Injuries are not the only concern with the offense

Over the first 17 days of spring practice, a quarterback controversy has dominated the South Florida media coverage of the events at Greentree Field and surrounding areas.
After Saturday’s spring game at the Orange Bowl, though, my concerns range further than who will be under center when the ‘Canes open their 2003 season in Shreveport, Louisiana. My concerns are whether or not the Hurricanes have an offense that can take them back to the national championship.
Granted, it is not a smart thing to scrutinize the team based on a spring scrimmage game. After all, no one starts calling for the end of the Yankees dynasty when the team goes 0-2 to start spring training.
In addition, Miami’s offense was without the services of starting tailback Frank Gore, fullback Kyle Cobia, or No. 2 receiver Kevin Beard.
But as with spring training, while the teams overall results are thrown out, an individual’s performance often carries over to the regular season. Therefore, when the Hurricanes have struggled in several areas offensively throughout the spring, then it is not uncalled for to show some concern.
The weakest link of the Miami offense struggled again in the spring game – the offensive line. Head coach Larry Coker and offensive line coach Art Kehoe have already shuffled the deck quite often, making changes in four of the five positions. Cokes and Kehoe attribute the moves towards finding the right combinations, but after Saturday, I have to think that the line is not performing where they should.
The pass protection was non-existent towards much of the game for the ‘Canes quarterbacks, who in addition to being sacked five times, were forced to hurry more throws than they would have liked.
A bigger problem came in run blocking, where tailbacks Jarrett Payton and Quad Hill struggled to find any kind of daylight. The backs as a whole amassed a woeful 0.9 yards per carry against the revamped Miami defensive line.
Struggling in particular were the two backs carrying the load in the absence of Gore. Payton, who has stuck it out in Coral Gables despite limited playing time, picked up just 15 yards on 15 carries and could not find a way to run through the first hit. Hill, who may be converted to a full time tailback, failed to show the quickness in shifting directions that a running back must have, ending up with four yards on eight carries.
It’s hard to think that Miami’s running game will be any sort of question mark when Frank Gore is healthy, but that is a big question mark. If Gore isn’t healthy, freshman Tyrone Moss, who arrives at Coral Gables in the fall, could get the majority of touches.
The Hurricanes did get better production out of quarterbacks Derrick Crudup and Brock Berlin, who will likely be fighting it out until the fall before a starter is named. After a very shaky start, Berlin adjusted himself to the Miami offense and threw two beautiful TD passes, although one was called back due to an offensive penalty. Crudup put up impressive numbers, going 7-8 for an even 100 yards and a TD, while improving his decision making in the process, although there was still too much of a tendency for him to want to take off and run with the ball (My vote still goes with Spurrier’s former signal caller to start.)
Better play from the quarterbacks also equaled production from the receivers, although Jason Geathers needs to be more of a threat as a potential No. 1 receiver. The good news for Miami’s quarterbacks is they still have Kellen Winslow and Roscoe Parrish to throw to, and both looked like they haven’t lost a beat since the Fiesta Bowl.
And obviously, enough credit isn’t given to the 11 players who were matched up against the Miami offense. For the second consecutive spring game, the Hurricanes defense made a strong statement for being the best unit in the country, even with four new starting defensive linemen, and a secondary that struggled towards the end of last season.
The Miami defense will be one of championship caliber in 2003. The question on everybody’s minds remains whether the offense will match the defense’s performance. And as spring practice winds down, it is clear that the offense has a lot of work to do.