The Wolverine

2018 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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58 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2018 FOOTBALL PREVIEW QUARTERBACKS BY CHRIS BALAS W hen it comes to quarterbacks, every Michigan fan wants to know (and know now): "Who's the guy this fall?" And they're not alone. The Wolverines' four primary signal-callers all had very good springs, and their summers will determine who gets the call when U-M faces Notre Dame in South Bend to open the season Sept. 1. With junior Ole Miss transfer Shea Patter- son now officially in the mix — having been cleared by the NCAA in April to play imme- diately — the competition has become even more heated. Redshirt sophomore Brandon Peters, redshirt freshman Dylan McCaffrey and true freshman Joe Milton all had their moments during March and April practices, with each bringing a unique skill set to the table. "I think there's a pecking order in every- one's mind out of spring," McCaffrey said after the final practice, smiling. "But … that's for them." "Them" being everyone else but him, and the other quarterbacks if they so chose. Mc- Caffrey has his sights set on the position, of course, as do each of the others, but the coaches did their part to make sure the com- petition would continue. It will pick up again this August, at which point the guys that put in the most work will likely be the ones to beat. "Yeah, you can always count on that," Har- baugh said on his team's spring trip to France when asked if the quarterback competition would be open this fall. "They're all in the mix." Milton called it a "four-way tie," and Mc- Caffrey acknowledged that all four had re- ceived equal reps in the spring. True to form, passing game coordinator Pep Hamilton wouldn't acknowledge a leader, either. And he kept it vanilla when asked what needed to be done to improve upon a passing game that finished tied for 11th in the Big Ten with only nine touchdown passes — the least since the Wolverines primarily ran the wishbone offense in 1975. "I think a lot of players had the opportunity to play last year and have more experience, and they'll make more plays as well as we'll put them in positions to make more plays," Hamilton said when asked if the passing game needed to be tweaked or overhauled. Michigan got the boost many believed the Wolverines needed, however, when Pat- terson was ruled eligible for 2018. He's a "playmaker" or a "gunslinger," depending on which teammate you ask, and is the favorite to start this fall. Hamilton did acknowledge Patterson had plenty of ability. "He's a playmaker," Hamilton concurred, while sophomore linebacker Josh Ross backed that up with his own assessment. "That dude," Ross said, shaking his head, when asked what it was like to try to defend him. "He's a great player. He made some great throws. "He's a playmaker, so chasing him around was pretty funny." "Everybody gets excited when he's out there and if he makes a special play, you can feel the energy throughout our team," Hamil- ton added. "You can just feel it, the positive energy." He also praised Patterson's ability to ex- tend plays by scrambling, as well as his arm strength. He noted the junior was heavily into the playbook before spring even started, pre- paring himself for the competition. The head man himself was impressed with the way his transfer was able to concentrate on practice with a huge decision (his eligibil- ity) weighing on him. He controlled the things he could control, and when spring ended had put himself in good position. "He had a really good spring; he really did," Harbaugh said. "He's getting more and more comfortable with the verbiage of the offense and running our system, which he's really good at. He fits in right there in the mix, did a great job. There's more to be done in the offseason and in training camp, but I'd say he's right on track. "It's all plus-plus for Shea. … Learning a new system is like learning a new language, but he's picked it up real sharp, real quick with that. All positive." The 6-2, 203-pounder has got the arm, the elusiveness and a great feel for the game, Harbaugh added. Now the Toledo native (his family moved when he was 11, later living in Texas and Louisiana, before he finished his prep career in Florida) is ready to compete for the job and lead the Wolverines to a title … if he wins it. Fierce competition Shea Patterson's The Frontrunner, But Michigan's QB Competition Is Real QUICK FACTS Position Coach: Pep Hamilton (second season). Departing Starters: Wilton Speight (16 career starts), John O'Korn (6). Returning Starter: Brandon Peters (4). Projected New Starter: Shea Patterson. Top Reserves: Peters, Dylan McCaffrey. Wait Until 2019: Joe Milton. Newcomers: Patterson, Milton. Moved In: None. Moved Out: Speight (transferred to UCLA), Alex Malzone (transferred to Miami (Ohio)). Rookie Impact: None. Most Improved Player: Peters. Best Pro Prospect: Patterson. PRESEASON ANALYSIS: QUARTERBACKS STARTER ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Junior transfer Shea Patterson will likely be the man under center. He threw for 2,259 yards and 17 touchdowns in seven starts at Ole Miss last season before going down with a leg injury, and even folks in SEC country are calling the Wolverines a national champion- ship contender with the gunslinger at the helm. He's a difference maker. DEPTH ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ There are bodies here, but there's not a lot of experience. Redshirt sophomore Brandon Peters was just okay last season, and he strug- gled when many hoped he'd take the position and run with it in the Outback Bowl — he threw for a career-best 186 yards, but also no touchdowns against two picks. Redshirt freshman Dylan McCaffrey is talented — ditto early enrollee Joe Milton — but neither one has taken a snap in game action. X-FACTOR The X-factor is also the elephant in the room — can the offensive line keep its guys healthy, and how will the backups fare should the starter go down? The Wolverines had to play three different quarterbacks last year due to injuries suffered after big hits. There's talent, but not much experience behind Patterson. OVERALL ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Patterson is a former five-star for a reason, and some are already projecting him the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft next year. He's got swag and leadership, and could be the next U-M great. That alone merits four stars.

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