Since taking over as Miami’s coach in early January, Manny Diaz has been blunt.
One of the biggest issues he and his staff would have to address was the Hurricanes’ lackluster quarterback play of a season ago, when neither redshirt senior Malik Rosier or then-redshirt freshman N’Kosi Perry was consistent enough to get the job done.
Things have changed since Rosier and Perry combined to throw four interceptions in Miami’s season-ending 35-3 loss to Wisconsin in the Pinstripe Bowl.
Rosier has exhausted his eligibility and moved on. Former Alabama quarterbacks coach Dan Enos has taken over the reins of Miami’s offense. Tate Martell, a former quarterback at Ohio State and four-star prospect coming out of high school powerhouse Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas, has joined the roster. And by many accounts, Perry and redshirt freshman Jarren Williams have shown a newfound maturity that wasn’t always visible as both dealt with suspensions last fall.
Each quarterback took their lumps during spring drills as they worked to learn Enos’ system and tweak their individual mechanics. But with the Hurricanes set to open training camp late next month, Diaz says he’s encouraged not only by the progress he saw in the spring, but the work the Hurricanes quarterbacks have been putting in during Miami’s offseason program.
“I’m excited that I think that we have a good decision to make. I wasn’t sure in January we had a good decision to make. Now, I think we have a good problem. We had a bad problem. I think our bad problem turned into a good problem,” Diaz said Wednesday during a youth football camp at Plantation’s PAL Park. "I want to see how good of a problem we have. And like I said, is somebody going to own it? Probably the guy that’s going to have it is the guy that has to have it; not the guy that wants to be the quarterback at Miami, the guy that has to be.
"He’s compelled in all of his actions. When we get that level of compulsion to want to be that guy, I think the whole team is going to benefit from that.”
When spring drills ended in April, Diaz and Enos both said they felt the quarterback competition was close, with each player having their moments. Martell bounced back from a lackluster scrimmage to play well in the spring game. Perry showed steady improvement throughout and Williams, who played only sparingly last season during UM’s blowout win over Savannah State, started strongly before struggling a bit in the spring game.
Since, the trio of signal callers has been going through Miami’s workout program with strength and conditioning coach David Feeley and spending time with teammates in 90-minute 7-on-7 drills, often three times a week.
Then, receiver Mike Harley said, there have been times the quarterbacks and receivers have just gotten together on their own for work. Joining the group recently is freshman quarterback Peyton Matocha, who enrolled in May.
“We’re all there. Routes on air, team takeoffs, walkthroughs, we’re all there. Everyone takes reps," Harley said. “Like the receivers, we’ll go three receivers with one quarterback, two receivers with one quarterback, different personnel and stuff. So everybody gets the same amount of reps.”
As to what he’s seen from the quarterbacks, Harley noted there are no noticeable differences in how each throws the ball and he believes all of them have benefited from working with Enos.
“All balls are catchable. That’s why we play receiver. That’s why we’ve got the best quarterback coach in the nation," Harley said. "All balls come out the same, they all come out like a spiral you can hear coming out of their hands. Everybody’s the same. We don’t know the difference really. We just see the ball and catch it.”
Given all of that, Diaz said he’s hopeful one quarterback will emerge as the starter, hopefully, early in camp.
“Evaluating the tape in Orlando, it was three guys on a level playing field. ... To use a track analogy, we wanted to set them in the summer, no one behind anybody else. Put them all on the line and say, ‘Go’ and let them race all summer,” Diaz said. "Then we’ll show up the last week in July, put them on the line again and let’s go sprint for two weeks and find out really in the training camp part of our fall camp what we’ve got. I love it. We’ve said it forever — the best coach is competition, right? When you have a competition, that’s where the best raise their level of play.”
When spring football ended in April, more than a few Hurricanes were nursing injuries, including center Corey Gaynor, running back Robert Burns, tight end Brevin Jordan, receivers Jeff Thomas and Brian Hightower and linebackers Zach McCloud, Bradley Jennings Jr. and Waynmon Steed.
Wednesday, Diaz said he expected all but Jennings and Steed would be ready for the start of camp. And Harley noted that in 7-on-7 work this summer, he’s already seen Thomas going “full throttle," while Hightower has been jogging a bit.
Diaz also said it’s still undetermined if linebacker De’Andre Wilder, who missed all of last season after injuring his neck in camp, will be able to play football again.
“We’re still seeking information for him,” Diaz said.