By Steve Gorten, Special to the Post
CORAL GABLES – The Hurricanes’ starting quarterback, Brad Kaaya, also happens to be one of Braxton Berrios’ best friends.
So it’s a safe bet Berrios will let Kaaya know if he feels he isn’t getting enough passes this fall.
Berrios, who thrived as a third-down threat two years ago before relinquishing that role to Rashawn Scott last year, is no longer a situational slot receiver. The junior starts this season as “an every-down option,” coach Mark Richt noted after Friday’s practice, “who can do it all.” That includes being the guy Kaaya once again looks for on third downs.
“The thing of it is, our offense is structured where we don’t have him as the main target,” Richt said. “He may be the first progression, second or third. The defense, a lot of times, dictates where the ball goes, if the quarterback does it right.”
Richt said he wants his up-tempo offense to be “two-deep at three-receiver sets,” meaning newcomers such as Ahmmon Richards and Dayall Harris will get an opportunity to contribute. In addition to Stacy Coley, the team’s top returning receiver with 47 catches, 689 yards and four touchdowns, the ‘Canes are counting on Berrios to be productive, as well as a leader.
“You always want to try to take that role if you can,” Berrios said. “As long as you have influence, people will listen to you if you do the right things yourself. So I welcome it with open arms.”
Quarterback Malik Rosier said Berrios is “doing a great job at leading.” He is also running “very detailed” routes” in practice.
“One thing I know about Braxton – if you tell him to run eight yards, he runs eight yards on the dot,” Rosier said. “When you know Braxton is out there, you know the routes are going to be perfect. That’s huge for us [quarterbacks] because a lot of our routes are timing-based routes.”
After 21 catches for 232 yards and three touchdowns in 2014, Berrios had just 12 for 86 and didn’t score a touchdown last year. His most notable achievement was a 60-yard run in the Sun Bowl that accounted for nearly half of the Hurricanes’ total yardage in that game. It was the longest rush of the season for Miami.
He then caught eight passes for 127 yards and a 43-yard touchdown in UM’s spring game, leaving everyone wondering whether he can build on that success this fall.
“You just keep working. It’s never enough. You can’t sit back on it,” Berrios said of that performance. “I haven’t thought about it since that day.”
Like many of his teammates, Berrios, now fully healthy after two injury-plagued seasons, said he shed body fat this summer; he wouldn’t disclose how much, but noted he feels “a little bit leaner, a little bit faster, a little bit stronger” than in spring. The first two days of camp, Berrios has lined up on the outside as well as slot, “cross-training” at both spots.
“I think we’re going to switch it up [this season],” Berrios said. “I know I’m going to work outside. I know I’m going to work slot. There’s really no tell-tale sign of what I’m going to do.”
Berrios said the main difference for him on the outside as opposed to slot is that “a lot of times you have a man right on you, a yard off, so release is a big thing you don’t necessarily have to do as much on the inside.”
The mostly unproven receiving corps has looked crisp in practice so far, Berrios said, adding, “We look fast. We’re catching the ball well.”
Younger receivers, such as Richards, fellow freshman Sam Bruce and Harris, a junior college transfer, have “caught on quicker than expected” and “all of those guys, they’re going to have to help us.”
The same goes for Berrios, who wouldn’t mind becoming the ‘Canes’ go-to guy on third downs again.
“Definitely. I’d love to,” Berrios said. “Third down, second, first and, hopefully, fourth as well.”