UM’s Speight embraces Harbaugh’s tough love

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight readily admits his spring-game performance at Michigan Stadium in mid-April was shaky. He also did not give high marks to his final practice of the spring in Rome. But for its entirety, he said he was “solid” throughout spring camp.

The challenge for him was adjusting to the number of young receivers.

“It’s different with being with a bunch of younger guys on the team,” Speight said after the final practice in Rome last Saturday. “Don’t have the Jake Butt, the Amara (Darboh), the Jehu Cheson, the experienced guys, so there were rocky periods throughout the spring. The spring game wasn’t that great. (The final practice) wasn’t like the rest of spring was for me. But you just learn from your mistakes and you move on.”

Speight’s confidence hasn’t taken a shot, though. He has been through rough patches during his Michigan career and knows this is part of his path. After all, Speight is the guy Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh yelled at with vivid language during an HBO piece, a portion of which was filmed two years ago during spring practice.

“Nothing’s every going to go smooth sailing. Never,” he said. “Coach Harbaugh’s extremely hard on me, and I embrace that. I appreciate that. I wouldn’t be the player I am now at Michigan if it weren’t for my first spring here when he was telling me to transfer on national TV or him yelling at me today. I never want that to change. I’ve gotten used to it and I’m accustomed. It helps me build my callus and makes me a better player on Saturdays.”

He also is adjusting to new pass-game coordinator Pep Hamilton, who replaced Jedd Fisch, the pass-game coordinator the last two years. Fisch headed to UCLA where he now is offensive coordinator.

Speight said one of his goals during the team’s trip to Italy was to get to better know Hamilton.

“We bonded a lot over this trip,” Speight said. “I got to know he and his whole family, his two daughters, his son Jackson and his wife, so it was good week in that regard.”

In his first season as the full-time starter last season, Speight helped lead the team to a 10-3 season. He missed the Indiana game with a shoulder injury suffered at Iowa.

What he found during the season and even this spring, is that he can handle the pressure from defenses.

“I’d say I’m at the point where I feel better when there’s pressure in my face rather than seven-on-seven where I’m sitting on a clean pocket,” he said. “I like to be able to move around and feel out the timing and stuff instead of having to be so rhythmic.

“So that’s one thing I really need to work on this offseason is being better when it’s just the rhythmic, three step, five step there’s no one in my face. That’s kind of what I’m going to focus on.”

Harbaugh wants the players to take off the rest of this month. Some stayed in Europe to tour with teammates and others are in study-abroad programs.

Speight planned to stay in Europe for a bit and then wants to take time to visit with family.

“(I’m going to) take a couple days, regroup, get my mind off football for a little bit, just focus on my family, my two brothers,” Speight said. “I haven’t caught up with them in a long time. And then it’s right back to it in June. At the end of July we start camp up so there’s not much down time.”

And when camp begins, so will the competition for the starting job. While he emerged from the spring for the second year in a row as the No. 1 quarterback, he has learned that can’t be enough.

“That’s the mindset that everyone across the board,” he said. “I was talking to (three-year starting offensive lineman) Mason (Cole), and Mason is having the same conversations in his mind. That’s just the way coach Harbaugh has wired us to operate.”