Brock Berlin continues to chase his potential. Can he become the big-time player he was projected to be or will he pale by comparison to UM's other quarterbacks?
By BOB HARIG
Published September 3, 2004
Said Berlin: "Last year was a learning year for me in a lot of ways. And I'm excited about this year."
CORAL GABLES - The noise is not loud, but it is there in the form of constant chatter. Sometimes the banter is benign, other times brutal, but it persists. Such is the nature of being the quarterback at Miami.
Throw in Brock Berlin's history, his highly acclaimed high school record, his national recruitment, his stint under Steve Spurrier at Florida and his transfer to UM, and you have a person who has been in the spotlight for years, even if he has yet to become a star.
It is some story, but will it have a happy ending?
Berlin has one more year to alter the outcome.
His first season as UM's starting quarterback in 2003 was, simply, disappointing. Berlin threw 17 interceptions, the third most in school history, and just 12 touchdown passes. Total offense dropped to fewer than 400 yards per game for the first time in Larry Coker's tenure.
And, worst of all, the Hurricanes lost two games, leading to a brief benching for Berlin and all kinds of offseason consternation in Coral Cables.
The blazing South Florida sun during two-a-days could be no hotter than the heat Berlin is experiencing as the season is about to begin. Not that you'd know by talking to him.
"Nothing is surprising. It's college football," said Berlin after a recent practice, showing no hint of annoyance over a line of questioning that has been persistent since last year. "I've been around it for a long time. I've been a big fan of it for a long time. Last year was a lot of fun, and it's a lot of fun being the quarterback at the University of Miami. I'm proud to be here. Last year was a learning year for me in a lot of ways. And I'm excited about this year."
Perhaps it was too much to expect Berlin to step in and continue the amazing success Miami had experienced for three years under Ken Dorsey. The Hurricanes went nearly three seasons without losing a game, putting up prolific numbers along the way.
After all, Berlin had to sit out the 2002 season, and had really not been in control of an offense since his senior year in high school, which was 1999.
Then again, there was that high school career in which Berlin never lost a game at Evangel High in Louisiana and passed for more than 13,000 yards. He was USA Today's Offensive Player of the Year, a Parade All-American. There was his closely-examined recruitment by Florida, where he sat on the bench behind Rex Grossman, then decided on a new start at Miami.
The feeling was the transition would be flawless.
But after the Hurricanes won their first seven games and were No. 2 in the nation, they lost consecutive games to Virginia Tech and Tennessee and looked bad doing so. Most of the blame fell to Berlin, who lost his starting job for a week after throwing four interceptions and no touchdown passes.
Miami's expect-nothing-but-a-national-title fans let Berlin have it, even after he led the Hurricanes to three straight victories, including a 16-14 win over Florida State in the Orange Bowl game. Berlin even heard boos during the spring game.
"I really felt sorry for Brock," center Joel Rodriguez said. "He never talked about it, but you've got to think it had to bother him. He was just a 21- or 22-year-old kid like me. If I got booed out of the stadium, I'd snap."
Coker knows it was a lot to ask of Berlin.
"People don't remember that Dorsey was maligned. "He's overrated. He shouldn't win the Heisman.' A lot of negative things," Coker said. "But to expect, virtually a freshman, to come in and do what now the quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers was doing ... that probably was unfair."
"This is a quarterback school. There is a lot of tradition at the quarterback position here," Coker said. "Gino Torretta was out here at practice (recently). Bernie Kosar comes in often. There is a lot of tradition. So there's going to be a lot of expectations."
Berlin said it is conversations with past UM quarterbacks such as Torretta, Kosar, Dorsey and Steve Walsh that help him cope with the situation. They were on campus this summer as Berlin worked with his receivers and got even more familiar with the offense.
"The main thing is we've all been through a lot of the same things," Berlin said. "A lot of the same situations. It's neat to have those guys to talk to about certain situations and the way they handled it."
Berlin also has the benefit of a simplified offense under new coordinator Dan Werner, who took over as quarterbacks coach this season for Rob Chudzinski (now an assistant with the Cleveland Browns).
Take away the interceptions, and Berlin's numbers from last season don't look so bad. He completed 59.9 percent of his passes and was third in the Big East with 2,419 passing yards. He led UM to 10 victories, including two over FSU, a come-from-behind win over Florida, a Big East title and a BCS bowl victory.
"Everybody made it sound like he had the worst year of any quarterback in the United States," Werner said. "Look at his stats compared to (Florida quarterback) Chris Leak's. Almost identical. And yet they're talking about Chris Leak being a Heisman Trophy winner and that Brock can't win a game."
That's the problem at UM, however. It's not about winning a game. It's about winning every game. And when Berlin failed to deliver in those two disappointing defeats, combined with the fact that he had never faced losing as a starting quarterback, it was a shock.
Coker assessed the situation in the offseason and determined even before spring practice began that Berlin would be his starter for Monday night's game against FSU. And all agree that last season, however trying, will go a long way toward helping this season.
"He's doing a better job of decision making," Coker said. "He's playing with a lot more confidence. I think the year's experience has been huge for that."
Of course, one bad throw against the Seminoles, and Berlin knows what is coming.
"Being a quarterback at this level, it's tough, a lot of responsibility," Berlin said. "There's a lot on your shoulders, and every move you make is going to be critiqued. I knew those were big shoes I was stepping into. But it's great. I'm excited about moving on and building this year."