'Getting better': Michigan QB Joe Milton adds finishing touches to his power game

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor – Sometimes in the split second after he releases the ball, Michigan backup quarterback Joe Milton knows there’s some serious juice on his throw.

Milton is 6-foot-5, 245 pounds and not only throws a hard ball, but he can throw it far. Really far. But it’s the extra juice on his throws that his teammates and coaches have always discussed. Cornerback Lavert Hill said he won’t try to catch anything Milton throws, instead opting to knock it down, and receiver Nico Collins admits that a Milton pass can hurt.

Joe Milton

In high school, he dislocated a few receivers' fingers, so Milton is well aware of his power, but sometimes it even surprises him.

“When I finish through, it’s like, ‘Oh, that ball’s coming,’” Milton said Tuesday night after practice.

Milton has had an increased role since backup Dylan McCaffrey suffered a concussion in the Wisconsin game and has missed the last two games. He has been starter Shea Patterson's backup the last two games, and with McCaffrey's status for Saturday's game at Illinois unclear, Milton will be the backup again.

He accounted for two touchdowns against Rutgers, including a 23-yard pass to Giles Jackson. More importantly for his development, he has had more reps with the first and second teams in practices. The Illinois game could provide an opportunity, like the Rutgers blowout, to get more game experience for Milton.

Jim Harbaugh and Joe Milton

It has been noted more than once that Milton has thrown 85 yards while in a practice setting.

“I always knew I could throw far,” Milton said. “When I was younger I never had the accuracy. The first time I threw 85, I was like shocked for myself. I never knew I could throw that far. I threw 76 without warming up.”

He was asked if the 76-yard throw was in high school.

“Nah, I did that three weeks ago,” Milton said, drawing laughs before answering how effortless that is for him. “I just throw it. If I think about it too much, then it won’t go that far. But if I just throw it, it’s going to go as far as it travels.”

As everyone knows, though, it’s not just about quarterback arm strength. Touch is vital, and that’s been a major emphasis for him in practices. Milton said he uses a net and tries to throw the ball over the net, flicking his wrist to give the ball more loft and letting it do the work, as he explained.

“I throw so hard, so it’s been pretty hard to touch up the ball,” Milton said. “But so far, so good. I’ve been touching up the ball, but my accuracy has improved a lot. I’ve just been getting better in whatever I can do.”

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, a former Michigan and NFL quarterback, discussed Milton’s talent recently and said he has focused on his accuracy and understanding different ball flights and different throws.

“Not everything is a line-drive fastball,” Harbaugh said. “There’s a lot of elevation. There’s a shorter throwing-motion on shorter throws, making it a catchable ball for a runner.”

Milton said when he was in sixth grade, he discovered Cam Newton, the Carolina Panthers quarterback, and began studying him. They have the same roster height and weight, and Milton said he has tried to emulate his playing style.

He knows he’s not a finished product, but Milton said he is doing everything he can to make improvements in his game.

“I’ve been getting better and better day-by-day,” Milton said. “Everything else is fine. That’s pretty much what I need to work on, my touch.”