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Hurricanes Football: 10 Things You Need to Know Before the Season Opener

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With Labor Day approaching, catch up on what you need to know about Canes football before the Louisville kickoff.

Mike Ehrmann

Monday night is a few hours away. Players are anxious, coaches are anxious, fans are anxious, meaning everything is exactly how it should be. Over the last month, Greentree Practice Fields have produced headlines that captivated Hurricanes Nation and turned Twitter into a 24/7 reality show.

From Brad Kaaya starting to Trayone "Chocolate" Gray qualifying, here are 10 things you must know about the team before opening day.

1) Coach Andreu Swasey is the real MVP

Few stories have been written about the 13-year head strength and conditioning coach. However, Coach Swasey is the reason why UM has a fighting chance at an ACC Championship this year.

Injuries have plagued Miami recently, including season ending injuries from Duke Johnson (broken ankle,) Phillip Dorsett (partial MCL tear,) Herb Waters and Corn Elder (torn Meniscus)...freshman / offseason injuries from Joseph Yearby (broken fibula,) Braxton Berrios (torn ACL) and Ryan Williams (torn ACL,)...and previous injuries from Deon Bush (hernia,) and Malcolm Lewis (dislocated ankle & Hernia.)

Coming into fall camp, a sense of pessimism would've been the expected emotion, but somehow optimism is what crept into Greentree, thanks to Swasey.

Duke Johnson made it a goal to get stronger, faster and more durable this season.

"He pushed me back into the weight room to get bigger and stronger for the season," said Duke. "I'm excited to see what the extra weight lifting will do to my game."

WR Phillip Dorsett recently ran the fastest 40-yard dash (4.21) in UM history. He gave all the credit to Swasey.


Another wide receiver, Braxton Berrios, recently tore his ACL during the Under Armour All American Game.

When he spoke to the media, Berrios said he had completely torn it; however, with the help of Swasey and crew, Berrios said he now feels "100%."

Offensive Coordinator James Coley spoke highly about Berrios.

"It's like he never tore his ACL," said Coley. "He worked really hard to get back, and he got back. He's at where he was before the injury. He's really been a strong point to this offense especially on third downs."

Another wide out who had an exceptional camp is Malcolm Lewis. Stacy Coley was asked about Lewis' play so far. This is what he had to say.

"Malcolm Lewis? He's great," said Coley. "Off the injury, it's a tremendous comeback, an amazing comeback. Right now, Malcolm is doing great."

Safety Deon Bush is also back to his top form according to Defensive Coordinator Mark D'onofrio.

***

2) Brad Kaaya is mature according to everyone

Yes, he's a true freshman, yes he wouldn't have started if Williams was healthy, yes, his first game is on the road on prime time television; however, Brad Kaaya is not the average freshman.

When Al Golden, James Coley or any player for that matter was asked about Kaaya, the words "mature" and "smart" would immediately leave their mouths.

Here are a few quotes from Golden and his players.

The 19-year old Cali kid will be nervous on Monday and will make his fair share of mistakes this season,  but with coaches and teammates that speak this highly of him, trust and patience will be key for Canes fans.

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3) All four running backs will play significant roles this season

Integrating Duke Johnson in the passing game will be one of the more exciting aspects of this season. Johnson has taken multiple reps with the receiving corps this camp, elevating his quickness to a new level.

Sophomore running back Gus Edwards, who will backup Duke, has been trying to incorporate the passing game to his style of play as well.

"Coach helps us do it (catching & running routes) after practice all the time," said Edwards. "I've gotten a lot better at catching. Duke can catch. That's who we all look up to. We gotta catch the ball, we gotta run routes. We gotta do every aspect of the game"

The offensive dark horse this season will be freshman Joseph Yearby. Yearby, who had a minor setback with a broken fibula, has made his name known in Coral Gables.

Al Golden has repeatedly praised Yearby for his play during camp. His explosive nature in both the running and passing game kept him from being redshirted this season. The Miami native will bring a certain shiftiness as a substitute, which will make game planning a difficult task for opposing teams.

When asked about Joseph Yearby, running backs coach Tim "Ice" Harris had this so say of him:

"He has a fantastic work ethic," said  Ice. "He learns from Duke a lot, and he's come a long way since coming here."

Yearby isn't the only freshman destined for stardom, however. With the addition of Trayone "Chocolate" Gray, Miami's running back group becomes arguably it's deepest position.

Golden mentioned during his press conference that Gray will play significant minutes this season, starting with special teams.

"He's big, but he's also fast," said Gus Edwards of the young RB. Gray broke out for a 34-yard touchdown run during his first scrimmage.

Apart from being a physical specimen, Gray is also the funniest of the group according to Ice. Gray is said to constantly make jokes, which is good for a freshman to do.

***

4) Michael Wyche will be a difference maker, but not right now

When Michael Wyche came into camp, he was hard to miss...literally.


At 6'4" 330 lbs. Wyche is the nose tackle Miami needs. Unfortunately, he's not yet in the right shape. Coach Swasey says that his legs must get stronger before he's ready to receive significant playing time. The following video exemplifies Wyche's lack of leg strength and endurance.

Notice how Wyche only pushes the sled up a few inches compared to the other players. A nose tackle's biggest asset is his legs. Without that initial burst off the snap, impact plays will be impossible to earn. Wyche was told to get water after the drill.

However, Wyche is a hardworking individual. For those who don't know his back story, read it here. He's an exemplary man with a great personality.

Here is one of his funnier moments of camp.

"You gonna break my hands," said Wyche. "Brett Favre doesn't even throw that hard."


