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The time is now

Miami QB Wright tries to cash in on years of promise

Posted: Friday April 15, 2005 4:49PM; Updated: Friday April 15, 2005 5:39PM
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Kyle Wright
Kyle Wright had an impressive showing in Miami's spring game, going 10-of-13 for 159 yards and two TDs.
Eric Espada/JCRP

It was a single moment in March of 2003 that made Miami offensive coordinator Dan Werner certain Kyle Wright had the goods to become the Hurricanes' next great quarterback. As an early-enrollment freshman, the former California prep sensation was behind juniors Brock Berlin and Derrick Crudup on the depth chart, making few headlines and even fewer throws.

But during one rare practice set with the starting receivers, Wright made his presence known among his teammates. Dropping back in the pocket, he scanned the field and, seeing no open men, went ballistic on a veteran receiver after the play. Heads swiveled and voices fell silent as the fresh-faced newcomer chewed out a respected elder -- Werner refused to name names -- for running an incorrect route.

Insolence? "Confidence," Werner said with a grin after the incident. "Can't be a quarterback in this town without it."

It has taken two long years -- perhaps longer than coaches, fans and certainly the quarterback himself expected -- but the time finally is here for Wright to take those leadership instincts live. The sophomore outplayed talented redshirt freshman Kirby Freeman in one of the livelier, better-fought quarterback battles this spring. Displaying a new field sense to go along with his innate athleticism, the 6-foot-5, 215-pounder connected on 10-of-13 throws for 159 yards and two touchdowns in Miami's April 9 spring game.

As a scrimmage rule, the Hurricanes' defense stuck to simple schemes that day, skewing the statistics in the quarterback's favor. Still, Miami fans were thrilled to see such star potential under center. Ever since Ken Dorsey capped a 38-win, record-slashing career in 2002, Miami has struggled to regain its Quarterback U reputation. As Dorsey's successor, Berlin gave the Hurricanes fits, posting a 12-to-17 touchdown-to-interception ratio in '03 before hitting his stride midway through last season.

Many thought Wright would unseat Berlin as a redshirt freshman in '04. Coming off of a high-school career in which he posted back-to-back 3,000-yard passing seasons, he had been Miami's marquee recruit the year before. But in his two outings of the season, Wright was forgettable, going 5-for-9 for 30 yards with no touchdowns. He also was sacked six times, disappointing given his natural mobility. Adding injury to insult, the quarterback tore three ankle ligaments in a mid-practice collision with center Anthony Wollschlager, sidelining him for six games in October and November. Then, in a turn of events bordering on the ridiculous, he suffered a severe, season-ending allergic reaction to a bee sting that kept him out of the Peach Bowl.

With no choice but to pore over film and brood about goals throughout those troubled months, Wright entered spring ball prepared, determined and as confident as ever. "I'm going in with the attitude that it's my job," Wright told reporters in early March. "My time is finally here and nobody is going to take that away from me."

On the practice turf, he backed up the claim. His accuracy, on throws of every length, improved. He displayed impressive touch when a developing play called for it. Perhaps most notably, Wright demonstrated the sort of scrambling abilities his predecessors weren't known for. "For years, the one thing that opponents could count on is that a Miami quarterback isn't going to be able to beat you with his feet," Werner said. "But even when the pocket breaks down and every receiver is covered, [he] can still take off running and make big plays."

Wright still has plenty to work on, notably his ability to unload the ball more efficiently. To that end, he's been working with his experienced receiving corps, led by junior Ryan Moore, on drills targeted to quicken his release and sharpen his progression reads. From what he's seen so far, Werner feels that his newest protégé only will improve through the summer months.

"Last year was tough for Kyle, but a little bit of humbling is never a bad thing," Werner said. "It forced him to realize that nothing comes easy, especially at a place like this." And especially when your first start, coming up in less than five months, is on the road at Florida State.