Michigan quarterbacks embrace fight for starting job

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Paris, France — The newest kid on the Michigan quarterback block, early enrollee freshman Joe Milton, feels like he stands as much chance to win the starting job this fall as transfer Shea Patterson, Brandon Peters, the starter late last season, and Dylan McCaffrey, a redshirt last year.

All four shared snaps during spring practice, and all four feel very good about how they progressed.

Michigan quarterback Brandon Peters appeared in six games last season, throwing for 672 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions.

“I think it’s like a four-way tie,” Milton said Monday after the team’s paintball expedition that also included pickup soccer and riding a mechanical bull before heading out to tour Versailles. “I don’t know if anybody’s leading right now.

“I don’t want to hype myself up over anyone else, so I think it’s a tie right now.”

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh hasn’t indicated there’s a hierarchy yet among the quarterbacks, but if experience matters, then Patterson and Peters would have the edge.

Patterson, who transferred to Michigan from Ole Miss and only recently was cleared by the NCAA for immediate eligibility this fall, has the most starting experience over two seasons. He started the final three games of the 2016 season and the first seven last season before tearing his posterior cruciate ligament. He threw for 3,139 yards and 23 touchdowns to 12 interceptions.

Peters started for Michigan late last season and got valuable game experience, but in his last showing, the New Year’s Day Outback Bowl, the offense overall was sluggish.

Meanwhile, McCaffrey redshirted last season and drew plenty of accolades for the way he ran the scout team. Like Milton, he said there’s a four-way tie heading into the offseason and then preseason camp.

“We all had equal reps in the spring,” McCaffrey said. “I think they’re going to continue equal reps in fall camp. It will be tough. It’s a battle, for sure.”

With Wilton Speight, the starter the last two seasons before he was sidelined with an injury suffered in the Big Ten opener, having transferred for his final year to UCLA, and John O’Korn, who also started last season, now trying to crack the NFL, Peters looked to be the heir apparent.

And then Patterson transferred to Michigan.

“It is what it is,” Peters said, when asked his reaction to Patterson’s transfer. “It happens everywhere. I didn’t try to worry about that at all. Just get better myself.”

During a coaching clinic Saturday in Paris, Patterson said he’s as established with the offense as he can be after 15 spring practices. As with any new offense, there are occasional issues with terminology, but he has picked it up quickly and said he enjoyed competing this spring.

“I’m right where I want to be and I’ll be ready to go,” Patterson said.

Peters likes where he is, too. He said he has improved on his decision-making, which was a point of emphasis, and playing faster. That’s partly a function of knowing the playbook and also getting game experience.

“I think I did pretty well,” Peters said of his spring. “Had really good practices, some practices not too great. Just gotta learn how to bounce back from them. But overall, it’s pretty good.”

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In the offseason, McCaffrey added weight and muscle. He is now 210 pounds, about 15 more than last year.

“I feel a lot more comfortable just with the offense, as anyone would have after a year of experience,” he said. “I think that’s really helped me a lot. I’ve gained some weight, feel like I’ve gotten athletically better. I mean, it’s really just I know my teammates — that’s the biggest thing. Who I’m throwing to, who in the pass game is going to do what. That way it really helps the quarterback.”

Pep Hamilton, Michigan’s pass-game coordinator, has mentioned McCaffrey’s NFL pedigree and how much that has shaped the young quarterback, who is the son of 13-year NFL veteran wide receiver Ed McCaffrey and brother of Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey.

Michigan quarterback Dylan McCaffrey drew praise last season for the way he ran the scout team and has NFL bloodlines, with father Ed and brother Christian both having played in the league.

McCaffrey said he’d like to think that growing up in a household that understands football would only make him better.

“Just watching football, I think it helps more situationally, because I’ve seen just about every football situation there can be in my lifetime just because I’ve watched so much and seen so much,” he said.

McCaffrey described the quarterbacks in the competition and said Peters is “comfortable with everything.”

“Shea brings a little spice to the team,” he said. “He’s a big-play kind of guy. Joe’s a big, strong athletic guy, so it will be a good competition. Any good school you want to go to is going to have the No. 1 guy, the No. 2 guy, so I knew I was going to have to compete anyway.”

Milton is 18, but he said he acts like he’s 26. In other words, he’s mature beyond his years.

The Floridian admits he was baffled by the cold after enrolling in January, but he also said he initially “froze” in terms of adjusting to football at this level upon his arrival.

“Once I got the hang of it, it was all about can I do it now?” he said. “Can I just be the person I am now, be older, just think about it and go?”

More:Michigan’s Joe Milton: I can throw football 85 yards

He loves the competition and the fact the makes each of them better.

“I’m still going to compete regardless of what happens,” Milton said. “Going to compete no matter who it is. I’m still going to compete.”

Milton also assessed his competition. He said Peters is “very competitive,” McCaffrey knows the system and “can throw far, too.” Patterson seems to bring out a different level of competitiveness in Milton.

“Shea got here with me, we started on the same page,” he said. “Me and Shea been going back and forth since he first got here and I first seen him. We go back and forth to better each other. No matter if it’s in practice or out of practice, we’re always competing. Like on the plane ride up we were talking about plays, two-minute drills. We just better each other.”