3-4 MAKES SENSE FOR CANES' MIX
Options - that's what last week's huge and hugely talented recruiting class gives Canes coaches. Miami signed 33 players, not counting transfer Xavier Shannon, who figures to help immediately on the offensive line.
Plus, several players who redshirted last season - including quarterback Robert Marve, running back Lee Chambers, receiver Jermaine McKenzie, center Harland Gunn, defensive ends Allen Bailey and Adewale Ojomo, linebackers Glenn Cook and Romeo Davis and safety Anthony Reddick - figure to be major contributors in 2008.
True, at least a couple of the recruits are likely not to play this coming season due to academic or other factors. For example, linebacker Antonio Harper had knee surgery recently and won't play again until 2009. LB Gavin Hardin seems ticketed for prep school.
But even so, the Canes will still have a severe influx of talent. Now the question becomes this: What do the coaches do with all that talent?
One idea I would investigate would be a 3-4 defense. It would be especially effective if the Canes deny they switch defenses and in fact start the season vs. Charleston Southern in their traditional 4-3 look. Then, when the Canes visit Florida in the second week of the season, they open in a 3-4 look and stun the Gators!
OK, I will settle down. But it's a thought.
To me, after signing 9 linebackers, many of them ridiculously talented, the 3-4 makes sense to at least add to the Canes' mix.
Here is what the Canes' defensive personnel could look like in a 3-4:
DEFENSIVE END - With Calais Campbell leaving one year early to the NFL as a likely first-round pick, I would move senior LE Eric Moncur to the right side, where teams traditionally put their top pass-rusher. Moncur is without question the best returnnig lineman the Canes have. Senior Dwayne Hendricks, undersized for a DT at 287 pounds, could be ideal at LDE in the 3-4. But to start, he would need to beat out highly-touted redshirt freshman Allen Bailey (290 pounds). The competition there promises to make both players better. On passing downs, I would put in speed guys such as Adewale Ojomo or Courtney Harris in place of Hendricks or Bailey. Moncur would stay in for most downs since he is the best player on the D-Line.
NOSE GUARD - It's the last chance for 330-pound senior Antonio Dixon, so he would be my nominal starter going in. But it probably won't take long before freshman Marcus Forston takes his spot. Other DTs who could factor in are Josh Holmes and freshmen Micanor Regis and Jeremy Lewis.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS - The Canes will get a serious upgrade in speed and skill. I could see two freshmen starting here - Arthur Brown on one side and either Marcus Robinson or Sean Spence on the other. The veteran with the best shot of crashing the freshmen party is Spencer Adkins, but his star fell substantially last season. Brown, who has 4.4 speed, is a terror. Spence got - and deserved - plenty of praise for his relentless tackling at Northwestern. But Robinson probably got less attention than he merited playing at Homestead High. He is especially effective rushing the passer.
INSIDE LINEBACKER - Junior Colin McCarthy is a lock to start somewhere at LB. I will put him on the inside of my 3-4 look along with junior Darryl Sharpton. The challengers will be seniors Glenn Cook and Romeo Davis, who both sat out injured last season. The key could be Sharpton, who has not yet lived up to the hype. A player to watch is freshman Zach Kane from New Jersey. He could be the sleeper.
CORNERBACK - Since true freshman DeMarcus Van Dyke broke through to start last season, I see nothing less than that for newcomer Brandon Harris, who is even more talented. Supporting and challenging those young corners will be seniors Bruce Johnson and Carlos Armour. The top guy covering slot receivers is Chavez Grant. For depth, the Canes will try to convert one or more of their safeties to cornerback. A likely candidate could be Damien Berry, who would be smart to make the switch. The Canes have just 5 corners as opposed to 11 safeties. The ticket to playing time is at cornerback.
SAFETY - Anthony Reddick had a great freshman season. But that was a couple of years ago, and he has not played since due to serious knee injuries. If he is healthy - and that has to be regarded as a big if - he will be a big factor at safety and on special teams. The other veteran safeties to watch are seniors Lovon Ponder and Randy Phillips. Those three should be the guys rotating in the deep middle unless one of the youngsters such as freshman Vaughn Telemaque from California breaks through.
SUMMARY - I see three true freshmen starting on defense - Harris, Brown and either Spence or Robinson. And Forston is a near lock to start later in the season if not from game one.