Chicago — Michigan does not yet know who its quarterback will be this fall, which doesn’t mean there’s a controversy, it just means the competition is open.
The main contenders are Wilton Speight, who had a strong finish to spring practice, John O’Korn, the transfer from Houston, who had to sit out last season and led Michigan’s demonstration team, and Shane Morris, who took a redshirt last season giving him two more years of eligibility. Brandon Peters was an early enrollee freshman and also will get a shot.
Preseason practice begins Aug. 8.
If Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh knows which way he might be leaning, he wasn’t offering any hints this week during Big Ten media days. Last season, in his first as head coach, Harbaugh started Jake Rudock, a graduate transfer from Iowa, who led the Wolverines to a 10-3 season.
“The slate’s back clean and open,” Harbaugh said this week. “I’ve always truly experienced and believed the quarterback position, you go through spring ball and there’s an order. There’s good, better, best. Somebody was first, somebody was second, somebody was third.
“After spring ball there’s four months where the quarterback can improve or not improve. You see the result of that Aug. 8. There could have been a lot of improvement. It could have gone backwards over the last four months. We’ll see that on Aug. 8.”
Clearly the competition isn’t starting from scratch when camp opens, but Harbaugh’s approach is they all will get a fair shake, even if there was a hierarchy after the spring.
The bottom line is, which quarterback makes the fewest mistakes, which quarterback is most consistent, and, the clincher, who gives the team the best opportunity to win.
“We’re going to throw the balls out there on Aug. 8 and let them compete for it, no tricks, no politics, no games,” he said. “We’ll see the quarterback that can move our team down the field and get our team into the end zone and not, one drive move the team, drive, score and the next drive throw an interception for a touchdown. There’s a sliding scale there.
“Who does that the best is what I’m looking for. That will be the difference. Who gives our team the best chance to do that, move the football and put the ball in the end zone?”
There was a different dynamic last season at this time with all the newness.
Rudock arrived in May after graduating from Iowa and had to build relationships with his new teammates, learn a new offense and a new staff and get acclimated in a short amount of time.
Now, there is stability and familiarity. Tim Drevno is entering his second season as offensive coordinator, Jedd Fisch is in his second year as pass game coordinator, and the quarterbacks, with the exception of Peters, the newcomer, have a solid handle on the playbook and expectations.
“Offensively, this is the first time we’ve had the same offensive coordinator two years in a row,” tight end Jake Butt said this week. “That’s going to be huge for us considering we’re going to be introducing a new quarterback, whoever it is. It will be great for them and big for them they can learn the same system two years in a row. They can focus on playing their best.”
Butt said he has taken equal reps with Speight and O’Korn during 7-on-7 drills this summer.
“They’re very even,” Butt said of the quarterbacks. “But, I can’t analyze a quarterback like coach Harbaugh does. Three-step drop, five-step drop, it all looks the same to me. If the ball is coming toward me, I just catch it.”
What he does recognize his how similar they are.
O’Korn is 6-foot-4 and 209 pounds, according to Michigan’s spring roster, and Speight is 6-6, 239. Where they differ is game experience. O’Korn was a starter at Houston as a freshman — he was the American Athletic Conference rookie of the year — and the first five games his sophomore year before deciding to transfer when Houston changed its offense. Speight, a redshirt last season, got some playing time as Rudock’s backup. He led what would be the winning drive at Minnesota after Rudock had to leave the game because of an injury.
“They all bring about the same thing to the table,” Butt said. “They’re pocket passers. They’re very similar quarterbacks. It’s really going to come down to who’s smart with the ball, who makes good decisions. They both throw a really pretty ball, throw a great deep ball. They’re very, very similar in how they play the game.”
While they have similar approaches to style of play, O’Korn and Speight do have different approaches to other aspects of the game.
“They’re both different leaders,” Butt said. “They have their own way of leading, they have their own way of speaking. I don’t prefer one from another. That will be up to coach to decide.
“Whatever coach Harbaugh does I’m behind it. I’m not a quarterback expert by any means. Whatever coach Harbaugh says, we’re going to rally behind it. He’ll make the right decision.”