Want an idea of what it’s going to take for Brad Kaaya to make the Detroit Lions roster? Take a look at the quarterback they drafted at about the same spot last year.
Jake Rudock of Michigan and Fort Lauderdale’s St. Thomas Aquinas High School went to Detroit in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL draft, 191st overall. Kaaya, Miami’s all-time leader in passing yards, joins Rudock now as the Lions’ sixth-round draft choice in 2017, the 215th overall.
Miami Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt with Miami Hurricanes quarterback Brad Kaaya (15) and Miami Hurricanes wide receiver Stacy Coley (3) at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida on September 1, 2016. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
Rudock spent most of his rookie season on Detroit’s practice squad. Though promoted to the active roster in late November, he never played in a regular-season game and never rose higher than No. 3 on the depth chart, behind starter Matthew Stafford and Dan Orlovsky.
It’s unlikely that Kaaya will advance any more quickly, providing he convinces Lions coach Jim Caldwell to give him an extended look in the first place. The only reason Rudock has moved up on the food chain is that Detroit decided in February to move on from former backup Dan Orlovsky, a former fifth-round draft pick who has been bouncing around the league since 2005 without ever gaining much traction.
The long-term goal for Kaaya is to get a second contract and thus to gain some stability in the league. If he has a rookie season like Brandon Doughty did with the Dolphins last year, that would be fine. Doughty was a seventh-round pick.
If you want another picture of the challenge before Kaaya now, do you remember Kheeston Randall?
The Dolphins took him 215th overall, the same as Kaaya’s slot, in the 2012 NFL draft. He was a defensive tackle from Texas who made the roster as a rookie and made six tackles in 12 games.
Miami released him prior to the 2013 season. Cincinnati carried him on the active roster for a couple of weeks that year and the Vikings took a look at Randall in training camp in 2014 before releasing him.
Different position, different situation, but the problem is the same. From the sixth round on down, it’s a battle for survival. Kaaya will have to win that before anybody starts thinking about him as Stafford’s long-term backup.
What a shame it would be if Brad Kaaya doesn’t go high in the NFL draft after skipping what would have been his senior season at Miami.
Sure, it would be tough on Brad, the Hurricanes’ all-time leader in passing yards and completions, but consider the continued indecision about his replacement in Coral Gables.
Mark Richt can’t name a starter coming out of the spring practice sessions and both Malik Rosier and Evan Shirreffs have been around long enough to show what they can do. Meanhwhile, top recruit N’Kosi Perry, a beanpole at 6-feet-4 and 178 pounds, doesn’t arrive on campus until next month.
MIAMI GARDENS – Miami Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt with former Hurricanes quarterback Brad Kaaya (15) and wide receiver Stacy Coley (3) at Hard Rock Stadium on September 1, 2016. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
Kaaya may not have had the kind of blockbuster junior season that would have catapulted him into obvious first-round draft territory but he did throw 27 touchdown passes with just seven interceptions. That’s high efficiency, and it figures that he and Richt would have gotten more comfortable with each other if given another season to work together.
As it was, Kaaya got sacked way too much (25 times) which was partly the fault of Miami’s offensive line and partly his own. His footwork and his decision-making need to speed up before some NFL team is going to go crazy over him.
Depending on what you read in the pre-draft speculation chatter, Kaaya could slip all the way to the third-day developmental class, or some team might want to take him as high as the second or third round to school behind a certain starter.
Never that easy figuring out who should go and should stay. NFL scouts aren’t as adamant as they used to be about looking for quarterbacks from a pro-style offense, which diminishes any supposed bonus points that Kaaya might have earned at Miami. Also, there’s a drive to start first-round quarterbacks right away as NFL rookies, another relatively new trend, and Kaaya isn’t ready for that.
Overall, would staying with the Hurricanes for his senior season have gained Miami a few more victories in 2017 and pushed Kaaya significantly higher in next year’s NFL draft?
I’ll say yes to the first question and no to the second.
INDIANAPOLIS — Former Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya said Friday at the NFL Scouting Combine that he feels he could have won a national championship if he’d stayed at Miami.
But Kaaya has no regrets about his decision to bypass his senior season, as he’s long dreamed of playing in the NFL
“I thought of both scenarios, but at the end of the day it was an opportunity that I’ve wanted since I was six years old — to play in the National Football League,” Kaaya said. “And while I think I could have won a national championship and a conference championship had I stayed at Miami, it’s always been a dream of mine to play in the Super Bowl — and play in an NFC Championship or AFC Championship. Be a Pro Bowler. I’ve been watching the NFL since I was 6 years old. I believed in my decision. I’m not really regretting anything. I believe in myself. I’ve believed in myself every step of the way.”
