Wednesday, March 19, 2003

New coordinator, new defense
for Miami

Spring practice has definite focus

By Mark Schmetzer
Enquirer contributor

Miami has a former defensive coordinator as head coach, a new defensive coordinator, and a defense that ranked last in the Mid-American Conference against the pass and third-last in total defense last season. Can you guess what the RedHawks are focusing on during spring football practice this year?

"That definitely will be a focus," coach Terry Hoeppner said of the defense Tuesday, a few hours before the RedHawks began spring drills. "There's a little sense of anticipation there, also. ... Part of the anticipation and excitement is learning a new defense, and part of it is the young guys who will be challenging on defense. They're anxious to show us and the new defensive coordinator what they can do."

Hoeppner has scheduled 15 sessions, including scrimmages March 29 and April 5 and the annual Red-White Game at 2 p.m. April 12.

The RedHawks are hoping to put behind them the disappointing end of the 2002 season. Losses in their last two games, including a bitter last-second defeat at Marshall, cost them a chance at the MAC East Division championship. Negative publicity resulting from the actions of two assistant coaches in the wake of that loss to the Thundering Herd deepened the gloom.

After one of the coaches, defensive coordinator Jon Wauford, resigned, Miami hired Northern Illinois linebackers coach Pat Narduzzi, a former Miami assistant, as defensive coordinator.

Fifteen starters are back from last year's team, led by record-setting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and leading rusher Luke Clemens on offense, and strong safety Matt Pusateri - last season's leading tackler - and linebacker Terrell Jones on defense. Placekicker Jared Parseghian and punter Mike Wafzig also return.

"We're coming off a very productive winter, one of the more productive we've had," Hoeppner said. "We're a bigger, faster and stronger football team, and the players are eager to try out their new bodies - especially the younger guys. The older guys are looking for other things - like building the team and bringing the team together."

But Hoeppner and Narduzzi must replace defensive back Milt Bowen, who opened last season at safety before being moved to cornerback for the last four games. Bowen led the RedHawks with five interceptions last season.

"When I talk about competition, that's one of the positions I'm thinking about," Hoeppner said. "Part of it is a change of philosophy. Hopefully, the area where that will be most apparent is the secondary."

Injuries will keep a pair of offensive linemen out of spring practice; starting tackle Will Rueff had shoulder surgery and backup center Dave Rehker had foot surgery. Both will be juniors next season.

Mike Smith, a backup tailback who gained 232 yards and averaged 5.7 yards a carry last season, is transferring, Hoeppner said.

No Miami recruits graduated early, so none will join spring practice, as running back Maurice Clarett did with Ohio State last year.

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