Michigan Football Preview 2015

2015 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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54 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2015 FOOTBALL PREVIEW BY JOHN BORTON M ichigan's offense skidded off the runway last fall, suf- fering its second least pro- ductive scoring effort since 1984, when quarterback Jim Harbaugh broke his arm and the Wolverines went 6-6. U-M averaged 20.9 points per game in 2014, outdone on the misery scale only by Rich Rodriguez's first season (20.2 in 2008), when the Wolverines had lost quarterback Chad Henne, running back Mike Hart, of- fensive tackle Jake Long and others to gradu- ation, and backup QB Ryan Mallett to regime change. The 2014 Wolverines also turned the ball over 26 times, including 18 interceptions. Then they lost their starting quarterback (Devin Gardner) and most productive wide receiver (Devin Funchess). In other words, to say there are question marks this fall on the scoring side of the ball would be a major understatement. Harbaugh, now head coach, looks for an- swers, both long term and short term. He's brought in two-year Iowa starter Jake Ru- dock at quarterback, challenged the offen- sive line with lineup shake-ups throughout the spring, and openly spoke of the wide- outs' need to step up and make plays follow- ing the spring game. The Wolverines are embracing the changes, while acknowledging the need to hone their game. "He's a great coach," noted junior quar- terback Shane Morris, of Harbaugh. "He's very intense. He's a perfectionist. That's what we need. We need order, and that will help us win." "He wears cleats sometimes during prac- tice, which is interesting," redshirt junior offensive lineman Ben Braden said, pointing out how involved Harbaugh becomes. "He's always very hands-on. If something is not right, he'll show you the steps." Those two, and the rest of Michigan's players on offense, understand the challenge. They know everyone involved with U-M is expecting better than 5-7, which is why they're awash in the change they've under- gone. They're confident, though, that it can and will get better soon. "I have 100 percent confidence in every single person on this team and the coaching staff," Braden said. "The push and the drive is there. It's more than it ever has been. "I'm truly excited and really proud of where we are. I just love the competition we've got going on. It's wonderful. It's every single day." It's only going to intensify, as spring rolls into summer and eventually fall camp. That's why the Wolverines on the offensive side of the football are gearing up to compete — not only against Utah, Michigan State, Ohio State, etc., but also for the right to be on the field against those teams. New Look At QB Morris certainly finds himself in that situ- ation. He appeared to be the heir apparent after Gardner moved on, since Morris was the only scholarship quarterback to have been on the field. That's no longer the case. Rudock and his 4,819 career passing yards and 34 touch- down tosses loom large, against Morris' two career starts and 49.4 percent career comple- tion rate. Morris stands understandably defi- ant, coming out of spring practice as U-M's No. 1. "Coach Harbaugh is all about competi- tion, especially in the quarterback room," Morris said. "Everywhere he's been, he's had multiple scholarship quarterbacks com- peting for the job. That's what he wanted here, because we didn't have a lot of guys on scholarship or in the quarterback room. "He's bringing in guys to promote compe- tition. That's what our team is about. I love it. Competition helps everyone out. We need to become better, and bringing in all these guys is going to push me to be better, push me to work harder. I'm really excited for the opportunity to compete with these guys. "It's going to be different with a lot of guys in the room, but it's going to be fun." The change will also represent an intensi- fied learning experience, the junior pointed out. With a pair of quarterback coaches in position boss Jedd Fisch and Harbaugh himself, the Wolverines behind center get a double dose of hands-on instruction. "We have two quarterback coaches who know and have worked with great quarter- backs for a while now," Morris said. "When Coach Fisch is working with receivers, Coach Harbaugh is going to be working with us. "They're both working with us. Coach Harbaugh jumps in a lot. When he sees something he doesn't like, he'll tell us. He's very hands-on, and he demonstrates every- thing multiple times. That helps us learn it." Harbaugh's instruction modulates in vol- ume depending upon the results achieved, Morris noted. "He's calm until he gets fed up with being calm," Morris offered. "Then, he'll yell. But there's teaching. After he yells at you, he'll make sure you understand what he's actually talking about." That makes all the difference, the third- year Wolverine pointed out. "Every coach is a yeller," Morris said. "Every coach is going to yell at a certain point. The good coaches yell at you and then talk to you afterward, to make sure you understand. They're there to help you, and teach you, and make sure you learn it, and that's what he does." Morris' own volume raisers had to do with his accuracy. He insisted his completion per- centage rose "dramatically" from the start of spring practice to its conclusion, and that he's taken big strides to learn better touch on the football. At the same time, he insisted, his ability to throw the ball with more velocity than most quarterbacks serves him well at times. "You're going to need to throw it hard sometimes," Morris said. "That's one of my strengths, being able to put it through the small windows, being able to put it 80 yards downfield. "That's the stuff I can do that a lot of people can't do. I'm still going to be able to work on that, but throwing short passes with touch, being able to throw it over a linebacker's head, I'm improving on that and getting better." Meanwhile, the challenge couldn't be clearer. "Right now, I'm the quarterback," Morris said. "I hope to continue to be the quarter- back, until someone beats me out." PUSHED TO IMPROVE Michigan's Offense Gets A Jolt Of Energy And Competition In spring practice, junior Shane Morris was the only scholarship quarterback to have game experience, but since then Iowa trans- fer Jake Rudock has joined the team. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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