If numbers never lie, new Hurricanes quarterback Jake Heaps appears to be nothing more than a former blue-chip recruit gone bust.
In four years, Rivals' No. 1-ranked pro-style quarterback in 2010 has gone from breaking Ty Detmer's freshman record at BYU for touchdown passes in a season (15) to the third-worst rated FBS quarterback in the country a year ago who lost his starting job on a 3-9 Kansas team.
It sure looks ugly and makes you wonder, 'Just how desperate is Al Golden for quarterback help?' But at least one man doesn't see this as a desperation move by the Canes. He sees it as a smart decision on both sides.
Meet Taylor Barton (@TaylorBarton12), a former quarterback at the University of Washington who was on the field as a backup when the Hurricanes steamrolled the Huskies 65-7 en route to the national title in 2001. Barton is now a quarterback coaching guru in the Pacific Northwest, who runs the Barton Football Academy in Oregon and Washington.
Barton has not only coached Heaps since the sixth grade when his parents used to drive him 3 1/2 hours each way on the weekends over to Portland, Oregon for two hour camps. He has also tutored some of the best players to come out of the region including Super Bowl winning quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Jake Locker, Joey Harrington, Kellen Moore, Kellen Clemens and Derek Anderson among more than a dozen alumni who have reached the NFL.
"We’ve been working together for a long time. Jake's one of my all-time favorites if not my favorite to come through," Barton said. "He’s a great kid, great competitor. I would say Jake epitomizes exactly what you think of when you picture the ideal quarterback. He’s not the big 6-foot, 5-inch quarterback. He’s not a guy who is going to blow you away with size or arm strength. But he does all the little things the right way. That stuff adds up to big things. That’s why he’s been so successful and that’s why I think he’s going to have a monster year next year at Miami."
It's hard to equate success to what Heaps has done at the collegiate level over the last three years. After completing 57.2 percent of his 383 passes for 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions as a freshman at BYU in 2010, his numbers went south along with his playing time in 2011. So he transferred to Kansas where Charlie Weis, who had tried recruiting him to Notre Dame, promised big dreams and a big payoff in his pro-style system after sitting out the 2012 season.
Barton said the reason things fell apart at BYU are pretty simple. The Cougars changed their offensive coordinator and their scheme. "The next year after Jake left that coach ended up getting fired," Barton said. "I think that can lead you to the conclusion maybe he wasn’t put in the best position that year."
So why the struggles at Kansas? The Jayhawks pretty much stunk, Barton explains.
"You can look at maybe his completion percentage [49 percent, 125th out of 129 passers], but that doesn’t tell the whole story," Barton said. "I went back and looked at film in one game where he had four straight passes where he hit the receiver in the hands and they dropped it. Statistically that’s an incompletion. But from a quarterback’s standpoint all you can do is drop back, find the open guy and throw it to him. You can't run the route and catch it too. So there were a lot of things that get pinned on the quarterback."
Barton said Heaps has never been one to "point the finger at everybody else."
"He hasn’t been perfect. He’ll be the first to admit that," Barton said. "Every QB wishes they could have some reads back or throws back. But for the most part I think he’s been put in some situations where the odds were stacked against him. And I think that’s why he’s so excited about this situation and why I’m so excited about this situation for him. Because this is the first time he’s going to a program with superior talent, a tremendous coaching staff and a tremendous system. He doesn’t have to be the featured guy -- just get the ball in the athletes’ hands and let them make the plays.
"He hasn’t had that since he was in high school [at Skyline High in Seattle where he won three state championships]. And I think that’s why he’s going to end up having one of the biggest years and being one of the biggest surprises in the country next year."
When Heaps found out at the end of this past spring he wasn't going to be the starter at Kansas, he decided to transfer and immediately reached out to several schools at both the FBS and FCS levels. UM was one of the first schools respond. Barton said when Heaps took an official visit to Miami a month and a half ago, he was scheduled to meet with offensive coordinator James Coley for an hour. They ended up sitting down for six and breaking down the Hurricane's offense on a greaseboard.
"If anyone can do it I think Jake has the advantage," Barton said of picking up the Hurricanes' offense quickly. "I guess the silver lining in going through the path he’s gone he’s seen several different systems. There’s not much you can throw at him he hasn’t heard, seen or understands. I know Coach was very impressed with Jake’s intellect and knowledge of the game. Jake was excited. He came back saying he gets the concepts, loves what he’s doing and he thinks he’s going to thrive in it."
Heaps, who spoke with me for about 30 minutes Tuesday evening, said he received the complete playbook from UM "once things became official." But he's been preparing himself with the notes he took for weeks. He's set to arrive in Coral Gables on June 28th where he will immediately begin working with his teammates. He said he plans on living out of his suitcase until his wife, Brooke, a dental assistant, arrives in late August.
"The offense at UM is similar to different things I've done in the past," Heaps said. "The offense I ran at BYU my first year, and in some ways the offense I came to run at Kansas as far as making protection calls and changes at the line."
Listed at 6-1, 210, Heaps' height won't be an issue, Barton promises. Neither will mobility (he was sacked 23 times at Kansas).
"Guys are always a little bit smaller than they mention anyway, but he’s right around that 6-foot mark," Barton said. "He’s not going to walk into a room and have everybody say that’s Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. But one of the QBs who came through our academy was Kellen Moore. We sent him onto Boise State and he ends up being the winningest QB in BCS history. And he was 5-11. The guy who won the Super Bowl was 5-10 ½. The game has really changed at the position. Look at what Johnny Manziel is doing. He’s barely 6-feet tall. I think Jake has enough size.
"As a QB people overvalue height. You’re never throwing over lineman anyway. You’re throwing through lanes. Maybe back in the day that was more important. But the evolution of the game it has become a lot less about height and a lot more about athletic ability and being able to make quick reads and get the ball in your playmakers hands and that’s what Jake does tremendously. If the line gives him time, he can make reads and pick anybody in the country apart.
"Now, if the pocket collapses he’s not going to be a Marcus Mariotta or a Colin Kaepernick and break off a 70-yard TD run. That’s not his style. But he is athletic enough and fast enough where he can pose a problem for a defense. He can get that 8, 10, 12-yard gain and move the chains and be enough of a threat to keep a defense honest."
When it comes to arm strength and comparisons, Barton sees a bit of Drew Brees in Heaps.
"With Jake he’s probably in that 60-65 yards throwing it down field," Barton said. "But when it comes to what he does best -- the thing Jake is superior to when it comes to all the guys that I’ve worked with or seen – it's timing and anticipation. To get to the higher level that becomes more important than arm strength.
"You see a lot of guys that have a very strong arm, but they wait until a receiver is open. When you get to the higher levels, playing a Florida State, their defensive backs are fast too. They’ve already broken on the ball. The great quarterbacks throw it to a receiver before he’s open. So when he turns around or when he comes out of his break the ball is there. That’s what Jake does. What he lacks for in arm strength he makes up for in being so smart, reading the coverage and being able to anticipate the throw and get it to the receiver before he’s out of the break."
> What the Hurricanes could end up getting in Heaps in the long run is a 2-for-1 quarterback special. According to Barton, UM recently offered 2016 top-rated quarterback Jacob Eason of Lake Stevens, Wash. and camper at the Barton Football Academy.
"It very easily could be a situation with them signing Jake he could very well easily step in and be the starter and then with Jacob Eason he could end up stepping in at Miami and being the starter in two years," Barton said. "He’s a kid who is going to graduate early and end up somewhere in spring ball. He has a chance to be the best to ever come out of this region. He is going to be a guy that plays in the NFL for 12 to 15 years. He’s the real deal."