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Position Battle: Who starts at QB?

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It's the question that's been on everybody's mind since the spring: Who will start at QB for the Canes? Let's look at the options and handicap the battle

We know DE Chad Thomas (right) will play this year. The question is: will QB Brad Kaaya?
We know DE Chad Thomas (right) will play this year. The question is: will QB Brad Kaaya?

With the start of Fall Camp coming in the morning and the season opener against Louisville in 4 weeks, let's address the pink elephant in the room: Who is going to start at QB for the Canes?

The Candidates

Here's the roster at QB.

Name Height Weight Classifcation
Ryan Williams 6-6 225lbs RS Senior
Jake Heaps 6-1 210lbs RS Senior
Kevin Olsen 6-3 210lbs RS Freshman
Brad Kaaya 6-5 230lbs Freshman
Malik Rosier 6-1 212lbs Freshman

Outside Factors

There are several things that will have a role in determining the starting QB for the opener and as the season progresses.

First of all is Ryan Williams' ACL tear from the spring. Al Golden (and others) have said his recovery is going outstandingly well. Last week while on ESPN (I forget if it was a radio or TV show, forgive me) Al Golden said that Williams' recovery is in the "top 1% of all athletes". While Williams my not be available for the opener, he will integrate himself into the conversation sooner rather than later.

Second is the news that Kevin Olsen will be suspended for at least 1 game as the result of a failed drug test. Olsen struggled through the spring and, after Williams' injury, did not take advantage of the open opportunity to we the job outright. This upcoming suspension, which comes on the heels of his suspension from the Bowl Game last year are a great cause for concern.

Next, the true freshmen, Kaaya and Rosier, have been on campus for the summer workouts, but neither was able to enroll early to participate in Spring football.

In most cases where true freshmen play, 1 or both of the following things happen: 1. They enroll early and participate in Spring Practice, and/or 2. Injuries to players in front of them push them into game action. That happened with Stephen Morris, who came into the Virginia game his freshman year.

Could Kaaya or Rosier play this year? Yes. But, the fact that they had to miss out on Spring Practice is a huge obstacle they will have to overcome in order to see the field this year.

Last, and definitely not least, is Jake Heaps' decision to transfer to Miami for his 5th year. Our own John Pickens wrote a nice article trying to figure Heaps out earlier this week. A former 5 star prospect coming out of High School in 2010, has moved around in college, Heaps' travels in college have been well chronicled: started at BYU (where he set records as a freshman, and then lost the QB job his sophomore year), then transferred to Kansas (where, after sitting out a season per NCAA rules, he played in 11 games in 2013, then subsequently lost the QB battle to a rising Sophomore QB who fit their spread system better), and then, finally, after graduating from Kansas, transferred to Miami.

Heaps' addition to the roster was really a reaction to losing Ryan Williams, the only QB on the roster with game experience, for an unknown amount of time. Regardless of why he's here, Heaps brazenly said he "didn't come here to be a backup." While many may not like that type of bravado, I personally love it. And, the coaches seem to as well. Heaps was the only QB on the roster to participate in the Renewed Jerseys photo shoot, and has also done 4 media interviews in the past 10 days.

How's it going to play out?

Al Golden has set the parameters of the QB competition clearly on many occasions leading up to the beginning of camp: Start with every available player getting reps, evaluate performances after the 1st intra-squad scrimmage, then cut the competition down to 2 players as the team begins to focus on preparing for the Louisville game.

So, first things first, let's take Ryan Williams out of the equation for the time being. I know that he's recovering faster than Wolverine, and will probably be available to play at some time this season. But, realistically, that won't be for the opener. He doesn't really matter in the QB battle until he's 100% healthy. So, for now, he's off the list.

Now, that leaves us with the other 4 QBs: Heaps, Olsen, Kaaya, and Rosier.

As stated above, Kevin Olsen is going to be suspended for (at least) one game. So, it's reasonable that we remove him from this conversation as well. And, when you compound this with his being suspended and not traveling to the Bowl Game, and his woeful performance in the last week of the Spring (including the Spring Scrimmage) after Ryan Williams' injury opened the door for him to secure the starting QB job, and it's not outside of the realm of possibilities to consider that Olsen's days as a Cane may be quickly coming to an end.

LATE EDIT: Al Golden went on the Joe Rose Show early ths morning and said he's not ruling Olsen out of the competition (transcription by Matt Porrter of the Palm Beach Post). While that seems reasonable, I do not share Golden's outlook. That is entirely coachspeak in my estimation. So, for this exercise, I'm still taking Olsen out of the equation, despite the aformentioned statement.

So, taking out Williams and Olsen from the competition, that leaves us with 3: Heaps, Kaaya, and Rosier.

