Canes still looking for a starter under center
Great quarterbacks long have been the face of Miami's football program. The school that won five national championships and once set the standard for college football produced NFL Hall of Famer Jim Kelly, Heisman Trophy winners Vinny Testaverde and Gino Torretta and All-Americans Steve Walsh and Ken Dorsey.
No big deal. Given the school's rich tradition in the passing game, Miami's quarterbacks have been rather anonymous since Dorsey left in 2002.
In two seasons as a starter, Wright has been unable to lead the Hurricanes back to the upper echelon of the sport. Inconsistent play in the pocket is a big reason Miami fell on hard times the past two seasons, leading to Coker's firing even after winning a national championship in 2001 and compiling a 35-3 record in his first three seasons.
In the past three seasons, when Miami lost three times as many games as it did from 2000 to 2003, the Hurricanes ranked no better than 43rd in passing in Division I-A.
In fact, Miami (Ohio) threw the ball much better than the U. in each of the past three seasons.
"I think our quarterback situation is a little bit crazy right now," defensive end Calais Campbell said. "But whoever gets the nod has the potential of being a great quarterback. Kyle is tall and strong and has all the potential of being a quarterback like Ken Dorsey or Vinny Testaverde. Kirby has a lot of savvy on the field and is very athletic."
Wright, a 6-foot-4, 225-pound native of Danville, Calif., was the country's most highly recruited quarterback during his senior season at Monte Vista High School in 2002. After redshirting as a freshman and playing behind Brock Berlin in 2004, Wright entered each of the past two seasons as the team's starter. He led the ACC with 18 touchdown passes in 2005 but struggled last season before missing the final four games with a broken thumb.
Freeman, from Brownwood, Texas, didn't fare much better in four games as a starter. He threw five interceptions in his first three starts, but rebounded to throw for 272 yards and two touchdowns in a 21-20 victory over Nevada in the MPC Computers Bowl.
After three weeks of preseason camp, Shannon and new offensive coordinator Patrick Nix aren't revealing much about which quarterback will start this season. Nix said a starter will be named by Tuesday, four days before Miami's opener against Marshall.
Nix, who left Georgia Tech to take over Miami's offense, wouldn't rule out playing both quarterbacks this season. Shannon also hinted last month that he wouldn't be opposed to rotating quarterbacks.
"Those guys have done a great job," Shannon said. "The players love them. We've had players come up and say, 'Hey, Coach, we've got two quarterbacks we're confident with.' Whatever we have to do at quarterback to win games, we're going to do it. If we have to play two quarterbacks to win games, we'll do it."
Rebuilding Wright's confidence was one of Shannon's first tasks as head coach. Wright has been much-maligned at Miami after arriving with such high expectations. He has a 14-7 record as a starter after the Hurricanes lost four of five games he started last season.
Playing at a quarterback factory such as Miami might be additional pressure, but Nix said his quarterbacks aren't under any more scrutiny than quarterbacks elsewhere.
"I don't think so," Nix said. "I think there's a lot of pressure at every university in this country. I know there was a lot of pressure on the quarterbacks at Auburn when I played there. I know there was a lot of pressure on the quarterbacks at Georgia Tech. I'm sure the past quarterbacks that played here would like to think there's more pressure because of what they accomplished, but there's pressure everywhere."
Miami's dearth of big-play receivers hasn't helped its quarterbacks. Oft-troubled receiver Ryan Moore was a big-play threat, but he played in only five games before he was kicked off the team last year. Tight end Greg Olsen led the team with 40 catches last season.
The Hurricanes' running game might make the quarterbacks look better this year. Sophomore tailback Javarris James, a cousin of former Miami and current Arizona Cardinals running back Edgerrin James, ran for 802 yards and four touchdowns last season, the second-highest rushing total by a Hurricanes freshman. Graig Cooper, who enrolled at Miami this spring after spending the fall at a prep school, has been just as impressive in preseason camp.
"You don't need a great quarterback to throw the ball 20 times down the field or always go for the long ball," Shannon said. "I always tell people that John Elway didn't win a Super Bowl until he got that tailback."
