Get ready for one of the most intriguing spring QB battles at Miami in years

N’Kosi Perry (left) hopes to challenge Malik Rosier (right) for the starting job. (Matt Porter/The Palm Beach Post)

[March Madness: Canes to face a Cinderella darling]

We’re about to see if Malik Rosier can shake the struggles, if N’Kosi Perry is ready to rock after redshirting, if Jarren Williams is a quick study and if Cade Weldon can make an impact.

A good quarterback battle makes spring football spicier, and this one should be spicy.

Why? There’s no guarantee that the starter during Miami’s most successful season in 14 years will keep his spot.

The Hurricanes (10-3) won 10 games and played in the Orange Bowl, both for the first time since 2003. They reached their first ACC title game and were in the hunt for a College Football Playoff spot until crashing against Clemson in Charlotte. That was with Rosier, an upperclassman who showed flaws in his first season as a starter. Richt enters his third season with a tough call: trust the imperfect veteran, or one of the talented newcomers.

He’ll start to shape his thinking beginning March 20.

“Malik, like everywhere else, is going to have to prove it,” he said recently. “There are no scout-teamers in the spring. Everybody’s got a chance to show what they’ve got.”

Rosier is a tough runner and a strong-armed passer. He enters his third year in Richt’s system, and has a year under his belt as a starter. However, accuracy has never been his strength. In a phone interview last Thursday, Rosier described his completion percentage — 54 percent on the season, 50.7 in the final three months, 44.9 in the final three games — as “OK. It definitely needs to go up.”

In fairness to Rosier: it didn’t help that top receiver Ahmmon Richards was hurt all year, sure-handed running back Mark Walton was lost in October and tight end Chris Herndon went down in late November. But his misfires in season-ending losses to Pitt, Clemson and Wisconsin soured fans, and had him back in Mobile, Alabama after the season to regroup with David Morris, his old quarterback coach.

“He watched all my games and he said there were a couple small things that were throwing my throwing form off,” Rosier said. “The longer the season went … I got away from the fundamentals.”

On questions of mechanics, Morris was deferential to UM’s coaching staff (incidentally, UM quarterbacks coach Jon Richt, after graduating from Mars Hill in 2013, worked as a trainer for Morris’ QB Country office in Nashville). He did notice Rosier, a right-handed former high school baseball catcher, “would occasionally fly open” from his left side as he cocked his throwing arm, as would a catcher throwing from his knees.

“That really was the main thing,” said Morris, who is high on Rosier’s talent but admits his accuracy must improve. “If there was another thing, it’s usually [to] get that left foot planted in the ground and try not over-stride. I think he got it immediately. I think they’ve touched on it before. If you can understand that going into the offseason, you can really grow.”

While the coaching staff trusts Rosier and expresses faith in him publicly, they’re critical behind closed doors. Days after losing in the Orange Bowl, Rosier was in the film room with Jon Richt for a tough 90-minute session.

“They didn’t think I played exceptionally bad, but they didn’t think I played exceptionally well,” Rosier said. “They thought I just kind of did my job, which is something they’re pushing to change. Last year was my first year starting. I was trying to do my job. This year, they’re pushing for leadership. It’s not good enough to just be good at your job. They want to see that person who’s going to make everyone else great. You’ve got to make the O-line great. You’ve got to push them to be better than what they think they can be. … You did your job, but what did you do extra to help us win that game?”

Against Wisconsin, Rosier was told he didn’t do enough.

“We went up 17 points, and when they started catching up, nothing I did really helped the team get back on track and take the lead over,” he said. “That’s something we’re trying to fix, we’re trying to change.”

Another issue on the mend: Rosier said he gained weight during the season, partly to protect him in the run game. Rosier, listed at 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds, said he got to 226 last year. He reports an offseason shedding of 10 pounds after early morning cardio sessions before UM’s regular workouts. His roommate, receiver Ahmmon Richards, said Rosier often eats salads with grilled chicken and shrimp, with Italian dressing for extra flavor.

“There were certain plays that they felt like if had lost five or 10 pounds, that guy that hit my foot that stopped me from getting another 15 to 20 yards might have missed,” said Rosier, who rushed for 3.57 yards per carry and five touchdowns. “I might have been able to extend the play longer. I feel faster. I feel healthier. I feel more agile. I feel more explosive.”

“Agile and explosive” is also a way to describe Perry, a 6-foot-4, 185-pound four-star recruit in the 2017 class. Rosier said he enjoys mentoring him.

“You can start seeing him becoming more of a leader,” Rosier said. “Last year they were telling him things he needed to know, and this year he can explain why he needs to know it. His knowledge of the game is getting so much better. Everyone knows he has a cannon for an arm, he’s an accurate guy. But just to see his mind open up and start to understand concepts, it’s going to help him in the spring and the fall.”

Rosier said Williams, who enrolled in January and participated in pre-spring conditioning, is “just learning” after nine weeks on campus.

“He’s trying to lead, trying to do his job, but he’s got to learn,” Rosier said. “Things are going to go fast. I’ve told him multiple times to just slow it down. If you need an extra second to understand the defense, take it.” As for his skills, Rosier described him as “another very accurate guy, he has a strong arm, he’s athletic. For him, it’s going to be about how fast he can learn this offense. The coaches want all the quarterbacks to compete, but if you don’t know what you’re doing, there’s no way you can compete at a high level. He’s a smart guy. Once you tell him once or twice he picks it up.”

Weldon, a three-star recruit who redshirted with Perry, has had a quiet start to his career. Would-be redshirt junior Evan Shirreffs, Rosier’s backup last year, announced his plans to transfer.

Mark Richt has said he’ll give all his quarterbacks a chance to compete. He wants to see what Perry and Co. can do. But he has made it clear several times Rosier still has the starting job. After all, when Miami faces LSU in Arlington, Texas on Sept. 2, Rosier will be a fifth-year senior. He knows the language. No quarterback on the roster has a better grasp of Richt’s playbook. Rosier enters the spring as the No. 1.

That may change come summer.


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