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Wolverines say they're good to go with Joe Milton or Cade McNamara

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

As Michigan enters the second half of its abbreviated season, there isn’t a quarterback controversy per se, but Joe Milton had company this week taking reps with the first string.

Milton, a redshirt sophomore, has started Michigan’s first four games, and he likely will make his fifth start at Rutgers Saturday night, but backup Cade McNamara is on the radar. Coach Jim Harbaugh said earlier in the week that both would take snaps with the starters.

Joe Milton

With just less than five minutes left in the third quarter of Michigan’s 49-11 loss to Wisconsin last Saturday night, McNamara took over and gave the Wolverines a spark, leading them to their only touchdown. Milton had thrown two interceptions early in the game, both leading to Wisconsin touchdowns.

Harbaugh said the competition for the starting job would be open as the Wolverines (1-3) get ready for the first of their final five games, including the seeded crossover game at the end of the season.

“We’re gonna open it up,” Harbaugh said Monday. "There will be competition. Both will see action with the ones throughout the week.”

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Milton is 74-of-125 for 967 yards and has four interceptions against four touchdowns this season. McNamara is 4-of-10 for 74 yards and a touchdown.

Senior tight end and co-captain Nick Eubanks said Milton’s response to being replaced in the Wisconsin game and sharing first-string snaps with McNamara has been positive.

“He has never looked at any situation negative,” Eubanks said. “He knows what he has to do, and we know what he has to do. We’re falling right behind him. We tell him every day after practice or during a game that we’ve got his back. Just make those plays and we’ll be there for him. That’s with any quarterback. We know Joe’s a special dude and we just follow behind whatever he gives us.”

McNamara is a 6-foot-1, 205-pound redshirt freshman who was the Damonte Ranch starting quarterback for four years and a two-time Nevada Gatorade Player of the Year (2017, 2018). McNamara set Nevada state records in career passing with 12,804 yards and touchdowns (146).

Eubanks said he often met McNamara for 6 a.m. throwing sessions during this offseason.

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“His development has been way out of this world -- he’s a mature dude,” Eubanks said. “He takes it personally. Offseason it amazed me coming in sometimes early in the morning just to work out with him just to get the route timings down.

“He’s a very competitive dude when it comes to trying to outwork somebody. He works on his craft every day after practice. I told him this offseason over the summer, ‘Man, just keep chipping away, your time is gonna come and once it comes, you’re not going to be surprised.’ His maturity has been out of this world. He’s a gamer. He’s a dude. Honestly, if he’s in there a lot, or if him and Joe are going neck and neck, it wouldn’t mean anything to us offensive guys, because we’re used to them going neck and neck. We’re looking forward to both of them.”

Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara throws a pass after replacing quarterback Joe Milton against Wisconsin.

McNamara has been working with quarterback guru Jesse Palmer since he was in seventh grade. Palmer, a former NFL quarterback, has helped develop seven NFL first-round quarterbacks, including last year’s Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow, Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson and Sam Darnold.

“Of all the kids, he’s in the top group when it comes to competitiveness, and not just trying to beat you at this thing, but internal competitiveness with himself,” Palmer, who runs qbsummit.com, told The Detroit News in September. “Those are mutually exclusive. You can have both, but you can have one of them, too. He’s in that top group.”

Both quarterbacks made “wow” throws during preseason camp, according to offensive coordinator Josh Gattis. Milton, however, is known for his canon arm and threw a 70-yard pass in camp. While Milton likely will start Saturday night, it’s clear Harbaugh won’t be hesitant to use McNamara.

Eubanks spoke of McNamara’s competitiveness, as did Palmer.

“In terms of confidence and in terms of maturity, he’s everything you’re looking for, and really has as much as I’ve seen in anybody,” Palmer said.