Mark Richt has an early quarterback leader — or leaders — in mind in the race to replace NFL-bound Brad Kaaya.
And if Richt doesn’t “chicken out,’’ as the coach told reporters Tuesday after the University of Miami’s seventh spring practice, he’ll find out if his opinion is supported by proof on the football field Saturday in the Hurricanes’ first spring scrimmage of 2017.
For the first time in many years, UM is leaning toward allowing its defense to tackle the quarterbacks during a scrimmage that is closed to the media and public.
“My plan right now,’’ Richt said, “which is a little bit different, is to let the quarterbacks have a normal jersey and play ball. Is it a sack? Is it not a sack? In a normal scrimmage, we don’t know.
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“This scrimmage, if I don’t chicken out, we’ll know if it’s a sack or not. We’ll know if a guy makes a move and gets 5 yards, or if he gets tackled and he fumbles the ball or secures the ball, or whatever it may be. It’ll look more like a true game on those snaps, because we’re going to let the quarterbacks play ball.”
The quarterbacks in spring competing to win the starting job have stayed in the same rotation during the 10-or-so minutes of media viewing during each practice. Redshirt junior Malik Rosier, the only signal-caller with UM experience, is followed by redshirt sophomore Evan Shirreffs, then redshirt freshman Jack Allison, redshirt junior Vincent Testaverde and true freshman Cade Weldon.
When asked if the reasoning behind making the quarterbacks open for tackling is to see how they perform under pressure, Richt said: “Absolutely. How are you going to react when you get hit in the mouth and you have to go to the next play? How are you going to react? Can you stand in there and throw a strike and then somebody hits you? That’s part of being a pocket passer. We’ll throw out of the pocket.”
After acknowledging that he has seen some separation among the quarterbacks this spring, Richt declined to say who has stood out.
“I’m not going to tell you,’’ he said respectfully. “The main reason is the very things we’re talking about. Let’s see a scrimmage. I’m going to reserve my opinion until the scrimmages. Somebody may show something in the scrimmage that they couldn’t show in the ‘thud’ tempo we have right now. We’ll watch it and see.”
And while he’s trying not to chicken out about letting his quarterbacks get hit, Richt is definitely worried about his running backs staying healthy this spring — what few healthy ones he has left.
Early enrollee Robert Burns, a true freshman tailback who Richt disclosed on Saturday was injured, did not practice again Tuesday, leaving starter Mark Walton and sophomore backup Travis Homer as the only healthy running backs this spring on scholarship.
On Tuesday, the coach said of that position, “We pray, a lot. “We don’t want anybody getting hurt, obviously. But there’s certain positions that, if you had one or two [injuries], you’re like, ‘I have no earthly idea what we’ll do.’
“We’ll go five wide [receivers] or something. I do have a nightmare about that once a week. We need help for sure, I can tell you that, at that position.”
The Hurricanes are still hoping to land Clemson graduate transfer running back Tyshon Dye, who has the Canes among his contenders.
Richt wouldn’t say if Burns, who was injured much of his high school career at Miami Gulliver Prep, was returning this spring. “We don’t know yet,’’ he said. “I think there [are] some doctors’ meetings’ [Tuesday] to decide what’s next. We may have some info by [Wednesday].’’