Shea Patterson, quarterbacks lead Michigan offense's self-improvement project
Ann Arbor — The reviews of Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson from training camp have read like a theater marquee promoting the latest movie blockbuster.
“He’s playing lights out.” — Josh Gattis, Michigan offensive coordinator.
“Shea has strung five great practices together consistently.” — Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh.
“He’s been clean.” — UM quarterbacks coach Ben McDaniels.
No, McDaniels isn’t talking hygiene, but presumably that’s covered long after the Wolverines’ lengthy preseason practices have concluded. What the first-year quarterbacks coach means is that Patterson, the Wolverines’ returning starter, has been nearly flawless as camp rolls on before the season begins Aug. 31.
“We talk about that in the quarterback room — were you clean mentally?” McDaniels said Wednesday afternoon. “We’re not going to complete every ball, that’s not realistic for the most part. We’re going to try and we’re going to hope to do that on every play, but as important, were you clean mentally on that snap? Was your thought process clean? Did you anticipate well? Did you see the defense clean? I think he’s in a good place that way right now.”
Harbaugh said Tuesday night that Patterson and backup Dylan McCaffrey are playing well and backup Joe Milton is getting considerable reps. Early-enrollee freshman Cade McNamara also has performed well.
“Shea has strung, probably I’d say, five great practices together consistently,” Harbaugh said.
Gattis has installed a no-huddle, pro-spread offense that offensive line coach Ed Warinner said last spring fits Patterson “like a glove.” Patterson threw for 2,600 yards and 22 touchdowns last year, but Gattis’ offense is designed to take advantage of the playmakers. Patterson ran something similar while at Ole Miss, where he started 10 games, and he was extremely comfortable with the run-pass option that takes advantage of his skill set.
That doesn’t mean Patterson knew everything expected of him in his offense, but he had a head start and has built on that beginning in the spring, through summer workouts and now in camp.
“He started training camp about exactly where I would hope he would have started training camp," McDaniels said. “One of my priorities for the quarterback room, I didn’t want to take any steps back starting training camp. I didn’t want to take two days to kind of kick the dust off or anything like that, and I certainly don’t think that was the case. I think we started right where we left off in the spring. Spring was really productive, and I think we’ve started training camp that way.
“He’s trying to do what I’m asking him to do. We’ve spent a lot of time trying to grow mentally, talking about the defense, understanding coverage, understand how that dictates our ability to anticipate where the ball can or should go once we have the ball in our hand. And I think he’s done a really good job of progressing throughout the entire offseason.”
Gattis joked last week that he was briefly concerned because this summer Patterson played so much golf, a game he picked up in the past year. When Patterson arrived at camp, Gattis saw his quarterback was refreshed and polished.
“He’s playing lights out, he really is. His playmaking ability, his ball placement, his footwork within the pocket, I’ve been really, really pleased,” Gattis said. “He’s playing at a really big-time level and so he sets the standard and, really, the bar high for our offense, and the other players around him see it.”
Not only did Patterson arrive at camp with renewed focus, but all the quarterbacks did, as well, McDaniels said.
“They all put in really good work in the summertime,” he said. “I don’t think there was a mentality and a perspective from them that was, ‘Summer vacation.’ I think it was, ‘Let’s keep climbing and get better through the summer and come into training camp better than where we were in the springtime,’ and I think they’ve done that mentally, physically and put in that time in the summertime, which is a credit to all of them.”
But Patterson is the guy in charge. Left guard Ben Bredeson, a captain last year, said last month at Big Ten media days that Patterson was carrying himself with a different swagger this fall. That is a function of being extremely comfortable in the offense but also being fully settled in with his teammates, Bredeson said, noting that Patterson was still relatively new to his teammates last fall.
Patterson’s comfort level extends from playing in Gattis’ offense and with his teammates.
“He’s very comfortable,” McDaniels said. “I think my focus was teaching him the system and getting him to play within the system at a really high level. He did that and he has done that up to this point. I would imagine he would say he’s comfortable, and I’m happy about that.”
Michigan’s quarterback room is brimming with talent, and each player has made the transition to the new offense and embraced it.
“There’s a quarterback room that fits who we are right now in a great way,” McDaniels said. “From a skill set standpoint, a lot of similarities among the players.”
They’re all learning from Patterson, as well.
“They’re all kind of in the same boat in that I’m stretching Shea mentally and physically as much as I can,” McDaniels said. “I think that’s my job, and I’m doing the same with them. His ability to handle whatever it is I’m pushing on them mentally and then him having success with that, they could probably look at that and have some confidence, (and think), ‘If I’m not there yet, I can get there.’ ”