Three QBs are vying to start at Miami, but Brock Berlin is still No. 1
While plenty of Miami fans question whether Brock Berlin should be the Hurricanes' starting quarterback in 2004, no one can question the senior's commitment to earning their confidence. Every morning during a sometimes shaky 2003 season at Miami, the former Florida Gator would wake up at 6 a.m., grab a cup of joe from McDonald's and head to the Hurricanes' athletic department offices. For the next hour, before most of his teammates had started to stir, Berlin would dissect video of his previous game.
Berlin's study sessions have only intensified since the end of his first season in Coral Gables. While he admits to having shifted his film work from early morning to the afternoon—it is the off-season, after all—he has also logged countless hours talking strategy with new offensive coordinator Dan Werner and compiling a list of ways in which he needs to improve in 2004. Although Berlin says the contents of the list are private, it is no doubt an extensive one. In an 11-2 season, he threw 12 touchdowns and 17 interceptions as the Hurricanes scored just 27.8 points a game, their third-lowest average in two decades (though to be fair, his young receivers dropped plenty of catchable balls). "Brock did a lot of good things last year, but he had way too many interceptions," says Werner. "He's got to work on his progression of reads. Often he'd get fixed on one receiver and just skip over the rest."
If refining his game sense isn't enough of a challenge for Berlin, he also has to fight for his job. Senior Derrick Crudup and highly touted redshirt freshman Kyle Wright both have made clear their desire to supplant him as starter. In early March coach Larry Coker tried to quash controversy by naming Berlin the Hurricanes' No. 1. In last Saturday's spring game, Berlin validated Coker's confidence, going 10 for 16 for 185 yards, including a 59-yard touchdown to Darnell Jenkins.
Berlin notes that Miami's increased emphasis on downfield passing—a plan installed by Werner, who was promoted from quarterbacks coach in January when Rob Chudzinski took a job with the Cleveland Browns-could work in his favor. "I feel able to throw the deep ball, and I know we have the receivers. Last year was a rookie year for a lot of us, but the great thing is how much we've learned from it."
Can such optimism, along with a year of hard knocks and dogged film study, be enough to transform Berlin into the next great Miami quarterback? Or even a consistent one? "All quarterbacks can do is work hard. The rest must unfold from there," says Werner, who notes that Berlin has cut down markedly on turnovers this spring. "As long as Brock knows he's done all he can within his control, that's important, because he's going to need that confidence when he lines up for that first game." Especially when that first game is Miami's Atlantic Coast Conference debut, against Florida State on Sept. 6. No doubt the Seminoles, who lost to Miami twice last year, are also watching plenty of video on Berlin.
Mike Stoops at Arizona
The Coach's Door Is Open
One day this spring Arizona tailback Mike Bell wandered into new coach Mike Stoops's office and said he's always wanted to return kicks. On another afternoon a teammate presented Stoops with a case for changing his jersey number. And at various points this off-season Wildcats have gone to Stoops to vent about playing time, work conflicts and relationship troubles.
Ho-hum? For the Wildcats, interaction like that is downright momentous. Under Stoops's predecessor, John Mackovic, who was fired midway through last season, the lack of communication between players and staff proved toxic. In November 2002, 41 players met with school president Peter Likins to complain about Mackovic's coaching style, which some described as verbally abusive. Despite tearfully vowing to change his ways, Mackovic continued to struggle as a motivator, and the Wildcats (whom Dick Tomey led to a 95-64-4 record from 1987 through 2000) went a second straight season with only one Pac-10 win.
Enter Stoops, who in five years as defensive coordinator under his brother Bob at Oklahoma had made the Sooners D a perennial top 10 unit. If his proven abilities made him an attractive candidate for Arizona, his passionate and personable coaching style made him an ideal antidote to Mackovic Since being hired on Nov. 29, Stoops has won over recruits-including four of Texas's top 100 players—as well as returnees. Concerned mat months of tumult may have sapped Arizona of what he calls "want-to," Stoops made it a point to learn why veteran players had felt so alienated under the previous regime. "It's important for guys to see the human side of coaches" says Stoops. "From Day One I made sure my door was open."