Our best guest at who’ll get the nod in Week 1 for Jim Harbaugh’s crew. Video by Kirkland Crawford, DFP
Let’s bounce around the world and back – all in the search for a starting quarterback at Michigan.
Let’s start in Chicago.
At Big Ten media days last week, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said three quarterbacks were “tied for first” for the Wolverines’ starting spot – redshirt junior Wilton Speight, redshirt freshman Brandon Peters and senior John O’Korn.
“Fair, open, honest competition – healthy in all ways,” Harbaugh said. “Throw the balls out there and let the best one prevail. You would like it where it’s the best to everybody. Somebody really emerges. Gets separation. That usually takes 10 to 15 practices.”
Would Harbaugh really bench Speight, the returning starter? Remember what Harbaugh said after the Maryland game last year, after Speight passed for a school record 292 yards in the first half: “Yeah, that was statistically, just the eyeball test, that’s the best half of football I’ve ever seen a Michigan quarterback play.”
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Would Harbaugh really start Peters in his debut, in a huge game against Florida on Sept.2 at AT&T Stadium in Texas? That would take some serious guts.
Would he go with O’Korn?
Or is this just an overhyped quarterback battle to make all three work harder?
I think it’s a real quarterback battle. Harbaugh would go with any of the three, if one outplays the others over the next few weeks.
Speight has to have the inside edge, if only because he started 12 of the 13 games last season. But in his last five starts – three of which were losses – he threw five touchdowns with five interceptions. To be fair, he had an injured shoulder and we don’t know how that affected him in any of those games.
In the Orange Bowl loss to Florida State, Speight completed 21 of 38 passes for 163 yards, with a touchdown and an interception for a 94.7 passer efficiency rating, his second worst of the season.
Still, Harbaugh praised him after the season.
“Wilton Speight had a phenomenal year,” Harbaugh said, “and improved game by game by game and truly will go into next year as one of the top quarterbacks in the country. I truly believe that.”
Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight during the Wolverines first practice in Rome at Giulio Onesti Training Center on Thursday, April 27, 2017. (Photo: Romain Blanquart, Detroit Free Press)
O’Korn, who transferred to U-M after the 2014 season, has thrown for more than 4,200 career yards, but all but 173 yards came at Houston.
Then there is Peters, who improved this spring while working with Pep Hamilton, Michigan’s assistant head coach and passing game coordinator.
It brings to mind a scene I saw in Rome when Michigan was on its spring trip to Italy.
After a practice was done, Peters, O’Korn and Speight stayed to do drills with Hamilton, working on their footwork. They were working on small details, the things that matter the most.
It was impressive watching Hamilton work. He has a laser-focused approach, almost like a professor.
And he has a fatherly disposition – while crossing a road in Rome, he was the one who instinctively put out his arms and looked both ways, making sure all the players made it safely.
“Coach Pep has helped me with my footwork,” Peters said, “making it faster, making everything quicker.”
That’s the key for Peters. To be faster at everything.
“Their biggest advice to me is to make everything happen faster,” Peters said. “Faster everything. In the huddle, getting the play. Getting to the line faster. Everything quicker.”
Peters feels he has improved under Hamilton. “He’s a great teacher,” Peters said. “He really knows how to be successful. He knows how to give it the right way. He gives the right advice, too. He is a great teacher.”
A few minutes later, I sat with Hamilton on a plastic chair, in the shade under a tree, and asked him about Peters.
“I just think he has the talent and the intangibles that you would want in a winning quarterback,” Hamilton said.
That’s a telling statement.
It doesn’t mean Peters will win the starting job. But I think it was an indication that Peters legitimately is in the mix.
“From Day 1, I saw potential in Brandon,” Hamilton said. “I think he’s made a ton of progress and I think he played well in the spring game.”
As far as speeding everything up, Hamilton believes Peters can do that. “That’s one of the normal obstacles that a high school quarterback will have, transitioning to college,” Hamilton said. “You have to accelerate everything. How you call the play. How you process information. How you deliver the football. That’s one of his bigger challenges right now, but that’s easy for him to fix. He’s going to exhaust himself to get those things fixed.”
Can Peters win QB battle?
Let’s go back to Ann Arbor for the spring game.
He also threw an interception that Brandon Watson returned for a touchdown.
“I thought I did pretty well, but obviously, there are things I need to work on,” Peters said. “I still made some mistakes. I missed a couple of reads. There are always things you can work on. But I feel great. I feel like I’m improving every day, getting better. I’m going to get better every single day.”
Harbaugh has a simple checklist for evaluating quarterbacks.
A quarterback can do one of three things:
One: Move the team on a scoring drive – this is ideal.
Two: Settle for a punt – this is not ideal but can be acceptable.
Three: Turn the ball over – this is horrible in Harbaugh’s eyes.
“That interception was a big mistake,” Peters said. “It could have hurt us a lot. It was right after the start of the second half, I believe.”
Harbaugh wants him to be more vocal.
“He’s got a personality that’s very quiet,” Harbaugh said. “I say, ‘Take charge, be loud – it’s really easy. Huuuuuuh! Be loud. Blue-80, blue-80!’ That’s the easiest thing about being a quarterback to me. Just be louder, Brandon, please.”
It’s Speight’s job to lose. He has certainly proved he can play at a high level. But I wouldn’t be shocked if Peters won it over the next few weeks.
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Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh speaks with reporters about his 2017 team during Big Ten football media days on July 25, 2017, in Chicago. By Chris Solari, DFP.
Contact Jeff Seidel: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.
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