Questions loom for Miami's offensive line

It wasn’t intended to be a trick question, but it was one that Miami senior left tackle Orlando Franklin struggled to answer: Who is the leader of this year’s offensive line?

“I don’t know,” Franklin said. “I guess you could say it’s me.”

He might not have much of a choice.

After two years in a starting role, Franklin said he’s ready to take on more responsibility, and with new faces in new places, the offensive line could use a veteran to depend upon. The Canes have to replace three starters up front, including both tackles and center A.J. Trump. Franklin said he watched graduated veteran Jason Fox anchor the group the past two years, and learned what it takes to be a leader.

“I’m ready for that role, and I’m ready to get it done,” Franklin said. “You’re going to always have challenges going into spring, but I’m not really worried about it. I’m confident in these guys coming in. … We’ve got guys who have played already or haven’t played but have been around and know a lot of football. It’s exciting to see what they’re going to do.”

Coach Randy Shannon is equally as interested, especially in the center position, where Tyler Horn is expected to take over. Horn has been taking snaps at center for the past three years, but he lacks game experience.

“We’ve got some guys who are big, athletic, and we feel really good about who can keep us going on the offensive line,” Shannon said. “But like anything, you’re always worried about the quarterback and the guy who snaps the ball to the quarterback. Those are the two most key positions probably on the football team. It will be interesting to see. They’re going to be tough, physical practices this spring.”

Shannon said that part of the problem last year was depth, and that freshmen were the backups at every position. This year, Miami should have 15 offensive linemen on its roster by summer camp. The Canes can turn to Franklin, Harland Gunn, Brandon Washington and Joel Figueroa, who is out this spring while recovering from shoulder surgery, for some experience. Shane McDermott is a true freshman who enrolled in January and is competing with Horn for the starting job at center.

Franklin said the offensive line takes a lot of pride in keeping quarterback Jacory Harris healthy, but as a team, they failed to do that consistently last year. Miami ranked No. 100 in the country, allowing 2.69 sacks per game, but Franklin pointed out that the linemen aren’t the only ones doing the blocking, and the entire offense has to be clicking in order for everything to work.

“When that kid’s healthy and he has time,” Franklin said of Harris, “we sure did see the results.”

“A lot of things did go wrong at times because we didn’t do as good as we should’ve done. With pass plays, if a receiver runs a wrong route, too far or too short, or Jacory takes the wrong step, or a running back misses a block, it’s a sack. We all have to be on the same page, or it’s going to be a bad situation.”

Communication shouldn’t be a problem up front.

For years, the offensive linemen have always met on Thursdays to eat together, changing places each week. This past season the starters added Wednesday meals to their routine. Recently, Horn sent Franklin a text message about “pool day” at his house. They planned to “throw some food on the grill.”

They’ve gotten to know each other pretty well as they waited in the wings for their turn in the spotlight, which is now.

“We have a lot of guys who have been in the system for a couple of years now,” Franklin said. “They’ve been waiting to get in. I’m quite confident they’re going to do a good job.”