ACC: Ereck Flowers

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ACC baseball rolls on.
Buried beneath pounds of paperwork from the NCAA is the fact that Miami’s depth chart should be good enough to win the Coastal Division in 2013. With so much attention focused on the NCAA investigation, Nevin Shapiro has gotten more ink (unfortunately) than quarterback Stephen Morris. And Morris is going to be very, very good.

As Miami begins spring practices on Saturday, the Canes do so underneath a cloud for the third straight preseason under coach Al Golden. If those within the program, though, can focus on their on-field goals and avoid the distractions once again, Miami should pick up right where it left off in 2012 -- at the top of the division standings. Miami returns 10 starters on offense and defense. Golden and his staff brought in the No. 15 recruiting class in the country, coupled with the experience of 21 freshmen who played in 2012.

[+] EnlargeAl Golden
Kevin Liles/US PresswireAl Golden and the Hurricanes enter the spring with experience on the offensive and defensive lines.
This Coastal Division race is going to be tight. Expect every team in the division to be better. Trying to predict the division winner right now is like trying to predict when the NCAA will hand down its verdict. On anything. Miami fans, though, have reason to believe that if the program is eligible to play in the postseason, the pieces are in place to get them to Charlotte.

Here are three reasons why Miami is my way-too-early pick to win the Coastal Division:

1. QB Stephen Morris and running back Duke Johnson: This dynamic duo is going to be a highlight in the ACC. As a true freshman, Johnson had arguably the greatest freshman season in the program’s history. He was named the ACC’s Overall and Offensive Rookie of the Year after racking up 2,060 all-purpose yards and 13 touchdowns in 12 games. And Morris can be good enough to push Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd as the ACC’s best quarterback in 2013. Morris finished 2012 on a hot streak, as he threw for 1,131 yards and 11 TDs – with zero interceptions -- in his final four games. Morris finished the season with a program-record 3,415 yards of total offense, eclipsing the previous mark of 3,412 held by Bernie Kosar.

2. Experience up front: Miami returns all five starters on the offensive line (Malcolm Bunche, started 12 games at left tackle; Jon Feliciano, started 12 at left guard; Shane McDermott started 12 at center; Brandon Linder started 12 at right guard; Seantrel Henderson started seven at right tackle and Ereck Flowers started four at right tackle). Miami also returns all four starters on the defensive line (Anthony Chickillo 12 at defensive end, Curtis Porter the last three at defensive tackle, Olsen Pierre 11 at defensive tackle, and Shayon Green at defensive end). How many schools in the country can say they return every starter on both their offensive and defensive lines? Granted, the defensive line is Miami’s unit most in need of improvement this offseason, but considering the group only had 13 sacks a year ago, it should only be better.

3. A favorable schedule: Miami has an entire month to prepare for league play, as its first ACC game isn’t until Oct. 5 against Georgia Tech. It doesn’t even have to leave the state until Oct. 17, when it travels to North Carolina, and even then the Canes have a bye week to prepare for the Thursday night game against the Tar Heels. Yes, they have to play rival FSU on the road, but they do get Virginia Tech at home. Winning at Pitt on a Friday in November won’t be easy, but getting Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech at home helps compensate for it.
From the outside looking in, Miami might have surprised a few college football fans on Saturday with its gritty come-from-behind road win at Boston College.

Coach Al Golden had a different perspective.

“We dropped seven balls, had way more mental errors than I ever imagined we would, made too many mistakes in the game to exceed our expectations,” he said. “Our expectations are that we're going to be a smart, disciplined team. Nine penalties doesn't resemble that. But certainly in other areas we played the way that we want to play in terms of our brand.”

[+] EnlargeDuke Johnson
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesStar RB Duke Johnson is a major reason why expectations are rising at Miami.
It certainly wasn’t a flawless performance, but it was an encouraging one nonetheless, considering 12 true freshmen saw playing time in a conference road opener and 14 players made their collegiate debuts. Golden is right, though -- the Canes will need to get better quickly if they are going to have a chance to upset No. 22-ranked Kansas State on the road on Saturday.

