CORAL GABLES — Malik Rosier wants to play so well that he makes everyone forget that he was considered the safe pick.
His experience, however limited — 13 games, one start — was more than the other contenders to be the Hurricanes’ starting quarterback. That’s why on Tuesday Mark Richt penciled him in, ending one round of offseason of question marks surrounding the spot Brad Kaaya once held and starting another.
Will Rosier, who has shown gunslinger tendencies in the past, rely on the playmakers around him to carry the offense? Will he throw a ball into a window that has closed? Will he scramble needlessly? Can he take a hit? The Hurricanes will find out soon, with a game at Florida State on Sept. 16 that looms as the largest challenge they’ll face this regular season.
After a practice that opened with players reacting to the news with a celebratory chant of “Malik,” Richt said Rosier, the redshirt junior from Mobile, Alabama, stood out from the pack. Not by “an unbelievable amount,” he said, but enough to win the job.
“Focus, discipline and accuracy,” Richt said. “He showed up focused every day on his job. He was disciplined in his fundamentals, his footwork, his reads, his passing fundamentals. And he was hitting his target. He did a very good job.”
Rosier’s mobility presents intriguing possibilities. He’s on the smaller side for a quarterback (6-foot-1, 215 pounds) and has decent speed, and though he won’t be confused for Tim Tebow, he’s not easy to bring down. He’s far more apt to run than Kaaya, who rarely crossed the line of scrimmage, and that will almost certainly make Richt’s run-pass option plays more dangerous; they didn’t work well last year with the statuesque Kaaya under center.
What Kaaya did well: drop dimes. Rosier hasn’t shown the ability to be an accurate passer in game action. In his lone career start (Oct. 31, 2015 at Duke) he displayed his arm strength, but several of his throws were 50-50 balls floated into coverage. He’ll need to show continued improvement as a passer to make Richt feel good about his decision.
Senior wide receiver Braxton Berrios, who enrolled with Rosier in 2014, said he has grown in “his decision making. … He’s always had great athleticism, but in his younger years when he flustered or got rushed he would make bad decisions. In that aspect, he has grown tremendously.”
The Hurricanes were 14th nationally in turnover margin last year, largely owing to the fact Kaaya threw seven interceptions in 421 attempts. In a school-record 1,188 career attempts, Kaaya threw 24 picks. Half of them came as a true freshman in 2014.
Junior running back Mark Walton said Rosier “puts the ball in tight windows,” a regular sight when Kaaya was running the offense.
“I like the way his game developed from last year,” Walton said, praising Rosier’s running ability and increased calm in the pocket. “He lets the plays develop. When he throws the ball, it’s on the money.”
Rosier’s scrimmage stats — he was a combined 25-of-39 for 441 yards, with five touchdowns and an interception — do not disprove that. His performance helped him beat out redshirt sophomore Evan Shirreffs (tall and smart, he completed 69.7 percent of his scrimmage throws) and freshmen N’Kosi Perry (highly skilled, but raw) and Cade Weldon (has yet to make an impression). It’s worth noting that Rosier and Shirreffs mostly faced second-stringers in UM’s two scrimmages, while the freshman had the rude introduction of facing Miami’s excellent first-string defense.
That’ll be all Rosier sees now, with UM breaking into scout teams in preparation for the Sept. 2 season-opener against Bethune-Cookman.
Rosier’s spot as a starter, as mentioned above, could be temporary. Shirreffs is the No. 2, and the two freshmen will “continue to learn,” Richt said. It would not be a surprise if Perry winds up playing this fall, since his physical gifts — teammates have raved about his ankle-breaking movement in the pocket and rifle arm — are far greater than the others. Richt didn’t discount the possibility of using a package QB, though he said he didn’t want to shuffle through starters. All four will remain locked-in with the game plan; no one’s banished to scout team.
It seems clear that Perry is the future, even though Rosier has two years of eligibility remaining. Four-star quarterback Artur Sitkowski, a 6-5, 215-pound prospect with a powerful arm, is committed for 2018. It’s easy to imagine him and Perry battling next spring.
But Rosier is the pick now, the only so-called veteran in the race. Richt, with a bevy of skilled receivers, a talented running back and a reliable tight end — not to mention a potentially great defense — wants safe. Can Rosier give him that?
And as he gets more comfortable, can he be more than just a guy keeping a seat warm?