UM mailbag: Gattis sure to shake up Wolverines offense

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Josh Gattis gave Michigan fans starving for someone speaking their language, as in, more creative play-calling, use your talented receivers and get into plays faster, a quick fix that whet their appetites with one simple hashtag: #speedinspace.

One thing you can’t say about Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is that he is unwilling to make personnel changes. He has done it the last two years after bowl games, but the hiring of Josh Gattis as offensive coordinator — let me repeat for everyone to hear: OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR — has turned the most heads. What has given the hiring even more credibility, it seems, is Gattis most recently coached at Alabama. You know, ALABAMA. And give the guy credit. He gave Michigan fans starving for someone speaking their language, as in, more creative play-calling, use your talented receivers and get into plays faster, a quick fix that whet their appetites with one simple hashtag: #speedinspace. So with that in mind, let’s get to the mailbag:

Question: What can we reasonably expect from the “speed in space” concept next season? Who would be the model offense? Ohio State, Oklahoma State, SEC spread concepts? — @MaizeNBlue2012

Answer: I don’t get the sense Gattis is going to operate this offense with a role model in mind. The blueprint is Alabama and what that offense did last season, which bodes well for Michigan’s talented receivers and for those fans — seems like all of them — who have wanted to see the Wolverines open up the offense and use those skill players, like Donovan Peoples-Jones, Nico Collins and Tarik Black, in more dazzling ways. Gattis said on Jon Jansen’s podcast it’s going to be a “fun, exciting brand.” 

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That has to be music to the ears of quarterback Shea Patterson and the aforementioned receivers. Gattis referenced what he was able to do at Alabama last season as a co-offensive coordinator — he didn’t call the plays — and mentioned RPOs and some spread elements, but also said he isn’t departing from everything Michigan has done.

Let’s be clear, Harbaugh is handing him the keys but he still owns the title.

“It’s going to be a total offense. It’s going to be a group effort,” Gattis told Jansen, which sounds a teensy bit like Harbaugh’s “collaborative process” approach last season. Again, all offensive coaches have input in the game plan, but Gattis has to be given the authority to pull together all the resources and make the final decisions with, of course, some say from Harbaugh.

Perhaps the most intriguing thing Gattis said was that he’s bringing flexibility to the offense. He can adjust to the talent and can tweak to the strengths. He is all about making this a diverse offense, and the thing is, Harbaugh and staff have recruited diverse talent. Now it’s time to let Gattis figure out how best to showcase it.

Question: Where does Ben Mason fit in with #speedinspace — @Wangler2Carter

Answer: That’s a great question, but going back to Gattis’ comments about using the talent and making this a diverse offense, that includes Mason, the hard-nosed, extremely athletic fullback. It seemed that toward the end of last season, how they used him was predictable. Don’t forget about the Mason Hurdle from earlier last season. He is athletic for a big guy and can also be effective catching the ball. Will he be a focal point? No. But with so many other offensive weapons around him, he will be freed to bulldoze as he pleases when called upon.

Question: There are a ton of guys at linebacker. What is your insight on the two-deep going into the spring? — @St3v3Wilds

Answer: I didn’t think Khaleke Hudson was going to leave for the NFL, but his decision to return was a significant boost for Michigan’s linebackers. He has played at the viper but has flexibility to move around. Josh Ross started the bowl game in the absence of Devin Bush and Devin Gil was out there until an injury knocked him from the game. I’m not yet sure how the depth chart will look coming out of spring, but keep an eye on Jordan Anthony and Cameron McGrone. Defensive coordinator Don Brown mentioned both of them before the bowl game.

Question: Any insight on Pep Hamilton’s future with the team? — @skwogler

Answer: Harbaugh hasn’t met with reporters since after the bowl game, so it’s unclear how exactly his staff personnel shakes out. But with Gattis’ concentrated work with the receivers, and Hamilton’s with quarterbacks, it’s a safe bet that’s how the responsibilities will fall.

Twitter @chengelis