Kaaya believes Miami will be a College Football Playoff contender in 2017.
“I think Miami., I think they’ll be in good hands,” Kaaya said. “We won the first bowl game in 10 years, finished on a five-game win streak, and that hadn’t been done since 2001. I think we made a lot of progress and changed the way that Miami is viewed in the public, in Florida and across the country. I think we reversed some of the, I guess, stigma that the U had. It’s been awesome. Coach Richt will have them back on the right page pretty soon. I think next season they’ll be a playoff contender, no doubt.”
Kaaya declined to predict who will succeed him at Miami.
“I dunno,” Kaaya said. “I really couldn’t tell you, man. All the QBs there are pretty good. I think no matter who the quarterback is, I think they’re going to be set. I don’t think they’ll be in a position where they’ll have to depend on a guy to have a 300-yard game every game and make extremely crazy plays. I think the defense will be great. I think the offense has a couple skills guys coming back, and the whole o-line returns. They’ll all be three-year starters on the –line. I think they’ll be set. Plus Mark Walton in the backfield too. he’s phenomenal. You’ll be hearing about him next year.”
Kaaya said Dak Prescott’s success after the Dallas Cowboys drafted him in the fourth round last season is encouraging. Many are predicting Kaaya to be a late-round draft choice.
“Just motivates me,” Kaaya said of Prescott. “It shows that it doesn’t matter what round you go, it doesn’t matter where you are, all you need is just one opportunity. Dak came in and focused. He clearly got better from the time he left college and up until when he was drafted, and I’m sure even after the draft he put in work. And it just shows what believing in yourself can do. I believe in myself and I believe in decision. I’ve believed in myself every step of the way and I felt that I can make an impact wherever I end up.”
As Kaaya meets with many teams here at the combine, he’s asked about various concepts used in the NFL. Kaaya feels he has an advantage in those meetings.
“A lot of it I’ve seen in my three (Miami) offenses,” Kaaya said.
Probably the last few chances to see Brad Kaaya in person, in other words, unless the junior decides he needs to do more before going out in the NFL draft.
Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya looks to throw during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Notre Dame, Saturday, Oct. 29, 2016, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
I’m increasingly of the opinion that he does need to do more, but Kaaya’s pro style game is never going to work until Miami fixes its offensive line problems. Already he’s taken too much punishment. Already Mark Richt has run out of ideas on how to make Kaaya get the ball out faster or move out of the pocket or do anything else to get the Hurricanes offense fully ignited again.
It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way for the 6-foot-4 star, who likely will finish No. 2 all-time behind Ken Dorsey in passing yards by a Miami quarterback.
The best scenario would be for some NFL team that believes in Kaaya to draft him in the first round and set him aside for a season of training. That’s what the Los Angeles Rams did with No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff from the 2015 draft.
Goff played on a California Bears team that was 4-5 in the Pac 12 his junior year but won the Armed Forces Bowl 55-36 over Air Force. Miami could still rally to a similar finish with Kaaya, improving his overall profile along the way, but Kaaya is never going to reach Goff’s ridiculous total of 43 touchdown passes in his final college season.
As a matter of fact, it’s difficult distinguishing Kaaya’s stats from the other quarterbacks remaining on Miami’s 2016 schedule.
See if you can pick his out from the following strings while matching the others to Nathan Peterman of Pittsburgh, Kurt Benkert of Virginia, Ryan Finley of North Carolina State and Daniel Jones of Duke.
11 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, 128.2 rating
17 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, 126.5 rating
13 touchdowns, 6 interceptions, 144.8 rating
12 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, 152.3 rating
13 touchdowns, 6 interceptions, 138.1 rating
Kaaya is answer C, and he doesn’t really stand out by numbers alone.
The others are (A) Jones, (B) Benkert, (D) Peterman and (E) Finley.
Both Kaaya and Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer had their moments in Saturday’s high-profile game at South Bend. NFL scouts will see the Fighting Irish quarterback as more athletic and Kaaya as more of a ready-made pro. It’s all in the eye of the beholder.
What I see right now though is a challenge for Kaaya to finish strong, beginning with Saturday’s possible shootout with a Pittsburgh team that has scored at least 36 points in seven straight games. That’s the longest active streak in the FBS category.
Pitt has three losses but all have been to teams currently ranked in the AP Top 25 – North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Oklahoma State.
Make it work in the season’s final month and Kaaya’s draft stock could rise dramatically again.
If University of Miami guard Danny Isidora is right about what’s ailing the offensive line, it should be an easy fix.
