Sunday, August 26, 2007

Restoring Quarterback U

Kyle Wright and Kirby Freeman

Once upon a time, the starting quarterback for the University of Miami was the most glamorous position in all of college sports. From the 1980s to the early 1990s, the Canes produced a conga line of great signal callers from Jim Kelly to Bernie Kosar to Vinny Testaverde, Steve Walsh, Craig Erickson and Gino Torretta. In that group, you'll find one hall of famer, 2 Heisman Trophy winners, 3 first round draft picks, 3 first team All Americans and 4 who started for national championship teams. Five have appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated. All 6 went on to play in the NFL. Truly a standard of excellence.

But what has happened to the Miami quarterback position since Torretta? Since 1993, only Ken Dorsey has been able to reach or duplicate those lofty standards. But Dorsey was the exception to the recent rule. In between,UM fans have seen the mediocre likes of Frank Costa, Ryan Collins, Ryan Clement, Scott Covington, Kenny Kelly, Derrick Crudup, Brock Berlin come and go. While a couple of these players had their moments, none of them really lived up to the standards set by their great predecessors.

That leaves us now to UM's current quarterbacks--Kyle Wright and Kirby Freeman. Both have been competing for the starting job under great secrecy by head coach Randy Shannon. With the season opener against Marshall less than a week away, Shannon still hasn't named a starter. But what hasn't been a secret is neither Wright nor Freeman has really demonstrated the ability to be great.

History tells us if the Canes are to ever return to the elite of college football, it must restore excellence to the quarterback position. Don't believe me? How about this. Since 1980, UM has finished in the AP Top 10 fifteen times. Only twice did the Canes accomplish this without an elite college quarterback--Frank Costa in 1994 and Brock Berlin in 2003.

The roots of UM's decline at the quarterback position can be traced all the way back to the departure of former offensive coordinator Gary Stevens. Stevens was the OC under head coaches Howard Schnellenberger and Jimmy Johnson. Stevens recruited or coached all of the great UM quarertbacks except Ken Dorsey. Since Stevens left, UM has not found a coach who has demonstrated the ability to develop quarterbacks to elite level.

During the Stevens years, UM employed a revolutionary pro-styled offense in an era where most college teams were run-oriented or used option-styled offenses. Today college football has changed significantly. More teams throw the football than ever before. The spread offenses have become the new norm in the college game. There is now greater competition to recruit high school passers.

So how does UM get back to producing elite quarterbacks? Randy Shannon's most important decision this offseason was to hire the right offensive coordinator. His first choice was former Arizona State head coach Dirk Koetter. Koetter appeared ready to accept the job. But at the last moment, he was lured away by the Jacksonville Jaguars to accept the team's OC position. In the end, Shannon hired former Georgia Tech coordinator Patrick Nix. Nix, a former quarterback at Auburn, brings a solid resume. But it's yet to be seen if he can develop quarterbacks to the standards of UM past.

So who will be the next great Canes quarterback? Personally, I don't think he's played a down of college football yet. Kyle Wright and Kirby Freeman possess fine athletic ability. But neither really has great instincts for the game. Wright is robotic, stiff and has trouble making quick decisions. Despite a strong throwing arm, Wright surprisingly has trouble throwing the deep pass. He has very little touch on his throws. Freeman seems like a player in the wrong offense. His strengths are more geared to his mobility. He can throw the deep ball. But he has a bad habit of looking to run first before making his second and third reads. Teammates supposedly rave about Freeman's leadership skills. But is that enough? Probably not.

UM has one other scholarship quarterback on its roster--freshman Robert Marve from Tampa. Last year,Marve was voted Florida's Mr. Football after leading Tampa's Plant High School to the Class 4A state title and breaking Tim Tebow's single season passing yardage record. Not bad. Marve will likely not play this season after sustaining injuries from a car accident last month. But lets not forget Kyle Wright was the Gatorade National Player of the Year when he graduated from Monte Vista High School in Danville, California. Yesterday's high school star doesn't alway translate into today's college star. I'm not ready to annoint Marve as the next great Canes QB until he plays a down. But it certainly isn't Wright or Freeman.


Fawzy said...

Very good point my friend. I think the dolphins can trace their problems to the quarterback position too.

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