'Special talent': Joe Milton's improvement as Michigan QB is across the board, Josh Gattis says

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Michigan offensive coordinator Josh Gattis, preparing for his second season calling plays, can’t stop gushing about first-year starting quarterback Joe Milton.

Gattis spoke of Milton as a “special talent” Wednesday during a Zoom call with reporters and said he has improved in every facet of the game.

Joe Milton

Whether Milton will have receiver Nico Collins to throw to remains up in the air. But a positive for the Wolverines came last week when right tackle Jalen Mayfield decided to return after opting out following the Big Ten’s decision to postpone the season on Aug. 11. Mayfield changed course when the Big Ten announced last week an eight-game season with a plus-one crossover game will begin Oct. 24.

Milton, 6-foot-5 and 243 pounds, is known for his rocket arm, but Gattis said he has not only worked on accuracy and touch, but also his leadership skills. He will be backed up by Cade McNamara. Dylan McCaffrey, the backup to Shea Patterson the last two seasons, has decided to opt out and will transfer after he graduates in December.

“Joe’s got a special talent,” Gattis said. “He’s a quarterback that’s blessed with a tremendous skillset. He has every throw in the bag plus the extra club that you don’t necessarily need to carry all the time.”

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Michigan has a talented receiving corps, but Collins, at 6-4 and 215, is a big-bodied receiver with an NFL future. Collins signed with an agent, as Mayfield did, and could choose to return to the Wolverines, but Gattis did not shed much light on whether he will return.

“Nico’s got a bright future in football,” Gattis said. “He’s going to play football for a very long time. A lot of our guys have been faced with some tough decisions to make that personally they need to make for themselves. It’s really uncertain times right now considering the season got cancelled, then we got it back. There’s a lot of different scenarios that end up playing out.

“Foreseeable future right now, we’re guaranteed the season we have. I think, individually a lot of our guys have faced some tough decisions. We’re just here to support whatever decision they make. We’re fully supportive. The pitch (to those players) is being around the team, being around the guys you continue to play for and believe in.”

Gattis said he and Collins have had several conversations about his future.

“I’m very respectful of anyone’s personal decisions, and I’m going to leave that to Nico to make whenever he’s comfortable making an announcement,” he said. “We’ve done nothing but support him 100 percent. Eventually everybody will be hearing from him.”

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It was revealed last Friday that Mayfield would return. He’s the only returning starter on the offensive line.

“Obviously getting the great news that Jalen’s coming back,” Gattis said. “For Jalen, being around a team was so important. There were a number of different key components that really led to his decision -- being around the team, wanting to get his degree, but most importantly, he loves football. He wants to be an elite talent, he wants to be a first-rounder. We feel really really good about where we are now as well as building depth.”

Gattis said Mayfield and other players are going through COVID-19 protocols before returning to practice.

“Make sure they’re healthy and safe and as we introduce those guys back to the team; we’ve got to make sure they’re in a level of condition that’s going to help them go out there and have success,” Gattis said.