Quarterback Brad Kaaya was sacked eight times in last week’s loss at Virginia Tech, a number assistant coach Thomas Brown believes is the worst he’s ever been associated with. As if the number isn’t ugly enough, consider that it tied a career high for Kaaya — not for most career sacks in a game, but in any entire month during his three seasons as a Hurricane.
Isidora said Tuesday that he believes the line needs to get nastier. If heading into Notre Dame on Saturday while coming off an eight-sack performance isn’t enough to get blockers in a fighting mood, what is?
“As an offensive line we need to play more nasty,” Isidora said.
The focal point this week, he added, is “Technique and toughness — that’s what we’re working on. We’ve got to pick it up.”
If they don’t, Kaaya will continue to be picking up himself — and maybe more molars. Line coach Stacy Searels, as fond of sugarcoating as he is of sacks, was asked for the second consecutive week to assess his unit’s performance.
“Let’s go back to our last quote,” Searels said. “Did you see the game?”
Searels, however, was philosophical about the task ahead.
“Do you ever enjoy not winning?” he said. “No, no. But do I enjoy working with these guys, working to see them go through adversity and how they’re going to handle it, because that’s what life is, how you handle adversity? And there’s adversity right now. It’s hit. It’s hit hard.”
Kaaya has been, which probably is a reason that for the second consecutive week, Richt made his quarterback off-limits to the media.
“Of course we give each other reassurance,” Isidora said of the communication between quarterback and blockers. “We have to. I mean, we’re a team. That’s what we’ve got to do.”
Although Kaaya has taken responsibility for many sacks, Isidora isn’t having any of it.
“I put that on us,” Isidora said. “I wouldn’t put it on Brad. It’s not his job.”
Kaaya was sacked twice in the first four games combined. But as the Hurricanes have stepped up in the level of competition, Kaaya has gone down, suffering 13 sacks the past three games. He’s on pace for a career-high 25 sacks.
“All I can tell you is when we meet, everybody’s got a piece of this pie, so to speak,” Richt said. “Everybody’s got a job to do.”
For example, the running backs, wildly effective the first few weeks, could help by giving Kaaya more manageable down-and-distance situations. Richt pointed out that late in the Penn State-Ohio State game, he noticed how the Buckeyes had issues with pass protection because it was obvious they needed to throw.
“These D-ends are pretty good across the country,” Richt said. “I think Ohio State has one of the better lines in America, so I’m not saying anything bad about them. I’m just saying it’s hard to pass pro down after down like that. So we have to get better on first down. We have to get better on second down. We’ve got to get better running the ball.
“It’s an everybody thing. It’s not just an offensive line thing.”
But being the line coach, Searels takes eight sacks personally.
“We’ve got a standard and the standard’s set real high here at Miami,” he said. “Real high. There’s been some outstanding offensive lines here. And we’re not going to lower that standard and we’re going to demand that we do it right until we get it right. We’ve got a ways to go there.”
If getting angry about eight sacks is the first step, perhaps they’ve at least made it that far.
“It’s being nasty, it’s cutting, it’s everything,” Isidora said. “Finishing your block. Putting a guy on his back. We need to play to that standard.”
Rushing for 300 yards, scoring 70 points — nobody expected that to continue for the University of Miami. It was a given that once the ACC schedule kicked in, so would the brakes on this juggernaut.
But just as UM’s top 10 ranking has disappeared, so has the video-game-speed offense. With the Hurricanes failing to crack 20 points the past two weeks, the search for answers ranges from an offensive line that has broken down in pass protection to running backs and receivers suddenly silenced.
Also speaking volumes: Several players and coaches talked Tuesday of the need for all 11 players to be on the same wavelength, suggesting communication isn’t right. And that’s a problem, considering Thursday’s game is at raucous Virginia Tech.
But beyond all this is the focal point of the offense — what’s supposed to be the given in this equation — junior quarterback Brad Kaaya.
Despite gaining a quarterback for a head coach in Mark Richt, Kaaya is averaging a career-low 228 yards per game, a drop of 41 yards from a year ago and 18 off his freshman season. After six games, he’s already one interception shy of his season total of five last year. For a player thought to be auditioning for the NFL, that’s a big bite out of his production — bite being the key word.
Kaaya was rocked so hard early against Florida State two weeks ago he lost the most famous molar in South Florida. The last-ditch effort against North Carolina on Saturday ended with a strip-sack-fumble.
It’s no wonder that when pass protection was mentioned, offensive line coach Stacy Searels snapped, “Did you watch the game? Did you see the last two plays? Not very dang good.”
No need to drill that into his players. Seeing that tooth rolling on the grass, lineman Tyree St. Louis said, “was a terrible thing for us. That made us try to step our game up a little bit more.”
Kaaya has found sidestepping questions about his performance easier than sidestepping defensive linemen.
