Miami Hurricanes Football: 7 Best Offensive Players on the Squad
The Miami Hurricanes sputtered to a 7-6 record last year, and a lot of the blame for that can be laid at the feet of their 67th-ranked scoring offense.
The quarterbacks were plagued by turnovers, none of the running backs ran for even 900 yards, and the wide receivers dropped entirely too many passes.
The bad season spurred a change in the head coach and offensive coordinator positions, so gone are Randy Shannon and Mark Whipple. Newcomers Al Golden and Jed Fisch will try to straighten out the once-mighty Hurricanes offense.
The Canes of old were always built solidly along the offensive line, and that laid the foundation which allowed the plethora of skill players Miami has produced to flourish.
The team's leading receiver and rusher have graduated and moved on, but the Canes still have plenty of talent waiting in the wings. They'll feature a two-headed rushing attack this year as well as a deep receiving corps.
However, if any of these players are to succeed and break out in a big way, the offensive line will have to open holes and protect the quarterback.
7. Mike James
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Mike James will likely be the second man on the depth chart in the Hurricanes backfield behind Lamar Miller.
James is also capable of carrying the load should Miller go down with injury. At 5'11" and 217 pounds, he is an imposing figure who can handle the strain on his body.
He's more of a "pound the ball between the tackles" type than Miller is and should be able to punch some holes in defenses with his downhill style.
James averaged 5.7 yards per carry last season as a sophomore as the third man on the depth chart behind Miller and the departed Damien Berry.
This year, he'll likely get more touches than the 70 carries and 13 receptions he had a year ago, especially since incoming head coach Al Golden has been emphasizing protection of the football.
That means more running plays as well as checkdowns when there is nothing open down the field.
6. Brandon Washington
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Brandon Washington was a 2010 All-ACC selection at guard, and his solid play should continue into his junior season.
Washington really broke out last season, winning ACC offensive lineman of the week twice during the regular season.
He provides stability along the right side of the offensive line, moving bodies in the running game as well as being able to move athletically in space in the passing game.
Washington is a huge man at 6'4" and 330 pounds, and that should draw him some attention from NFL scouts if he can keep up the solid work.
5. Aldarius Johnson
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When Aldarius Johnson entered the University of Miami, it was thought that he'd immediately have great chemistry with quarterback Jacory Harris.
It was a fairly safe assumption to make because they played together at Miami Northwestern High School, but it hasn't really played out that way through the pair's first three seasons in Coral Gables.
Johnson has just 62 catches in his three seasons thus far, and 31 of them came in his 2008 freshman season. However, he might be about to break out if he can earn himself a starting position this year.
Johnson has great size at 6'3"and 200 pounds, and he's flashed excellent leaping ability, good hands and the ability to get himself open. He has to put it all together this year and bring it every week in order to be a force in the passing game.
When you look at games like his eight-catch, 84 yards and a touchdown performance against Duke as a freshman or his five-catch 55 yards line against Florida State that same season, it's easy to see that the senior wide receiver has talent, he just has to bring it week in and week out.
4. LaRon Byrd
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LaRon Byrd has done nothing but get better since he's been in Coral Gables.
He improved his total catches in each of his three years with the Canes, going from 21 as a freshman to 33 in his sophomore season and 44 last year.
He's similar in size and stature to last season's leading receiver, Leonard Hankerson, and is equally capable of being a solid possession receiver.
Byrd has huge hands and has shown that he is capable of plucking the ball out of the air at its highest point.
What Byrd has to get rid of are the disappearing acts like the ones he pulled against both Clemson and Georgia Tech last season.
He had five games with four or more catches last season and should be able to put together a bunch of games like that again, especially since he should be the Canes' No. 1 receiver.
3. Travis Benjamin
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Travis Benjamin, like LaRon Byrd, has also seen his number of catches increase in each year he's been a Miami Hurricane.
After posting 18 catches as a freshman in 2008, he had 29 as a sophomore and 43 in his junior season.
Each one of those totals is less than Byrd's in the same season, but the reason Benjamin is ahead of him on the list is because of his big-play ability. Benjamin's 17.3 yards per catch average last season was 6.4 yards per catch more than Byrd's.
Benjamin is also a playmaker in the return game, evidenced by his punt-return touchdown against the Ohio State Buckeyes last season.
Benjamin is definitely the deep hitter on the offense, but he really has to cut down on the drops if he wants to amplify his impact on the game.
Drops plagued the Canes last year, and Coach Golden won't stand for them, so Benjamin will have to step his game up this season.
2. Jacory Harris
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After Jacory Harris threw for 3,352 yards and 24 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2009-10, big things were expected of him in his junior season.
Harris did not deliver. He, like the rest of the offense, sputtered in 2010-11, and those numbers dropped to 1793 yards and 14 touchdowns.
One thing he did not do differently was that in both seasons he threw A LOT of interceptions. He threw 17 as a sophomore and 15 last year on 136 fewer passing attempts.
What cannot be denied, though, is that Harris has All-Conference talent and if he ever puts it all together, he would be a force to be reckoned with.
Where Jacory struggles is trying to force the ball into tight coverage, and not always putting as much zip on the ball as is needed.
Al Golden has been trying to instill in both Harris and Stephen Morris that a checkdown is indeed a good play and that taking the open man is better than forcing a pass that cannot be completed and ending up with an interception.
Harris has a lot of weapons to work with this season, both out of the backfield on flanking him on the line of scrimmage. If he can protect the football while still connecting on downfield passing plays, he'll be in line for a big season.
1. Lamar Miller
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Lamar Miller had a terrific freshman season last year, totaling 646 rushing yards on 108 carries, good for a 6.0 yards per carry average. He also returned 8 kicks for 214 yards, taking one of them back for an 88-yard touchdown against Ohio State.
Miller had just five games of double-digit carries last season, but he totaled 589 rushing yards in those games. He had two 100-yard games, including a team season-high 163 on 15 carries against Virginia Tech at home.
It's that big-play ability that makes Miller the most explosive player on this year's Hurricanes offense.
He is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. He has breakaway speed, but also the size to bowl people over. He has solid hands catching the ball out of the back field and can broke a short pass for a big gain as well.
He'll be trusted on to carry a bigger load as a sophomore this season, and should be one of the focal points of the offensive game plan every week.