Quarterback Stephen Morris was nowhere to be found Saturday morning on the first day of University of Miami spring football at Greentree Field.
In his place: a 6-6, 223-pound Hurricane with a strawberry-blonde beard, serious eyes, calm — almost soothing — demeanor and an inner burning to be, as his offensive coordinator described, “The Man.”
After three years of being patient, fifth-year senior Ryan Williams intends to seize the starting job and not let go.
“I want there to be no doubt who the starting quarterback is,” Williams said, noting he’s “got to earn everything. I don’t want anything given to me.”
Williams, 22, of Pembroke Pines, is not the cocky type. Though all indications point to his being named the starter, he knows he has to prove himself. His main competition appears to be 6-3, 200-pound redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen, 19, the four-star former recruit out of Wayne Hills (N.J.) High and the younger brother of former Hurricane and current Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen.
While Olsen sat out last season and had his share of struggles, including a suspension for the Russell Athletic Bowl after an unspecified violation of team rules, Williams studied behind Morris. He started 10 games for Memphis as a true freshman but has played sparingly at UM, his accuracy — 22 completions in 32 attempts (68.8 percent) for 369 yards and three touchdowns last season, with one interception — being a strength.
In 2012, Williams was 15 of 20 (75 percent) for 87 yards and a touchdown. He sat out in 2011 after completing 165 of 290 passes for 2,075 yards and 13 touchdowns, with 10 interceptions as the Memphis quarterback.
Sophomore Gray Crow of Clearwater is the other scholarship quarterback until highly rated signee Brad Kaaya of West Hills, Calif., and fellow talent Malik Rosier join the class this summer.
“I think everybody that plays quarterback right now needs a little bit of urgency,” said coach Al Golden, when asked the importance of this 15-session practice period for Olsen. “He knows that. But I’m not saying put pressure on him, just go out and perform. He did some great things with his feet [Saturday] that he wasn’t doing in the spring — stepping up in the pocket, going to his second read, going to his third read, finding his outlet. That’s all just having poise and maturity.”
Golden said he and offensive coordinator James Coley were excited about Williams’ development, though he is still not vocally assertive enough, according to both.
“He’s so bright,” Golden said. “He has really grown as a leader. We’ve got to continue to get him to be vocal, but he can really see the game. He’s smart, he’s long, he sees it quickly and he really did a good job distributing. I wouldn’t be surprised if he hit about 70 percent [Saturday].”
The knock on Williams has been that his arm isn’t strong. He isn’t mobile and can’t throw the missiles like Morris did. Coley said Williams compensates in a positive way by releasing the ball quickly.
“It’s pretty interesting to see receivers trying to get out of their breaks and that ball is hitting them right in the face mask,” said Coley, who is impressed with Williams’ grasp of the playbook and his ability to make several successful audibles Saturday. “But he’s got a strong enough arm compared to the other guy, who had a cannon.”
Williams has continually acknowledged that Morris, entering the 2014 NFL Draft, has an exceptional arm.
“He could throw as far and as hard and into any tight windows as [well as] anybody playing quarterback,” Williams said. “Sometimes I do have to throw it earlier just to get it where I want it to be on time. It’s something I’ve been working on since I was younger. I really haven’t ever had a strong arm, so I’ve always had to work on my accuracy and timing.”
Olsen, allowed to speak to reporters Saturday for the first time since once in August before the 2013 season, said he felt good about the day. His improvement, he said, has come in his “knowledge of the game. … I feel like I have a really good grasp of where to go and who to give it to depending on what the defense is throwing at me.”
He said he’s not feeling pressure.
“Just coming out every day and having fun and playing like I can play. As long as I control the stuff I can control — my attitude, my work ethic — and show the guys on the team I can be the leader” things would fall into place, he said.
Still, Coley would like Olsen to become even more comfortable this spring.
“Sometimes you’re in a hurry when you finally get your opportunity,” Coley said. “You feel like you’ve got to rush things on the field and through rushing you forget to do one or two things. I thought he threw the ball really well [Saturday], felt the pressure and made some decisions.”
As for Williams, he said getting this opportunity has been “definitely” worth the wait.
“To go out as a senior starting quarterback at the U is what everyone looks forward to,” Williams said. “… I’m ready to go.”