'Very tough job': Michigan OC offers few clues on quarterback competition

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

It is early in Michigan’s spring practice, too early to offer a clear-cut view of how the quarterback competition is going, but offensive coordinator Josh Gattis is cautiously optimistic while also reminding that the offense overall is fairly young.

Cade McNamara, who started one game in Michigan’s abbreviated 2-4 season last fall as a redshirt freshman, returns and is competing with highly touted early enrollee freshman J.J. McCarthy, a five-star recruit, as well as Dan Villari. Those are the three scholarship quarterbacks currently at Michigan and they will eventually be joined by Texas Tech transfer Alan Bowman.

Michigan offensive coordinator Josh Gattis.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Gattis, in his third season as coordinator, said Wednesday during a video conference with reporters. “No one was pleased with the performance that we had last year. There was positives, there was negatives, but no one’s pleased. It’s not our expectation. It’s not anything we’re going to accept. But we’ve got to go out and earn it.

“We just don’t get a pass because we put on this winged helmet. No one is just going to roll over and say, ‘Hey, they’re Michigan.’ And I think we learned that the hard way. We’ve got a very young group of guys. We played eight freshmen on offense last year, four freshmen on the offensive on the line and three of those guys are returning. We’ve got to grow these guys. We’ve got to develop them individually.

"We’ve got to grow them in the system.”

One position that has to develop and grow is quarterback. That position room was made leaner when Joe Milton, who started five games last season, entered his name in the NCAA Transfer Portal last month. Dylan McCaffrey opted out before last season and has also transferred.

In discussing Milton, Gattis shared his insights into the position. Not so much the X's and O's and who is doing what now in practice, but the pressure the position carries no matter who is the starter.

“Joe did a lot of good things, a lot of good things on the field,” Gattis said. “If anyone tries to deny that, then it’s obvious that they didn’t watch the games. There was good things that he did. There was good things in his career. To harp on a young man about the negatives, or a negative situation, obviously when you’re not winning, it all looks bad, right?

“It all falls on a couple people’s laps, and quarterback is one of them. It’s the criticism of the position. A lot of times, when things aren’t going well, you look to blame everything on that position. That’s where the quarterback position is so critical and so sensitive.”

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And with that, his message was one he wants the current quarterbacks to embrace.

“You want to have stability and you want to have a leader in that position,” Gattis said. “It’s definitely one for our young players that they have to understand, especially being at the University of Michigan. Being a quarterback here, at Michigan is a very, very tough job.

“It’s one that comes with a lot of responsibilities. It’s one that, it can come with everything — it can come with fame, it can come with blame. And most of all, we’ve gotta understand these are still young kids. I don’t think we were ever perfect at (that age) and I don’t think it’s fair to critically assess the negatives of kids without pointing out the positives these kids make.”

Because Michigan is only through a small portion of practice, Gattis wasn’t about to say who might be the leader at quarterback, falling back on it being too early to tell.

“But we’re pleased with the direction that those guys are showing in their leadership and their performance on the field,” he said.

He said they’ve been asked to be leaders this spring, and that’s what they’ve done. Right tackle Andrew Stueber last week said McNamara has been flourishing as a leader, and Gattis echoed that sentiment.

“Obviously, with his experience coming back and having game reps, I think that’s provided him some confidence in his play and confidence in his demeanor as a leader on the team,” Gattis said. “We’re very, very pleased.”


Twitter: @chengelis