Season Preview: Quarterback

Last week we analyzed Miami’s defense with a position by position breakdown. Now here’s a look at the offensive side of the ball and the team’s biggest question mark of 2017: The quarterback position.

Originally this was an offensive preview, but like the defensive coaching article, this one also took on a life of its own.

I realized why everyone has written hundreds of pieces on the Miami quarterback situation, it’s because these stories practically write themselves. Especially when you take a look back at the struggles that began when Ken Dorsey graduated.

This could just be my attempt at beating a dead horse, but nonetheless, here’s my take on the Miami quarterback competition.

Malik’s Job to Lose?

In 2015, Malik Rosier looked like the heir apparent to Brad Kaaya following a controversial win at Duke (272 yards & 2 TD), appropriately nicknamed the “Miracle in Durham.” Making the first start of his career, the redshirt freshman did something Kaaya never accomplished in three years behind center: Beat a ranked team at their place.

The offensive line did a good enough job in 2016 keeping Kaaya healthy, so Rosier spent the season on the sidelines, only appearing in mop-up duty. In January, Kaaya entered the NFL draft leaving only two scholarship QBs on the roster. However, upon Kaaya’s departure, Rosier was destined to be a shoe-in for QB-1, with redshirt-sophomore Evan Sherriffs and walk-on junior transfer Vincent Testaverde Jr. battling with freshman early enrollee Cade Weldon for the role of backup. Then, in the summer, the real QB battle would begin when the 4-star, dual threat phenom N’Kosi Perry arrived in Coral Gables to duke it out with Rosier for the starting job.

But that wasn’t the case.

The New ‘Sherriffs’ of Coral Gables

Practically an unknown out of high school, Shirreffs, who handed off three times in Miami’s 70-3 win over Florida A&M, edged ahead of Rosier during the spring with his knowledge of the playbook, decision making, and accuracy.

Rosier, the most athletic QB on the roster, was unable to separate himself from the Jefferson, Ga native due to questions that have plagued him throughout his career: 

Accuracy – 50.8% career completion percentage.

Turnovers – more interceptions (3) than TDs (2) in his career.

With a defense capable of winning games on its own in 2017, Head Coach Mark Richt and QB Coach Jon Richt have made it clear they are looking for signal caller who can limit mistakes.

A Shaky Spring

Shirreffs entered the final spring scrimmage as the starter but he and Rosier were both less than impressive. Shirreffs finished the day 7-of-17 for 75 yards and one pick while orchestrating an 82-yard scoring drive that resulted in a field goal.

 Meanwhile, Rosier connected with Ahmmon Richards on a 72-yard score but threw a pair of interceptions – including a Malek Young pick-six – during an 8-for-18, 169-yard outing.

As a result of their inconsistent play, the coaching staff refused to name a leader in the QB race and referred to the job as “wide open” heading into the fall with Weldon and Testaverde (15-26, 116 yards and 1 INT at Texas Tech in 2014) still in the mix.

Jack Allison, the highest rated QB recruit on the roster couldn’t find his niche and wound up lost in the mix before announcing that he would transfer. Despite suffering a shoulder injury earlier in the spring, Allison actually put together a solid performance in the final scrimmage – going 11-for-15 (the game’s highest completion percentage) with 100 yards and a score.

The Promise of Perry

The future of the QB position arrived on campus in May, and early reports on Perry are all positive – including high praise from tutor Jameis Winston. Perry has all of the tools to be a great college quarterback and has drawn comparisons to Heisman Trophy winners Charlie Ward and Lamar Jackson.

Will N’Kosi Perry play this season? Definitely. Will he start as a true freshman? Probably. Will he be the next great Canes QB? I’m hesitant to annoint him this early.

After 15 years of Coker-Shannon-Golden, I’ve seen too many quarterbacks flop after being proclaimed the next Ken Dorsey. I haven’t forgotten the hoopla surrounding Kyle Wright – the top high school recruit in the nation. He was going to return our program to greatness after the Brock Berlin-era resulted in “ONLY” 20 wins over two years.

I remember the “Robert Marve for Heisman” signatures on the UMiami internet message boards after he broke Tim Tebow’s high school records.

Who can forget Jacory Harris telling the media he’d wear a “pimp suit” to his Heisman Trophy presentation?

Those letdowns over the last decade-plus are why I remain quietly optimistic regarding Perry. But I do have a few reasons why my confidence in Perry is greater than the names listed above.

The first thing Perry has going for him is Mark Richt. The man has produced more quality QBs than Coker, Shannon, and Golden combined.

Yes, Coker was Dorsey’s offensive coordinator under Butch Davis, but Rob Chudzinski was also on the staff and took over as OC when Coker became head coach. Chudzinski left prior to Berlin’s arrival in 2003 and the offense went into an immediate tailspin.

We also had Mark Whipple that worked with Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh prior to his hire as Hurricanes OC in 2009. Whipple showed promise early-on during that ’09 season but was fired a year later and is currently at UMass. In my opinion, Whipple is a good QB coach but I disliked his play calling.

