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Year 2 preview: Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya

4/30/2015

Only 12 true freshmen quarterbacks from a Power 5 conference started a game in 2014, and five of them were in the ACC. That bodes well for the future of the league, but as spring practices come to a close around the league, we're checking in on where each of these five freshmen stand heading into their follow-up campaigns.

Next up: Miami's Brad Kaaya

2014 highs: Only two true freshmen started every game at quarterback for a Power 5 team last season -- Kaaya and Wake Forest's John Wolford. That Miami still finished 11th nationally in yards-per-play underscores just how quickly Kaaya adjusted to life at the college level. His first start came in a hostile road environment at Louisville, and he had his ups and downs. But by the time ACC play got into full gear, Kaaya was clicking on all cylinders -- averaging 8.4 yards per attempt while tossing 15 touchdowns and just four interceptions from Week 5 through the end of the regular season. For the season, Kaaya led the ACC in YPA (8.5), TD passes (26) and passer rating (145.9).

2014 lows: Miami struggled badly on third downs last season, and Kaaya played a part in that. The Hurricanes averaged 6.6 yards per play on first down (26th nationally) but converted just 37 percent of their third downs (95th), in part because Kaaya struggled in key moments -- converting just 27.6 percent of his throws on third-and-5 or longer (50th among Power 5 QBs). “We've definitely worked on the red zone, throwing into tight windows at the goal line or in short yardage and third down,” Kaaya said. Kaaya's accuracy could've used some work, too. He completed 58.5 percent of his throws, just a tick better than Wolford, his freshman counterpart at Wake Forest.

Spring progress report: It's almost hard to believe Kaaya played so well last season despite not arriving on Miami's campus until the summer. Now that he's had a chance to go through a spring practice with the Hurricanes, he said it's been a boon to his development. “People say the first game is in September, but a lot goes into that and it starts back in January,” Kaaya said. “I wasn't in this offense last year at this time, so to be here has really helped me and our continuity on offense.” Building that continuity is crucial because Kaaya isn't the new kid in the deep end of the pool anymore. So many of his offensive weapons from last season have moved on, and he's now taking on a true leadership role.

2015 projection: Kaaya became the first Miami QB to throw for more than 3,000 yards and 25 touchdowns in a season since Ken Dorsey in 2002 -- a year in which he finished fifth in Heisman balloting. Does that mean Kaaya will eventually belong in the pantheon of great Hurricanes' QBs? It's a real possibility, but the problem for 2015 is the supporting cast around him may not be up to the task. Duke Johnson's loss is significant, but the ground game has alternatives. More pressing is the departures of Phillip Dorsett and Clive Walford, who caught 35 percent of Kaaya's completions last year. Stacy Coley could provide a weapon down the field, but he's coming off a brutal sophomore campaign. Perhaps an even bigger issue is the turnover on the offensive line. Kaaya had the 12th-best sack rate against Power 5 competition last year, but Miami loses three starters, including star Ereck Flowers at left tackle. Add the departure of Kaaya's favorite safety valves in Johnson and Walford, and life figures to get much tougher in 2015 for the Miami QB. Expect his sack rate to go up and his YPA to dip a bit, but a more steady performance all season could still mean a better record for Miami in the end.