Miami Football: Previewing Biggest Position Battles Heading into Fall Practice

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistJuly 31, 2013

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - SEPTEMBER 15: Eduardo Clements #23 of the Miami Hurricanes scores the final touchdown against the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats in the fourth quarter on September 15, 2012 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. The Hurricanes defeated the Wildcats 38-10. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Fall practice kicks off in a few short days, and the 2013 Miami Hurricanes football team has some position battles taking shape.

In years past, there have been many questions surrounding the team, but head coach Al Golden's third season is highlighted by stability and experience.

Stephen Morris, Duke Johnson, a loaded receiving corps and a veteran offensive line lead a potent offensive attack for the 'Canes.

Defensively speaking, there are a few more question marks, but juniors Anthony Chickillo, Shayon Green and Denzel Perryman guide a squad eager to improve on a disappointing 2012 season.

Video note: Green answers questions from Michael Casagrande, of the South Florida Sun Sentinel, about the upcoming season.

Notably missing from this piece will be the defensive line. As has been addressed ad nauseum, the 'Canes D-line struggled mightily last season, but there will be more than a handful of players receiving playing time in the trenches.

With only 30 days before the first game of the 2013 season, fall practice position battles will be entertaining for Miami fans to follow.

Backup Running Back

The starting job is certainly decided at this point, but a handful of running backs will be duking it out for the backup position throughout fall practice.

Horrible pun. I apologize.

Sophomore sensation Duke Johnson bulked up his 5'9", now-196-pound frame in preparation for being the featured back for the 'Canes this year and is the unquestionable starter.

Behind him, however, Dallas Crawford and Eduardo Clements lead the charge for the second-string spot.

Primarily a special teams player as a freshman, Crawford is a mirror image of Johnson at 5'10" and 196 pounds, but he lacks offensive experience. Crawford gained 23 yards on just six carries as a freshman in 2012, so Clements holds a slight edge in that category with 56 career offensive touches.

However, Clements underwent surgery for a herniated disk in his neck this offseason. With that being said, Manny Navarro, of The Miami Herald, reported Clements would be ready for contact this fall.

Danny Dillard and Gus Edwards are in the mix as well, and both players provide a physical alternative to the quickness of Johnson and Crawford.

Prediction: As the season progresses and Clements becomes more comfortable with contact, he may become the second option, but Crawford wins the fall practice battle and starts the 2013 season as the backup.

Starting Tight End

Asante Cleveland may have been listed as the starting tight end on the post-spring practice depth chart, but he probably will not retain that spot.

With Cleveland making just three catches for 18 yards over the past two seasons, junior Clive Walford and JUCO transfer Beau Sandland are the frontrunners for the job, despite neither player being listed as the starter.

Granted, Cleveland was not tabbed by Golden as the post-spring starter for no reason, so Walford and Sandland will definitely have to earn the starting job.

Walford started to become a legitimate threat during the final two games of the 2012 campaign as he tallied seven catches for 234 yards and two touchdowns.

Sandland snagged 44 passes gaining 532 yards over two seasons of work at Pierce College (CA) and was 247Sports' top-rated JUCO tight end.

True freshman Standish Dobard is the absolute sleeper, but he will not be a huge factor this season. The bright side for Miami fans is that Golden sees three serviceable tight ends for his team heading into the fall.

Prediction: Cleveland does, in fact, drop out of the starting role, and Walford regains the spot at which he finished last season. Additionally, Sandland overtakes Cleveland for the backup position as well and immediately contributes against Florida Atlantic.

Starting Middle Linebacker

Jimmy Gaines and Raphael Kirby were listed as co-starters when spring practice concluded, and they will face off in the most important position battle of fall practice.

Gaines, a senior, has been an important part of the Miami defense, making 58 and 57 tackles in 2011 and 2012, respectively.

Kirby, on the other hand, is a true sophomore with loads of promise. Navarro notes that Kirby said he was playing at 75 percent last season but pushed through an injured right knee, and that Kirby thinks he can be a vicious hitter in Miami's defense:

"I believe I can be that type of player. You just have to play balls to the wall every play. You can make a lot of plays and be dynamic when you stick to your assignment."

Unlike what is foreseeable from Kirby, Gaines has never been a vicious hitter, but he sticks to assignments and makes plenty of tackles.

Ultimately, this decision comes down to whether Kirby will be a reliable assignment-football player. Gaines is a great veteran linebacker to have available, and the sophomore Kirby is a promising young star who can be challenged yet still develop under Gaines' leadership.

Gaines will be a dependable middle linebacker, but Kirby can swing momentum by delivering a crushing hit.

Prediction: Gaines earns the start for the season opener against FAU, but Kirby plays plenty of meaningful downs throughout the game.

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