Another reason the University of Miami should be successful with Perry at quarterback is something we terribly lacked under Shannon and Whipple: Competition.

If Perry doesn’t work out, we still have four years of Weldon and three years of Shirreffs, not to mention Artur Sitkowski, who arrives in 2018. I don’t know about other Cane fans, but I feel more secure about finding a QB among Perry-Weldon-Sitkowski than I did when Kirby Freeman was backing up Wright, or when nobody backed up Jacory and we had to burn Stephen Morris’ redshirt at Virginia in 2010 – something we’re still feeling the effects of today.

If Morris had that extra year, Kaaya probably gets redshirted in 2014 because Ryan Williams likely doesn’t blow out his knee as the backup QB. Even if Williams still gets injured, the true freshman Kaaya backs up Morris in 2014, then starts as a sophomore in 2015, and who knows if a less-experienced Kaaya still enters the draft following his junior season. Personally, I think he still goes pro (joining fellow RS-soph David Njoku in the draft) but if breaking the Miami passing records was a personal goal, he might return in 2017.

(Back on topic) Reason three: Lorenzo Lingard and Cam Davis: those two stud RBs will make life easy on whoever is behind center. When Wright was the starter a decade ago, Frank Gore had just entered the draft, Tyrone Moss was constantly out of shape, and Javarris James didn’t pan out. Meanwhile, Harris’ best statistical season came as a senior when he had Lamar Miller as the full-time starter. Prior to 2011, 5-star RB Graig Cooper was decent but injuries prevented him from living up to expectations, Storm Johnson transferred to UCF and Damien Berry – a converted safety – became the go-to running back.

Those three reasons – coaching, QB depth, and a talented stable of running backs – are why I’m optimistic about Perry. If he becomes the starter, he’ll have to earn the job, then fight to keep it – unlike Harris. It should also be noted that the 2011 season, Harris’ best year statistically, was the only season he had to beat out someone (Morris) for the starting job.

The only thing I could see preventing Perry from starting in game one is a lack of understanding in the playbook due to his late arrival at the end of May. But with FSU lurking in week three, I doubt Richt is going to show much of the playbook vs Bethune-Cookman. Although, Arkansas State is no pushover, especially in Jonesboro and hopefully we don’t get caught looking ahead to the Seminoles.

I admit that I’m biased and would like to see Shirreffs win the job because I watched Evan and his brother Bryant (now at UConn) in high school. But at the end of the day, I want the quarterback to be whoever gives The U its best shot at winning. Even if that guy is Augie DiBiase, Testaverde, or an unknown.

Looking Ahead: 2017 & Beyond

Personally, I think Rosier leaves as a graduate transfer after this season. That’s unless he shocks everyone in fall camp, wins the job, beats FSU and puts the QB controversy to bed. But if he doesn’t get the job, he’s good enough to play somewhere else and deserves a shot to showcase his talents for the 2019 NFL Draft.

The only scenario where I could see Perry NOT earning (at least) the co-starting job is injury or if he bombs in fall camp. He’s still a bit undersized and that could play a role in how much action he sees. If the O-line remains suspect, should we risk getting him injured and creating a gun-shy passer?

I  see everyone playing against BC, then Perry and Shirreffs or Rosier splitting time at Arkansas State. Going into FSU, it’s anyone’s guess, but I think Richt will use BC as a glorified practice and Arky State as the true season opener. In Tallahassee on Sept. 16, he’ll go with whoever gives us the best shot to win, even if it’s a two-QB system. I have to (partially) agree with DBC on Twitter when he says Perry won’t start until Toledo in week four. I think that’s the earliest Perry would be named the full-time starter. He could start prior to Toledo, but I can’t see him taking 100% of the first team snaps until then.

Regardless of what happens, it’s going to be interesting to see how things play out when fall camp opens in August. I’m certain we’ll be forced to wade through weeks of coach-speak regarding who’s the frontrunner. To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t have an idea until after the BC game. Hopefully something will be settled no later than FSU or Toledo, but you never know. As long as we find the right guy, I don’t care if it takes all season.

We have a loaded defense, a stud running back, and playmakers at receiver so the QB should lean on his supporting cast as much as possible. If we don’t turn it over, the D should consistently provide us with solid field position. We also have one of the best kickers in the nation, and sometimes there’s nothing wrong with settling for a field goal. Had we settled for a FG instead of forcing a pass into the endzone against FSU, we might be entering Tallahassee up 32-29 in the all-time series, instead of 31-30.

The next blog entry will take a look at the rest of the offense (hopefully). The running back position is pretty cut-and-dry, as is our go-to receiver and tight end. Whenever I add a new blog entry, I’ll post it on Twitter. You can subscribe to this blog to receive email updates and there is a comment section to leave your opinion.

For more detailed info on Shirreffs and Testaverde, you can visit the earlier blog entries titled: “Next Man Up” where I profiled two of the unknown candidates (at the time) to replace Kaaya. 

Thanks for reading. Go Canes!

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