College football countdown: No. 4 Miami

Thursday, August 3rd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Miami talented but thin at quarterback

Kenny Kelly walked out on the University of Miami, leaving the Hurricanes brokenhearted, but certainly not heartless.

Kelly, who struggled to meet weighty expectations a year ago, opted to play baseball in the Tampa Bay Devil Rays organization rather than finish his career at UM. But all was not lost in South Florida. Few would have guessed it a year ago, but UM can in fact make do without him.

Stepping in for Kelly is sophomore Ken Dorsey. Dorsey replaced Kelly last year when Kelly was injured and actually did more to win over the coaching staff than Kelly had done most of the year. But now it's his show ­ and he has no one to lean on in tough times. Miami's only backup is Ethenic Sands, a quarterback in high school who moved to receiver at UM.

"It has left us in a bind to some extent," coach Butch Davis said of Kelly's departure. "He left with three years of eligibility left. He had experience as a one-year starter and had some very, very good games for us last year. That's the year he learned so much, and you expect to reap the benefits of that experience.

"If there is a small, silver lining, it is that when he got hurt, that allowed Kenny [Dorsey] to get some experience. It's a tenuous situation, though, because he is unproven."

It helps that UM has a gifted backfield. Najeh Davenport, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first game of 1999, is back and will join forces with James Jackson. Wide receiver Santana Moss also is a standout, along with Reggie Wayne.

Defensively, linebacker Nate Webster's departure for the NFL will have a big impact. However, linebacker Dan Morgan, a preseason Butkus Award candidate, is firmly positioned for a gigantic year.

"Dan Morgan is one of the most outstanding linebackers to ever play here, and UM has had an excellent tradition of producing linebackers," Davis said. "He'll break all the school records for tackles."

The strength of the defense, though, will be in the secondary, where Miami returns all four starters, including Al Blades, younger brother of Bennie and Brian Blades.

Miami Schedule- Aug 31 McNeese State; Sept 9 at Washington; Sept 23 at West Virginia; Sept 30 at Rutgers; Oct 7 Florida State; Oct 21 at Temple; Oct 28 Louisiana Tech; Nov 4 Virginia Tech; Nov 11 Pittsburgh; Nov 18 at Syracuse; Nov 25 Boston College

Miami Hurricanes Capsule

COACH: Butch Davis (39-19 in 5 years)

LAST YEAR: 9-4 (6-1 in Big East; beat Georgia Tech in Gator Bowl)

OUT: Quarterback Kenny Kelly quit to play pro baseball. Tight end Bubba Franks is in the NFL. Linebacker Nate Webster was declared ineligible by the NCAA after declaring for the draft then trying to withdraw his name.

IN: Junior tight end Robert Williams could be a star. Center Scott Puckett from Duncanville. He had back surgery in the spring, may return as the replacement for Ty Wise.

BIG PLUS: Najeh Davenport is recovered from an ACL injury to bolster an offensive backfield that includes starting RB James Jackson and sophomores Clinton Portis and Jarrett Payton. On defense, ends Quincy Hipps and William Joseph are set to have big years as pass rushers.

BIG MINUS: After Ken Dorsey, the Hurricanes do not have experience at quarterback. Ethenic Sands played the position in high school but has been a receiver for UM the past two years.

NATIONAL TITLE IF: Virginia Tech has Michael Vick, but UM has talent spread all over the field. If they can get through a tough schedule that includes Florida State and Virginia Tech, they have a shot.

BOTTOM LINE: Ken Dorsey must stay healthy and be comfortable as the starter for UM to have a chance. All of the other elements seem to be in place.

Top 25 So Far

25. Clemson
24. Mississippi
23. So. Miss.
22. Utah
21. Texas A&M
20. Penn State
19. Tennessee
18. Colorado
17. Oklahoma
16. Purdue
15. Illinois
14. Kansas State
13. Florida
12. Ohio State
11. TCU
10. USC
9. Wisconsin
8. Michigan
7. Georgia
6. Texas
5. Florida State
4. Miami