"Starting quarterback at Miami" is one of those jobs that comes with regular torrents of words probing each corner of its occupant's existence, but the one word you won't find in any of the hundreds of articles, blog posts, interviews, video segments of message board harangues produced about Jacory Harris over the last two years is "conservative."
Early on, in fact, that general lack of inhibition is what seemed to mark him for stardom: After two years of stagnation under offensive coordinator Patrick Nix, Harris' go-for-broke mentality immediately injected life into the moribund Hurricane attack under new coordinator Mark Whipple in 2009, when Harris finished as the ACC's leader in passing yards (3,352), completions for first downs (166), completions covering at least 15 yards (86) and completions covering at least 25 yards (36). He connected on at least one 30-yard strike in every game, and had multiple touchdown passes in nine of them. Three of his top four receivers averaged more than 17 yards per catch.
He also served up a league-worst 17 interceptions, a reckless streak that gradually engulfed Harris' game in 2010 until, with his three-interception meltdown in just 13 snaps in the 'Canes' Sun Bowl flop against Notre Dame, it seemed to snuff out the big-play flair entirely. And so, as he enters his senior season, does the pendulum swing from the swagger-y gunslinger who once vowed to attend the Heisman ceremony in a pink suit, afro and "pimp cup" to the battle-scarred vet extolling the virtues of "dinking and dunking" after Saturday's open scrimmage:
"I'm comfortable with the way that [new offensive coordinator Jedd] Fisch is calling plays. … We're just dinking and dunking things. We took care of business, just driving down the field. I feel like this: We're just gonna put it in our playmakers' hands and let them do the work. You see, a couple times I just threw it to the backs and they scored touchdowns. So that's basically what I want to do. Get an easy completion and just get yardage out of it. That works for me."
Harris' previous idea of "an easy completion" was a busted coverage on a long ball he was going to throw anyway, coverage be damned. Now, depending on your perspective, his induction into the temple of the checkdown is either a) A sign of growth and maturity that will cleanse his game of crippling mistakes, or b) Lip service to a philosophy that undermines the fearlessness that made him such him an exciting and potentially great player in the first place. Which begs the question: Can you exorcise the bad, interception-prone Jacory without casting out good, big-play Jacory along with him?
More specifically, can Jedd Fisch do it in just one offseason? Minnesota fans who can still recall the Gophers' rock-bottom finish in the Big Ten in total offense, scoring offense and pass efficiency in Fisch's only other stint as an offensive coordinator in 2009 probably do not have to think very hard about their answer. For Miami, the results will speak for themselves. But from here, the smart money is on a much less interesting version of mediocrity.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.