LB Cam McGrone, QB Joe Milton spearhead Wolverines' youth movement

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Michigan’s youth movement certainly gained traction during the Rutgers blowout last Saturday.

With middle linebacker Josh Ross sidelined with a high ankle sprain, Cam McGrone made his first start and made his presence felt. Ross is not expected to return for Saturday’s game against Iowa, so McGrone will take over that spot again.

“If you had to single out one person on the defense to give a game ball to, it would be Kwity Paye,” Michigan coach Harbaugh said Monday. “If there was an honorable mention category or a second game ball that would be given out, it would be Cam McGrone. He took another step in everything, physical play, eye discipline, tackling, pressure on the quarterback, blitz patterns were really good, speed keeps showing up.”

Michigan quarterback Joe Milton

Defensive coordinator Don Brown started mentioning McGrone more and more during bowl practices and he continued to impress through preseason camp.

“It’s been building,” Harbaugh said. “There was a real inflection point in the middle of camp where he just, he was challenged to be a more physical player and he responded like that. The ensuing days, he just became a real physical player. We were seeing it in practice and then to see it in the games too, that puts the exclamation point on it. He’s taken off. Good trend right now.”

Young Joe Milton, the third-string quarterback, also received valuable playing time against the Scarlet Knights. With backup quarterback Dylan McCaffrey out with a concussion, Milton was elevated to backup, and he came in and threw for a score and ran for another. McCaffrey is not expected back for the Iowa game.

“Joe was good. He’s got a feel coming out of the game (and feels) good about himself,” Harbaugh said. “We feel good about the way he played. He’s had consecutive good weeks of practice, had another good one today. I thought he played really well. The touchdown throw was really good. Him and Giles Jackson made an adjustment during the play. That was the design of the play to have Giles turn out. Some people were talking about they weren’t doing what they were supposed to be doing, and I informed him of my policy of not getting upset about touchdowns. Applied that policy.

“Giles did not break off that route and Joe threw it to the open area. Joe made the adjustment and Giles adjusted his route to the throw. That was a plus by Joe, a plus by Giles. I thought that was really good.”

Milton is known for his powerful arm, but last week offensive coordinator Josh Gattis said he has been working on developing more touch.

“There’s different ball flights, different appropriate throws,” Harbaugh said. “Not everything is a line-drive fastball. There’s a lot of elevation, there’s medium elevation, there’s shorter throwing motion for the shorter throws to make a catchable ball for a runner. It’s not an easy thing to do.

"We can think of quarterbacks through the history of football who never were able to get to understand throwing with touch or throwing the fastball when needed. He’s working really hard at it and it’s coming along really well. Definitely has a lot of arm talent.”

Freshmen defensive tackles Mazi Smith and Chris Hinton are close to finding their way onto the field for substantive playing time.

“Mazi looks really good. Just what he’s done with his physique in the last nine months,” Harbaugh said. “Chris Hinton has been getting in there quite a bit playing on special teams. Both are on the precipice of breaking through."

Twitter: @chengelis