Posted: 11:41 am Friday, December 6th, 2013
By Matt Porter
This week, seniors across the nation are accepting invites to play in postseason all-star games. Two Hurricanes, Brandon Linder and Stephen Morris, are in that category. Linder will play in the Senior Bowl (3 p.m. Jan. 25 in Mobile, Ala., NFL Network) while Morris will head to the East-West Shrine Game (4 p.m. Jan. 18 in St. Petersburg, NFL Network). There remains a possibility that punter Pat O’Donnell will get an invite, but no news on that front.
I didn’t feel like that was enough meat for one blog post, so let’s hand out regular-season grades for the Hurricanes’ senior class. These are completely subjective grades based off my one year of watching them. You may disagree. My goal is to be fair and assess things as completely as possible.
TE Asante Cleveland: B
Smart player and an effective blocker in UM’s oft-used double-tight end sets, though he was barely targeted in the passing game. Ended on a sweet note when he caught a touchdown pass – the first of his career – in the regular-season finale at Pitt.
LB Tyrone Cornelius: D+
Played strong-side linebacker and struggled to cover consistently. Started games against Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, Florida State, Virginia Tech and Duke. Forced a fumble against Florida and finished seventh on the team with 39 tackles (two for loss, one sack).
LB Jimmy Gaines: B-
Somewhat limited athletically, but a valued leader at middle linebacker. Finished second with 76 tackles (two for loss), recovered two fumbles and broke up two passes. Had a good career, all told – lightly recruited but was a three-year contributor.
DE David Gilbert: C-
Former honorable mention All-Big Ten at Wisconsin wasn’t an effective player after transferring home. Was it the foot injury (that at one point caused him to retire)? Was it the lack of opportunity (played a season-low seven snaps against Wake Forest; was between 10 and 15 most games)? May never know. He has a nice highlight, though: recovered a fumble and returned it for a 72-yard touchdown against Virginia.
DE Shayon Green: C
Reasonably productive given his average speed and skill. Led team in tackles for loss (10.5), including two against Florida State, and had three sacks. Was third in tackles (63).
FB Maurice Hagens: B+
Strong and smart lead blocker who chipped in with a big gainer or two when his number was called. Caught seven passes for 83 yards, most of those after the catch.
OT Seantrel Henderson: C-
Never lived up to his sky-high potential. Had dominant stretches, but was sometimes outworked by players with half his physical tools (6-foot-8, 340). Could have been a full-time difference-maker and wasn’t. Maybe he’ll put it together in the NFL – maybe not.
S A.J. Highsmith: D+
Relied on too much by the coaching staff, due in part to injuries to Deon Bush and Kacy Rodgers. UM’s lack of a pass rush did him (and the rest of the secondary) no favors.
WR Allen Hurns: A
Reliable as they come. Steady force who finished second in the ACC in receiving (1,138; 94.8 yards per game) to Clemson star Sammy Watkins. Moved UM’s all-time receiving leaderboards. By far his quarterback’s No. 1 target. Could have a good NFL career as a possession receiver.
OG Brandon Linder: A
Like Hurns, a second-team All-ACC selection and a consistently good player. Don’t know UM’s offensive line grades for the season, but have to imagine he has the best marks. A couple penalties here and there, but handled his assignment nearly every time.
QB Stephen Morris: B-
Finished third in the conference in yards (2,868), passer rating (148.96) and tied for third in touchdowns (21). Has one of the strongest arms in college football, but needs to improve decision-making (12 interceptions, third-most in ACC). An ankle injury, suffered Sept. 21, screwed up his mechanics for much of the year. Will be interesting to see where he goes in the draft – would guess he’s somewhere in the fourth round. (Note: typo on my part originally had this grade as B+. It has been corrected.)
P Pat O’Donnell: A
Arguably the team MVP. Flipped fields all year after transferring home from Cincinnati. Gigantic leg and an excellent athlete (6-5, 225). Had a 71-yard punt against Virginia. Averaged around 48 yards per punt for the season. UM didn’t punt a lot, especially early in the season, so his name wasn’t among the national leaders for most of the year. Should have been a Ray Guy finalist, but should have a strong pro career.
DT Curtis Porter: C
Finally healthy and able to play in 12 games (eight starts), but didn’t shine. Season highlight was fumble recovery against Florida, the first of his career, which led to UM’s first touchdown in the Sept. 7 win. Experienced a drop in play after that.
DT Justin Renfrow: C+
Virginia transfer surpassed Porter on the depth chart for four games (UNC, Wake, FSU, Va. Tech). Added much-needed bulk to the defensive line. Had an excellent game against Georgia Tech (five tackles, forced fumble).
DT Luther Robinson: C-
Serviceable depth lineman who neither helped nor hurt. Earned a start against Virginia.
S Kacy Rodgers: C-
Hampered by injury, but like several others, played a little more than UM probably would have liked him to. Had a sack-caused-fumble against FAU and an interception against Virginia.
OG Jared Wheeler: A-
Became a starter for the first time, starting six games in total at center and guard. Not a dominant physical force, but smart and effective.
Incomplete: Akil Craig, Alex Irastorza, Paul Kelly, Jameson Labady, Sean McNally, Chad Barnes.