- Andrea Adelson, ESPN Staff Writer
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There was so much uncertainty at quarterback in Miami last summer, there was a trickle-down effect onto the entire team.
Most specifically, it was difficult to build up a rhythm, chemistry and camaraderie between quarterbacks and receivers during offseason drills because nobody was quite clear on what was going on. Ryan Williams was hurt; Kevin Olsen had limited leadership skills; Jake Heaps was on his third team; Brad Kaaya and Malik Rosier were true freshmen.
Receiver Braxton Berrios, himself a freshman, recalled recently, “We were trying to be as normal as possible, but it was hard. Everyone’s head was on a swivel. We didn't know what was going on and neither did the coaches. Jake Heaps had college experience, but no other quarterback we were working with had any.
“It was a lot slower. The learning curve was huge. If a new receiver came in and didn't know the route, he couldn't always turn to a quarterback and say, ‘What do I have on this one? I forgot?’ Looking back on it now, I can't imagine that being this year.”
The difference between last summer and this one is stark. Kaaya emerged to win the starting quarterback job, earning ACC Rookie of the Year honors. He is firmly entrenched as the leader, taking ownership without the hesitation he showed a year ago.
“He’s confident in what he says now – he’s not looking around to see if people agree,” Berrios said. “He's more authoritative.”
Though Miami must find ways to replace Duke Johnson, Clive Walford and Phillip Dorsett, there is a deep group of receivers returning. They work out with Kaaya four times a week, working on their rhythm, route-running and timing.
But it’s not just the quarterbacks and receivers at player-led workouts. The Canes will do seven-on-seven and team drills, along with red-zone work and one-on-one work. Kaaya has seen the most improvement in the communication between everyone.
“The timing is a lot better, chemistry is a lot better, just the continuity in general has improved a lot,” Kaaya said. “It’s a lot easier to get guys on the same page. Our communication has improved a lot in general. I feel a lot of barriers have broken down. Guys come to me, from freshmen and up, guys are reiterating a call, guys are talking a lot more to me.
“As opposed to sitting in meetings and just watching the film, the guys are asking questions. If they don’t get it in the meeting room, they’re asking me about it, they’re asking coach about it, they’re asking each other about it. Guys aren’t keeping it to themselves and waiting until we get out there on the field. In that aspect, it’s become a lot better.”
Without giving away any secrets, Kaaya seemed excited about different personnel pairings this year that will allow Miami to diversify what it does on offense.
“We’re going to use all of our personnel as opposed to certain guys for certain situations,” Kaaya said. “Now we can do a lot of different personnel groupings and utilize guys’ strengths.
“They’ve all been working hard. The system we have set up, these guys compete every day. They get ranked every week, and guys get rewarded after the whole summer session. So guys are competing hard every day to be in that top 3 ranking in their position group. There’s a lot of competition going on and it’s only making them better.”
The hope is everyone will be better with a veteran firmly established at quarterback.
656dDavid M. Hale