SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
Junior Stephen Morris enters as the favorite over sophomore Ryan Williams and even more so, freshmen Preston Dewey and Gray Crow when UM spring football practice opens next weekend. But the program’s leaders also have their eye on the long-term view.
“It’s going to be Quarterback U [again],” offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch proclaimed recently. “We want to bring that back.” Said Al Golden: “We’ve got to get back to being the benchmark for quarterbacks.”
Aside from the collegiate brilliance of Ken Dorsey and Heisman Trophy winter Gino Torretta, UM hasn’t warranted that moniker much since producing five NFL arms in a 12-year span in the 1908s and early 90s: Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar, Vinny Testaverde, Steve Walsh and Craig Erickson.
It remains to be seen how good this group will be, but there are reasons to feel somewhat encouraged. Among them:
### More depth and competition. Golden, who had only two recruited quarterbacks plus walk-on Spencer Whipple when he arrived at UM, will have five when David Thompson arrives this summer. Golden said he wants at least five every year.
A sixth likely will arrive in 2013, with UM having a good shot to land Wayne Hills (N.J.) senior-to-be Kevin Olsen, a top prospect and brother of former UM tight end Greg Olsen. “Miami is very high on his list,” said his father, Wayne Hills coach Chris Olsen. “Kevin has built a strong relationship with Jedd Fisch. He likes the way he handles quarterbacks.”
The 6-3 Olsen, who is 22-2 as a starter and led his team to two straight state titles, also is considering UF, Auburn, Alabama, Wisconsin, Stanford and North Carolina. He threw 20 touchdowns and six picks in 2011. UM also is pursuing Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy’s Christian Hackenberg, among others, but Olsen clearly would be the biggest get.
### Fisch’s coaching. He did a terrific job with Harris after joining UM from the Seattle Seahawks, and there’s a reason NFL teams, including the Chicago Bears, wanted to hire him this winter. Harris said he learned more from Fisch, who worked under Mike Shanahan and Brian Billick, in one summer than he did in two years under Mark Whipple. “Fisch does a great job,” Harris reiterated Thursday from the NFL Combine. “He really interacts with you.”
Walsh, now coach at Cardinal Newman High in West Palm Beach, put it this way: “Jedd is a self-made man. He has taken bits and pieces from a lot of coaches. You could tell last year Jacory was cognizant of not throwing it up for grabs. That’s coaching.” Recruiting analyst Larry Blustein said Fisch’s “philosophy, work habits, working with mechanics have been awesome.”
Fisch has given his quarterbacks three assignments this month: “First, become an expert at what we do. Second thing is evaluate what they would do differently, and the third is look at some other teams in our system. Watch Tom Brady, Matt Hasselbeck sit in the pocket and see if you can make the same reads those guys would. And if you wouldn’t, find out why.”
As for the looming battle this spring, Golden said the job is open but Morris has “the advantage, a little edge” because of experience in UM’s system. “The reason Jacory had a good year is because the competition was steep,” Fisch said.
Fisch is encouraged that Morris’ “football intelligence has had a huge jump from a year ago.” We hear Morris didn’t always have as good a grasp of the plays as Harris did, a UM official (not Fisch) asserted. And UM wants Morris to do a better job commanding the huddle.
The other key is cutting down mistakes. Morris (seven career touchdown throws) has 11 interceptions in 190 career passes, one every 17.3. Williams had 10 picks in 290 passes in one year at Memphis (one every 29), though Morris’ competition was much tougher. Morris has a 56.8 completion percentage, Williams 56.9.
“Stephen has a tremendous arm, all the upside in terms of physical tools,” Fisch said. And he has more mobility than Williams.
Williams’ offers were limited to the likes of Eastern Michigan and Memphis after leading Miramar to a state title in 2009 and completing 18 of 21 passes for 254 yards and five touchdowns in the title game. But BCS schools, including Arkansas, pursued him last spring when he transferred. He threw 13 touchdowns at Memphis but left when the team changed to an option offense.
Williams, 6-5, has a strong arm and “will be a very good pocket passer and play action passer,” Fisch said. UM likes his intangibles. But he must improve “his mobility and making plays outside the pocket,” Fisch said.
Harris told us Williams “will surprise people. He has nice touch on his ball.” Harris expects a close battle at the position.
Fisch insists Crow and Dewey will have a chance to compete, and Golden said all four will get first- and second-team snaps this spring. But at least one of the freshmen likely will redshirt.
"Both are 6-3, can make all the throws,” Fisch said. “They didn’t make a lot of plays on the move last year. We’ve got to see if they can do that. What we do is similar to what Preston’s coach [former Heisman winner Ty Detmer] did in the NFL. I don’t think anything is too big for Preston.”
UM doesn’t know if Thompson ultimately will opt for pro baseball. But Canes coaches are intrigued. “Tremendous athlete,” Fisch said. “He can dunk a basketball, throw a football anywhere and everywhere you want it to go.”
NCAA INVESTIGATION ITEM
Olivier Vernon, who received the stiffest penalty of any of the UM players punished by the NCAA last August, told a few reporters at the NFL Combine on Saturday that "the person recruiting me introduced me to Nevin Shapiro." I asked him who that person was. "It was Clint Hurtt," he said. "And Aubrey Hill. I hold no grudges [toward them] but I feel if they knew the type of person he was, they shouldn't have introduced me to him."
Vernon has told both the NCAA and NFL teams that Hurtt and Hill introduced him to Shapiro.
Vernon isn't the only player who told the NCAA that former UM assistants took them to Shapiro, which will be problematic for UM (and potentially those assistants) when the NCAA decides its punishment. At least one current player blamed Joe Pannunzio. Hurtt is now at Louisville, Pannunzio at Alabama and Hill at Florida.
Vernon was suspened six games last season and required to repay more than $1200 because, as a recruit, he accepted things such as access to Shapiro's suite at a Miami home game, drinks and cover charges at two night clubs.
He said every NFL team he spoke to has asked him about that NCAA suspension, but said the Dolphins haven't requested to speak to him at all. So what lesson has he learned?
"If somebody is being so nice to you, you should think why are they being so nice to you? It was my first experience with that. I thought everybody was doing that. I didn't think it was special treatment.... I should have known better. He's a shady person. He has bad blood and is taking out his frustrations [of] being incarcerated."
### One player that Dolphins coach Joe Philbin gets excited talking about? Charles Clay. “We love his versatility.” He envisions lining him up sometimes “at tight end, the next time next to the tight end, the next time as a receiver.” Philbin loves to create mismatches, and Clay is the ideal chess piece for doing that.
### Though Philbin isn’t animated or loud like Rex Ryan or Tony Sparano, he commands players' attention very well, according to those who have been around him. "He can step in a room and he's just got a natural presence about him,” said Seahawks GM John Schneider, who worked with Philbin in Green Bay. "He has that 'it' quality as a leader."
### The Dolphins and the agent for Kendall Langford spoke last week, sources said, and talks will continue, with a new deal remaining a realistic possibility but not certain by any means. Dolphins opponents are hoping they lose both Paul Soliai (likely) and Langford.
"Looking at Miami's size up front on both sides of the ball, the Langfords, Jared Odrick, it just seems like they just keep rolling out bigger guys after bigger guys," said Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum, adding that he "absolutely has that in mind" when he drafts linemen. Tannenbaum, incidentally, said he has been "picking the brain" of Sparano (the Jets' new offensive coordinator) about his Dolphins days. "I told him, 'You're not just here for Mark Sanchez. You're here for me. Get me better! What did you guys do [in Miami]?' Because obviously they did a lot of good things. He's got a lot of wisdom and lessons that happened in Miami and I want to bring all of those things up here."
### A sure sign that peers respect Heat rookie Norris Cole? Several have gone out of their way to approach him with praise. "Tony Parker said he loves my confidence," Cole said. "Lou Williams said I'm quicker than I look on tape.''
### What arguably is the Heat's best lineup (Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem with the Big Three), has played only 15 minutes together all season, with Miami outscoring teams, 42-18, during that time. Of course, we would see more of that lineup to close games if the Heat actually played close games.... Before signing with Portland last week, center Joel Pryzbilla spent three days in South Florida being recruited by the Heat. "They were first class," he told The Oregonian. "It was a tough decision." Though Joel Anthony has been playing well, the Heat still remains open to adding a veteran center who has something significant to offer.
### A good sign regarding new Marlins and ex-White Sox lefty Mark Buehrle, who is moving over from the American League for the first time: He's 24-6 with a 3.34 ERA against the National League and a remarkable 10-0 with a 1.79 ERA in his last 14 interleague starts. “Sometimes, I have an advantage when teams haven’t seen me,” he said.