Harbaugh uses baseball, dodgeball to identify athleticism

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor – Michigan held a high school quarterback camp on Saturday – and some baseball and dodgeball broke out.

This was a calculated exercise devised by Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh to get a different view of footwork, to see how the players moved laterally and forward and back, to field or to avoid being hit during dodge ball, and to see who has a natural throwing motion. The one-day camp drew 232 high school quarterbacks; they worked with a number of NFL-caliber quarterbacks, including the Bears' Jay Cutler and a long line of former Michigan quarterbacks, including Rick Leach, John Wangler, Elvis Grbac, Todd Collins, Denard Robinson, Devin Gardner and, of course, Harbaugh.

Early on the in the camp during on-field drills, baseballs were hit as grounders to the quarterbacks, who had to field and throw. Harbaugh caught the baseballs in this drill.

"(Former San Francisco 49ers coach) Bill Walsh told me when I first got the job at Stanford, I asked him, 'How do you find a quarterback?'" Harbaugh said. "He said he looks for athletic talent as one of the top three things. I asked him to explain what that meant, and he said they're the best athlete at their high school, they can field a fly ball, they can go be on the track team, they can play soccer, they can be the sixth man on the basketball team even if it's not his main sport."

Grbac, now an assistant coach at St. Ignatius in Cleveland, said it's easy to spot the athletes. But in this day and age of more specialized athleticism, like quarterbacks only playing one sport and working with personal coaches, it is good to see them perform even briefly in other disciplines.

"A bunch of us were all saying, we never did camps like this," Grbac said. "We were all playing different sports. I was playing baseball in the summer and basketball when it was in season. It's a little different now. I would like to see more kids playing multiple sports. I think it's better for them to be athletes."

The coaches were assigned quarterback pods, and Collins said of his 11 high school quarterbacks on Saturday, only two said they played baseball.

"You could tell some guys didn't know how to throw a baseball that well," Collins said. "I asked them what sports they play and some said they train for football. I played three sports. Most of us were multi-sport athletes. Training for one sport, I don't think is a good idea."

No reaction

Harbaugh was asked about the criticism he has received mainly from SEC coaches about Michigan's satellite camps around the country.

"I don't have one," Harbaugh said when asked for his reaction. "Just out here coaching football. Having a day of football with these young quarterbacks."

He still has it

Grbac hadn't thrown a football in Michigan Stadium since his final season in 1992.

Until Saturday.

"To be able to still throw from the 50-yard to the end zone, that was fun," Grbac said.

Recruiting Ohio

Harbaugh hired Rick Finotti, former head coach of St. Edward in Lakewood, Ohio, outside of Cleveland, as director of football operations and more than likely to give the Wolverines a presence in football-rich northeast Ohio.

Grbac coaches at rival St. Ignatius and said it was a good move for Michigan as it challenges arch-rival Ohio State for recruits.

"I think it's needed, being in the high school (system) with Ignatius and seeing a lot of the recruits from that area go down to Ohio State," Grbac said. "In the past, myself being a St. Joe's grad out of Cleveland, we had kids in northeastern Ohio go up to Michigan on a consistent basis. That needs to continue. And (Finotti) having maybe a little bit of a footprint in Ohio, that might change some things."