NCF Nation: Dedrick Epps

Posted by’s Heather Dinich

When Miami coach Randy Shannon took over the program three seasons ago, there were only about three or four scholarship receivers on the roster -- far below the usual eight to 10 most schools carry. So this offseason, when receivers coach Aubrey Hill faced the popular question, ‘You’ve got so many receivers, wouldn’t you rather just have one guy?’ his response was logical:

“I said, ‘If you’re at Christmas, would you rather have one toy, or as many toys as you can?”
 AP Photo/J. Pat Carter, File
 Miami offensive coordinator Mark Whipple has plenty of options.

Now, after building depth with recruiting classes that included some of the elite talent in the country, and players who could contribute immediately, the Hurricanes’ toy box overfloweth.

Twelve different players have caught at least one pass for the No. 9-ranked Hurricanes heading into Saturday’s showdown at No. 11 Virginia Tech. And six of them have at least five catches. Seven different players have scored touchdowns in wins over two ranked ACC opponents. Three different receivers have run a reverse. Miami returns nine of its top 10 leaders in all-purpose yards from 2008. Running backs Graig Cooper and Javarris James have helped the Canes to a 7-2 record when they combine for at least 25 carries. And, of course, they’ve finally got a quarterback to lead them all in Jacory Harris.

“This Miami team we’re getting ready to play,” said Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, “Wow.”

Receivers Travis Benjamin, Thearon Collier, Davon Johnson and Kendal Thompkins bring straight speed, quickness, elusiveness and big-play capabilities. Leonard Hankerson and Aldarius Johnson are talented possession players with great hands who move the chains. LaRon Byrd and Tommy Streeter can stretch the field deep with their speed and height. Cooper is elusive, while James is the power back, and Lee Chambers and Mike James provide dependable depth at the position. Tight ends Jimmy Graham and Dedrick Epps have both given the offense a boost, while the offensive line makes it all possible.

 Steve Mitchell/US Presswire
 Graig Cooper has averaged 5.2 yards per carry so far.
“The opposing team can’t just focus on one player,” said Byrd. “You look at a lot of teams in the country, like Oklahoma State. They have Dez Bryant, so you have the defense lock on Dez Bryant and the offense is going to have a tough time. You look at Alabama, Julio Jones. They lock down on him and Alabama is going to have a tough time. You look at us, we have so many weapons you can’t just lock on one player. If you double up on Travis Benjamin, then Aldarius Johnson is going to have a big game. If you double up on him, then Hankerson is going to have a big game, and so forth and so forth.”

Miami’s versatility is not only in its athletes, but also in its playbook. The addition of offensive coordinator Mark Whipple, coupled with the wide array of abilities, size and speed on the roster, has made Miami’s offense the total package and extremely difficult to defend.

“He’s just so creative, bringing so many different offenses and making it Miami’s offense,” Hill said. “He’s been one of the most creative offensive coordinators I’ve been around and knowing how to set-up plays, run and pass. That’s been really good for the whole coaching staff and also the players because they’re really, really excited to come into the meeting room to see what the mad scientist is creating next.”

In fact, some of the Canes have gotten into it so much some have tried to write their own plays on the board.

“Some have had consideration,” Hill said with a chuckle, “and some haven’t.”

Almost all of the players, though, have had their moments in the spotlight.

“We spread the wealth around to each guy,” Shannon said. “They know that they have to run their routes and everything full speed because they don’t ever know when Jacory is going to throw the football to them. That’s the difference in this team.

“The best thing about it is the competition in practice. You don’t have to worry about a guy getting too extreme as far as thinking he’s the guy who makes the offense run, or he’s the guy who makes the defense run. We’ve got depth at those positions to say, ‘You know what? You don’t want to work hard? OK, fine. We love you, and you’re part of this program, but we’re going to go with somebody else.’ That’s a big help.”

And it’s a nightmare for opposing defenses -- even ones as renowned as Virginia Tech's.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for them,” said Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster. “They’re just right now, really a complete football team.”

Posted by's Heather Dinich

Before everyone gets too excited about Jimmy Graham becoming the next great tight end at Miami, let's wait until he joins the roster, first.

It's still not official, and Graham is still weighing opportunities with hoops, like playing overseas. He's also not doing interviews yet, but on last week's ACC teleconference call, coach Randy Shannon said the opportunity is there if Graham wanted to join the team. That doesn't mean Graham has taken him up on it yet.

"Basically we've had discussions about Jimmy playing football this upcoming season, but he hasn't come out to spring football or anything like that," Shannon said. "He's still into lifting weights and finishing up school right now and he has an opportunity to come back next year and play football. We will give him a chance at it if he chooses to do that, but like I told Jimmy, you have opportunities out there and you have an opportunity to come back to school and also play your dream since little league, and that's playing football.

"He's been around, he's been with the players on the football team. He's been with Jacory [Harris] some. He's been with other guys on the football team. ... If he is able to come out and help us, his size and his speed, watching him run up and down the basketball court, may help us."

It could be a huge help, especially if Dedrick Epps isn't fully healed from his knee injury. Shannon said last week Epps isn't wearing his brace and seems ahead of schedule, but is waiting to see if Epps' knee swells up this summer after the pounding, running and conditioning. Epps is fit, hasn't gained any weight, and is expected to be full speed and ready to go by this summer, but the staff is cautiously optimistic.

Fans should be the same way about Graham.

He hasn't played football in five or six years, and Shannon said the most difficult part for him would be putting on the shoulder pads and running. Graham is about 6-foot-7, 6-foot-8, about 265 to 270 pounds, and has good speed, but he would have to get used to blocking. Shannon seems to think he's capable of it.

