Miami QB race won't have any clarity until summer

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- Miami has garnered widespread praise throughout the offseason as a team poised to possibly win its first Coastal Division title.

Asked about the growing outside expectations, coach Mark Richt offers this, "We don’t even know who our quarterback is going to be yet."

No matter what happens in the final spring scrimmage Saturday, that will not change. Since signing day, Richt has maintained that he wants to wait until EPSPN 300 prospect N'Kosi Perry arrives on campus in May before making any decisions about who should replace three-year starter Brad Kaaya.

What began as a five-man race when practice began has been whittled down to three: veteran backup Malik Rosier and redshirt sophomore Evan Shirreffs are co-No. 1s, with Perry waiting for his turn.

At this point, Rosier and Shirreffs are the knowns -- at least on the practice field. But Perry remains the unknown, a tantalizing prospect with physical gifts that set him apart from every quarterback on the roster.

"He may pick everything up and be a natural and be the guy, or he might not be ready for this moment yet and maybe we can get him in here and there, maybe he has to redshirt," Richt said. "I wish he would have been here this spring, because I’d know a lot more about the quarterbacks."

Waiting until summer to get a better idea is not ideal, but Richt and his staff believe Perry could be worth the wait. Ranked No. 84 on the ESPN 300 for the class of 2017, Richt describes Perry as "super athletic. He has tremendous arm talent. There’s passers and there’s throwers. He’s got nice touch, but if he has to zing it, he can zing it as good as anybody. He’s got arm talent, and in high school people had a hard time tackling the guy."

But there also are the caveats. At 6-foot-3, Perry weighed 175 pounds in high school. Miami already has asked him to start putting on weight before he gets to campus. Richt said Perry sometimes will take a photograph of a meal he is eating and send it to prove that he is trying to put on pounds; he is up to about 180.

Once he officially joins the team, Perry will be put into the weight program and given the full playbook to learn. The big test there is figuring out what Perry will be able to pick up, and how quickly he will be able to pick it up once fall practice arrives.

"Can you put in enough offense for him without him getting confused or rattled?" Richt said. "We hope to go at a pace that he can figure it out enough to compete, because the first competition is learning what to do. If you don’t know what to do, it’s hard to compete. You’ll make mistakes, you can’t run the system. Because you’re an athlete doesn’t mean you can ad lib all day and make something happen. You can probably do that more in high school than in college. Can he learn enough to function and play winning football for us? I don’t know. We’ll find out."

Until then, Richt and his staff have one more scrimmage to watch Rosier and Shirreffs, who separated themselves with their play this spring. Though Rosier has served as the backup to Kaaya the past two seasons, Shirreffs has emerged after entering Miami as a relative unknown.

Former Hurricanes coach Al Golden was the only Power 5 coach to recruit Shirreffs, who was unrated in the ESPN Recruiting rankings. Only after signing day had come and gone in 2015 did Shirreffs get a scholarship offer from Miami.

"I waited, and I got the call they had a spot for me," Shirreffs said. "They didn’t even ask if I wanted to come. They sent the paperwork, I signed it and faxed it back. Now here I am."

Here is the twist: Shirreffs grew up about 20 minutes away from Athens, Georgia, and went to every Georgia home game growing up. The offense he ran in high school was based on what Richt ran with the Bulldogs.

What Shirreffs has shown Richt is a toughness in the pocket, something that became evident when Richt had the quarterbacks go live in a scrimmage last week.

"He’ll stand in there, throw the strikes under duress, he can get hit in the mouth pop back up and go play the next play and not be shook. He showed me a lot," Richt said.

As for Rosier, the one-time baseball/football player is working to be more consistent and a more vocal leader. Rosier is the only player on the roster who has started a collegiate game -- and that was the infamous Duke game in 2015 when Kaaya was hurt.

"These guys know I can win, but now [I need to] show them I can win every day," Rosier said. "That’s the biggest thing is showing them I can lead."

Perhaps Rosier or Shirreffs emerges with a full offseason of work. Perhaps Perry shows enough in August to win the job. There won’t be any clarity for months.

"I don’t know if N'Kosi is ready or will be ready and I’m not saying he’s going to be the guy, either," Richt said. "One of them other guys gets in there and plays lights out, N'Kosi probably has to lift weights for two years and compete when his day comes."