Barry Jackson

Here’s the issue with Canes’ returning quarterbacks and what must change under Diaz

Before Dan Enos said a single word about accuracy or completion percentage or anything else about the mechanics of playing quarterback, the new UM offensive coordinator made one thing clear in his first meeting with his QBs:

You must be responsible and diligent and prepared and you must have your act together.

The message, he explained, was “setting the tone of what the standard is going to be, what I expect from them from an accountability standpoint on and off the field to be a championship quarterback and leader of this team.”

Because this much is clear: You cannot continue to have quarterbacks who behave like screw-ups. Malik Rosier comported himself like an adult but was limited by ability.

It isn’t normal, or acceptable, for three other quarterbacks on your team to combine for three suspensions in four months and other off-field issues that could have resulted in additional discipline, according to UM people who were around last year’s team.

N’Kosi Perry, Jarren Williams and Cade Weldon appear to have gotten the message, to an extent.

Manny Diaz said, via WQAM, that “I’ve seen more quarterbacks come in and throw with receivers the past month in January than three years I’ve been here. What we have on campus is going to be better than a year ago if they listen to what Dan Enos says.”

The three incumbent quarterbacks better have gotten the message because unless Tate Martell wins his appeal to play in 2019 (and a decision should come soon) or Peyton Matocha shocks the world and wins the job as a freshman summer arrival, one of those other three (likely Perry or Williams) will be the Canes’ 2019 starter.

According to a UM player from last year’s team, there were maturity issues with each of the three young quarterbacks that were evident to some teammates, especially with Perry.

Besides Perry’s social media missteps (holding wads of cash in one Instagram post and the spreading of a sex tape on Snapchat), there were multiple incidents in 2018 of tardiness to a team function or missing the function altogether, according to a program source. Perry was held out of an August scrimmage because of one of those incidents.

One person around the program last year said Perry wasn’t prepared enough for games and couldn’t consistently adjust to blitz pickups at the line — one reason Mark Richt gave center Tyler Gauthier more responsibility when Perry was behind center.

Richt couldn’t trust Perry to do much of anything as far as getting UM out of bad plays because he didn’t earn that trust, a UM source said.

When Perry discovered in late November that Richt had found out about the sex video, he texted teammates very concerned about what Richt might do to him, according to a former teammate. Richt was out recruiting but wanted to talk to Perry immediately, saying it was urgent. The punishment was being sidelined for team drills during portions of Pinstripe Bowl preparation.

As one 2018 UM player said, Perry didn’t fully understand the opportunity he had or the need to take this more seriously.

With Weldon, there were multiple violations resulting in a four-game suspension. He threw five interceptions in the final August scrimmage.

With Williams, beyond the one–game November suspension, there was a concern, as expressed by one former teammate, that he needs to curtail his partaking in the fun social stuff that is normal for college freshmen to do and instead focus more on improving his game.

Another UM official who watched practice last year said he wasn’t especially impressed by what he saw from Williams. Another said Williams lost focus after losing out in the battle to start, that he saw little improvement from Williams last season and that he must be more serious about his craft.

All of that said, one UM official said Williams appears more likely to succeed than Perry because he’s more accurate. He’s more polished and extroverted than Perry, and the former UM coaching staff saw some similarities between Williams and Texans and former Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Regardless of how the NCAA rules on Martell, the onus is on the three returning quarterbacks to show they’ve grown up and are serious about this.

UM people believe the coaching change — and the belief that the job is genuinely wide open — has caught their attention.

One associate said Williams and Perry have made progress in terms of maturity but still have room for improvement. That person said Weldon is clearly behaving more maturely.

But also listen to what Diaz and Enos said about some of the intangibles with Martell and Matocha. It’s telling, and it should put the three incumbent quarterbacks on notice about what’s expected of them.

Martell, Diaz said, “is a natural leader of men. He’s a guy that when he was in seventh grade drew up his own playbook.” Enos raved about his preparation for games.

And listen to what Diaz said of Metocha: “When you start looking at the intangibles of the way we want to build our quarterback room … He’s a gym rat, smart, tough, loves ball, wants to think the game out, a guy we thought would really help us reshape the quarterback room.”

So the message to Perry, Williams and Weldon is clear: Improving on the field isn’t enough. You must behave like leaders and embrace using your free time to do everything in your power to improve and help teammates improve.

As far as on the field, look at Enos’ quarterback track record in his first year at his last three jobs; that should give Canes fans hope.

At Central Michigan, when he became coach in 2010, he helped Ryan Radcliffe raise his completion percentage from 47.6 to 60.5 in his first year under Enos.

In his first year as Arkansas’ offensive coordinator in 2015, Brandon Allen went from completing 56 percent of his passes in 2014 to 65.9 in 2015.

In his one year at Alabama’s quarterback coach last season, Jalen Hurts went from completing 60.4 percent of his passes in 2017 to 71.9 (albeit with a lot fewer attempts) in his one year under Enos. And Alabama starter Tua Tagovailoa posted the highest college passer rating in FBS history in his one year with Enos.

Perry completed just 50.8 percent of his passes last season – ranking 120th of 126 qualifying quarterbacks - and was 7 for his last 29.

The hope remains that Martell will be eligible, and he would be the presumed front-runner to start if the NCAA permits him to play in 2019. UM believes the decision could go either way.

Regardless, Perry, Williams and Weldon must show they’ve grown up and are more serious about being a quarterback at The U than what they showed a year ago.

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