Posted by ESPN.com’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?”
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.
“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.”