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What to Watch For as Fall Practice Opens Today

The University of Miami Football Team begins preparation for the 2014 season today. Here are the key things to watch as they prepare for the showdown Vs Louisville on Labor Day.

Brad Barr-US PRESSWIRE

UM opens practice this afternoon on the newly renovated Greentree Practice Fields.

As we countdown to September 1st's prime time battle against the Cardinals, here are some of the most important scenarios to keep an eye on.

QB Battle? -

Is it really even a battle at all at this point? Kevin Olsen pretty much threw in the towel when he was reportedly suspended for the opener for failing a drug test (though the school has yet to confirm the suspension and Al Golden says he still expects Olsen to be a factor).  Jake Heaps has impressed with his maturity and confidence off the field, but will it translate to more consistency on itRyan Williams is ahead of schedule on his rehab, but the likelihood he returns any sooner than 9/20 Vs Nebraska is slim.

Yesterday, our very own Cam Underwood covered the battle itself and gave you an extensive and closer look at all of the candidates HERE.

Also there is this:

This is going to be fun to watch!

Defensive Improvement -

Leading up the last season's opener, Al Golden emphasized how Miami's bulk and conditioning would be the key factors in an improved team defense. And early on the returns were good.  But as the season progressed the D went south in a hurry. The Duke and VT games were particularly difficult to watch, and the 'Canes finished the season an atrocious 87th Nationally in yards per game allowed.  Blown assignments and poor tackling were the biggest eye openers. The good news? The talent IS better this season.  But will it show on game day, and will it sustain all season long?

Here are some reasons for hope:

Denzel Perryman and Anthony Chickillo are back for their final seasons in UM, and they will provide leadership. Artie Burns, Jamal Carter, and Al-Quadin Muhammad are all poised on for break out seasons as sophomores.  Perhaps the fiercest competitor on the team, Dallas Crawford, has moved from RB to S and that should help the intensity on this side of the ball. Tyriq McCord has shown the potential to be a difference maker, and should continue to improve as long as he can stay healthy. Freshmen Chad Thomas and Kiy Hester are blue chip prospects who could/should be good enough to see the field ASAP.  Finally, UM also has 2 mammoth JUCO DTs in Calvin Heurtelou and Michael Wyche added to the mix up front. If either can make an impact, it would go a long way for this much maligned unit. The coaching staff needs to find out what combinations and schemes work this month.  Given the improved depth and talent, there are no good excuses if this unit is not significantly improved in 2014.

The foundation of a great defense needs to be established, starting this week.

Health

Guys are going to get banged up.  Williams was a casualty of that fact this spring.  Miami's best player, Duke Johnson, is recovering from a broken ankle.  His likely back-up, freshman Joe Yearby, is also recovering from a leg injury sustained in H.S.  Let's face it,  it is impossible for any team to completely avoid players going down. But the teams who end up having dream seasons usually are very fortunate when it comes to key players and volume of injuries suffered.

If Miami can make it through this month relatively healthy, it would be a very positive sign for the 2014 season.

Establishing Depth

Given the ominous factor above, it is very important for the coaching staff to figure out which players can fill in best & where they fit in, when/if guys go down.  Additionally, the beneficial aspect of keeping front line players fresh with competent second and third team players is something most elite teams can boast.   In particular, LB and Offensive Line are two areas that the staff needs to focus on leading into the season. Guys like true freshmen Juwon Young, KC McDermott, and Darrion Owens are all one snap away from major playing time. Ditto, inexperienced returning players Sunny Odogwu, Jermaince Grace, and Alex Gall.

If the Hurricanes are going to have a successful season, young players needs to step up and show that they can be counted on, starting this week.

Stop by SOTU often for updates on the above and much more as we count down to Labor Day at Louisville.

In the meantime keep an eye on all of the story lines above and more, with the stream below: