In the coming weeks, there will be a lot of ink spilled—well, at least the internet equivalent of ink—about the Hurricanes’ quarterback situation. Here’s what we know right now: Ryan Williams is out until at least September 20th and barring miraculous play from someone else against Louisville and Nebraska—if he can’t make it back by then—he’ll get the reins at that time. Al Golden has stated his desire to cut the competition to two competitors (cough*Jake Heaps and Kevin Olsen*cough) early on in camp. And that’s pretty much all we know for sure. What does it mean for all involved? What follows is a series of educated guesses. Take them for what you will.
Ryan Williams: The Guy*
[*Well at least after September 20th or so.] Ryan Williams is a RS senior who transferred to Coral Gables from Memphis after the 2011. Despite winning a high school state championship in South Florida, he was just a two-star recruit and had to take a lengthy route to Coral Gables. After losing the quarterback battle to Stephen Morris two years ago, he served as backup in 2012 and 2013, picking up a little playing time against poor competition both years. Last year, he was 22-of-32 for 369 yards (11.5 YPA) with three touchdowns and a pick. Certainly nice numbers, but they came against Florida Atlantic, Savannah State, South Florida and Virginia. Expected to start this year, Williams tore his ACL in spring practice. So how is the ACL recovery going? Reportedly, quite well. Numerous beat writers have quotes from Golden saying Ryan is recovering as well as possible and has a real chance at being back for the Nebraska game. If not then, the Duke game the following week would probably be an opportune time to return (side note: this schedule, man). When Ryan does eventually take the field, as long as the rust doesn’t bother him too much, Miami should get a very solid quarterback to direct the attack. He likely won’t set the world on fire and that’s okay. His arm strength definitely leaves a bit to be desired, especially a year after canon-slinger Stephen Morris chucked flaming rockets down the field. But Williams can likely give Miami consistency at the quarterback position, something Morris struggled to find a season ago due to both his decision-making and bum ankle. With Miami’s wide receivers, solid quarterback play will definitely get the job done and Williams has the savvy and ability to make good decisions and hit the intermediate routes that Morris struggled with last season. If nothing else, the Hurricanes’ passing game should look a lot different than last year’s largely all-or-nothing, bombs away outfit.
Jake Heaps: The Guy*?
[*Well at least until September 20th or so.] In a surprising move, Golden and Co. brought in Heaps as a graduate transfer from Kansas to bring another veteran quarterback into the fold after Williams went down. The transfer sends a pretty clear message about what the coaching staff things about one Kevin Olsen, but we’ll get to him in a second. When you first look at Heaps’s numbers, it makes you want to personally seek out Olsen and beg him to get his act together and win this opening night starting job: 49% completion, 5.4 YPA, eight TDs to 10 interceptions last year for Kansas. It’s ugly. But let’s slow our roll here for a second and think about the offense around Heaps in Lawrence. Yeah. Things aren’t nearly as bad when you look at his freshman and sophomore years at BYU: combined 57% completion, 5.9 YPA, 24 TDs to 17 interceptions. Now, that’s not particularly good, especially under six yards per attempt, but when you take into account that he’ll be surrounded by the most talent he’s seen by far in his career at Miami and that those numbers come from his underclassmen years, I don’t think it’s out of the question that Heaps could perform quite respectfully and find a way to guide Miami to a win at Louisville. (Look at the things I can talk myself into when I’m feeling optimistic!) He’s a straight pocket passer—which is why he left BYU for Kansas—with a strong arm and inconsistent accuracy who could do well in the right situation. It’s hard to find a situation more right for him than in Coral Gables, with a good offensive line, elite group of receivers and some guy named Duke at halfback to take a load off the passing game. Don’t hate on Jake Heaps, guys. He won’t be great, but he could very well be more than competent. That may be all it takes to start the first few games of the year. And he wants it too:
The Wild Card: Kevin Olsen
What do with Kevin Olsen? The brother of stud NFL tight end and esteemed member of the Seventh Floor Crew Greg Olsen, (wouldn’t be surprised if I get an email from FanSided directors with the subject “NEED TO TALK” for mentioning that.) Kevin came in as a highly hyped recruit with incredible expectations. His redshirt season last year was rocky to say the least, with some off-field incidents resulting in him not making the trip for the Russell Athletic Bowl. Believe it or not, that was supposed to be a punishment. Jokes aside, his struggles continued in the spring game, with Hurricanes fans reaching full panic mode after watching him scuffle against Miami’s maligned defense. Reports have been better since then, but the fact that Golden went out and got Heaps is quite telling—the coaching staff couldn’t send a more clear message that they are not very confident in Olsen’s ability to start against Louisville. Because of the above, I think Olsen at least starts the Louisville game on the bench as the first backup, but it’s definitely possible for him to get the start or see time in a quarterback-by-committee type deal. Olsen is just a redshirt freshman; obviously it’s far too early to write him off. He’s arguably the most physically talented quarterback on the squad depending on what you think of Brad Kaaya’s raw skills. Olsen definitely has a supremely strong arm and—at least in high school—good accuracy and feet. If he can mature quickly through fall camp and win the starting job for the Louisville game, it would probably be the best outcome for the ‘Canes offense. Unfortunately, it’s probably more likely that he doesn’t.
The Likely Redshirt: Brad Kaaya
Brad Kaaya arrives on campus this fall as a true freshman with a mountain of hype—and for good reason. He was ranked as the seventh-best pocket passer in the nation in the Class of 2014 and he chose Miami despite offers from in-state powers USC and UCLA. Kaaya’s made it clear that he wants the starting job from Day 1 in Coral Gables and he has the talent to back up his ambitions. However, it’s probably best to not get too excited about Brad—yet. I firmly believe he’s the future of the program and there are great things coming for him down the road, but he’s likely looking at a redshirt this year. Based on admittedly flimsy evidence, it seemed like the plan before Williams went down was to redshirt Brad, and Golden likely made that clear with the pickup of Heaps. Having Heaps and Olsen battle for the start against Louisville allows the Hurricanes to redshirt Kaaya and still have a decent option for Week 1. In my mind, this is the right move. The historical precedent for true freshman quarterbacks starting from Day 1 is not good, and in an important year to really make some headway for the program the Hurricanes can’t afford to throw a green quarterback into the fire. Since it’s overwhelmingly likely Kaaya will not start, it makes more sense to redshirt him than to burn a year of his eligibility playing him sparingly as a backup. (If only someone were around to tell Randy Shannon that, we could have fifth-year senior Stephen Morris this fall.)
Malik Rosier Also Exists
Yes, he does. No, he won’t play this year and maybe ever. Well, he might play baseball. In any event, this is going to be a redshirt. With that being said, Rosier has a very good arm, and it’s a lot better than most people think. He’s just not as far along as the guys in front of him and it’ll be an uphill battle for him to get some playing time.
Ah, the fun exercise of assigning a preseason grade to a position that’s really nothing more than a wild guess that most of the readers are likely to disagree with. I’ll go with a perfectly average C for the first few weeks of the season and a B- once Williams gets back. While that’s not glowing, if you look at the rest of the Hurricanes offense, that’s probably enough to make the overall unit quite scary in 2014.