Jim Harbaugh on Michigan's QB battle: 'The best player is going to play'

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Indianapolis — For a split second, it sounded as though Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh was saying something definitive about the quarterback situation heading into this season.

Cade McNamara, who helped lead the Wolverines to a 12-2 record and a Big Ten championship last season, is back. So is J.J. McCarthy, the backup last season as a freshman. McCarthy did not throw during spring practice because of an injury to his right (throwing) shoulder but recently told The Detroit News the shoulder is “the best it’s ever been.”

Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara (12) started all 14 games last season, but likely will be pushed by J.J. McCarthy (9).

Harbaugh spoke Tuesday at Big Ten media days held in Lucas Oil Stadium, where the Wolverines last December won their first Big Ten championship since 2004. When preseason camp opens on Aug. 3, Harbaugh said the quarterback competition will commence.

“Cade McNamara is going to be really tough to beat out for the starting quarterback job,” Harbaugh said before briefly pausing. “J.J. McCarthy is going to be really tough to beat out for the starting quarterback job.”

And so it begins.

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McNamara was among the four players Michigan brought to Indianapolis to speak with the gathered media. As always, he was poised and supremely confident as he spoke of his improvement since the end of last season and the upcoming competition with McCarthy.

For what it’s worth, Harbaugh did give the nod to McNamara heading into camp.

“Cade is the starting quarterback,” Harbaugh said. “When we line up first practice, he'll be with the first team. Now, eventually over the training camp, J.J. will get the same opportunity that Cade will. They’re both gonna get a ton of reps. There'll be time to have that competition and determine who the starting quarterback is for the first game.”

Harbaugh said the objective is to have a competition without an adversarial element.

“And that's exactly what we had last year,” he said. “Both guys are great guys. Both are team guys. They're both driven. They’re both dreaming of being that guy. They're both putting in the work the entire offseason to make that happen. And so that's what we’ll be shooting for again -- competitive and not combative.”

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh laid out his team's lofty goals for this season at Tuesday's Big Ten media days in Indianapolis.

McNamara is locked in and serious when it comes to football. During the offseason, he worked on his footwork and said his accuracy is the best it has been. He handled several questions Tuesday about the competition and said he has benefited from having McCarthy pushing him.

“No matter what position you're in, I think if you become complacent, you become vulnerable,” McNamara said. “And I think this whole entire situation has really helped me in that sense that I have zero complacency as to what my situation is and where I am on the depth chart.

“So if anything, I'm getting better faster than me just sitting in the quarterback room comfortably.”

McNamara has the confidence of a quarterback who helped lead his team to a championship and a 12-win season. McCarthy received considerable playing time, but McNamara was the starter and played the majority of snaps.

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“I feel like it's my team,” McNamara said. “I feel like, nothing against anyone, I just think I've put myself in a position that if I say something (to the team) it will be listened to. I'm confident in myself, and I just want to win. I proved that I can help the team do that last season.”

McNamara sort of chuckled late during his interview time and mentioned Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers often getting asked about his job security. He wasn’t exactly taking a dig at reporters but made the point that if Rodgers isn’t immune to that sort of talk, then no one is.

Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara talks to reporters during an NCAA college football news conference at the Big Ten Conference media days, at Lucas Oil Stadium, Tuesday, July 26, 2022, in Indianapolis.

What is known is there will be a competition in camp for the starting quarterback job at Michigan and media and fans will weigh in. But McNamara doesn’t care what the outside perception might be and isn’t going to listen to random observations from those outside the team.

His attention is on himself and the team.

“Whatever the media decides to write about, that is none of my business and I don't really care about it,” McNamara said. “And at the end of the day, whatever's going on inside Schembechler Hall is the only thing that I really care about.”

achengelis@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @chengelis