Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh discusses the quarterbacks Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
Ann Arbor – With a handful of practices in the books this spring, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh seems satisfied with the pace the new offensive system is being installed.
Josh Gattis, Alabama’s co-offensive coordinator last year, joined the Wolverines’ staff as offensive coordinator earlier this year. He has been praised for his high energy and ability to teach his system not only to the players, but to the coaches, as well. His hiring signaled a move to a more up-tempo, no-huddle offense – "speed in space," as Gattis preaches – and that’s apparently how he goes about his job, a sort of speed in teaching.
“We’re pretty far along after seven practices with a new system being implemented,” Harbaugh said Wednesday. “That’s a credit to Josh.”
The quarterback room, featuring returning starter Shea Patterson, is dominated by players who fit what Gattis’ is installing. Patterson leads the way not only because of his experience as Michigan starter last year, but also because he started 10 games at Ole Miss, where was in charge of a similar style offense. Like Patterson, backup Dylan McCaffrey showed in limited action last season an ability to run, as did Joe Milton. This makes them doubly dangerous.
With that in mind, it is a versatile group of quarterbacks, which might make some wonder why Harbaugh didn’t depart from his more tradition pro-style offense earlier.
“Sometimes things change as you go along and you’re open to new ideas,” Harbaugh said Wednesday. “There are factors that make it beneficial. But I’ve never been one to do things because that’s the way they’ve always been done. I’ve always taken the approach: If it helps us win, we’re going to do it, and at least try it. It’s always been my mindset.”
The Wolverines are adjusting to Gattis’ offense and embracing it.
“I don’t know if it was needed. I always feel like you want to run the offense best suited to your team,” veteran left guard Ben Bredeson said recently. “I feel like we’ve got a team that really can accomplish this, and I think it’s actually going to work really well with the personnel we have and the coaches we have. I think this is a great fit for the team this year.”
It is seemingly a great fit for Patterson and the other quarterbacks. Harbaugh said they’ve been “steady” all spring and said while the transition to the offense wasn’t smooth initially, Patterson has definitely improved.
“Shea, in particular, when the new system came in, it takes time,” Harbaugh said. “Thought there was some indecisiveness – natural indecisiveness. The last two practices he’s been very decisive going through his reads and knowing where all 11 are on the field and making good decisions and being quick with his decisions and accurate. He’s doing really well. Last two practices are showing that.
“Dylan’s also picked it up extremely fast and is doing well. Little mistakes here and there but they have to get a feel for the reads and decisions that they make. I would say really all are progressing well in that area.”
Offensive line coach Ed Warinner has spent the better part of the last 15 years in no-huddle offenses. Last year at Michigan was his first in a huddle offense in some time, and he said he has quickly transitioned to Gattis’ offense. Last week when he met with media, he said the offense is “tailor made” for Patterson’s skill set.
There’s no doubt this offense plays to Patterson’s strengths. He completed nearly 65 percent of his passes for 2,600 yards and had 22 touchdowns against seven interceptions last season. 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.
“Shea’s excited, and I’m excited for him,” quarterbacks coach Ben McDaniels said recently. “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. I expect him to play well.”
Michigan has an open practice Saturday at Michigan Stadium and although Harbaugh said there’s no reason not to show the full capacity of the offense, there’s also a reason the Wolverines can’t: There are a number of injuries at the skill positions, including receivers Donovan Peoples-Jones and Nico Collins, and running back Christian Turner. Earlier this week, Harbaugh rattled off a depth chart with names that probably won’t be in the same location on that chart in the fall.
Of course, when there are absences, other players get a chance to get more snaps. Early-enrollee freshman receiver Mike Sainristil is one of those and has turned heads. The tight ends also are getting more playing time.
One thing Harbaugh said has been obvious during spring practices and will be on display Saturday is the team's overall endurance. The players went through their second winter conditioning with Ben Herbert, hired early last year.
“The thing that’s hit me from day one with our entire team is that they move around really well, and then they move around really well at practice,” he said. “There’s no drop-off toward the end of practice. I mean, our practices even crescendo toward the end with the condition and the speed with which the guys are playing. That’s been evident every single practice on all sides of the ball. Hungry. Hungry and in shape, and the team is strong and it moves well, and that’s showing up on a consistently good basis every day.”