Barry Jackson

Quarterback question adds fascinating subplot to UM recruiting class

Miami head coach Mark Richt, left, shakes hands with quarterback Brad Kaaya (15) on the field after an NCAA college football game against Duke in Miami Gardens, Fla., Sat., Nov. 26, 2016.
Miami head coach Mark Richt, left, shakes hands with quarterback Brad Kaaya (15) on the field after an NCAA college football game against Duke in Miami Gardens, Fla., Sat., Nov. 26, 2016. AP

The most fascinating question about this UM recruiting class, which his drawing pretty good reviews from analysts, is one that might not be answered for years:

Does Mark Richt ultimately stick with the type of pro-style quarterback he has used most of his coaching career or does he take a chance with a dual-threat prodigy who potentially has the highest ceiling of all his quarterbacks?

Though Malik Rosier, Jack Allison and Evan Shirreffs will be given every chance to win the starting job this year – and Allison has the ability to be a multiyear starter - it’s fully expected that one of these quarterback recruits (pro-style Cade Weldon, who’s already enrolled, or dual-threat N’Kosi Perry, who arrives this summer) will be starting at some point during Richt’s tenure here.

Privately, some UM coaches believe Perry, who’s 6-4 and needs to bulk up from 178, could be another Lamar Jackson, who won the Heisman Trophy at Louisville last season. He’s the sixth dual threat quarterback Heisman winner since 2007, which should tell you how the college game is headed.

But UM staffers don’t underestimate Weldon, who also has mobility (he actually ran for more yards than Perry last season) but is more of a prototypical drop-back passer than Perry.

With no disrespect to Weldon, Tom Lemming – the dean of recruiting analysts – believes UM has a future star in Perry, who had 22 touchdown passes, four touchdown runs and two interceptions at Ocala Vanguard last season.

“He’s got ability to be a Heisman candidate in three years,” Lemming said by phone. “He can put on another 20 pounds of muscle and then he is going to be quite a specimen. I love him on film. His coach has done a great job of developing him.

“In college football, the majority of teams are moving toward [dual threat quarterbacks], athletic quarterbacks who can beat you with their arm and legs. Perry is well suited for a spread offense. He has Lamar Jackson’s foot quickness. Not quite as fast as Lamar but has a terrific arm.”

Ask ESPN recruiting czar Tom Luginhill to assess Miami’s class, and he immediately mentions Perry.

“From going on 18 months ago, I felt N’Kosi Perry has been highly undervalued in recruiting circles or in terms of exposure,” Luginbill said. “I don’t believe he’s a college ready guy right now but I think he’s got an opportunity as a thrower and as an athlete to have a very, very bright future.

“He’s going to be a program where they’re going to be able to teach him the nuances of the quarterback position under pro style principles under Mark Richt. We have him ranked a little higher than most have throughout the process [84th best player in this class]. We think he’s a late-bloomer who could really flourish.”

But local recruiting analyst Larry Blustein said “three years from now, my head tells me Cade Weldon is going to be the quarterback. I think he’s more of what Mark Richt is looking for out of this offense. Look at Aaron Murray, all the guys he’s had at Georgia [that are similar or somewhat similar to Weldon]. None of his quarterbacks have been like [dual-threat] Joe Hamilton at Georgia Tech.

“Three years from now, Perry will be damn good athlete and major contributor to this team. He could be a quarterback but he could all of a sudden see Jack and Cade Weldon lighting it up and maybe he says he could make a contribution at slot [receiver]. I’m not discounting him for the quarterback position. You have to cross that bridge when you come to it.

“Perry can throw, but he’s raw as a college thrower. He’s going to need a lot of work, but so did Jack Allison.”

Can you force him into a pro style offense or should you even try?

“You adapt to what he’s doing,” Blustein said. “You modify things. You can’t change your offensive philosophy.”

Richt will be permitted to utter the words “N’Kosi Perry” to reporters for the first time at his 3 p.m. news conference on Wednesday.

The question is whether Perry will be such an extraordinary talent that he forces Richt to adjust his approach, something Richt assuredly will do if Perry is his best quarterback in 2017, 2018 or beyond.

Overall thoughts on this class?

• Luginbill: “This is a class top to bottom that I think is very strong. And getting [offensive tackle] Kai Leon Herbert last week to flip from Michigan was very, very important to this program. Very excited about the inroads they’ve made within the offensive line. Having broadcast a couple of Miami games this past fall, that’s a real area of concern. They needed to get better there.

“They needed some more numbers in terms of ensuring depth… They’ve covered themselves [at running back] with Robert Burns. Different player than Mark Walton or Joseph Yearby. Brings a little bit more power and explosiveness to the position.

“And what I believe has been the greatest improvement to Miami’s football team over the past two years is the defensive front seven continuing to make additions at linebacker and defensive line, including DJ Johnson out of California, De’Andre Wilder out of Carol City.”

• Lemming: “Herbert and Navaughn Donaldson are two of the best tackles I’ve seen in the country; Herbert is better than Donaldson when you look at film.

“DJ Johnson is a terrific talent. People forget what a good back Robert Burns is [because he has been injured]. [Receiver] Evidence Njoku has leaping ability and good speed. DeeJay Dallas can fly; good instincts and production. Should be a good college corner….

“Tight end Brian Polendey can catch and is trained as a blocker, which makes you an instant contributor.

“Zach Dykstra will be a big sleeper. He can play guard or tackle and is going to be 6-6, 320 in another year. Great hands. And De’Andre Wilder is one of the better linebackers I saw last year. He’s underrated.”

Here is Blustein’s review, by position, of UM’s class.

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