The Miami Hurricanes must replace two-year starter Stephen Morris, looking to either Ryan Williams or Kevin Olsen to earn the nod under center.
Williams, the backup during both seasons of Morris' tenure, is the safer pick because of his veteran status and prior experience.
Olsen provides a higher ceiling because of his remaining four seasons of eligibility. However, the mental side of the quarterback position may keep him as the second-stringer through the remainder of spring practice.
But even if Olsen is not named the starter, the redshirt freshman will get extensive playing time during the 2014 season.
Why Olsen Trails Williams Right Now
Williams is easily the most experienced quarterback on the roster, having started the majority of one season while at Memphis. Through nine appearances for Miami, Williams is 37-of-52 for 506 yards, throwing four touchdowns and one interception.
During the second week of spring practice, head coach Al Golden called Williams his starter.
Christy Cabrera Chirinos of the South Florida Sun Sentinel notes Golden said, "Ryan is ahead right now. Kevin is having a good spring, he is, but as I said going in, Ryan is experienced, he's smart and he's doing a good job with the football right now."
Per Susan Miller Degnan of The Miami Herald, Golden further complimented Williams' performance so far.
Ryan is having an excellent spring. Ryan's accuracy is evident on the field. Not a lot of balls on the ground. His percentage has been high. That's what he can do. Every guy we have has a different talent and his is his ability to read it conceptually, diagnose it and get the ball out quickly.
When a quarterback has Duke Johnson, Stacy Coley, Phillip Dorsett and Rashawn Scott, he will never be forced to win a game on his own. Williams is showing the Miami coaches he can safely distribute the ball to Miami playmakers (of course, Johnson not currently included).
As seen in the highlight videos put together by Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post, Olsen has looked sharp. But Williams is visibly a split-second sharper, and his ability to read a defense has a lot to do with it.
How Olsen Is Improving
Olsen has a better arm than Williams, which is definitely a positive asset for the quarterback. Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald says Olsen "throws with more zip" than his counterpart.
But in Golden's eyes—the only eyes that ultimately matter—Williams has the advantage in the mental area. Now, Olsen's mental capacity is not being questioned, it's just that Williams having two additional seasons in the Miami system is a contributing factor.
According to Chirinos, Olsen is working on recognizing the advanced details of the position while taking some reps with the first-team offense.
"There's definitely more studying, more film work," Olsen said. "I'm really getting the concepts down and the different coverages. It's more advanced stuff than last year. I feel like I have a good foundation."
And per Golden, as noted by Porter: "Kevin is maturing. He's preparing. It was never a question of the talent in the fall. It was a question of his process. He's starting to buy into that. It's showing up on the field right now."
Olsen's physical traits and ability to make throws will be an important component in Golden's decision, but the mental preparation is just as essential. If Olsen fails to recognize the defense in pre-snap reads or cannot properly move through his progressions, his above-average arm does little good.
But once he flips the switch in those departments, Olsen is going to be under center for the Hurricanes.
Olsen Will See the Field Often
Olsen can continue to close the gap on Williams by stringing together a few impressive spring sessions. Williams may be leading right now, but the senior could actually be negatively affected by his lack of remaining eligibility.
Yes, it sounds weird, but stick around for a moment.
If the Memphis transfer is the clear-cut choice, by all means, he should lead the Miami offense onto the field. However, as it stands, Williams does not provide anything substantially more important than Olsen. It simply does not make sense for Golden to have the younger Olsen wear a headset rather than a helmet for another season.
To be named starter, Olsen should only need to pull himself even with Williams. Continuity is undeniably valuable, and the Wayne Hills, NJ, product has the makings of a four-year starter at "The U."
Miami certainly isn't looking at a 14-0 campaign with either Williams or Olsen, so the 'Canes can afford to risk throwing the younger quarterback into more than a handful of games.
Because, if the coaches consider Olsen an identical candidate, it's better to let the freshman make mistakes and learn from them instead of watching a departing senior do the same.