For simple balance of the program, there's no way both freshmen will play this year. I mean, short of a run of injuries like the one that had Maryland start a freshman linebacker at QB in 2012, there's no way that they both play. And, while Rosier is incredibly athletic and has a very VERY strong arm (he's also a baseball player), Brad Kaaya was hand picked by Coley and Golden to be the QB of the future. So, bearing that in mind, let's take Rosier off the list.

That leaves us with 2: Heaps and Kaaya.

So, since we're down to 2, let's evaluate each player.

Jake Heaps

Heaps has the clear advantage on experience, having played in over 30 collegiate games to this point in his career. Heaps left Kansas because they transitioned away from the Pro Style offense that fits his skillset. At Miami, James Coley runs a system that Heaps is familiar with, and best suited to play in. Heaps' stats last year at Kansas leave a lot to be desired. Take a look for yourself:

Name Completions Attempts Completion % Yards TD INT Sacks Yards per attempt
Jake Heaps 128 261 49.0% 1414 8 10 23 4.3

Now, while those traditional stats (and the advanced ones I didn't list) paint a poor picture of Heaps' performance, there's one thing that the stats don't tell you: Kansas was an absolutely atrocious team. The Jayhawks struggled to a 3-9 season and were ranked 101 in Football Outsiders' F+ rankings. For comparison, teams with similar rankings were 1-11 California, and Temple, Kentucky, South Florida and Army, who all sported 2-10 records.

Kansas simply didn't have talent, and Heaps was the victim of more than a few dropped passes and wrong routes by his receivers. Still, that's not excusing his stats. If he starts here, he CLEARLY needs to do better.

Now, in his favor, in addition to the system fitting his talents, the talent on the Offensive Line and at the skill positions here is the best that Heaps has ever played with BY FAR. You all know the names: Duke Johnson. Gus Edwards. Joe Yearby. Stacy Coley. Malcolm Lewis. Herb Waters. Philip Dorsett. Clive Walford. Beau Sandland. Stan Dobard. Ereck Flowers. Shane McDermott. Jon Feliciano. And more. That wealth of offensive talent SHOULD allow for the QB to do their job efficiently, and take calculated chances to make plays down the field.

For a good article breaking down some Heaps game film (with video included), check out this piece by Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post.

Brad Kaaya

The main thing with Heaps is him coming in and playing in a way that's different than we've ever seen him. The main thing with Kaaya? He has to come in and show us who he is.

Kaaya, who led his team to a California State Championship in 2013, is an unknown commodity. Yes, we've seen the highlights. Yes, we know that he was hand selected by the coaching staff to be the QB of the future. Yes, we know that he's big and tall and has a strong arm. Yes, we know that his mom played Felicia in the CLASSIC movie Friday. (You didn't know that? Pete Ariz of CanesInSight.com had this interview with her last year about that and more.)

Kaaya has the tools to be a successful collegiate QB. The question is does he have the mental focus to be a successful collegiate QB right now? I know one person who thinks that he does.

Now, if Pete's prediction is true, that means that Kaaya will have ascended to the top of the QB depth chart, and would (presumably) start the remainder of the season. In my mind there's only one way that you can do that: You know, without a shadow of a doubt, that he's THE GUY for this year, and going forward.

Being a QB is more than just executing throws. You have to make all the right reads. Get the terminology of the playbook down. Hell, have you guys seen an episode of Hard Knocks with a rookie QB? They can barely even call the plays. That same struggle exists for college freshmen.

While Heaps, my other presumed finalist, has to prove he can be more efficient in running the team than he did at Kansas, Kaaya has to not only show that he can be efficient and effective, but game changing and dynamic. That's what you have to do to win the starting job as a freshman. And, with a team as talented as Miami is, if you're not AT WORST the same level of player as the older guys in front of you, freshmen are going to sit.

Kaaya's job is to prove that he's ready for prime time right now. And, if you listen to the statements being made by other UM players since he's arrived on campus, he seems to be doing just that. But, 7-on-7's during OTAs is one thing. Doing it against the 1st team defense in full pads and full contact during fall camp is entirely another.

It's not an article with breakdown, but you can see Brad Kaaya's senior year highlights below:


Final Prediction

Starter: Jake Heaps
Backup: Brad Kaaya
Wildcard: Ryan Williams (is he back by the Nebraska game? Sooner? Later?)
Depth Chart filler: Kevin Olsen, Malik Rosier

Miami has a wealth of talent on offense, and will be in a position to win most of their games. With Kaaya on board for the next several years, there's no need to press him into action unless he's far and away the best option. So, to me, this is an easy decision.

Start Heaps until Williams is back, then go from there.

What say you, Canes fans? (comment and vote below)