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Mixed results don't stress out Miami

It's not a new story.

Every year, Miami loses a large class of talented players, many of whom head to the NFL. Meanwhile, many pundits point to the departed players as an excuse to lower expectations, if not declare the sky is falling in Coral Gables.

And what happens when the games start? Different players, similar results.

"We'll be fine," coach Larry Coker said. "We've got players who can play."

So what if 13 starters from UM's Orange Bowl victory over FSU, including juniors Sean Taylor, Vince Wilfork and Kellen Winslow, need to be replaced?

Though the holes might be considered staggering for other programs, for Miami it's a typical year. With national signing day Wednesday, the 'Canes have targeted two areas of particular need, running back and linebacker, with vastly different (apparent) results.

With Jarrett Payton and Jason Geathers gone and Frank Gore coming off two serious knee injuries, the 'Canes need to add players behind Tyrone Moss, who will be the starting tailback.

Miami has received oral commitments from three top runners, two from Miami-Dade. Bobby Washington of Miami Killian (36 rushing TDs in two years) and Charlie Jones of Homestead South Dade (Dade County single-game rushing record 348 yards) have been committed for weeks. They are ranked as the third- and fifth-best runners in the country by rivals100.com.

The 'Canes also have a commitment from Reserve, La., back Derron Thomas. Depending on Gore's health, one of the backs likely will see action as a freshman.

On the defensive side, despite the losses of safety Taylor and tackle Wilfork, the biggest area of concern is linebacker. The entire starting corps of D.J. Williams, Jonathan Vilma and Darrell McClover, as well as top reserve Jarrell Weaver, is gone. Though the coaching staff has high hopes for Tavares Gooden, Leon Williams and Roger McIntosh, it made it a priority to go after some of the top linebacking prospects, and so far doesn't have much to show for it.

The 'Canes have one oral commitment from a linebacker. And that player, Romeo Davis of Miami Northwestern, isn't considered a major prospect. Josh Johnson of Stone Mountain Ga., who had been strongly leaning toward Miami, apparently has spurned the 'Canes to attend Georgia.

Miami Carol City linebacker Willie Williams, widely considered the best outside linebacking prospect, hasn't decided between UM and FSU. He's scheduled to visit Florida this weekend and could wind up a Gator.

"It'll be a signing day decision. I really think I'm going to surprise myself," Williams told Cane-Sport.com this week. "I love Miami but I love Florida State as well, and I like the Gators. It depends how I like the Gators; they might be a front-runner after this weekend. I have no idea. I grew up liking all three Florida colleges; whoever was winning I was liking."

UM also is in the running for Wyckoff (N.J.) Don Bosco Prep linebacker Brian Toal. Linebacker coach Vernon Hargreaves visited Toal last week. Toal ranks Miami and Boston College as his favorites, although Penn State, Tennessee and Rutgers are possibilities.

"He (Hargreaves) told me that it would take some guts for me to pick Miami and that I could either be a Hurricane and win for four years or play someplace else and be beaten for four years," Toal said. "It made a lot of sense."

If UM can sign Williams and Toal, it will be quite happy. If not, the 'Canes likely will have to sign some lesser-known players.

That's not as dire as it might sound. Though D.J. Williams was considered the best player in the country when he signed with UM, Vilma wasn't highly recruited. And in 1996, the 'Canes signed a running back from Coral Springs who wasn't highly coveted.

That player, Dan Morgan, is the only one to win the Butkus, Nagurski and Bednarik awards and will be the starting middle linebacker for the Carolina Panthers in Sunday's Super Bowl.

The lesson? Don't read too much into the recycled story lines of recruiting. It's just the same story, 2004 vintage.

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