Hurricanes Roundup 8/23/04

- Sometime between the ceremony and wedding cake, Joel Rodriguez made his father cry. That set off Joel, and pretty soon the two of them were weeping.

''We're both saps,'' said Angel Rodriguez, whose only son was the best man at his wedding in June. 'The way he was talking and reminiscing about how we went along for so many years by ourselves. . . . I'm there with my tissue against my face and my wife is holding my hand tight, like, `Snap out of it!' ''

Joel, 22, and his father, 46, aren't embarrassed. Not one bit. The University of Miami's 6-3, 295-pound starting senior center and his Cuban-American dad have been each other's inspiration since Joel's parents split the summer before he began sixth grade.

''He's a terrific man -- an amazing man,'' Joel said. ``My mom decided she didn't want to be married anymore and my dad pretty much raised me by himself. We were each other's crutches. For a while, we were all we had.

``He is the most giving, loving, family-oriented person I've ever met.''

Angel Rodriguez taught Joel about patience and perseverance, and how pain can lead to happiness. But it wasn't always easy to translate to football. Sometimes, when Joel sat on the sideline watching former offensive linemen such as Brett Romberg, Bryant McKinnie and Joaquin Gonzalez, he wondered if he'd get a shot to contribute.

''It was tough, but also amazing,'' Rodriguez said. ``I had veterans who were great role models and leaders, rather than guys who tried to intimidate us. We learned so much about the game and how to handle ourselves off the field with the fans, with the media, with game preparation, with Coach [Art] Kehoe -- because he's such a character.

``I could have gone somewhere else and played a lot more and a lot earlier. But the chance to sit behind a Brett Romberg and a Joaquin Gonzalez and a Bryant McKinnie and a Martin Bibla and a Sherko Haji-Rasouli -- you can't put a price tag on that.''


Rodriguez, among the warmest and most unpretentious Hurricanes, loves to talk about the game, his teammates, coaches, life -- whatever. Maybe it's because he received his degree in journalism, and can relate to the media. Maybe it's because he's happy. And now, finally, said UM coach Larry Coker, Rodriguez has jelled into a player who has earned the right to succeed his predecessors.

The broken lower-left leg he sustained in UM's final home game last season has completely healed.

''Joel has had a tremendous fall camp,'' said Coker. ``He has really, really practiced well and I've been as encouraged with him as I have been with anybody. He's extremely intelligent, a sharp kid.

``Joel is mature. And he's at the stage of his career where the window is there. He has a shot at the NFL. With him it's going to be how he plays this year.''

Kehoe, Rodriguez's line coach, said Rodriguez came to UM out of Miami's Monsignor Pace as a highly rated, athletic, intelligent -- but terribly weak lineman.

''I took him into the weight room and told Andreu Swasey, `We signed the weakest offensive lineman in the United States!''' Kehoe said. ``He was always fast, athletic and smart. Now he's strong.''

Rodriguez has increased his power-clean lift -- ''that's when the bar is on the ground and you kind of bend over and get it and you jerk it up with your hand and catch it like this, on your chest,'' he said -- from 250 to 335 pounds.

He also is one of the fastest linemen, running the 40-yard dash in 4.92 seconds.

``It's just constantly plugging away and from years of Coach Swasey, who is a great coach by the way, drilling me. I finally opened up to his coaching and submitted to the program.''

Last season, Rodriguez's first as a starter, was difficult. There were exchange problems early on between the center and Brock Berlin, and both, said Rodriguez, ``were sort of fighting for our football lives.

``I got benched for a while in the spring and he was fighting for his job. But after a year of experience, we're both more mature and know what to expect. This should be a great year.''


Rodriguez, who has a 27-year-old married sister, Jessica, said he's especially proud of being a major-college football player of Cuban descent, and would love to become the second player in the NFL to have two parents from Cuba. The other: former teammate Gonzalez, who plays tackle for the Cleveland Browns.

''After the Kansas City game last year,'' Gonzalez said, 'Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez comes to me and says, `I just had to meet the other Gonzalez in the league.' He's half-Mexican. . . . Hispanics are starting to infiltrate.''

Gonzalez saw Rodriguez a few times this summer. ''I always knew he'd turn out to be a great football player,'' Gonzalez said. ``He has always been tough, always been upbeat -- and really funny in the O-line meetings. We'd talk tidbits in Spanish, just the two of us, until Romberg ended up marrying a Cuban girl. Now it's the three of us.''