Shannon said he has encouraged Wright to worry less about throwing vertically, even though the quarterback has been criticized for being too conservative in the past.
During one meeting, Shannon asked Wright to recall his longest pass play at Miami. It was a 92-yard touchdown to Sinorice Moss in a 34-3 win at Temple in 2005.
"It was a 1-yard hitch to Moss," Shannon said. "He was a great athlete, one guy missed and it was a touchdown. It doesn't always have to be the deep ball. Sometimes, a quarterback's first instinct is to always throw the ball deep."
If nothing else, senior offensive lineman Derrick Morse said, the Hurricanes will be less predictable this season.
"My mom doesn't know anything about football, and she knew what was going to be called last year," Morse said.
The question remains: Who will be making the calls in the huddle?
Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2007 College Football Preview
The long wait for the start of the 2007 college football season is finally over. Get ready for the season with an in-depth look at the teams, trends, players and coaches. Index
• Forde: Arkansas' favorite son also rising
• Forde: Welcome to Trickeration Nation
• Albright: Glanville has Portland State all shook up
• Maisel: Boise State part of quiet revolution
• Edwards: BCS system needs update
• Forde: QBs face burden of proof in '07
• Schlabach: Biggest shoes to fill this season
• Maisel: (Southern) State of the Game
• Schlabach: Hot or Not for 2007
• Ivan Maisel's preseason All-America team
• Heisman Watch: Voters go Hog wild
• SportsNation: Rank the Heisman contenders Fearless Forecasts
• Experts: Conference title projections
• Maisel/Schlabach: Bowl predictions
• McShay: Don't sleep on these teams
• Games to watch: National | Conference Campus Confidential
• Forde: Woodson stepping out of the shadow
• Schlabach: Shhhh! Uncovering 2007's secrets
• McShay: Seven secrets from the film room
• Feldman: Saturday's secret agents revealed
• EA Sports: Trick play simulations
• Arkansas: Wildhog formation
• Boise State: Statue of Liberty
• LSU: Flea flicker
• Texas: Wide receiver pass
• USC: Halfback pass ACC Features
• Schlabach: ACC needs quality Miami, FSU
• Schlabach: Wright, Freeman still battling at Miami
• Schlabach: Wake sets bar high for encore
• Schlabach: Five ACC predictions Big East Features
• Maisel: What's next for the Big East?
• Maisel: USF's QB exudes old school cool
• Maisel: Five Big East predictions Big Ten Features
• Schlabach: Michigan seniors return on a mission
• Schlabach: Downsized Hill means supersized play
• Schlabach: Big Ten at the crossroads
• Schlabach: Five Big Ten predictions Pac-10 Features
• Forde: Now is the time for UCLA
• Forde: Five Pac-10 predictions
• Maisel: After long wait, Turner ready for stardom
• Maisel: Ten Little Trojans running backs
• Feldman: DeSean Jackson's born identity SEC Features
• Maisel: Saban snapshot reveals double feature
• Higgins: Spurrier, Gamecocks thinking big
• Schlabach: SEC balance of power shifts East
• Schlabach: Five SEC predictions Coaching Corner
• Schlabach: Coaches on the hot seat
• Schlabach: Rise of the assistants
• McShay: Assistant coaches on the rise
• McShay: Position coaches who deliver Rule Changes
• Kickoffs, timing rules highlight changes
• McShay: Changes put premium on specialists
• College Football Live: Impact of kickoff rule
• Joe Tiller: Kickoff changes raise safety issues
• College Football Live: Matter of time Campus Call
ESPN.com will hit eight practice sessions to get an early pulse on the season. Check out what's happening on campus.
• Aug. 7: Gators looking for bite on D
• Aug. 6: ND's Weis plays respect card |
McKnight makes USC debut
• Aug. 5: Brown resolute in face of Texas' troubles
• Aug. 4: WVU has speed to burn
• Aug. 3: Taylor made Jacket
• Aug. 2: Hokies begin road back to normalcy
• Aug. 1: Report day is still a thrill for Tuberville