“I’ll have to look back on that towards the end of the season,” he said. “You can’t really dwell too much on a couple of games. I think we started off pretty good. Just overall as an offense we just didn’t execute the last couple of games. We just have to get everyone on the same page. It starts with me.”
At least one anonymous NFL scout agrees. A recent analysis on NFL.com described Kaaya as “average,” needing a “clean pocket” to be effective and being “non-athletic” — terms not associated with his game before.
Whether it’s fair to pin that much on Kaaya is a question. First, consider how much the offense as a whole has sputtered. UM was averaging 51 points per game in its rise to No. 10. That has been sliced to 22.3 against tougher, ACC opponents. But interestingly enough, the primary difference has been in the running game, where the average plummeted from 7.7 per carry to 3.46. Rushing yards per game has dropped even more, from 272 to 105.
The surprise: The passing game has suffered only marginally, from 242 yards per game to 226.
“We’re in the right position, we’re just not making the plays,” running back Mark Walton said of the offense in general. “The play-calling is there. Everybody’s just got to make the plays. We’re killing ourselves.”
Richt, a former All-State quarterback at Boca High, said when he assesses quarterbacks, he looks more at passing accuracy than actual completion percentages.
“And so if a play is protected well and he’s directing a ball to a receiver, if he throws it on the money, whether he catches it or not, he’ll get a positive grade,” Richt said.
“He’s missed a couple of shots but if you watch anybody across America, even in the NFL, not everybody hits it right on the money,” Richt said. “But I think he’s adjusted well. … He’s really been a very good leader for us.”
Asked where he looks as he seeks answers, Richt said, “Make sure everybody understands their assignments.”
Searels, a former Hokies offensive line coach, knows Blacksburg isn’t the place you go for a nice, quiet conversation.
“It’ll be loud and it’ll be electric,” he said.
Offensive coordinator Thomas Brown can handle electric. What he can’t handle is seeing his offense short-circuited by down-and-distance as Richt tries to call plays.
“You get in third-and-25, third-and-17, there’s not many great calls that can be made,” Brown said.
As far as deep passes go, Brown said, “We’ve got to complete them. We’ve got guys open. I think part of it comes down to making sure our protection is solid enough for where Brad can step up and deliver balls. But when it comes down to our receivers and our tight ends being matched up with guys one on one, we’re going to have some opportunities to take some shots and get some guys open because they’ll run past people. They’ve done it consistently.
“We’ve just got to be able to connect and make those shots. They can flip a field and flip a game.”
MIAMI GARDENS — Brad Kaaya had only 135 yards in the University of Miami’s opener.
He didn’t have a touchdown pass Saturday night and had two interceptions.
If you think he’s sounding alarm bells, think again.
“We’re 2-0,” Kaaya said after the 38-10 victory over Florida Atlantic. “I don’t know how many points we’re averaging. We probably averaged, what? Fifty points? Fifty-four points? If we can just keep that going, I’m fine with it.
“I’m all about wins. I don’t really care if I throw 30 incompletions. As long as we win, that’s all that matters. I could have thrown for 400 yards tonight and if we had lost everyone would be saying this is the worst day ever, so I’m fine with wins.”
Kaaya finished 17-of-31 for 191 yards. Not bad, but also not the kind of numbers expected of him. The last time he failed to throw a TD pass was the 58-0 Clemson loss last October. He threw four TD passes against Florida A&M last week, but his 135 yards were his fewest since that Clemson game.
And two interceptions Saturday? He had five all of last year.
On the first, he said the Owls gave a look they didn’t expect, allowing the defense to undercut the route.
“I didn’t see him,” Kaaya said.
On the second, he could hardly be blamed.
“I just got hit in the back,” he said. “I can’t really control that, but I was throwing a back-shoulder to Stacy (Coley). He was down the field and I just got kind of pile-driven as I threw the ball. I don’t know if you caught that or not — but I did.”
Everyone in the room, Kaaya included, got a laugh out of that.
“Good thing that didn’t cost us seven points,” he said. “It cost us three points. That’s something that we’ll clean up.”
No cleaning up of any sort is needed regarding UM’s running attack, which is why the Hurricanes frankly have not needed superhuman performances from Kaaya. Chances are, those days will come as UM steps up in class on its schedule.
For now, Kaaya is enjoying five individual 100-yard rushing performances through two games, including a 155-yard, four-touchdown night from Mark Walton and a 123-yard night from Joe Yearby, who also scored once.
“That’s awesome,” Kaaya said. “If those guys — Mark, Joe, Gus (Edwards) — can keep that up, I think it’s going to be a great year for this offense. Being able to have that every single game is going to be huge for me and huge for everyone.”