'We're not ready': Harbaugh to make decision on Michigan starting QB by week 3

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Michigan’s quarterback competition is still to be decided and will play out in the upcoming games when the season opens next Saturday.

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

In other words, there is no set starter, although there is a plan, according to Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh during an interview on the “In the Trenches” in-house Michigan podcast with host Jon Jansen that was posted Saturday night.

Cade McNamara, last year’s starter, will get the start in Game 1 next Saturday against Colorado State, and J.J. McCarthy, the backup as a freshman last season, will be the Game 2 starter in the night game against Hawaii on Sept. 10, Harbaugh said on the podcast.

“After Week 2, we’ll make a decision going into Week 3, starter, backup,” Harbaugh said.

He reiterated what he said early in preseason camp that both quarterbacks have practiced at a high caliber.

“Both quarterbacks have played great, done everything they could have in every way to win the starting job,” Harbaugh said on the podcast. “We have two quarterbacks we feel very confident we can win a championship with either of those two quarterbacks behind center. Great thing for our team, but there’s only one ball.

“We’re not ready to say who that starting quarterback is.”

Harbaugh, in his eighth season coaching the Wolverines, will have a regularly scheduled game-week news conference on Monday. He also shed light during the podcast on the depth chart, which is a bit of a departure for him, considering he does not issue depth charts.

But the position competition that has been front and center this camp has been McNamara and McCarthy.

McNamara was the starter all last season and helped Michigan to a 12-2 record, including a win over arch-rival Ohio State and the program’s first Big Ten championship since 2004.

He completed 64 percent of his attempts for 2,576 yards and had 15 touchdowns and six interceptions. McCarthy, a five-star recruit who saw playing time last season as a freshman, was 34-of-59 for 516 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions. He also had 27 carries for 124 yards and two touchdowns.

Harbaugh was asked by Jansen how he has evaluated the quarterbacks during camp.

"Them being able to be a passer -- by passer, arm talent, who can make all the throws," Harbaugh said. "Both of them have the arm talent to make all the throws and it comes down to accuracy, timing and decision making, taking what the defense gives you as a passer. Cade’s a little bit ahead there at this point.

"Then the next category is playmaker, the guy that can turn water into wine, use his athleticism his speed, arm talent, runner, scrambler, plays smart, makes a play when there’s no play to be made running ability, moves the chains as a runner, augments the running game, where the risk-reward, turn a one-yard loss into a positive play but doesn’t make the bad play worse, avoids the fumbles, the interceptions, the sacks.

"I have JJ ahead in that category. And then field general, coach on the field, facilitator to the other playmakers. leads the unti drive by drive and points per possession is really what you’re looking for. They’re both pretty even there. Maybe Cade the slight advantage there. But in totality, it’s neck and neck as far as what they’ve done in practice, so you need to see it in a game."

Seeing both in game action, giving each a start is how Harbaugh said he believes they will begin to separate.

"Points per drive is the thing you look the closest at," he said. "The situations, red-zone efficiency, two-minute efficiency, third-down efficiency. That really needs to be played out in the ball games for who is the quarterback who is going to give us the best opportunity by the time we get that third game, fourth game. Both are considered starters here. The only motive, the only intent is what’s best for the 2022 football team."

Making things more interesting is the fact McNamara was voted by his teammates as one of four new captains that were introduced Thursday. Ronnie Bell was a captain last year and is in the role again this season, so there are five total captains.

Harbaugh said McNamara was a worthy captain, but said that does not guarantee any of the captains -- Erick All, Mazi Smith, Mike Sainristil and Ronnie Bell -- starts.

"When it comes to the depth chart, that’s not something that’s elected by the players," Harbaugh said. "Being a captain does it complicate things? No."

McNamara exuded confidence after being named a captain when he spoke to reporters last Thursday. 

“I feel like the level of play I'm playing at is very high right now in terms of where I've been in my career,” McNamara said. “I have for sure gotten much better than I was this time last year, or even at the end of the season last year. I recognize that and obviously, my teammates have, as well.”

McCarthy, who was held out of throwing during spring practice while resting an injury to his right (throwing) shoulder, was back to 100 % before the start of camp. He has not been made available to reporters during preseason camp.

achengelis@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @achengelis