"Sometimes when you see a guy like that, you say he's an athlete, he can do it," Shannon said. "It's just a chance for him."

We're still waiting to find out if he's actually going to take it.

ACC's lunchtime links

February, 25, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

Love it or hate it, here's your daily trip around the ACC ...

  • After just one day of spring football practice, it sounds like Miami quarterback Jacory Harris was so excited about the new offense he was ready to jump out of his jersey. The Canes were all "fired up" for practice on Tuesday.
  • With Miami tight end Dedrick Epps out because of a knee injury, Miami coach Randy Shannon told Richard Gordon "it's his time now." 
  • Has Al Groh made his final hire? Looking in UVa's directory is one way to find out.
  • Maryland picked up another commitment.
  • There's a new blog in town, and it's all about Georgia Tech sports. Larry Hartstein of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution kicked it off with an interview with safety Morgan Burnett. (I guess when your hoops team is 1-12 in the ACC it's OK to write about ACC football in February).

Emerald Bowl preview

December, 27, 2008

Posted by's Heather Dinich


WHO TO WATCH: Junior tight end Dedrick Epps. He has been a bright spot in the Canes' last two losses. Epps caught four passes for a career-high 101 yards and a touchdown in the loss at NC State. He had eight catches for 158 yards and two touchdowns against Georgia Tech and NC State.

WHAT TO WATCH: Miami quarterback Jacory Harris vs. the Cal secondary. The Golden Bears are third in the nation with 23 interceptions this season, and the Cal defense will be looking to rattle Miami's rookie quarterback.

WHY TO WATCH: It's Randy Shannon's first time coaching in a bowl game, Harris' first time starting in a bowl game, and the program's return to the postseason after a dismal 2007 season.

Posted by's Heather Dinich

ATLANTA -- Miami defensive coordinator Bill Young passed me in the press box on his way to the bathroom at halftime. He might as well have stayed in there. Miami's defense is getting embarrassed.

And there's an entire quarter left to play.

The Canes aren't defending the option with any discipline or consistency, and they're not accounting for the fullback, quarterback and slot back. That's what's allowing Georgia Tech its big plays. Over and over again. So much for quarterback Josh Nesbitt playing timid on that ankle.

Georgia Tech's defense, on the other hand, looks like the running of the bulls on every play. And they're doing it without two starters -- safety Dominique Reese and linebacker Sedric Griffin -- who were both knocked out of the game with left knee injuries in the first half.

Miami hasn't quit -- Robert Marve hit Dedrick Epps who was wide open in the end zone for the Canes' only touchdown so far -- but it's like it didn't even matter here.

All Paul Johnson has to do now is keep the ball on the ground and run the clock. You know, what he's been doing all game.

Posted by's Heather Dinich

1. Miami quarterback Robert Marve vs. Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder -- Youth versus youth, and the future of both teams. Who has the better day in this storied rivalry, and how will their heralded backups be used this time?

2. Virginia Tech rover Dorian Porch -- He took over for Davon Morgan, who tore his ACL in the Nebraska game. Porch was also the top backup at free safety, and has played about a quarter of the games at rover.

3. The Carolina quarterbacks -- NC State's Russell Wilson will be making a comeback against Boston College after missing the South Florida game with an undisclosed injury, and North Carolina quarterback Cameron Sexton is looking for a repeat performance against UConn.

4. Positive signs in Charlottesville -- Literally and figuratively. The 1-3 Cavaliers need to show fans they're not destined for doom, and the fans need to show them support now that signs are once again allowed in the stadium.

5. Duke's offensive line against Georgia Tech's veteran front four -- This will be the Blue Devils' toughest test to date, and while mobile quarterback Thaddeus Lewis can make things happen, he'll need some time to do it.

6. Paul Johnson vs. David Cutcliffe -- This could be a Coach of the Year elimination game, no? Both of these guys have their programs ahead of schedule in their first seasons. Can Cutcliffe take the next step, and win an ACC road game, or will Johnson stay in the hunt for his first Coastal Division crown?

7. Boston College's passing game -- Have they found it? Offensive coordinator Steve Logan knows the Eagles won't survive the second half of the season without it. There has been instability at quarterback, and either Chris Crane or Dominique Davis needs to assert himself as the leader of the offense.

8. Florida State's defense against Miami's tight ends -- It's been something the Seminoles have been working on all week, and historically a matchup that's made a difference in this game. Miami's Dedrick Epps, who caught the game-winner last year, is the one they're most likely to key in on.

9. Interceptions in Dolphin Stadium -- If there are any. So far, both Florida State and Miami have just one interception each. Both programs are tied for last in the FBS in this category with five other teams.

10. Maryland receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey -- Somehow, he left Death Valley with just one touch -- albeit a 76-yard run on a reverse -- and somehow, the Terps still won. Odds are Virginia won't keep one of the most exciting receivers in the league quiet again.

Posted by's Heather Dinich

Florida State has had problems covering Miami's tight ends in the past, and after a few blown assignments against Colorado's tight ends, the Seminoles' safeties and weakside linebackers are working to improve their communication.

Coincidentally, there was a huge story in today's Miami Herald about Hurricanes tight end Dedrick Epps' ability to make big plays. Fortunately for Miami, he caught the game-winning touchdown against FSU last year. Unfortunately for Miami, it was their last win of 2007.

UNC quarterback Cam Sexton has been "hurt, benched, promoted and demoted," and he's hoping his story can inspire somebody.

Maryland linebacker Dave Philistin has taken his game to a whole other level -- with an altitude machine.

Despite a few lingering connections to his old program, NC State coach Tom O'Brien said there's a different feel to the Boston College game this year.