Michigan quarterback candidates make their cases

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — They weren’t lined up next to each other as during a presidential debate, but the three quarterbacks competing for the starting job laid out their campaigns Tuesday — their strengths, weaknesses, leadership abilities.

It is a three-man race at Michigan to fill the spot left by Jake Rudock, a graduate transfer who led the team to a 10-3 record that included an MVP performance in the Citrus Bowl.

The candidates and their platforms:

■Shane Morris, 6-3, 209: The hard-throwing left-hander out of Warren De La Salle High has been with three coordinators at Michigan and has two career starts. He redshirted last season.

“I feel like I’m definitely ready to be a quarterback here permanently. I feel I have all the abilities. I understand our playbook, I have a strong arm, athletic in the pocket and I’m making smarter decisions. Those things can separate me from the other quarterbacks.”

■John O’Korn, 6-foot-4, 220 pounds: A transfer from Houston who has starting experience and led the Wolverines scout team last fall. If a play breaks down, he can make something happen with his feet.

“It’s going to be me because I have the ability to lead this team. I have experience at the starting position. There’s no substitute for experience and I think that goes with good experiences and bad experiences.

“I had a lot of great experiences my freshman year, and I had some bad experiences my sophomore year. Just because they were bad at the time, I kind of appreciate them now; you learn from them. You turn those mistakes into triumphs and victories. I think experience definitely plays in my favor.”

■Wilton Speight, 6-6-235: A prototypical pocket passer who improved last season as a backup and helped lead Michigan to a comeback victory at Minnesota after Rudock left the game injured.

“This past year I had my one opportunity to play meaningful football (at Minnesota). I was able to get the job done.” He feels he’s ahead of the other two “as far as moving the ball down the field and two-minute drills. They keep a point system, and looking at the stats, that’s where I distance myself.”

There is no mud-slinging among the quarterbacks, not even a Twitter battle.

In fact, they say the quarterback room has a great atmosphere, and they encourage each other. Certainly, all learned a lot from observing Rudock, a meticulous planner and a devotee of film study. He was O’Korn’s roommate.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said last weekend he’s looking forward to seeing the quarterbacks facing the heat of real game action. He said each makes a big mistake a day, but they’re all continuing to work through their issues while getting better.

“It’s a process — I like that word because it really fits what we’re doing here,” Harbaugh said. “(We’re) continuing to do what helps the football player, and that’s repetition. You get better at football by playing football and putting them in the more situations you can put them in, whether it’s third down, goal line, short yardage, red zone, two minute, all those things. Repetition is part of the process.”

When spring practice opened in Florida, all the quarterbacks received equal reps. By the third week, the race had narrowed to Speight, Morris and O’Korn, and they’ve received reps equally.

“This (race) is more wide open,” Speight said when asked to compare this year to last year. “They kind of had the mindset it was going to be Rudock last year during (fall) camp, just how transfers work. This year it’s anyone’s job.”

And the staff has made it clear this can be anyone’s job and the competition continues to be open.

“They mentioned it during the bowl camp,” Speight said. “They said that was the audition leading up to spring ball. Pretty much every single meeting, every practice, every rep, it’s said over and over.”

While Harbaugh said each has made a big mistake a day, the players were hard-pressed to express what the big mistakes are. They all admitted to small issues, things that are correctable. O’Korn said at points through spring practice, one quarterback has separated himself, then made a mistake, and they’re all back to even.

“That’s the nature of the competition,” O’Korn said. “We’re all competing our butts off every day. Sometimes you have a good day, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes a guy has an outstanding day and you make a mistake and it brings you back down.

“It’s been neck and neck the whole way. I think all three of us would say the same thing.”

They give Michigan different options.

“I think we all have a lot of different strengths,” O’Korn said. “I think I move around a little more. I don’t know if that’s really as much of an advantage as it is a difference. We’re all different, we’re different players, we lead differently, we’re going to walk in a huddle and call a play differently.”

Speight was asked to offer his take on the strengths of his competitors.

“Everyone knows Shane has the rocket arm; John’s not far behind,” Speight said. “John’s really athletic, he makes a lot of plays with his feet. If it’s not there, he likes to run. Shane understands, now, if he needs to put touch on the pass, he can put touch on the pass. I don’t know if that’s been his strong suit in the past, but he’s worked on that and gotten a lot better at that.”

Jedd Fisch, the pass-game coordinator, said there is no rush to name a starter. The competition could go deep into fall camp, but the bottom line is, they’re not interested in a two-quarterback system.

“We like a pure starter,” Michigan offensive coordinator Tim Drevno said. “But we’ll do whatever it takes to win, too.”



Michigan spring game

Kickoff: 6 p.m. Friday, Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor

TV/radio: First hour on BTN/WWJ

Admission: Free

Parking: The lots surrounding Michigan Stadium owned and operated by the university will be free and open to the public until filled starting at 4 p.m. Pioneer High ($20 cars, $80 RVs) will open at 4 p.m.

Tailgating: Not permitted