Ann Arbor — Michigan’s offense under new coordinator Josh Gattis will be different, that we know.
How different, however, probably won’t be exactly known until the season, but what is abundantly clear is it will be up-tempo, no huddle.
And also becoming abundantly clear — the offensive players like it.
“There are pieces that will stay the same both in the run game and the pass game,” new Michigan quarterbacks coach Ben McDaniels said last Friday. “Any time you bring a new coordinator in and there’s different ideas and you infuse what was in the building with some of his thoughts and things Josh has done over the years. It will be different. How different? Everybody will have to watch.”
McDaniels’ quarterbacks, led by returning starter Shea Patterson, are embracing the changes.
“They’ve received it great,” McDaniels said. “The nature of football at this point, whether you do it a lot or you do it a little, most everybody doesn’t huddle in some form or fashion even if it was just in two minute. So that operation is not foreign to most buildings. Whether you huddle or you don’t, how fast you go, most everybody has different tempos in their building.
"That part of it I don’t think is new for our guys. How much we do it, how much we change those tempos and the communication is different, some verbiage is different, but that’s any football building that you ever walk into that changes. You’re used to doing that both as players and coaches. I think players are used to it.
“Players respond to fresh ideas, new things. Certainly, there’s plenty of that going on.”
Former Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight a few weeks ago was in Ann Arbor to participate in Pro Day — he transferred and spent last year playing for UCLA — and mentioned it will be good to see Patterson and the quarterbacks with the “handcuffs off."
McDaniels wasn’t quite sure what that meant when asked last week, but Gattis’ offense seems better suited for Patterson, who has wheels, the ability to extend plays, and an arm. He showed them off at times last year playing within the offense run by Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and pass-game coordinator Pep Hamilton, but before that while at Ole Miss, Patterson seemed to be freer in his playing style and that allowed him to be more dynamic.
This offense seems to be playing to Patterson’s strengths. He completed nearly 65 percent of his passes for 2,600 yards and had 22 touchdowns against seven interceptions. His backup, Dylan McCaffrey, who is fully recovered from the broken collarbone he suffered late last season, completed 8-of-15 attempts for 126 yards and two touchdowns. Joe Milton also is getting equal snaps this spring, and Brandon Peters, a starter late during the 2017 season, and early enrollee freshman Cade McNamara also are getting reps.
“I don’t know what’s a better fit or not (for Patterson), I just know he’s excited about what we have going on.” McDaniels said. “He’s part of a quarterback room that is working hard and really excited to dig into the spring and being on the field and now practicing real football. Not just talking about it in the meeting room and in the building. Shea’s excited, and I’m excited for him.
“I just think Shea can play whatever system the building he’s in. He can play in any of those systems. He has athletic traits, he has great touch and accuracy. His ability to play in different systems is probably a great trait of his. I expect him to play well.”
University of Michigan quarterbacks coach Ben McDaniels speaks during a news conference on Friday, March 22, 2019. Max Ortiz, The Detroit News
Tight end Sean McKeon gave Patterson high marks for how he’s adapted to the offense that Gattis also describes as “speed in space." He likes to use the tight ends — McKeon said Gattis then refers to it as “big speed in space” — and Patterson, as well as the backups, seem well-equipped to execute what he wants.
“Shea can do almost anything, but he seems pretty comfortable right now,” McKeon said last Friday. “He’s looked really good in practice so far. A lot of the QBs have looked pretty good, so definitely exciting to see that.”
Gattis also coaches receivers and said that group still has a long way to go in large part because of lack of depth. Key returners Donovan Peoples-Jones and Nico Collins have been slowed by minor injuries, but despite their absences, Gattis has been able to see what the quarterbacks have to offer.
“Shea’s been doing a really, really good job understanding the installs,” Gattis said last week. “When you look at the quarterback room, you look at the depth and the talent we have in that room, a lot of guys have played a lot of football."
Now it’s about catching those guys up in the offense. All the terminology is different. Those guys have had to learn it, so they’re learning everything. There are some things that are completely different that’s been done in the past that he’s done a really good job learning those concepts for the first three days as well as Dylan, as well as Joe. Cade has been a quite pleasant surprise as a freshman. He’s very mature. I feel very good about our quarterback room and the depth we have. We have a number of guys who can make plays for us, and we have a number of guys who will make plays for us.”
Patterson, who transferred to Michigan in December, 2017 and had to endure a grueling, five-month process with the NCAA to ensure immediate eligibility, revealed last December he would return for this season instead of pursuing an NFL career. This is an enormous boost for a first-year quarterbacks coach.
“It was exciting for me,” McDaniels said. “Really, he decided before I had a chance to know I was going to coach him. He played well last year and helped us win 10 games. Anytime you’ve got the starter coming back and he’s got a chance to grow and make himself better, everybody is excited about that, players and coaches.”