Critical stretch looms for Miami Hurricanes quarterback derby

Coach Manny Diaz hopes to know his starter by the end of the second preseason scrimmage.
Miami quarterback N'Kosi Perry (5) hands off to running back DeeJay Dallas (13) during the first quarter of last year's game against Florida State at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami. (MONICA HERNDON | Times)
Miami quarterback N'Kosi Perry (5) hands off to running back DeeJay Dallas (13) during the first quarter of last year's game against Florida State at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami. (MONICA HERNDON | Times)
Published July 18

CHARLOTTE, N.C. ― Even as he diligently tries restoring the varnish on the “U,” and recapturing the swagger of a prior generation, new Miami coach Manny Diaz understands some parts of the past can’t be replicated.

Such as stability in the quarterback room. In the transfer-portal era, the days of Vinny Testaverde waiting his turn behind Bernie Kosar, or Craig Erickson patiently biding his time behind Steve Walsh, are kaput.

“I think that’s kind of the new normal,” Diaz said.

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Hence the reason Diaz’s first major decision ― choosing a starter from among three viable candidates ― looms so large.

“Two of the guys want to be the quarterback at Miami, one of the guys has to be the quarterback at Miami,” Diaz said Wednesday at the ACC Kickoff. “I don’t know which guy that is here.”

But he hopes to know by mid-August.

When camp commences late next week, Diaz and offensive coordinator Dan Enos begin their latest round of evaluations of Ohio State transfer Tate Martell, part-time 2018 starter N’Kosi Perry and redshirt freshman Jarren Williams.

In this April 18, 2019, file photo, Miami quarterback Tate Martell (18) throws during NCAA college football spring practice, in Coral Gables. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)
In this April 18, 2019, file photo, Miami quarterback Tate Martell (18) throws during NCAA college football spring practice, in Coral Gables. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

By the end of the second preseason scrimmage, Diaz said he hopes to determine ― if not publicly announce ― the No. 1 guy. As sure as the turnover chain shimmers, a degree of fallout (i.e. a bypassed candidate moving on) likely will ensue.

“That’s outside of our control,” he said.

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But even if he finds himself down to two quarterbacks at some point prior to September, Diaz seems convinced both ― whomever they are ― can lead UM in what appears a wide-open ACC Coastal Division.

“The guys are all talented, everybody can throw a ball,” Diaz said.

“But do you know where to go with the ball, and how accurately can you get the ball there? And what you saw (in the spring) was what you would imagine: The more at-bats they got, what got better? Their decision-making. And when your decision-making is better, your accuracy instantly gets better.”

General reasoning is, the 5-foot-11 Martell ― a former five-star prospect from Las Vegas prep dynasty Bishop Gorman ― has a slight edge via his mental preparation, though he threw only 28 passes for the Buckeyes last season.

“He’s a very smart guy,” said receiver K.J. Osborn, a graduate transfer from Buffalo. “That’s one thing I was very impressed with him. ... You sit down, talk to him, he’ll draw it out for you just like a coach.”

But others say Perry ― whose game preparation surfaced as an issue in 2018 ― and Williams have made noticeable strides in that area.

“I think the skill set of N’Kosi Perry and Jarren Williams is excellent,” said former ’Canes coach Mark Richt, who watched Perry go 4-2 as a starter last season but gave him a quick hook in a loss at Virginia.

“I think there was a maturity issue, which is typical ... for second-year guys trying to figure it out a little bit. But when they mature as people, I think their skill set is outstanding.”

On Wednesday, Diaz suggested all three have figured things out, though not at the same pace.

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“At different points during the spring, it’s like they all three were in a toaster, and they didn’t all pop out of the toaster at the same time,” Diaz said.

"And that’s why it’s very hard from the outside to say, ‘That’s the guy. Oh, I know by Day 9 that’s the guy’ ... because they all pop at different times. Now what I don’t know is, they all went back in the oven in the summer, and I don’t know what they look like now.

“And now we have to make a decision.”

In the portal generation, the decision is more critical than ever.

“They do need to understand the urgency,” Diaz said, “that the second scrimmage is coming.”

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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