UM quarterback Tate Martell on the competition
There is no proverbial-on-the-job “honeymoon” for Manny Diaz or Brian Flores to enjoy. They take over the Miami Hurricanes and Miami Dolphins as rookie head coaches under uncommon pressure — for different reasons, and for one that is the same.
Diaz must live up to expectations of the Canes that are very high for a team that went 7-6 last year, and he faces a rugged opener as underdogs to the top-10 Florida Gators on Aug. 24 in Orlando.
Flores must disprove expectations of the Dolphins that are gutter-low, and somehow survive a brutal opening-month schedule vs. the Ravens, Patriots, Cowboys and Chargers — every one a 2018 playoff team.
But first, each must not mess up the first major on-field decision of his head coaching career, the one you simply have to get right.
It is rare for an NFL or major college team to have a truly open quarterback competition carry this deep into summer, into training camp, with games looming.
Miami has two of them, with Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. Josh Rosen on the pro side, and N’Kosi Perry vs. Tate Martell vs. Jarren Williams across town in Coral Gables.
Diaz said Monday he is not considering rotating guys or having co-starters and that he hopes to select a No. 1 by the end of this week or very soon after. (That’s smart. Mark Richt’s waffling between Perry and Malik Rosier last season, and the resulting paltry 167 passing yards per game that ranked 113th in the nation, is one reason Diaz is now coach).
Flores might take a bit longer to decide, although which QB plays more, and better, in this coming Saturday’s stadium scrimmage and then in the Fins’ Aug. 8 preseason opener vs. Atlanta should offer a huge clue.
We analyze where the two ongoing competitions stand and handicap who’ll emerge holding the football and steering each team’s season. Amateurs first:
▪ Hurricanes: Perry was MVP of UM’s spring game and has seemed to maintain the inside lane into this fall, looking a bit better overall through four practices — although Diaz and offensive chief Dan Enos have not hinted at least publicly that there is a favorite yet.
Martell, the highly touted transfer from Ohio State, is for me the main competition, with Williams the long shot.
Earlier this year I would have bet big that the job was Martell’s to lose, largely because Perry ended last season so badly, after a couple of off-field embarrassments going 7 for 29 for 52 yards and an interception in his last two games. Perry’s season completion percentage of 50.8 was awful.
Perry, though, has since checked all the boxes in the character/improved maturity category, and has shown much better accuracy in early practices.
But do not discount Martell.
“I didn’t come here to not play,” he said Monday, strongest comment of any of the three quarterbacks. “I want to go out there and take this competition. It means everything.”
Perry is a 6-4 beanpole to Martell’s stocky 5-11, but Martell is an alpha dog who otherwise would appear to have the greater upside. Martell is a phenom type who was getting major college scholarship offers in eighth grade and who threw 94 touchdowns to only eight interceptions in high school.
Moreover, Diaz raves how Martell’s arrival has improved “the culture in our quarterback room.”
Prediction: Martell overtakes Perry and narrowly earns the starting job. An improved Perry is a solid break-in-case-of-emergency fallback, but the transfer Martell has too high a ceiling, too much star potential, to not unleash.
▪ Dolphins: Fitzpatrick has 14 years’ NFL experience to Rosen’s one, and The Beard also knows the Dolphins’ offensive system better than The Kid. Based solely on optics through the first four practices, Fitzpatrick has clearly been better and fittingly is getting the most first-team reps.
“There are areas they both need to improve,” says Fins offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea. “It’s competition.”
Flores steadfastly says the best man will start (a reminder he does not have tanking on his mind), even though, clearly, finding out what they have in Rosen should be the Dolphins’ clear priority this season. He could be their franchise QB in waiting, their future. Or he might leave the Dolphins knowing they must top-draft a QB in 2020.
You cannot find out about that if Rosen is under a ballcap on the sideline watching the stopgap journeyman Fitzpatrick work.
Prediction: Josh Rosen will have the job ... eventually. Fitzpatrick will open the season at No. 1, and probably start those first brutal four games as the understudy continues to get comfy with the system. Then Rosen will take over following the Week 5 bye. A 4-0 or 3-1 start by Miami could change things, but, with 1-3 or even 0-4 more likely, it will be time to see if what you have in Rosen looks like the future or not.
OK, I’m happy to have made your decisions a little easier, misters Diaz and Flores. You’re welcome!