CORAL GABLES — Even though coaches insist it’s an open competition with no early leader, there could be no question who was the best quarterback on the University of Miami practice field Saturday.
For that matter, there was no doubt who made the best receiving target, either.
Unfortunately for coach Mark Richt, the two guys in question tossing the ball around were quarterback Brad Kaaya and tight end David Njoku, former Hurricanes preparing for the NFL draft.
That leaves things in the hands of a five-man competition featuring last year’s backup, redshirt junior Malik Rosier, plus redshirt freshman Jack Allison, sophomore Evan Shirreffs, redshirt junior Vincent Testaverde and freshman Cade Weldon. As if the field weren’t crowded enough, there’s also highly regarded prospect N’Kosi Perry, due to enroll in May.
Coaches are splitting the reps evenly and, as quarterbacks coach Jon Richt said, “not trying to judge anybody too early and get too many ideas in our head.”
Nobody is likely to win the job in the spring, in other words, even though Rosier is taking it seriously enough to have the mindset that any contender could put a major dent in his chances.
“If you take off one day and you have a bad day, you might go from first to second from first to third from first to last,” Rosier said.
With a reputation as a bit of a gunslinger, Rosier said he’s focusing on consistency. By saying so, it appears it is message-received from coaches. When you’re dealing with a new quarterback running your offense, the last thing you want is one who doesn’t appreciate ball security.
“They’ll have to be the guy that not necessarily is the best skill set or anything like that but he’s going to be the most consistent player that’s going to get us in the right play, make the right decisions,” Richt said. “Day to day, play by play, he’s going to put us in a position to win. He’s going to take care of the football and be consistent.”
And have an air of confidence the rest of the team can feed off of.
“Everyone on the team is looking for one of us quarterbacks to step up and be that leader,” Shirreffs said.
Saturday marked the first practice in pads, although players did not execute tackling to the ground. Real hitting, Richt acknowledged, tends to change some quarterbacks, so the focus for coaches is evaluating QBs as leaders and decision-makers, especially in the meeting room.
“We call on them individually,” Richt said. “ … They’ve done a great job of being assertive. Everybody is firing back quick answers and they’re right on just about 98 percent of the time. But the few times they’ll correct each other and it’s good.”
Rosier, for one, is glad Kaaya is still around. Just the other day, he was asking Kaaya for tips on reading the way receiver Ahmmon Richards likes to run routes.
“I really miss the kid,” Rosier said.
Richt said Weldon is “doing an awesome job” although it appears he’s going through many of the same tribulations most freshman QBs do.
“He’s coming along,” Rosier said. “I mean, he gets so frustrated. He was like me in the spring (last year). Struggling, just couldn’t get it, the defense is moving so fast. The offense, you’re trying to learn it, it’s so fast.”
Despite the competition, Rosier said the QBs are going out of their way to help one another. The constant buzz: “Hey, what did you see on this play?” Rosier said.
In that regard, Rosier tells Weldon not to sweat it.
“I told him, ‘Take it one play at a time. If you don’t know, back up, wait a second. If they yell and scream, that’s fine, that’s good. But as long as you know what you’re doing before every snap, that’s the biggest thing you need to learn,’ ” Rosier said.
A year ago, there was no doubt Kaaya was the man. Shirreffs said this new, five-way race hasn’t changed his outlook much.
“It’s not too different,” he said. “You know that last year was for the backup job and this year is for the starting job. But we’re all working just like we did last year. It’s not like we had to pick it up now because we’ve been working ever since the Richts have been here, ever since we stepped foot on campus.”
SPRING FOOTBALL 2017
Position-by-position previews and projected depth charts: