Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Miami cornerback Sam Shields always writes down his goals, and this year, they're quite specific: Get five picks and return three of them for touchdowns.
Having been a receiver at Miami for the past three years, there's no question he can catch the ball and score. Shields, a junior, played in all 13 games last year either as a receiver or a gunner on special teams. He has started 15 career games and enters his first season as a cornerback with 971 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. His receptions decreased last year as there were several talented freshmen to share the ball with. Shields said coach Randy Shannon approached him about the move, and he was willing to do whatever it took to help the team.
"When I started spring it was tough trying to catch on, but as the spring kept going I was getting better and better," Shields said. "Now we're doing seven-on-sevens and it seems like I've been at corner forever now."
Shields said the toughest receiver he's gone against in his new position has been LaRon Byrd, and there's been no shortage of trash-talking, from the field to the weight room.
"There's a lot of animosity," Byrd said. "A guy like Sam Shields is an athlete, so there's not too much you can fool him by. He played receiver, so he knows the routes you're going to run, and plus he's fast. He's got make-up speed. So it's kind of hard to get past him. You have to do a lot of double moves on Sam."
The secondary was definitely a place that could use some help. DeMarcus Van Dyke, Chavez Grant and Brandon Harris are the most experienced starters at cornerback, but were inconsistent last year. Van Dyke, entering his third season, made two starts last year. Harris started six games as a true freshman and Grant started seven. Ryan Hill could also slide from safety to corner this season, but Shields will definitely be in the rotation.
"I've got a real good chance of starting," Shields said. "We weren't that deep on the corner position. I've got a real good chance of starting."
To get there, though, he's got to beat the same receivers he was once practicing with. Byrd said he thinks the move will benefit the team because Shields is such a great athlete he can play anywhere. It's the backpeddling as a cornerback that's been tripping him up.
"It was tough at first," he said. "I was getting sore, just the transition from running at the receiver to having the receiver come to you. That was tough. You've just got to keep working on it, day by day."
The coaching staff hasn't made any secrets about its desire to narrow the deep group of receivers to a few go-to playmakers, and Byrd said that's upped the intensity a notch this summer.
"If you tell any group of athletes that it's going to drive them harder and make them work harder," Byrd said. "I'm kind of glad (the coaches) did that because a lot of people get complacent. I don't want to get complacent or say, 'Well, I know I'm going to start.' Everyone wants to play, so it's going to bring the level of competition up between everybody."