Golden called it a “Herculean challenge.”

“I think hopefully they're learning how to be steady,” Golden said of his young team. “That's the challenge. It's not a surprise to anybody that opening up at BC, then at Kansas State, is a tough challenge. So it's really important for us to control our emotions, not get too high [after] last week, understand what a challenge this is for our football team going out to Manhattan on Friday.”

Apparently they weren’t fazed by opening the season on the road against a league opponent. True freshman running back Duke Johnson scored his first career touchdown on a 54-yard run in the second quarter, and scored again on a 56-yard run in the third quarter. His 135 yards were the most by a Miami true freshman since Javarris James in 2006.

Johnson and offensive lineman Ereck Flowers each started the season opener, becoming the first true freshmen at Miami to start since quarterback Jacory Harris and receiver Aldarius Johnson started against Charleston Southern in the 2008 opener. Johnson and receiver Malcolm Lewis accounted for three of the Canes’ five touchdowns in their debuts.

Golden said there were more true freshmen in the game than he’d like to admit.

"Malcolm Lewis, his first play and he goes in and catches a ball for 11 yards on a sight adjust,” Golden said. “He was just relaxed. I think it's a tribute to the leadership of our team and unity on our team, and the upperclassmen embracing those guys. It wasn't really about -- this is where sometimes we get kind of lost -- the media is saying, 'he's playing all these young guys.' Really the young guys are completing the upperclassmen. The focus isn't on the young guys. They're helping us fill in the holes of the upperclassmen. They've done a great job leading, mentoring and embracing them, and I think that's what's allowing a lot of those guys to relax and go play. There's no angst, no animosity.”

And there was no quit in the Canes last weekend, either.

Miami was trailing 14-0 to an injury-laden Boston College team and allowed the Eagles 537 yards of total offense but managed to hang on for the 41-32 win. The pass defense was questionable at best, though, as Miami allowed the Eagles 441 passing yards.

"We are going to put in the game plan as the week goes along, and do what we need to do,” K-State senior quarterback Collin Klein told reporters at his news conference this week. “You are right, [Boston College] was successful, but [Miami] sees that too and are working on correcting things. We are just focusing on the game and getting ourselves better. We are trying to improve and come out with a win on Saturday."

Miami is looking for a more complete performance and a 2-0 start to the season for the first time since 2009.

“We'll see if our kids respond,” Golden said. “I think they responded last week. Now it's going to be ratcheted up a notch here in Manhattan.”

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August, 28, 2012
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True freshmen to watch in ACC

August, 23, 2012
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Now that we are closing in on the start of the season, we have a much better idea of how many true freshmen could make an impact in the ACC this season based on preseason practice time and early depth charts.

Maryland could end up playing the most, and having players who make the biggest impact. You have quarterback Perry Hills starting in place of the injured C.J. Brown. Highly touted athlete Stefon Diggs has had an outstanding preseason camp. Don't forget about running backs Albert Reid and Wes Brown, who also have looked really good.

Here are a few young players to keep an eye on at each school.

Boston College: Justin Simmons, DB. Defensive back is an area where Boston College needs help, especially after the loss of Al Louis-Jean, who's out six to eight weeks with a foot injury. Simmons already has made his presence felt. In a scrimmage last weekend, he had two interceptions. Also watch for defensive back Bryce Jones and linebacker Steven Daniels.

[+] EnlargeTravis Blanks
John Albright / Icon SMI The versatile Travis Blanks may line up at a number of positions on defense for the Tigers.
Clemson: Travis Blanks, DB. One of the top defensive backs in the country out of high school, Blanks enrolled early and had an impressive spring showing. He has followed that up with a great preseason, and will line up in a variety of positions -- nickelback, cornerback and some linebacker as well. On offense, watch for Germone Hopper, who has had some pretty explosive plays this fall.

