University of Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya was asked Thursday after spring practice session 11 if he was looking forward to playing in front of a crowd in the first open scrimmage of the Mark Richt era Saturday at Oxbridge Academy in West Palm Beach.
“Is there going to be a crowd? Really?’’ Kaaya asked incredulously. “That should be cool.’’
Apparently, Kaaya has spent more time focusing on himself and his new offense than outside distractions.
As expected, the quarterback who threw for 3,238 yards last season with 16 touchdowns to five interceptions (and 3,198 yards, with 26 touchdowns to 12 picks in 2014 as the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Rookie of the Year) has unquestionably separated himself by a landslide from the other contenders.
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“Oh my goodness. He’s such a good quarterback,’’ said Miami cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph. “We watch a tremendous amount of film on Brad and we’re really doing a lot of stuff to trick him on the back end but he has a way of seeing through it and putting the ball where we can’t get to it.
“He takes shots on the deep ball and makes smart decisions as far as throwing the ball out of bounds. We jump offsides and he’s chucking it deep. He’s doing a tremendous job of taking what we give him.’’
The Hurricanes’ most experienced cornerback, Corn Elder, said Kaaya “has definitely taken the next step.’’
“He’s putting passes in places where only the receiver can catch them,’’ Elder said. “I’m going against Stacy Coley, Lawrence Cager every day, and you have tight coverage. But Brad is putting it right on the money.’’
Kaaya dominated in last Saturday’s closed scrimmage, completing 12 of 21 passes for 186 yards and four touchdowns, with expected backup Malik Rosier throwing for 66 yards and two interceptions, though one of them was tipped according to coach Mark Richt.
“It’s been going good,’’ Kaaya said Thursday. “I like some of the stuff we’re doing. It’s really an offense where as a quarterback you really have to dedicate your time to it and spend extra hours, and I think all the guys in our TV room have been doing that. It’s been paying off in practice, but we have to keep getting better.’’
Still, Kaaya wouldn’t say where his game has improved “because the season is still far away. We’ll know week one and two when live bullets are flying.
“I feel older of course. I feel more mature. I feel a few months stronger, a few months older, a few months bigger.’’
Kaaya said his understudies Rosier, redshirt sophomore Vincent Testaverde, redshirt freshman Evan Shirreffs and newly arrived Jack Allison have been “picking up the offense really well.’’
“They’re all putting in extra work,’’ Kaaya said. “I think Evan is doing a good job with his footwork. Of all the quarterbacks right now — even me — he has the best footwork and the best attention to details.’’
Once Kaaya realized he’d have a large crowd watching him perform at 2 p.m. Saturday, he perked up a bit.
“That’s awesome to get out there, get up to West Palm Beach,’’ Kaaya said. “We don’t really get to go up there too often and I know we have a large fan base out there that supports us. I think it’s awesome to get back out in the community where people can really see us up close, shake our hands afterward.’’
Canes sophomore defensive tackle R.J. McIntosh, who played at Cardinal Gibbons in Fort Lauderdale, is likely thinking more about how to get close enough to Kaaya to rattle him. Though quarterbacks are off limits at scrimmages, officials stop play when there’s a sack brewing.
“He moves a lot,’’ McIntosh said Thursday of Kaaya. “And there are big linemen out there, so it’s a little difficult. He’s a great quarterback. When you think you’ve got him, sometimes you don’t have him.’’