University of Miami

Miami Hurricanes defensive players praise new starting QB Brad Kaaya

Hurricanes defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio doesn’t spend a whole lot of time breaking down what the guys on the other side of the ball are doing down in Coral Gables.

After all, he’s got his own issues to worry about. But asked Monday what has impressed him most about freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya, who won the starting job on Sunday, D’Onofrio had a lot to say.

“His poise and his mechanics [are what stand out],” D’Onofrio said. “He's very polished — just being able to handle it all and how he looks and he moves in the pocket. It doesn’t look like a young guy doing that. He’s very mechanically sound, like he’s been doing this for a long time.”

Cornerback Tracy Howard said he thought Kaaya’s pocket presence helped win him the job over senior transfer Jake Heaps. Earlier in camp, linebacker Denzel Perryman said there was nothing he or his teammates could do in practice to rattle Kaaya.

“He has great footwork in the pocket,” Howard said. “He has a natural feel, does a great job stepping up and avoiding defenders in the pocket. He makes great decisions. You can’t beat a guy who makes great decisions. Instead of forcing it and throwing an interception, he’ll throw it away. And he moves the sticks.”

Running back Duke Johnson said Kaaya has done a good job taking command of the huddle. “If you didn’t know Brad, you wouldn’t know that he’s a freshman,” Johnson said. “He comes in, he demands … he lets everybody know what’s the play, what he needs done.”

Sandland to transfer

Although his name was still listed on the Hurricanes official roster Monday afternoon, senior tight end Beau Sandland is leaving the program.

Considered the country’s No. 1 junior college tight end in 2012, Sandland (6-6, 260) wasn’t at practice Monday and was listed behind senior Clive Walford and sophomore Standish Dobard on at tight end.

A native of Woodland Hills, California, Sandland had nine catches for 94 yards and a touchdown last season. Golden said he still needed to speak with Sandland before addressing the issue publicly.

Miami has four other scholarship tight ends on the roster aside from Walford and Dobard: former basketball player Raphael Akpejiori (6-9, 248), former quarterback Gray Crow (6-3, 235), freshman Christopher Herndon (6-4, 245) and sophomore Jake O’Donnell (6-7, 258).

Special package

Offensive coordinator James Coley said last week he has a couple of packages in which Johnson and freshman Joseph Yearby — two dynamic playmakers — will be on the field together.

“I'm excited because not only will it open up things for me, it will open up things for Joe too,” Johnson said. “Motion me or motion Joe it doesn’t really matter. It creates a mismatch on the outside. It gives us a mismatch in the box with the numbers. At the end of the day it’s pick your poison.”

• Even though freshman

Darrion Owens

was wearing a black jersey (which signifies either first-teamers or players who have recently performed well) in practice Monday, D'Onofrio said nothing is official yet in terms of him getting the starting nod over

Thurston Armbrister

at strongside linebacker. D’Onofrio said several position battles have yet to be determined and won’t be until Saturday.

• D'Onofrio said Antonio Crawford, Howard and Corn Elder are the three competing at nickel corner. "We’ve got some flexibility there as far as the combinations," he said.

Related stories from Miami Herald