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Miami opens spring practice early

2/17/2015

Miami got an early jump on spring practice this year, opening up Tuesday with some big questions to answer as Al Golden goes into a critical fifth year at the helm. Here are three players who must step up this spring.

1. Stacy Coley. Miami is deep at receiver but lost its best player in Phillip Dorsett, a go-to deep threat who averaged an eye-popping 24.2 yards per catch last season with 10 touchdown catches. In all, Miami loses players responsible for 20 of the team's 26 touchdown receptions last season. So that creates a huge opportunity for Coley, who dazzled as a true freshman before having a blase sophomore year. Coley was injured early in 2014 and never showed the form that had raised expectations following a debut campaign that allowed him to average 17.9 yards per reception and catch seven touchdown passes. So what exactly happened? Can Coley become the multi-purpose threat he was two years ago? Miami has plenty of players capable of stepping up, from Herb Waters to Malcolm Lewis to Rashawn Scott to Braxton Berrios. But none of them has shown what Coley did in 2013. Maybe new receivers coach Kevin Beard can get Coley playing to his potential. Because if Brad Kaaya is going to reach his, he needs reliable receivers with the ability to stretch the field.

2. Raphael Kirby. Miami lost is best defensive player in linebacker Denzel Perryman, who played exceptionally well over the last two seasons. His is a big loss when you sit down and realize just how much he did for a Miami defense still struggling to find its identity. In fact, his may be the biggest loss on the entire team. Having to replace Duke Johnson will be difficult. But Miami has players ready to step right in at running back. The bigger concern is at linebacker, where Miami has struggled to build depth and find anybody who can do what Perryman does. Kirby will move back to middle linebacker to help anchor that spot and try to match the production Perryman had. There is no question these are giant shoes to fill. Kirby must have a career year for the Miami defense.

3. Chad Thomas. Miami has not been known for its pass rush in years, and that has to change for this unit to get back to elite status. Thomas has an opportunity to show why he was one of the most prized defensive end prospects in the class of 2014. Thomas earned playing time a year ago backing up Anthony Chickillo. But with Chickillo gone, the starting job is up for grabs. Thomas and Al-Quadin Muhammad are the top two candidates, though Muhammad is coming off a one-year suspension. All eyes will be on Thomas, considering all the hype and expectations that followed him into Coral Gables.