UM will give QB contenders ‘live bullets’ in spring game

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
University of Michigan quarterback John O'Korn warms up before practice.

Detroit – Michigan is not in a hurry to settle on a starting quarterback, but the competition has taken shape, and, as most expected, it is a three-man race.

While all the quarterbacks were receiving an equal number of reps the first week of practice, three – John O’Korn, Shane Morris and Wilton Speight – have separated themselves as Michigan heads into its final week of practice before the spring game next Friday night at Michigan Stadium.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, speaking after the Wolverines’ practice before an estimated 6,000 at Ford Field on Saturday, said it’s all about finding a quarterback who can avoid the “big mistake.”

“They’re all in the mode of a big mistake a day,” Harbaugh said. “We’re going to keep plugging away and give them little things they can improve on, things they can take and use, and looking forward to the game setting. Maybe that will be another good test. They’re getting a lot of tests, strides are being made, but we still have a long road to hoe.”

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O’Korn, a transfer from Houston, has the most experience as a starter, while Morris, who redshirted last season, has two starts at Michigan, and Speight was the backup last fall, helping the team to a comeback victory at Minnesota after starter Jake Rudock was injured.

“I can’t even make an order right now,” Harbaugh said, referring to a hierarchy at quarterback. “It’s to be determined still. It means a lot to all of them, you can tell the way they play, and just continuing to be able to play loose but play smart and continue to get repetition, continue to get looks and learn.

“That’s what they need to see right now. Looking forward to some game-like action (in the spring game). We’re going to make it game-like. Everything’s going to be real tackle football, live on the quarterbacks, everybody. There will be live bullets for them. That will be a nice good-sized test for us. Looking forward to seeing how that plays out.”

Michigan guard Kyle Kalis said the quarterbacks are competing hard and indicated it is too close to call right now.

“The top guys are in there,” Kalis said “They’re all doing a great job, taking control of the huddle, being clear in their snap counts. I think it’s a really close battle.”

Perhaps Harbaugh will name a leader coming out of the spring game, as he did last season when Morris took the lead before Rudock arrived as a graduate transfer, and maybe he won’t.

Harbaugh and pass-game coordinator Jedd Fisch have made it clear this spring that they will go through preseason camp, if that’s necessary, to make the final decision. Harbaugh said he is not disappointed a starting quarterback has not yet emerged.

“It’s a process -- I like that word because it really fits what we’re doing here,” he said. “(We’re) continuing to do what helps the football player, and that’s repetition. You get better at football by playing football and putting them in the more situations you can put them in, whether it’s third down, goal line, short yardage, red zone, two minute, all those things. Repetition is part of the process.”

New venue

Michigan practiced four times this spring at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., and then at Ford Field on Saturday to give the team a bit of a spark. Michigan concludes spring practice Friday with a 6 p.m. game at Michigan Stadium.

“Sometimes spring practice can get monotonous, some would even say boring -- there’s no game that comes at the end of the week,” Harbaugh said. “(Ford Field was) something different, something to make it lively or special, that’s what we get out of it. We have people in the stands, always felt that makes it better. Even if the TV cameras didn’t have film in them … people are watching. That’s a good thing for us.”

There were an estimated 6,000 fans at Ford Field.

Kalis said it was a nice change of scenery.

“Definitely nice to get out of Schembechler Hall for a little bit,” Kalis said. “He definitely hit the nail on the head. Going against the same guy every single play, day in and day out with no games, I don’t know if it gets boring, but you wish you had something to look forward to.

“It was cool. It’s always nice to come out here and put on a show for them. That’s why they were here, and we’re glad they were here to watch it.”

Injury updates

Receiver Mo Ways, who recently spoke to reporters and said he was looking forward to being a factor this fall, has suffered a broken foot that will require surgery and will be sidelined three to four months.

“Mo caught a touchdown pass and a freak thing happened,” Harbaugh said, adding Ways fell on his foot.

Receiver / defensive back Freddy Canteen recently underwent shoulder surgery and Harbaugh said he will delay determining whether Canteen can continue with football until he hears from the doctors.

Receiver Jaron Dukes and cornerback Reon Dawson are going to “medically retire” from football, Harbaugh said.

Also, offensive lineman Dave Dawson was on the sideline Saturday with his arm in a sling.