Duke: Jela Duncan and Shaquille Powell, RBs; Ross Martin, PK. Duncan and Powell have turned heads during the preseason, and coach David Cutcliffe said he would feel comfortable using both players in the opener against FIU. Martin is sure to get plenty of game experience as the starting kicker this year. Others to watch: receiver Max McCaffrey, tight end Erich Schneider and safety Dwayne Norman, who had an interception return for a touchdown in one scrimmage.

Florida State: Ronald Darby, CB. Do not be surprised if Darby ends up starting in the spot vacated by Greg Reid. Darby and Nick Waisome are competing for the starting job. Coaches like both players, but there is something special about Darby. Said coach Jimbo Fisher: Darby is "going to be a very, very good one." Also watch for defensive tackle Eddie Goldman and tight end Christo Kourtzidis.

Georgia Tech: Anthony Autry and Micheal Summers, WR. Georgia Tech only has four other scholarship wide receivers, so that increases the chances for Autry and Summers to play this season. Autry seems to have a slight edge over Summers. Others to watch: defensive back D.J. White.

Maryland: In addition to Hills, Diggs, Brown and Reid, several others could make an impact this year. Punter Brad Craddock is competing for the starting position with redshirt freshman Nathan Renfro; and cornerback Sean Davis could be starting on opening day because he has done well, and there are some injuries on defense.

Miami: Ereck Flowers, OL. Flowers is listed as a starter right now at right tackle, helped in part because of Seantrel Henderson's absence. Offensive line coach Art Kehoe has been extremely impressed. Others to watch: defensive back Tracy Howard and running back Duke Johnson. Howard is listed on the two-deep behind Ladarius Gunter but has drawn raves so far and so has Johnson, who should also return kickoffs this year. Deon Bush is in the mix for a starting safety spot.

North Carolina: Quinshad Davis, WR. Davis missed some early practice time because of a medical issue but has returned in the last week and has a big chance to make some noise. The Tar Heels are lacking depth at this position, and the way Larry Fedora likes to spread the ball around, he will take as many good receivers as he can.

NC State: Charlie Hegedus, WR. Receiver is a position of need for the Wolfpack, and Hegedus has seen more reps during fall camp with the injury to Bryan Underwood. One player NC State hopes you do not see this year is backup quarterback Manny Stocker, a true freshman behind veteran Mike Glennon.

Virginia: Maurice Canady, CB. Coaches are extremely high on Canady, who is in the mix to earn a starting spot in a secondary that has to be rebuilt this year. He has been working with the first team recently. Others to watch: Michael Moore at outside linebacker, and Eli Harold at defensive end.

Virginia Tech: J.C. Coleman, RB; Donaldven Manning, DB. Both players enrolled in January and are virtual locks to play this season. Coleman has separated himself from another true freshman, Trey Edmunds, despite a hand injury. He has had an outstanding fall camp. Manning has had to deal with a hamstring injury, but his early enrollment works in his favor.

Wake Forest: The Deacs rarely play true freshmen. But if there is one player who has a shot this year, it is defensive end Tylor Harris, who has stood out this fall for his pass-rushing ability -- something Wake Forest needs help improving this year.
Any Miami fans still holding out hope to see offensive lineman Seantrel Henderson in the starting lineup for the season opener against BC might want to reconsider.

Henderson has missed 21 practices and still has “a long way to go” to catch up, according to coach Al Golden. Miami’s latest depth chart, which was released this morning, is likely to be the last of the preseason. True freshman Ereck Flowers has been starting at right tackle, backed up by redshirt junior Jermaine Johnson. Henderson could be medically cleared to rejoin the team as early as Tuesday, according to a source, but contributing to the team is not the top priority right now.

“Seantrel is going through some personal issues,” Golden said. “He had some tragedy in his life. We’re supporting him. The biggest thing for Seantrel right now is to take a deep breath, get around those that care for him and want to help him and get himself and his house in order. Once he does that, he can turn his attention to helping his teammates and this program.”

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