Through two games, University of Miami freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya is holding on to his starting job.
The highly-touted recruit, who was praised for maturity beyond his years during fall camp, hasn’t been spectacular — completing 56.9 percent of his passes and throwing three touchdowns to four interceptions with one game coming against an FCS opponent — but he’s still the starter.
“Right now, Brad’s our quarterback” offensive coordinator James Coley said after practice Monday.
But after Week 2, Ryan Williams, a fifth-year senior and spring favorite to win the starting job, is looking as good as ever in his recovery from a torn ACL in April.
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And coaches now have seen fifth-year senior transfer Jake Heaps — who has started the most college games of any quarterback on Miami’s roster — in game action after he got playing time against Florida A&M.
Kaaya will start the third game of his career at 3:30 p.m. Saturday when the Hurricanes (1-1) host Arkansas State (1-1) of the Sun Belt Conference, but that open competition he had to win out in camp may be revisited soon.
“I think every position on our team is always going to be competition,” coach Al Golden said. “In other words, if somebody at any position on our team starts outplaying another person, as we always say, that person is going to start the game.
“I think quarterbacks are no different.”
Kaaya understands it’s not time for him to settle.
“I’m never really satisfied,” he said. “I’m never going to say that I’ve arrived. It’s always work to be done and small kinks here and there to fix.”
With two games under his belt, Kaaya says his timing is the main part of his game that he needs to fix.
Meanwhile, he has developed a good rapport with some receivers, including Phillip Dorsett, with whom he connected with twice for touchdowns on Saturday, and fellow freshman Braxton Berrios, with whom he’s been friends with since junior year of high school.
Coley feels Kaaya is getting better in the pocket but would prefer if he didn’t hold on to the ball as long as he is, which is “the equivalent to holding on to a grenade,” Coley says.
Kaaya threw two interceptions against FAMU, but Coley doesn’t chalk them up against him.
“The two interceptions in the game I thought we could’ve made plays on those balls and we need to make plays on those balls,” he said.
Williams is making steady progress with his knee and is increasing his workload in practice.
“Today is probably the hardest he’s worked. It looks like he’s gassed,” Golden said. “We’ll see how he recovers, see how he responds and then go from there.”
Now the key is getting Williams into game condition. Golden wants him to get to a point where he can plant and drive off his right leg when he’s throwing.
“He’s healthy. Now he has to get his speed back up to par,” Coley said. “There’s always an opportunity for him. That’s the way we have it, but there’s certain things that have to play out. Some things have to happen with Brad.”
Could Williams take over as the No. 2 quarterback heading into Saturday? “I don’t think so,” Coley said.
So Heaps will remain as Kaaya’s backup. He saw action with the second-team offense late against the Rattlers and completed 5 of 8 passes for 41 yards. He didn’t turn the ball over or get sacked, but he also didn’t get the offense moving much.
Heaps’ first two drives were halted on third downs, which has haunted UM early this season. Miami has the worst third-down conversion rate in the FBS through two games. On the first third down, Heaps threw an incompletion, and on the second he completed a pass to Herb Waters a yard short.
He later completed passes on third and fourth downs on his third drive, which eventually led to a Trayone Gray rushing TD.
“I thought Jake went in there with really great command,” Coley said. “I think there’s probably two plays I‘d take back if I was him while he was in there, but otherwise, I thought he threw the ball well. I thought he gave a good spark.”
Said Heaps: “It was one or two opportunities that we had where we could’ve finished some drives with some touchdowns. Other than that, I felt really good about it.”
When it was just Kaaya versus Heaps, Kaaya won out, but fans always wondered what would develop once it became a three-horse race with Williams in the mix.
We’re going to find out in the coming weeks.
Golden said after Monday’s practice that freshman safety Kiy Hester was released from the football team.
“He’s got a personal issue at home,” Golden said. “In fairness to the kid, I want to leave it at that. Kiy is a great kid. He’s got an issue at home that he’s dealing with and we released him.”
Hester was a four-star recruit out of DePaul Catholic High in Wayne, New Jersey, before enrolling at UM in May.
Sophomore defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad, who has not participated in either of the team’s first two games, was seen at practice Monday as a full participant.
Also a full participant in practice Monday was Denzel Perryman (shoulder), who left Saturday’s game against FAMU early. Stacy Coley, also dealing with shoulder issues, was wearing a red no-contact jersey.
Herald sportswriter Susan Miller Degnan contributed to this report.