Michigan mailbag: Too many captains? Joe Milton's rising stock

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

It feels weird that it’s nearly Halloween and Michigan vs. Michigan State is the second game of the season. But here we are, Week 2 of the Big Ten season, and the in-state rivals are making final preparations for Saturday’s matchup.  

Michigan is coming off a 49-24 win at Minnesota last Saturday night in the opener, and quarterback Joe Milton looked poised making his first career start. The run game looked solid behind an offensive line that played well with four new starters. The defense buckled up and got down to business in goal-line situations, and with the exception of allowing a good back to get some rushing yards, also looked poised.

Of course, having a punt blocked and three missed field goals had to be on the “Improve Now” list this week, but generally speaking, this was a very balanced opener for Michigan.

So let’s get to the mailbag:

Kwity Paye

Question: Why 7 captains? Not sure I have an issue with it per se … just not the norm. Wonder if there is anything behind the decision. -- @CraigHoffy

Answer: That’s a large group, to be sure: Carlo Kemp, a two-time captain; defensive ends Kwity Paye and Aidan Hutchinson; linebacker Josh Ross; center Andrew Vastardis; tight end Nick Eubanks; and fullback Ben Mason. I scratched my head, too, initially. Hutchinson, however, made an interesting point this week while explaining why the team remained poised last week after the punt block and easily gathered themselves on the sideline. The key for them, as Hutchinson explained, is they regrouped on their own, without having to rely on the coaches to settle them down.

During this long COVID offseason, the team was broken up in the several player-led groups. They held each other accountable on a daily basis when they weren’t able to be together and had team competitions, like which team had the most healthy meals that day, things like that, as well as workout measurables. It seems this large group of captains might be an extension of that. Jim Harbaugh described them as “worthy guys” during his radio show a couple weeks ago: “All those guys, just very deserving, top-shelf players and leaders.”

More: 'I'm my biggest critic': UM defensive tackle Chris Hinton finds increasing role as confidence grows

Q: Eubanks? Is he hurt, is he just behind All and Schoonmaker? -- @CHEN313

A: Nick Eubanks, a captain and tight end, didn’t play in the opener, but from what I’ve been told he’s been dealing with some nagging injury issues. That said, I've been saying -- and will continue to say -- All is definitely a player who will see more and more playing time this season.

Q: Blue pants and new glasses! What’s up? -- @rodneymark15

A: What does it tell you, Rodney, that I didn’t even notice Harbaugh wasn’t wearing his trademark khakis last week? I actually got several text messages about his wardrobe, people wanting to know what brand pants he was wearing. Hey, maybe entering Year 6 at Michigan he wanted a new vibe, something to changes things up.

Q: When they play the crossover conference games, will teams play who they played already? -- @Jeremiah48204

A: The Big Ten said it will try to avoid repeating crossover matchups in the Week 9 games during the championship game week. The intention is seeded crossover opponents, which should provide some flexibility to avoid those repeat games. Can’t imagine anyone would want to see repeats.

Joe Milton

Q: Do you think Milton will go first in the NFL draft or still behind Lawrence and Fields? -- @nezzy21

A: OK, Nezzy, I know you’re kidding. But this is a launching point to discuss Joe Milton after his first start. Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields are blessed with considerable game experience on top of their talent, so let's put them aside. Milton has one game and he played steady, poised and made good decisions. The talk about him always has been his considerable upside. He’s got the arm, everyone knows that, he has worked on developing touch, and he’s a big physical presence on the field.

One area where I wondered about his game was his ability to take off and run. He is not lightning quick but that’s not a shortcoming. Milton is a big guy who can clearly take a hit, he’s fast enough, and he looked extremely comfortable running the ball effectively in the opener. It’s too early to crown him in that top tier of quarterbacks right now, but he sure offered evidence he’s capable of joining them, and with more game experience and seasoning, who knows where he’s going because the talent is clearly there.