Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Shannon Names Freeman as Starting QB

Kirby Freeman

When Randy Shannon was hired as the new head football coach of the University of Miami, one of the first things he promised was every player would be given the opportunity to compete on the practice field for a starting job--regardless if the player was a fifth-year senior or a true freshman. There would be no favorites and everybody would be evaluated as equals. After announcing the team's current depth chart, it appears Shannon has kept his word.

His most notable move was to promote Kirby Freeman to starting quarterback. Freeman, a junior from Brownwood, Texas was given the nod over fifth-year senior Kyle Wright. I'm a firm believer that previous head coach Larry Coker would have never made this decision. And that's a good thing. Because under Coker, the program was slowly decaying partly because senior players and upperclassmen never really had to worry about losing their starting jobs to younger and hungry challengers. How do you improve as a football team, if there is no competition on the practice field? You don't. And it's clear the program suffered.

But Freeman's promotion wasn't the only noteworthy wrinkle on the depth chart. John Rochford was named as the team's starting center. This was a huge surprise when you consider Rochford, a fifth-year senior, had never started a game in his career. At one point, Rochford had fallen so out of favor with the previous coaching staff, he was moved to fullback. His only significant moment came as a longsnapper when his snap was botched by punter and holder Brian Monroe on a last minute field goal attempt against Florida State in 2005. The play ultimately cost the Canes the game.

But you have to give credit to Rochford's dedication and work ethic. It would have been easy for him to quit. But somehow he managed to climb up the depth chart and beat out highly-touted A.J. Trump for the starting job. Again, I don't think this would have happened under Coker. To me this is further evidence how a football player can signficantly improve when he knows he can legitimately earn a starting job by outworking his competition on the practice field. That type of competition can only make the team better.

Further evidence is true freshman cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke who will start against Marshall. Or how about senior walk-on Francesco Zampogna coming out of nowhere to win the starting place kicking job over high school All American Matt Bosher and FSU transfer Daren Daly? Again, this would have never happened under the Coker regime.

Getting back to the quarterback position. I can't help but feel bad for Kyle Wright. When he signed his letter of intent to attend UM out high school, he was the hailed as the next great Canes QB. Why not? His credentials were unlike any quarterback to come to the University of Miami. He was a Parade All American, Gatorade National Player of the Year and the nation's most heavily recruited high school quarterback 4 years ago. Wright had dreams of following in the footsteps of the past great Canes quarterbacks including fellow Northern Californians Gino Torretta and Ken Dorsey. He was supposed win national championships and contend for the Heisman Trophy. But it just hasn't worked out.

There are a lot of factors contributing to Wright's lack of development at UM. During his Canes career, Wright has been coached by 4 different offensive coordinators. He's never had a great go-to wide receiver as a target and his pass protection has been poor. Don't get me wrong. I'm not making excuses for Kyle. He was given every opportuntiy to keep the starting quarterback job. But in the end, he was beaten out by his Texan teammate.

But I'm not ready to give up on Kyle Wright just yet. He's always had the physical tools to be a great quarterback. He has the size, arm strength and athletic ability to wow people. But his lack of quarterback instincts, slow release, lack of pocket presence and inability to throw the deep ball with accuracy have contributed to his fall from grace since coming to UM. Can new offensive coordinator Patrick Nix finally bring out the best in Wright? For Kyle's sake, it's now or never. But right now, it doesn't look good.

But I have a sneaky suspicion that at some point in this season, UM is going to need Kyle Wright. I'm not completely sold on Freeman as the team's quarterback. Hopefully he proves me wrong. But right now neither Wright or Freeman has demonstrated the ability to be great. If Freeman doesn't perform well or gets injured, Wright will be needed. There's nothing worse than seeing great talent go to waste. It's up to Kyle Wright to somehow swallow his pride and keep competing on the practice field. Afterall, that's the way Randy Shannon would want it.

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