Jim Harbaugh letting Michigan quarterbacks 'have at it' in competition to replace Shea Patterson

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Lansing -- Michigan will begin spring practice in mid-March, and the most anticipated position battle will be quarterback, coach Jim Harbaugh told reporters Thursday night at the Michigan High School Football Coaches Clinic at the Lansing Radisson.

With Shea Patterson moving on to pursue the NFL, the competition is expected to be heated between Dylan McCaffrey and Joe Milton. Cade McNamara will also be in the mix.

Dylan McCaffrey

McCaffrey has been backup to Patterson the last two years.

“It all started today,” Harbaugh said. “It’s the first day of winter conditioning, winter workouts. That’s a thrill. That’s a chance to begin again. The energy was at a high level. Just focused on today."

He said both have improved in “a lot of ways” the past season.

More: 'It's all good': Jim Harbaugh says there's no ill will toward assistants who left Michigan

“Love ‘em both,” Harbaugh said. “Coaching ‘em both up, them and the other quarterbacks and everybody on the team. Not starting anything off with any kind of announcement or comparisons. Just let them have at it.

"Go have at it and this period of time is an important time, winter conditioning. You’ve got a chance to show you’re the hardest working guy on the team. You’ve got a chance to lead. You’ve got a chance to show your teammates just how bad you want it. That started today. Letting those guys do it. Letting them have at it.”

Evans' comeback

Running back Chris Evans was suspended by the university the last year for an academic issue but has been reinstated and is now enrolled. He will have one year of eligibility remaining.

Evans was an important part of the run game in 2018 along with lead back Karan Higdon and was expected to lead an inexperienced running back corps last season that included freshman Zach Charbonnet and converted linebacker Hassan Haskins along with Christian Turner. He did not play in 2019 but stayed in Ann Arbor working two jobs while working out and staying fit. Evans lives with some of the players and was able to study the playbook to some extent.

He practiced three days last month with the team before the Wolverines headed to Orlando for the bowl game.

“He looked good in the three days he was able to practice for bowl practice,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a good story. Stuck with it. Can be destroyed but you can’t be defeated. Only if you quit. He did not do that. Optimistic and excited about that.”

Harbaugh said Evans returned to the team physically fit.

“He looked like he was in good shape,” Harbaugh said. “He was a busy guy working two jobs and coaching football and working out and coaching at Huron. Coaching some kids, too. He stayed busy. He stayed active. High level of activity.”

Heading overseas

Michigan has gone on spring trips overseas since 2017, to Rome, then Paris in 2018 and South Africa last year. Harbaugh said the team plans to take a trip that's funded by donors this spring but doesn’t know where.

“Down to two great spots,” Harbaugh said Thursday night after speaking at the Michigan high school coaches clinic, adding that others on his staff along with athletic director Warde Manuel are working on the trip. “(I told them to) surprise me. The first trip was like a one-man band. It was all time consuming. The guys are doing it now. I have complete trust and confidence this is going to be another amazing trip."

Harbaugh would not share the two potential trips locations.

Last July at the Big Ten meetings, Harbaugh announced the team would be playing a game on “foreign soil” and expected the announcement any day. That never happened. He was asked about it Thursday.

“That hasn’t been announced yet?” he asked reporters.

He indicated the game will happen but would not say where or which season.