Said Angel Rodriguez, who came to Chicago from Cuba in 1963, and then to Miami with his family in 1971: 'The whole Cuban community has gotten behind him. Everybody who sees me at the grocery store says, `Hey, I saw your son. We follow him. We're proud of him.' ''

Rodriguez's father is a buyer for a supermarket chain in Panama. He's in Panama a few times a year, but wouldn't miss a bit of his son's career.

''He has been a great son, and I live my life for him,'' Angel Rodriguez said. ``I see my dreams through him. I couldn't be any happier than just to be here and ask the good Lord to give me more time, more life, so I can see him on the next level.

``I know he'll be there.''

- The Hurricanes are covered at corner.

Miami's depth at defensive back is so abundant the Hurricanes have been using cornerback Antrel Rolle, considered a front-runner for the Jim Thorpe Award given to the nation's top defensive back, as a safety the past few days because the coaches would much rather evaluate the stockpile of talent behind Rolle than watch him blanket the receivers.

"We're just trying to get a good look at everybody, and I like what I've seen back there," coach Larry Coker said.

At least five cornerbacks will be needed during UM's inaugural season in the Atlantic Coast Conference, which uses more spread-offenses featuring three-, four- and even five-receiver sets than the teams Miami faced in the Big East.

If UM is to continue as one of the top passing defenses (140.9 yards per game last season), Coker knows new talent has to be identified, and he said a number of players have begun to standout this fall, possibly pushing for starting spots.

Junior cornerback Kelly Jennings, who has started 17 of the 25 games he's played, was thought to be a lock as the starter opposite Rolle. But Coker said two players, Glenn Sharpe and Marcus Maxey, are pushing Jennings, who has been slowed by an offseason surgery on his right knee.

Sharpe, a junior who has started three games, is in the process of returning from an ACL tear he suffered in the Tennessee game last season. He's already regained his sub-4.4 time in the 40-yard dash, but admits he needs more work on his lateral mobility.

Maxey, a 6-foot-3, 198-pound junior who has played at safety the past two seasons, switched positions over the spring and has been a pleasant surprise to the coaches because of his physical style, which fits how defensive coordinator Randy Shannon likes to use his corners.

Then there's former receiver Devin Hester, whose numerous interceptions during fall camp have proved that he has a nose for the ball.

"The interceptions come easily, but I need to better my technique," said Hester, a sophomore. "My coaches tell me I've got natural ability to play cornerback, but technique wise I've got to break things down and get it right."

Expect Hester to be in the mix for work in the nickel and dime packages.

The depth Jennings, Sharpe, Maxey and Hester provide makes Rolle more versatile and will enable Miami to use his strengths (tackling and coverage skills) in other facets. He'll move inside in nickel packages as another cornerback covers the outside. And don't be surprised to see him blitz.

Rolle also is the second-teamer at free safety, where he might have to play if Brandon Meriweather is injured or struggles to replace Sean Taylor.

"We've got so many guys competing for spots I don't exactly know where everyone fits in," said Tim Walton, the new secondary coach, whose fresh perspective has provided some seldom-used players like Maxey a fresh start. "But I do know we'll be a good group."

- Larry Coker's post-practice comments are developing a common theme that involves linebacker Jon Beason.

The redshirt freshman continued to impress the Miami Hurricanes' coach with his play during Saturday's scrimmage.

"He's one of these flashy guys," said Coker, who was impressed with the tackling on defense and Beason particularly. "He's very explosive. He's got great speed. He's very physical, 228 pounds. He runs, he's smart, he's a really tough kid. He makes a lot of plays and continues to impress and get better."

Beason, who played two games at fullback last year before being redshirted with an injury to his right shoulder, is making the most of his transition to inside linebacker.

"He's making progress," said linebacker coach Vernon Hargreaves, who is impressed with Beason's attitude and work ethic. "He's been with me since spring. He's just now learning to play the position. He's making a lot of progress. He's flying around and he's working hard to learn the position."

The coaches have taken notice of the 6-foot-1 Chaminade-Madonna graduate's aggressiveness at his new position.

"One thing I've improved on 100 percent from the spring to now is, once I recognize the run play, I just go," Beason said. "Once I know what it is, I take off full speed, downhill. I'm going to make a play. Instead of being lax and playing lateral, I'm focusing on trying to make plays behind the line of scrimmage."

Beason visited Florida State, Georgia and Tennessee before deciding on Miami.