***

5) Chad Thomas is a difference maker right now

The standout freshman out of Booker T Washington High School had himself an extraordinary camp.

"We don't really look at him as a freshman," said Golden on Thomas. "We look at him as a defensive end."

With good speed, 4.8 40, combined with superior strength and agility, Thomas is poised for an explosive freshman year.

Here is Thomas easily blowing by Sunny Odogwu

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Not only does Thomas stand out on the field, but on social media as well.

And my personal favorites, Chad making fun of Braxton Berrios, and Chad admiring himself.


Thomas is 100% a true Miami boy, and fans should be elated with what he'll be doing for the next few years.

***

6) Raphael Akpejiori will surprise on offense

After former Canes Hoops player Erik Swoope switched sports and went to the NFL, Raphael Akpejirori sought to do the same by joining Canes football this summer.

Although they both switched to the same position, it took Akpejiori much more time to learn the skill set of a tight end. When asked about Akpejiori, Standish Dobard spoke about teaching him the basics.


Dobard said Akpejiori came in to camp a little raw, and he was right. Akpejiori was running bad routes and still needed improvement on his footwork.


Akpejiori, however, continued to improve as the days went on. Instead of soaking in ice tubs along with his teammates, every day after practice the basketball turned TE would work with the ball machine for about 30 minutes. He wouldn't do it for the media, or for his coaches to see him working, he'd do it because he needed to succeed.

Over the summer, Akpejiori worked with Jimmy Graham, arguably the best tight end in the NFL. When Akpejiori finished his training with Graham, he sought help from another pro Cane, Santana Moss.

Coach Golden was asked about the senior from Nigeria.

"He's doing really good, but it's a good position for us, so that's the quandry for him right now," said Golden of Akpejiori. "We have some depth there and Raphael...great spirit, great kid and great energy."

Here is Akpejiori working with the ball machine.


***

7) Dallas Crawford is the leader of the secondary

Dallas Crawford's transition to the defensive side of the ball has seemed effortless. In the first scrimmage of camp, Crawford had a pick 6, forced a fumble and had 5 tackles on top of that.

Crawford's unselfish nature has let him take control of the leader role.

"It's all about winning for me," said Crawford. "I don't care about the glory or having my name in the newspaper. You gotta want your teammates to play for you. I try to show every practice, every day that I have their back. And I'm working my hardest every day to not let them down."

Dallas Crawford was asked about his on-field attitude, this is what he had to say


I asked Crawford what element of his game he's improved on throughout camp.

"I've gotten better at tackling, understanding the playbook more, and just getting more comfortable as a safety by being a more vocal leader," said Crawford. "Every day I come out and play off Chickillo, Denzel, Ladarius Gunter, and just try to match that intensity every day."

Jamal Carter who is also poised for breakout year at safety, spoke highly of Craword.


Crawford, who initially came to the University of Miami as safety, is back in his comfort zone.

***

8) Anthony Chickillo is in the best physical and mental shape of his career

Throughout the last three years, Anthony Chickillo hasn't necessarily lived up to his hype. Although he's suffered injuries, he's never missed a game. This year, Chickillo made it a mission to improve his all around game, and Al Golden believes he has.

"He has put himself in a position to not only be a leader, but to have a big season", said Golden. "I'm really proud of him. He's doing the little things, the tough things right every day."

From my perspective in camp, Chick's size is what stands out. He's leaner than he was just a few months ago. His burst off the line of scrimmage is what Canes fans have been waiting from him.

Mentally, Chickillo mentioned that he holds the mindset he had when he came in as a freshman. The senior said it was a dream to play in Miami, and that he just had to have fun with it.

When asked about who has been the hardest defensive linemen to compete against in camp, star OT Ereck Flowers said it what Chickillo.

"I know Chick, he's gotten a lot stronger," said Flowers. "He has a really strong base. He's definitely gotten tougher."

Here's  Chickillo lifting 6'4" 318 lb. Ol Danny Isidora off the ground.

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9) Wide Receiving corps is top 5 in the nation

Stacy Coley, Phillip Dorsett, Malcolm Lewis, Herb Waters, Braxton Berrios, Rashawn Scott. With these receivers, Brad Kaaya won't need to worry about handling the entire load by himself this season.

With 33 catches, 7 touchdowns, and 1,461 all purpose yards last season, number one option Stacy Coley will be Kaaya's go-to receiver. The sophomore says his goal is to beat last season's touchdown mark.

As for Dorsett, it was mentioned earlier how fast he's gotten since his injury. A 4.21 40 would have beaten Chris Johnson's Combine record time of 4.24. Malcolm Lewis, on the other hand is also having tremendous camp.

Lewis'  speed and leaping ability has caught the attention of his teammates, especially QB Jake Heaps who's thrown three 30+ yard plays to the junior wide out.

Freshman Braxton Berrios won't let his jersey number 83 escape him. As a short, quick receiver, the Wes Welker comparison is obvious. Coming off a fully torn ACL, many thought Berrios would have to take the year off; however, he's now become a crucial part of Golden's offense.

When asked about Berrios, Stacy Coley said he's

"very tough, mentally and physically, he's a smart kid. He brings the quickness, everything in the middle. I feel like he brings everything we need him to bring."

Here are the receivers "flying around."

10) "Back in Black!".....cleats

With the renewal of the black cleats, Canes swagger looks as clean as ever. Duke Johnson sported the new cleats with lime green laces during Thursday's practice.

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"The black cleats? Man they sick," said Stacy Coley. "They brought em back, so I think they sick, we're gonna have em on every uniform we got."

And there you have it 'Canes fans. 10 things to watch for this season. Enjoy the game and the season!