and earn their position on the field.

Locked And Loaded: Safety Ray-Ray Armstrong

Looking at Miami’s depth chart, it’s simply staggering the number of names that are unknown to college football fans. As we mentioned above, even a large number of returnees are buried on the depth chart entering the spring.

One name that we do know however, is that of safety Ray-Ray Armstrong. The former five-star recruit was suspended for five games last year, yet still managed to finish with 34 total tackles and an interception.

Armstrong is one of the few starters that is not only experienced, but has the talent to compete at the highest levels of college football.

Jockeying For Position: The Back-Up Quarterback Spot

Of every position at Miami, the most consistently inconsistent over the last few years has been at quarterback, and sadly for Canes fans it’s much the same entering the spring. Morris was expected to take over for the departed Jacory Harris, but now he is on the sidelines after undergoing surgery.

Still, it could be a blessing in disguise for Miami, as they continue to build depth at a position that has been woefully unstable for the Hurricanes through the years. Memphis transfer Ryan Williams will work with the first team, but really it’s his backups where Hurricanes fans will take interest. That’s because similar to what the Florida Gators experienced last year with Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett, two true freshman will look to steal reps and entrench themselves on the depth chart.

The names to know here are Gray Crow and Preston Dewey. Both are already on campus, and both perfectly fit into the pro-style system that Al Golden is trying to establish at Miami.

Whether either can separate themselves, or move up the depth chart will be something worth watching.

Name To Know: Linebacker Denzel Perryman

Like McGee and Telemaque, Perryman has been a victim of Golden’s wrath this spring, moving from his regular starting position last year to a back-up as camp opens. Don’t expect that to last.

That’s because of all the disappointing performances at Miami last fall, Perryman was one of the few bright spots. The unheralded freshman played in all 12 games, and finished second on the team with 68 total tackles. In the process, he also was named to virtually every Freshman All-American team in college football.

Perryman could end up as the best linebacker in the entire ACC this year.

Spring Will Be A Success If…: The Team Continues To Come Together

Ultimately, it’s hard to truly what will quantify a success in Coral Gables this spring. This isn’t a place where National Titles are spoken of anymore, or even ACC titles for that matter. Right now, it’s about just riding out the storm, and hoping to end up better for it on the other side.

Still, there have been a lot of instances in sports when a program or team has had its back against the wall, and the team comes together because of it. Last year we saw it happen at USC, where a team that no one was talking about finished with 10 wins. In years past it has happened at other places too.

For once, expectations aren’t high in Coral Gables. Maybe that’s exactly what this program needs.

For all his opinion, insight and analysis on college football and beyond, please follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.

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