Harbaugh’s unorthodox drills have roots with Walsh

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson has campers do pushups for not listening well enough during drills Saturday.

Ann Arbor – The Michigan Aerial Assault quarterback camp featured plenty of position training and drills taught by current and former NFL quarterbacks and coaches, but there also were some unusual workouts.

For the second year of this camp, which had 240 high school participants, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and Michigan quarterbacks / pass game coordinator Jedd Fisch had the players work on other sports – there were soccer games and baseball fielding drills – as a way to identify athleticism.

Michigan also launched the Big Man camp for offensive and defensive lineman on Saturday. There were about 200 participants going through drills at Michigan Stadium.

A new twist at this year’s camp, the quarterbacks took the Wonderlic intelligence test given to athletes in the NFL draft.

Harbaugh joked about the purpose of the intent of the Wonderlic during a meeting with media on the outdoor field adjacent to Glick Fieldhouse.

“Maybe we aspire to be the NFL’s 33rd team,” Harbaugh said laughing. “We’ve got 30 of their players and a whole heck of a lot of coaches out here today, so it really feels like it.”

Harbaugh had players fielding grounders during last year’s Aerial Assault camp, along with playing soccer and dodge ball. This year, the baseball drill was a little more involved. The players caught a fly, had to hit the cutoff man, which was Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, and then fielded a grounder from Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown.

While at Stanford, Harbaugh said he spent time with former 49ers coach Bill Walsh and asked him what he looks for in a quarterback.

“He said athletic instincts,” said Harbaugh, who then asked him to explain. “He goes, ‘It means he’s the best athlete in the entire high school. It means he could go make the basketball team, at least be the sixth man. He could make the soccer team. He can swim. He can field balls from center field. He can be a shortstop, probably pitches on the baseball team. Even if he didn’t play the sport, he’s a good enough athlete he could go make the team.’

“That always resonated to me. You just want to pick some of that up in the camp, see how they operate and take athletic reps, wherever they are. There are some youngsters that aren’t playing multiple sports as much they used to, so you don’t get to see it as much as you used to, so you like to test it. I think it’s fun for the fellas.

“There are a lot of athletic reps you can take. You can climb a tree and that’s about as good an athletic rep as you can get in terms of balance and strength and core and planning out what your next move is.”

Many high school quarterbacks become specialized, have personal quarterback coaches, and don’t play multiple sports.

“It opens their thinking a little bit. Playing the quarterback position isn’t just a five-step drop, a three-step drop, a seven-step drop and the grip and the mechanics of throwing,” Harbaugh said. “There’s a lot that goes into that position.”

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Harbaugh said he has picked up tips for coaching drills from observing and participating during the Aerial Assault camp.

“You think to yourself, ‘I think I know a lot about the position, coaching and teaching quarterbacks, but I’m learning,” he said. “I learned three, four, five things today, better adds to drills we were doing. And then you go over to the Big Man camp and (Michigan offensive coordinator) Tim Drevno is as good as it gets. And when you see 10 NFL current players – Jake Long gives a youngster a coaching point and the very next time he does it exactly the way Jake told him to do it. It’s 10 times better.

“What a wonderful thing. Very few high school players get to be around a live, genuine NFL player, and these guys are around 30 of them today. There’s probably 1 percent of the population gets to be coached by an NFL player, so it’s pretty special. I’m glad to see it. I see the youngsters, the eyes open up and the hearts pounding a little bit, and they got a little lather on them to get better. It’s fun to watch.”

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Michigan camp start

Harbaugh said the first day of preseason camp will be Aug. 8. He said he isn’t certain the team will go in the “submarine” and not communicate with reporters and the outside world for three weeks as it did last year entering his first season coaching the Wolverines.

On Father’s Day

Harbaugh was asked about Father’s Day, which is Sunday, and said he finds most meaning in being a father.

“There’s nothing I’d rather be defined as than as a dad,” he said. “People definite us men in a lot of ways – a doctor, a lawyer, a dentist, a construction worker, a teacher, a coach, but being called a dad is the defining moment.”

There was a long pause.

“I think I’ll tweet that out,” he added, smiling.

Offensive line status

Michigan offensive coordinator Tim Drevno, who also coaches the offensive line, said if Michigan had a game today, the starting five would feature the line that played together during the spring – with Mason Cole at center, Grant Newsome and Erik Magnuson at the tackles and Ben Braden and Kyle Kalis at the guards.

Newsome is the newcomer to the starting five, with Cole moving from left tackle to center to replace Graham Glasgow, now with the Detroit Lions.

“I’ve explained to them when we start training camp, you’re going to fight for your job every day,” Drevno said, adding that anything can change coming out of camp.