Michigan Football Preview 2017

2017 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 59 of 179

58 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2017 FOOTBALL PREVIEW QUARTERBACKS BY JOHN BORTON R edshirt junior quarterback Wilton Spei- ght knew there'd be "a buzz" following Michigan's spring game April 15. He wasn't wrong. The crowd of 57,000-plus filing out of The Big House after redshirt freshman Brandon Peters led the Maize squad to a 31-29 win gave several snap assessments. Peters looked good! He's the guy! Or, Wow, the kid is taking over! In some ways, it was tough to discount the enthusiasm. They'd just seen Peters throw for 160 yards, including a 55-touchdown, and put a 12-yard rushing TD on the board. He did toss a pick-six along the way, but Speight threw two interceptions, including a 101-yard pick-six, while going only 9-of-26 passing for 78 yards. Speight admitted to a couple of "bone- headed decisions," trying to make plays when they weren't there. Aside from that, he wasn't getting too worked up about Michigan's last practice prior to heading for Rome. Neither was head coach Jim Harbaugh, al- though the former U-M quarterback is the first to stress the competition remains ongoing, for every spot on the roster. "It'll always be a competition," Harbaugh assured. "Wilton is still, over the course of the whole spring practice, on our depth chart at No. 1. But it's a meritocracy. "By your effort and by your talent, you will be known. That's a good thing for our football team." Speight is already known for a 10-win sea- son in his first year as a starter, one that stood three plays away from being a 13-win (or more) campaign. He earned third-team All- Big Ten honors and became a Davey O'Brien Quarterback Award semifinalist, after throwing for 2,538 yards and 18 touchdowns with only seven interceptions. He completed 61.6 percent of his throws and, again, stood a play away from guiding the Wolverines to a win in Columbus, a Big Ten championship game appearance and a likely College Football Playoff berth. Of course, Harbaugh, Speight and the Wolverines aren't seeking almost. But given those first-year results, looking for change after one rocky afternoon doesn't make much sense, according to Michigan sideline reporter and Detroit-area radio host (WXYT- AM 1270, 97.1-FM The Ticket) Doug Karsch. "I understand the inclination to anoint Bran- don Peters the starting quarterback, based upon what was available to be seen," Karsch acknowledged. "But let's keep in mind that there are 15 spring practices, and that was one of them. There's another month of training camp and game preparation to go. Drawing any conclusions one way or another would be ridiculous. "Wilton Speight brings a year of experience to the table, which is manifested on game day by throwing the ball to the right place, by the ability to read a defense, by not getting fooled by a coverage, by recognizing a blitz when it's coming and checking into the right protection. "Those are things it's hard for a young quar- terback to understand until they see it in the line of fire, on the road against a top defense and a coordinator that knows what they're doing. Wilton Speight is far more prepared for those challenges." Speight understands the competition. He stayed confident all throughout last summer and fall, when some thought transfer John O'Korn, a fifth-year senior-to-be this season, was going to take over. Instead, Speight took the Wolverines to the brink of a championship. It's a different year, and he knows the pressure is always on to perform. "It's part of being the Michigan quarter- back," Speight said. "There are a lot of eyes. There is going to be a lot of criticism, a lot of praise." He's hoping the Wolverines produce much more of the latter, and they have a chance to do so. The quarterback remains a key element, and while the one-play difference can occur on defense, on special teams or by a breakout from a running back, the man behind center has the football in his hands on every offensive play. "I like Wilton Speight's standing with this team," Karsch said. "I think he will only get better than he was last year, and last year he was pretty darned good." Peters, meanwhile, showed a serious upside in the spring game that cannot and should not be dismissed. He has the arm strength on out patterns, remains calm in the pocket and has settled in well through a year of Harbaugh's teaching. GrabbinG The reins Wilton Speight Leads, While Others Are Charging Hard PRESEASON ANALYSIS: QUARTERBACKS STARTER ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Redshirt junior Wilton Speight endured a rocky spring game, but proved throughout the 2016 sea- son he can guide the Wolverines to a strong season. His 18 touchdown passes versus seven interceptions looked strong, but he'll be seeking a better result in key road moments — unlike those at Iowa and Ohio State last season. DEPTH ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Depth at quarterback is starting to come around under Jim Harbaugh. Redshirt fresh- man Brandon Peters wowed the crowd at the spring game with his strong arm and poise in the pocket, and he'll be pushing hard for time. Fifth-year senior John O'Korn remains a solid option as well, if needed. X-FACTOR The X-factor here is simple. Can Peters demonstrate enough development to some- how stage a quarterback coup, or at least prove enough to provide a change-up once in a while? Peters' physical skills are unques- tioned, and the degree to which he asserts leadership and a take-charge attitude will determine much. OVERALL GRADE: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Nobody questions Harbaugh as a quar- terbacks mentor, and Hamilton will be hands-on as the QB coach. They have increasing talent and experience at the position, which is only going to get better. Note: Star rankings are made on a scale of 1-5 stars. QUICK FACTS Position Coach: Pep Hamilton (first season). Returning Starter: Wilton Speight (12 starts) Projected New Starter: None. Top Reserves: John O'Korn (1 at U-M, 16 at Houston) and Brandon Peters. Wait Until 2018: Dylan McCaffrey. Newcomers: McCaffrey. Moved In: None. Moved Out: None. Rookie Impact: None. Most Improved Player: Peters. Best Pro Prospect: Peters.

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