We're getting to that time of year, Canes fans, when spring football gets into full swing and the team starts to take shape. Soon the rest of this class will be joining the field, and things will begin to get even more interesting. The Canes have already held more than a few practices, and the early enrollees got a chance to show what they could do. Perhaps more importantly, groups such as the wide receivers and quarterbacks got their chance to start learning how to work together, and to begin to build rapport. Here's a few quick points of interest gleaned from the few practices that the team has held.
As far as the quarterbacks are concerned, the obvious starting point is the status of seemingly incumbent starter Stephen Morris. He had minor back surgery before practices began, and has since started throwing on the sidelines and during drills. News on his status is scarce, but if he's throwing one has to think he is progressing nicely. Meanwhile, Ryan Williams has apparently established himself as a solid number two, and has definitely provided the coaches with enough ammo to make a case for the starting job. He has been accurate, efficient, and great throwing deep passes. He was, however, called out for being possibly the slowest guy on the field, although from a true pocket passer perspective, that's not surprising. Preston Dewey and Gray Crow have also had glimpses of greatness, each showing accurate, strong arms.
The wideouts are by far the biggest area of concern on the offense, but even without the talented incoming freshman that will be joining later, the current group has shown a lot of promise. Rashawn Scott and Kendall Thompkins have been the two biggest surprises, emerging as two of the most consistent threats both deep and after the catch. Phillip Dorsett has shown out as well, and he has also electrified the field on returns. Dallas Crawford, a converted defensive back, has worked out with both the wide receivers and running backs, showing incredible shiftiness and speed. One receiving threat that is a welcome sight is tight end Asante Cleveland. He has shown great haunts and a penchant for the dramatic catch so far this spring, and will be a very reliable short yardage target.
The running backs are also proving to be a bit of a surprise. As mentioned above, Dallas Crawford is showing why the coaches knew he could be converted. Perhaps the biggest surprise so far is the fact that Mike James (yes, the same one) has given Eduardo Clements a strong run at the starting job. James has shown the tackle breaking ability he was thought to possess, both up the middle as well as on the outside. He has had a couple of crippling stiff arms, as well as taken a few plays to the house with good speed. Clements is showing off a bit as well, although his forte is more speed and eluding tackles rather than plowing through them. Look for these two guys at the top of the depth chart, with Crawford and Duke Johnson providing depth and competition.
Now on to the defense. As I read through the various practice reports, one name kept popping up and making me feel a lot more comfortable about this side of the ball. That name is Ray Ray Armstrong. While his career the last three years has been a mixed bowl of big plays, carelessness, and snotty work ethic, it seems Golden has finally whipped him into shape. Every single report I've read lauds his ability to cover the whole field, intercept passes, break them up, and both position himself for (non-contact drills) and follow through on (full contact) huge, crushing hits. If he keeps this performance up and carries it over into the season, the middle of the field is going to be a black hole for opposing offenses. "But Mr. Nolan, Ray Ray is just one dude!" While this is true, Vaughn Telemaque has been impressive as well, and between him and Armstrong, I'm very comfortable in saying that they have established themselves VERY early on as the locks for the starting safety positions. A.J. Highsmith and Ladarius Gunter are performing well also, which will provide much needed depth. Cornerbacks are proving to be a lively bunch, with Brandon McGee finally seeming to come around, and kids like Finnie and Swasey showing great skill sets. Most of the cornerback depth will arrive in a few months, but if they live up to anything close to what the guys in camp now are showing, good things are ahead.
Linebackers have quite a few fans worried, and that is understandable. However, spring practice is breeding good news here as well, as freshman Raphael Kirby is establishing itself early as a potential starter. He is all over the field, performing exceptionally well in pass coverage, which was something the LB corps lacked last year. Fellow freshman Josh Witt has also showed great prowess, and should compete for a spot as well. The final first team lineup will be hard to crack, however, with names like Gaines, Buchanon (who is still rehabbing), Johnson, Cain, and Paul. Canes fans shouldn't worry too much about the linebackers, they'll be just fine.
There haven't been a whole lot of reports regarding the offensive and defensive lines as of yet. One name that has rightfully come up is Anthony Chickillo, and it's coming up with a lot of great, great things. This kid is going to be a stud, and he loves every minute of it. These guys will get a huge boost when the new kids get into camp.
Of course, what would Hurricanes practice be without the who's who of former Canes showing up to cut loose with the coaches and take in the new crop of kids. Guys like Ray Lewis, Jimmy Graham, Gino Toretta, Reggie Wayne, Jason Fox, as well as a bunch of the recently departed guys have all stopped by to watch the drills. There have also been a few outsiders, guys you may have heard of like LaVar Arrington and Desmond Howard. All in all, Canes fans, spring practice has only just begun, and in a few months, it's going to be a lot of fun to watch. Stay tuned to The Seventh Floor for more camp updates, as well as any other of-note news regarding our favorite team.