Miami Hurricanes football: Will UM find its next game-changing quarterback in 2017?

The Hurricanes are back on Greentree on Aug. 1. Let’s go position-by-position and tell you what we know, what we don’t know, and what we want to learn this month. 

2017 Miami Hurricanes Camp Preview Series
QB | RB | WR | TE | OL | DL | LB | DB | ST

Starting off with the most important topic of them all: who’s going to be the quarterback?

If your team has a good one, you probably have a good team. Miami was as fortunate last year, as much as Brad Kaaya’s faults were exposed. He’s in the NFL now, and the spotlight will shine on someone new.

But who?

In a shoot-your-shot sports culture where everyone’s got a take, Mark Richt says he’ll need to wait until the second scrimmage of camp before naming a starter. He’s working with a pair of true freshmen, a redshirt sophomore and a redshirt junior, the latter of whom is the only one who has taken a meaningful college snap. Perry, if you go by recruiting rankings, is by far the most talented. While the buzz around him this summer has been nothing but positive, Richt maintains he’ll need to see if Perry can handle the heat — and adds that everyone has a chance at winning the job.

Quarterback Evan Shirreffs (16) warms up as Cade Weldon (17), Augie DeBaise (20) and Malik Rosier (12) look on before the Hurricanes’ spring scrimmage in Boca Raton on April 22, 2017. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)

Projected depth chart

12 – Malik Rosier – R-Jr. (6-1, 216)
or
5 – N’Kosi Perry – Fr. (6-4, 185)
or
16 – Evan Shirreffs – R-Soph. (6-5, 216)
17 – Cade Weldon – Fr. (6-2, 212)
14 – Vincent Testaverde – R-Jr. (6-2, 205)

Numbers to know

Kaaya started three years and left early after becoming Miami’s all-time leader in passing yards (9,968), attempts (1,188) and completions (720). He finished third in touchdowns (69) and completion percentage (60.6).

Rosier appeared in six games as a backup, and did more damage on the ground (two carries, 65 yards, touchdown) than he did through the air (2-for-4, 32 yards).

The only on-field highlights produced by this group, to this point, came from Rosier at Duke in 2015. He started in place of an injured Kaaya at Duke and won, going 20-of-29 for 272 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. (You may recall other events from that night.)

Miami had the 24th-most efficient passing attack in the country (149.64 rating), finished 19th in yards per attempt (8.4) and was 37th in scoring (34.3 points per game), all significant improvements over 2015 and 2014 in each category.

Eleven FBS teams threw fewer interceptions than Miami (seven).

The Hurricanes were fairly explosive, finishing 34th in passing plays of 20-plus yards (50) and ninth in throws of 30-plus (29).

UM loses receiver Stacy Coley and tight end David Njoku, who combined for 106 catches, 1,452 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Quote of note

“Everybody’s excited about N’Kosi because he’s new. We’re in a position where two true freshmen actually have a chance to win the job. Cade could win it. N’Kosi could win it. But Evan could win it. Malik could win it. Could one of those veteran guys be further along at this point in taking the lead? [He] could have been, but [he] didn’t.

“I don’t want everybody to feel like it’s all about N’Kosi, because it’s not. It’s about, who’s the guy I have the most trust in to run this football team. If it’s N’Kosi, awesome. But I believe they all have the skillset to get the job done.” — Mark Richt on the QB race

Breakdown

Is the future now? 

Fans and UM staffers are excited about Perry for good reason. He ranked as high as 84th among all 2017 players, per ESPN, and the third-best dual-threat QB. He arrives in an age where true freshmen can shine (see: Hurts, Jalen; Jackson, Lamar; Watson, Deshaun). He can do things Kaaya couldn’t — let’s put it this way: it’s been a while since UM players have spoke of a quarterback shaking defenders out of their shoes (a story offensive tackle Tyree St. Louis relayed this summer).

While Richt hasn’t directly said Perry will be another Charlie Ward, it’s probably not an accident he keeps bringing him up while discussing his freshman. The reason Ward won a Heisman, aside from his tremendous physical ability, was his point-guard-like decision-making skills. Richt needs to see how Perry thinks the game under duress, but has already praised his mobility and arm strength. If he doesn’t make bad decisions, those qualities could make a dangerous quarterback.

