Monday, March 30, 2009

Taylor Cook and Damien Berry emerge as UM's Spring Heroes

Damien Berry

It is often said the most popular player on a football team is the backup quarterback. When the starter plays poorly, the backup becomes more popular--even if he hasn't done anything to warrant praise. But University of Miami football fans take this theory to another level. It doesn't end with the quarterback. Whenever any backup player, who has yet to see significant playing time and shows some semblence of promise in spring practice, that player is already hailed a savior on various fan message boards. This year's heroes of the spring are quarterback Taylor Cook and running back Damien Berry.

This past Saturday, Cook and Berry turned in impressive performances at UM's final spring scrimmage at Fort Lauderdale's Lockhart Stadium. Cook completed 11 of his 14 passes for 103 yards. At one point he completed 9 consecutive passes and led the team to one scoring drive. Meanwhile, starting quarterback Jacory Harris completed 9 of 16 passes for 141 yards. But none of his drives ended in a score. So naturally, if you look at various UM fan message boards, you will inevitably find posts touting Cook as the better quarterback. Don't get me wrong. I don't think most Cane fans think this way. But there is a noisy minority that subscribes to this absurd theory.

As good as Cook was, Berry was even more impressive. The sophomore from Belle Glade rushed for 114 yards on 14 carries, including a 54 yard touchdown run in which he showed great breakaway speed. And yes, there are those same crazy Cane fans who believe Berry should start the opening game against FSU.

Look, I'm not trying to put down Cook and Berry. It's encouraging to see them play well and they should both add much needed depth to the offense. But don't get carried away. I wouldn't be suprised if Berry gains fewer yards for the upcoming season than he did in the spring scrimmage. Berry, who was originally recruited as a safety out of Glades Central High School, redshirted last season and played the entire year on the scout team. He's a talented athlete whose father, Kenny Berry, was a former cornerback for UM in the late 1980s. But don't look for Berry to surplant Graig Cooper and Javarris James from the starting lineup just yet. Keep in mind UM also has talented freshmen Mike James and Killian High's Lamar Miller vying for playing time. Miller will arrive in the fall.

As someone who has watched spring scrimmages for several years, don't take too much from these performances. In the past, I can remember Derrick Crudup outperforming Brock Berlin in the 2003 spring scrimmage. In that same scrimmage Darnell Jenkins looked like a future All American. Well, we all know how that turned out. Spring scrimmages are supposed to simulate game situations. But in reality it's nothing like a real game. They are what they are--practices. The offensive and defensive schemes are simplified to a vanilla flavor. Defensive players are not allowed to hit the quarterback. I don't care how many passes you complete in a scrimmage. You really don't know how good a quarterback is until he gets hit.

I will say this, Cook is a better player than I originally thought. At 6-foot-7, he towers over the line of scrimmage and has the strongest arm of all the quarterbacks. But he is very raw and his technique still needs to be tweeked. To be honest, I didn't expect much from him. When he was recruited out of a small Texas high school (Rice Consolidated High), he wasn't highly rated and many thought he would be converted to tight end. Cook has shown some serious potential. But he's not ready to be the starter. The Canes will go as far as Jacory Harris can take them. He is the unquestioned leader of this team and he's only a true sophomore. Harris already has significant game experience and the trust of his teammates. Let's just hope he can stay healthy. At least Cane fans don't have to be as terrified if something were to happen to Harris.

No comments: