When spring practice gets underway at the University of Miami on Feb. 26, the school once known as Quarterback U is going to experience something quite rare in its illustrious history. The Canes are going to start preparing for a season without a passer on the roster who has thrown a single ball in a college football game.
Even during UM's recent struggles after Ken Dorsey handed the duties off to Brock Berlin and Kyle Wright and Kirby Freeman were in charge of leading the nation's 108th-ranked passing offense last season, the Hurricanes always managed to have at least one veteran quarterback on its roster (or somebody who at the very least played in garbage time at the collegiate level). The 2008 Hurricanes will not.
Instead, three rookies -- Robert Marve, Jacory Harris and Cannon Smith -- will battle this spring to become the frontrunner to take the first snap when the Canes make their Dolphins Stadium debut against Charleston Southern on Aug. 28. So, who is going to emerge as the leader by the end of the spring? Most expect it to be Marve, a redshirt freshman who has the advantage of having been in offensive coordinator Patrick Nix's system since last summer. But after inking 33 new players to his roster on National Signing Day last Wednesday coach Randy Shannon said it will be an open race for the starting job and he expects Harris and Smith to push Marve plenty.
So, who will emerge the top dog? We won't know for sure until probably after the spring game on March 29th. But here at Eye On The U, it is always fun to speculate. Here is the first in a long line of previews/forecasts heading into the spring...
* WHO IS GONE: Kyle Wright (3-year stater graduated); Kirby Freeman (transferred to Baylor). Raise your hand if you're going to miss either of these guys?
* WHO IS BACK: Technically you can say Marve (6-1, 198), who was Florida's Mr. Football in 2006 at Tampa Plant High where he set the Florida state single-season records for passing yards (4,380) and touchdowns (48) and broke a 31-year old record for completions (280). But he never got a chance to play last season -- much less really practice -- after he suffered a broken wrist, dislocated ring finger and a deep cut on his non-throwing hand when he was involved in a rollover accident in July with receiver and UM teammate Jermaine McKenzie at the wheel. He's only recently begun to take normal snaps after having a final skin graft surgery on his injured hand. He will wear a protective glove on his left hand from now on.
* WHO IS NEW: Jacory Harris (6-4, 170) and Cannon Smith (5-11, 200) have been enrolled since January and will participate in spring drills. Signee Taylor Cook (6-7, 230) will enroll in the fall. Harris went 30-0 as a starter and led Miami Northwestern to a mythical national title last season. He was selected as the EA Sports National Player of the Year and Florida's Mr. Football after completing 66.7 percent of his passes for 3,445 yards, 49 TDs and 6 INTs as a senior. Smith, the son of FedEx CEO Fred Smith, was the nation's top prep school quarterback at Hargrave Military Academy who has drawn comparisons to Drew Brees. Cook, the son of a rice farmer and member of the Texas House of Representative, is considered a raw, talented prospect. For more on Cook, I've got an audio interview with Cook I conducted on January 27th if you care to listen.
* THE BIG QUESTION: Will Jacory Harris or Cannon Smith really push Marve out of the starting role?
* HERE'S WHAT RECRUITING COORDINATOR CLINT HURTT HAD TO SAY: "That whole thing just has to play out. I know Coach Nix and Coach Shannon talk about this all the time and they'll handle this on their own. Competition makes guys better. And all of these kids bring this to the table, none of them have taken a college snap yet. We really can't wait to see what they're going to do. I think they all bring some unbelievable qualities to the table and one of these kids will turn out to be the best and we'll be better as a team for it."
* HURTT ON CANNON SMITH: "Here's what you need to know about Jacory and Cannon -- they're very competitive kids. Cannon has a lot of moxy to him. He has a swagger to him coming in the door. That's definitely something to add to the position. I came from a prep school myself and he's going to be a little more advanced. It's not going to be as big a jump for him as it's going to be a typical kid coming out of high school. When you go to a prep school you're going up against junior college kids and you're going up against the same speed of the game of the game you'll see in college. It's not going to be quite as dramatic a change for a kid like Cannon. And the terminology is the same. In high school, they don't use the same terminology as they do at a collegiate level. At prep schools they do that a little bit more of what we do here. That will help out Cannon a lot.
* HURTT ON HARRIS: "For Jacory, coming from the caliber program he came out of at Miami Northwestern and just the competition and talent and he saw, he's not going to be the typical freshman quarterback coming in. He's an extremely intelligent kid coming in the door. I always was impressed with him on film. But I remember a bunch of us went to go watch him when they were playing Hialeah this year. We were standing on the sideline just watching. And there was this play where he picked up the corner blitz. And instead of giving it away that he picked it up and let Hialeah check out of the blitz, he didn't give it away. As soon as he got the snap, he threw a hitch to Tommy Streeter in the corner, Streeter made a guy miss and the play went for about 45 yards. For a kid to have that kind of intelligence level and do that in high school, you know he's a special kind of guy. It's not so much what kind of arm he has. It's how he controls the game from the neck up. He has some great things going on for him and he's going to have a bright future."
* MY TAKE: I've never had a chance to watch Cannon Smith play, but I did get a chance to watch Jacory Harris go from virtual unknown as a junior at Northwestern to megastar by the end of his senior year. What has always impressed me about Jacory is that not once through that metamorphisis did he ever show me he was anything more than the same hungry, humble competititor and a tremendous leader he was when I first met him. No knock on Kirby Freeman or Kyle Wright, but being around UM the past few seasons I never got the sense players had full confidence in either quarterback. Harris has teammates who naturally gravitate toward him because he's a natural leader who is always picking his teammates up and always putting the team first. Perhaps the most amazing story I heard about Harris -- aside from the fact he called every offensive play at Northwestern his senior year -- was how after Roland Smith and the rest of Northwestern's coaching staff were fired last summer amid the Antwain Easterling fiasco, it was Harris and defensive tackle Marcus Forston who kept the heart-broken Bulls together. In the weeks before Billy Rolle was named coach, Harris and Forston organized team workouts and practices without a single coach telling them what to do. That to me is leadership, the special ingredient that keeps losing and struggling lockerrooms together.
I know Harris, who will be healthy for the start of the spring after spraining his MCL in the state championship game in December, is planning on giving Marve all he has and I fully expect him to give Marve his fiercest competition for the starting job. The fact Marve spent most of last season healing doesn't give me the confidence he has as big a lead for the job as most would expect. Ultimately, I don't think we'll come out of spring knowing for sure if Marve or Harris will be running the first team going into the fall.
* '09 RECRUITS: After signing three quarterbacks Wednesday and with four young scholarship quarterbacks on the roster, most imagine it is going to be hard for UM to sway a quarterback to sign in '09. But Hurtt tells me they're going to try and sign at least one because "you never know how things are going to work out." So, who is Miami looking at?
Canestime.com and Canesport.com have produced two early out-of-state names -- Tom Savage of Cardinal O'Hara, Penn. and Kevin Newsome of Chesapeake West Branch, Va. Canestime's Mike Bakas reports Savage (6-4, 220) has already developed a relationship with UM offensive coordinator Patrick Nix. Canesport editor Gary Ferman reported Newsome (6-2, 210), who is more of a dual-threat quarterback, grew up a Hurricanes fan. In state, the two biggest names are Tampa Plant's Aaron Murray (who took over for Marve and broke his state records) and Miramar High's 6-3, 195-quarterback Eugene Smith, who debuted at No. 1 in The Miami Herald's Pre-Spring Rankings for '09. Smith is the cousin of former Hurricane Melvin Bratton.