And that’s even if Richt weans him on the playbook. Offenses in college football keep winning with quarterbacks who leave the defense guessing “run or pass” until the last second. Richt’s RPO calls didn’t work as well with Kaaya, who didn’t cross the line of scrimmage too often. Perry could make them sizzle.

Then again, he still hasn’t worn shoulder pads on UM’s practice field.

Shaq Quarterman (right) likes what he sees from N'Kosi Perry so far. (Matt Porter/The Palm Beach Post)

Linebacker Shaq Quarterman (right) likes what he sees from N’Kosi Perry so far. (Matt Porter/The Palm Beach Post)

Who else will make a run at it? 

It seems like a mature enough group to handle a quarterback competition, and the results regardless of who wins. Richt would no doubt like someone to make it a little awkward, so to speak.

As the only player with action under his belt, Rosier has reason to feel good about his chances, especially he doesn’t want to be a backup quarterback for the third straight year. Shirreffs, a lightly regarded recruit in 2015, would like to pen an underdog story, as would walk-on Testaverde and Weldon, who wants to be known as more than “the other QB recruit in this class.” The group lost Jack Allison, a four-star recruit in 2016 who got hurt in spring ball and split. He’s an ‘Eer now.

One nugget about Shirreffs, who has drawn praise from coaches for his intelligence and footwork: he gained 10 pounds during the summer, according to a source, and made major gains in the weight room. That’ll help his case.

In his first year, Richt wanted to see if anyone could challenge Kaaya. He expressed his disappointment that no one did. For some, this will be their best shot at starting in college, and holding onto it might be tough.

At Georgia in 2006, Richt had Matthew Stafford, a future No. 1 overall pick, as a freshman. Joe Tereshinski and Joe Cox started games before Stafford that year, and you may not know those names.

“I didn’t know I was going to play him,” Richt said, trying to recall the situation that led to Stafford winning the job. “He struggled a little more in the beginning than I thought he would. … He threw the ball so hard our guys, it would hit them in the chest and then go ‘bing,’ our guys couldn’t hardly catch the ball and the more incompletions he had the harder he threw it because he was frustrated, and we were like, ‘We have to do something.'”

In Week 3 against Colorado, Stafford was yanked for Cox, who threw a winning touchdown pass and earned the next start, against Mississippi. He struggled. “Then we were like, ‘OK, Stafford is the guy, we will just have to take our bumps and bruises,’ and so that season was a little bit like that.”

In case you forgot, Miami plays its biggest game of the year in Week 3 — Sept. 16 at FSU — so if it is your habit to pray, start asking for clarity now.

Anticipate ups and downs

No matter who wins the job, it’s fair to expect Miami’s quarterback play to drop off, perhaps significantly. If this group of Miami quarterbacks can’t make decisions up to Richt’s standard, things could look a lot like Georgia, 2006: more interceptions (16) than touchdowns (12), and a 9-4 record on the strength of an excellent defense.

It’s easy to believe in Perry, who threw for 4,085 yards, 56 touchdowns and six interceptions his final two years at Ocala-Vanguard High; he also scored 15 touchdowns on the ground and extended dozens of plays with his legs. The defenses operate a lot faster in the ACC. Shirreffs and Rosier are good athletes who haven’t been consistent, while Weldon had a slow start in spring drills.

The good news: UM’s offense has a lot to work with, like several speedy receivers (Ahmmon Richards, Braxton Berrios, Mike Harley, Jeff Thomas among them), a premier tailback (Mark Walton), one of the ACC’s best tight ends (Chris Herndon) and an offensive line that should be improved. The defense should be good enough to keep them in any game. So if UM is going to break in a new QB, maybe this is the year to do it.

And if you’re really trying to dream, maybe one of them is good enough to make everyone reset their expectations for Miami. Adding a game-changing quarterback a year after losing the program’s all-time leading passer … the Canes couldn’t be that lucky, could they? The semi-hot take here: with average quarterback play, UM should win a lot of games. That’s another reason why Richt plans to be so careful. This isn’t a rebuilding year. He’s looking for a guy to build around, someone for that top-rated 2018 class to get excited about. Is anyone here up for that challenge?

***

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