"Everywhere I went was great, but it was a gut feeling to come here," Beason said. "It felt like a place were I would be happy for four years. It's the only place I went to where the guys who had graduated and moved on, come back all the time. There's a reason for that."

- For a late arrival, Greg Olsen has come on pretty fast.

When he first set foot on the Miami campus last August, the Hurricanes had already opened their season, and the freshman from Wayne, N.J., was little more than just another tight end.

He was little more in South Bend, Ind., where Olsen estimates "seven or eight" players were fighting for playing time in Notre Dame's pop-gun offense.

And he was certainly little more after transferring to Coral Gables, where All-American Kellen Winslow II was campaigning for the Heisman. Winslow made his famous pose after catching his lone touchdown a day before Olsen's arrival and junior college transfer Kevin Everett was also working his way into the mix.

Even after a strong spring this year, Olsen was looking like Miami's third option at tight end, behind senior Everett and junior Buck Ortega, who snared six catches for 89 yards in the Hurricanes' spring game.

But with a hip flexor holding Everett back since last Saturday and converted quarterback/linebacker Ortega struggling, Olsen has shot up UM's depth chart.

In fact, he might open the season as UM's starting tight end.

"We're not unseating anybody yet," Coker said Friday. "But he's definitely going to get a lot of playing time. He's going to be high on the depth charts."

The 6-foot-6, 247-pound Olsen has wowed coaches and fans at the Greentree Practice Fields with a rare blend of speed, toughness and receiving ability. He capped a strong mini-scrimmage at the end of Wednesday's two-a-days by hauling in a 25-yard scoring pass from backup quarterback Derrick Crudup on the final play. And in the two days since, he has done nothing to hurt his chances.

"He's a [redshirt] freshman, but he plays like an NFL rookie," Coker said. "That guy, he plays. He's smart. He's tough. You've got to like him.

"We've had some standout players [in fall practices], but he's without question one of the best."

Olsen was heavily recruited by the Hurricanes out of Wayne Hills High, but he decided to follow his brother, Chris, to Notre Dame. After Chris, a quarterback, transferred to Virginia, Greg followed his heart to Miami and he hasn't looked back.

"I love it down here," said Olsen, who starred on Miami's scout team before undergoing shoulder surgery to fix a torn labrum last October. "I think coming here has been the best decision I've made my whole life. The strength program, the coaching, everything. I just think I've gotten so much better and I can do so much greater things here."

Even if Olsen doesn't end up starting, he likely will figure heavily into Miami's plans on offense. The Hurricanes frequently employed double-tight end sets last season, and UM quarterbacks have looked comfortable throwing to the tight end in camp.

"We knew he was going to be a great talent," said offensive coordinator Dan Werner. "When we recruited him, we didn't realize he was that fast. But once he got here, we did. And he got faster over the summer.''

- Coker was pleased with the running of both junior Frank Gore and sophomore Tyrone Moss.

"They're both first-teamers -- I see those two being co-MVPs," Coker said. "They're mirror images of each other. Frank's first team, but Moss is a player who's going to play a lot."

- Brandon Sebald, who sprained an ankle during Thursday's afternoon practice, dressed Saturday but didn't participate in the scrimmage.

"He was in some individual things today, and he possibly could have practiced today, but I think he'll be ready to go Monday," Coker said.

Listed as a tight end, the junior also has practiced at right guard.

Senior tight end Kevin Everett, plagued by a hip flexor, didn't practice.

After resting his sore right shoulder Friday, quarterback Derrick Crudup practiced.

Offensive line coach Art Kehoe, who attended the birth of his first child between Friday's practices, was given the day off to bring home his son from the hospital.

Former UM track phenom Lauryn Williams -- girlfriend of UM fullback Talib Humphrey -- won a silver medal in the 100 meters at the Olympic Games in Athens.

- With starting right tackle Rashad Butler still sidelined with a right ankle sprain, the Hurricanes continued to experiment with the right side of their offensive line. Junior Tony Tella, the projected starter at left guard, and senior Chris Myers, the projected starter at right guard, alternated at right guard and right tackle Friday.

- Junior WR Roscoe Parrish was held out of the morning practice, but looked strong in the second session.

- Crudup missed some of the second practice with a sore throwing shoulder.

- Offensive line coach Art Kehoe attended the birth of his first child between the two practices. Jake, clocked in at 8 pounds, 3 ounces.

By The Source
Aug 23, 2004
© Copyright 2004-2005

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