Miami QBs embracing competition

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- Miami quarterback Jacory Harris, a genuinely good guy who unfortunately might be best known for his 39 career interceptions, learned an important stat about picks last season -- Dan Marino threw 50 of them in his career at Pitt.

(Technically, Jacory, Marino actually threw 69 interceptions during his collegiate career.)

“I did not know that,” Harris said with a smile. “I’m pretty sure I’m not going to throw 50 picks by the time I’m done. If anything, Dan Marino is going to be a Hall of Fame quarterback in the NFL. That goes to show that you can still be a great quarterback. You still have to cut down on mistakes, but Coach [Jedd] Fisch is someone who doesn’t even want to talk about interceptions. If you throw one, don’t even worry about it, go on to the next play. That’s something we’re not even allowed to talk about in the meeting rooms. I feel the same way: If you talk about them, you bring them back up. That’s how the game goes. You’ve got to make some mistakes sometimes in order to learn.”

All three quarterbacks at Miami have learned a major lesson this offseason -- things are different under first-year coach Al Golden, and the starting job is up for grabs. (Seriously.) There has been a genuine competition amongst Harris, Spencer Whipple and Stephen Morris since the 2010 season ended, as evidenced by the pre-spring depth chart. Whipple, previously the third-string quarterback, was No. 1. Harris was second, followed by Morris.

Harris is the most experienced of the three, and it’s also his last chance at redemption. As a senior, the embattled quarterback has been through it all -- starting as a true freshman, a concussion that sidelined him for the majority of the second half of the 2010 season and a turnover tendency that has made any other quarterback available the No. 1 choice of Miami fans. Last year, he internalized all of it and reached the lowest point of his career.

Now, with his teammates pushing him to be better, it’s hard to catch Harris without a smile -- no matter what the depth chart might say.

“It’s been a big learning experience,” he said. “Since the Virginia game, it’s taught me to look at things in a positive way. After that game and through the injury and finishing the season, I was kind of down, at the lowest point probably in my career. I felt like everything was going wrong. At the start of the new year, I made my goal to stay positive about everything, no matter what it is. To always smile, even when things are going wrong, and to find some light in everything.”

And to not look back.

Fisch said he told Harris he doesn’t want to judge him on past performances.

“What we’re going to work with Jacory on is understanding and mastering what we want him to do, not what he’s done in the past, not what he’s done in high school, not what he’s done in college,” Fisch said. “He has to understand the offense we’re asking him to run and he has to work under those parameters.”

Morris has a strong arm and the confidence to go with it, but he’s a baby-faced sophomore still in need of instruction and development. In six games last year, he threw seven touchdowns and nine interceptions.

“Me and Jacory are just good friends and we understand the competition on the field is solely on the field,” said Morris, who said he has been cleared for full participation since suffering an ankle injury during Sun Bowl practices. “Off the field, it’s back to being a family. I can’t lie: It has been rough at times. Obviously, for anybody who’s competing for a job, but you’ve just got to sit back and pray and realize we’re in this together. We’re going after the same job, and no matter who gets the starting job, I’ll be behind the person and whoever will be behind me.”

Right now, both Harris and Morris are behind Whipple, who was rewarded for finishing slightly ahead of the other two quarterbacks in the offseason ranking system.

“It drove a lot of the players in the offseason,” said Whipple, whose father, former Miami offensive coordinator Mark Whipple, was not retained by the current staff. “Everyone wanted to work really hard and show the coaches what they had and where they stood in terms of the depth chart. Now it’s a whole new process going through spring ball and a whole new grading system. Some guys who were starters maybe aren’t starting now but maybe they learned lessons about hard work, so it worked out for everyone. Everyone understood what was going to happen.”

And there hasn’t been any animosity between them. Instead, it’s made them better. Harris said he “sensed” the change coming on the depth chart because he knows Golden wants to see more leadership qualities from him.

“I’ve always been a guy who just sits back and watches things, or tries to lead by example,” Harris said. “Sometimes leading by example isn’t always the right way to go. Sometimes you have to put your foot down and say stuff. With the ranking system, it kind of helped bring that out of me. It’s like, ‘Jacory, you’re not going to get put any higher than you are unless you open up your mouth and lead this team.’ It really helps. I appreciate everything.

“I’m real confident in everything I’m doing right now, even though we have a new playbook, new system, everything. It just feels like I’m in tune with everything. I study the playbook, watch film; I’m just going out there trying to help this team. I don’t want things to happen like in the past. I just want to make sure that we have a successful year.”

And a career filled with fewer mistakes than Marino.