Mark Richt looking for leadership — and a quarterback — after first Miami Hurricanes fall scrimmage

[Full stats report from Miami’s first scrimmage]

MIAMI GARDENS — For every Hurricanes player, the heat is on.

That goes double for the quarterbacks.

On a hot, humid Saturday morning at Hard Rock Stadium, Miami held its first scrimmage of the fall. It revealed more to the coaching staff about key position battles, including the four-man race to replace Brad Kaaya under center.

Mark Richt didn’t seem to be highly impressed by the work of Malik Rosier, Evan Shirreffs, N’Kosi Perry and Cade Weldon, but he was hardly despondent.

“It’s hard to be an experienced quarterback without experience,” he said, chuckling. “Whoever’s got to be the guy is going to be the guy for the first time. The guys that had the most experience in this practice and this system … they did better.”

That goes for all players. Richt mentioned that some newcomers struggled amid the steamy, low-90s heat and pressure of a simulated Saturday. The coach would not allow the defense to hit the quarterbacks, but aside from that, it was a game day minus a full house of screaming fans. The scrimmage was closed to the public and media.

According to Richt, each of the four contenders for the starting job took a spin with the first-string offense — against the second-string defense — and a turn with the No. 2 unit against the No. 1 defense.

Redshirt junior Rosier (8-14, 181 yards, three touchdowns) and redshirt sophomore Shirreffs (10-14, 132 yards, touchdown) had the best of it. True freshmen Perry (6-15, 68 yards, interception) and Weldon (2-10, 40 yards, interception) forced a few passes into coverage, Richt said. Walk-ons Vincent Testaverde (1-5, 3 yards) and Augie DiBiase (0-3) got work with the third-string units.

Richt said he expected his quarterbacks to struggled against defensive coordinator Manny Diaz‘ unit, which he called “very good — we all know that.” He said the “bulk of (Rosier’s) yardage and TDs were situational,” spotlighting a “nice” touchdown pass to senior tight end Chris Herndon in red-zone drills from the 16-yard line.

“I don’t like to make decisions right after a game, right after a scrimmage,” Richt said. “But scrimmages do matter. … The young guys are going to be better a week from now. Wherever they are now, a week from now, they’re going to be a lot better than they are today.”

His next comment could be viewed as challenge of sorts to Rosier and Shirreffs, entering Miami’s next scrimmage (Saturday on campus).

“The guys that have been around a long time, next week, how much more are they going to learn?” he said. “They may get better incrementally. The young guys ought to make a bigger improvement because they’re getting more comfortable.

“We’ll just see. I’ll tell a quarterback, when you drop back to throw the ball, don’t make your decision on the way back. As you’re dropping back, don’t decide where to go with the ball. Start deciding to do when you stick your foot in the ground. When you stick your foot in your ground, that’s when you check your first progression. Sometimes that can be true in coaching, in that I don’t neccessarily need to make the decision right this second. I’ve got to make sure I have all the information before I decide to pull the trigger. Same thing with the quarterbacks. You’ve got to gather all the information before you start making a decision.”

Richt did not say any players were injured. Asked about a report that junior running back Mark Walton was injured during the scrimmage and had to be helped off, Richt said Walton “bruised his hip — praise the Lord on that one.” Walton was later spotted walking around without outward sign of injury.

Walton (seven carries, 39 yards, touchdown) and sophomore Travis Homer (8-55, fumble) had the bulk of the work in the running game.  Among receivers, Braxton Berrios (scrimmage-high seven catches for 92 yards) and Ahmmon Richards (3-91, touchdown) shined brightest, and Dionte Mullins (32-yard touchdown catch) and Mike Harley (56-yard touchdown catch) scored.

On defense, redshirt junior linebacker Darrion Owens made a team-high six tackles. Sophomore safety Romeo Finley had five tackles and an interception. Other standouts included sophomore linebacker Shaq Quarterman (four tackles), sophomore cornerback Malek Young (two tackles and an interception) — “he seems to have an interception every time we have a scrimmage,” Richt said — junior safety Jaquan Johnson (two tackles and a blocked field goal Richt called “outstanding”) and sophomore defensive end Joe Jackson (two tackles and a sack).

Richt said redshirt sophomore defensive end Scott Patchan, returning from a knee injury, “had a pretty good day” — four tackles, three for loss, and two sacks.

He stopped short of calling the No. 1 defense “totally dominant” but made it clear they won the day. Its opponent, the second-string offense, missed a field goal but didn’t otherwise come close to scoring.

The first-string offense, Richt said, produced two touchdown drives and a field goal in long-field work against the second-string D.

“Hit some big plays, but you know, just not very consistent offensively,” Richt said. “Little disappointed in that.”

Part of the issue, Richt said, was “trying to play a lot of guys. Trying to play four quarterbacks. … It’s tough to get the consistency that you’d like.”

Perhaps soon, he won’t have to worry about that.

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