QB Speight's confidence continues to soar

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

 

Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight passes the ball in the first half against Hawaii.

Ann Arbor – Something changed for Wilton Speight last season when, with starting quarterback Jake Rudock injured and on the sideline, the Wolverines trailing and the Minnesota game on the line, he had to take over.

Speight shrugged off a shaky first series and then led Michigan to the go-ahead touchdown, a 12-yard pass to Jehu Chesson with less than five minutes left.

That moment, to those who have worked with Speight, is when his confidence jumped.

“When you’re the No. 2 you have to prepare as the No. 1,” Jedd Fisch, Michigan’s quarterbacks/receivers coach and pass-game coordinator, said Wednesday. “The reality check came when he went into the game and we weren’t winning.

“And then you really realize not only are you one play away from going into the game, you’re one play away from having to win the game. I think that really helped him.”

That might have given Speight the edge he needed entering the quarterback competition in the spring, from which he emerged with a slight lead, and then into the fall camp.

Speight made his first start in the Wolverines’ 63-3 season opener against Hawaii last Saturday. After throwing an interception on the first play of the first series, he settled in and finished 10-of-13 for 145 yards and three touchdowns before backups John O’Korn, Shane Morris and Alex Malzone entered the game.

After the game, Speight said Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh laughed off the interception during the game. Harbaugh said he wanted to see how Speight would rebound, and he led the team 98 yards on 11 plays for a touchdown

“Kind of the school I was from, you coach them as hard as you want Sunday through Friday and then on Saturday, you’ve got to be their advocate on game day,” Fisch said of how he handled Speight after the pick.

“To second guess and question things on game day and be overly critical on game day, I don’t know what the value is. I think Sunday we go into the film review and make all the corrections. Our job at that point is to support him and give him the best chance to succeed.”

Fisch said Speight continued to build on his confidence and improved as his work load increased in the spring and preseason camp.

“He’s had a big jump, there’s no question about that at this point in time going into the Game 1 of last year. I think he only had 75 reps in camp,” Fisch said. “It’s a huge jump and I give him a lot of credit for it. He gained confidence in the game he went in. The second half of training camp of last year he continued to improve.

“It’s a different Wilton nowadays. It’s definitely a more confident guy.”

Defensive lineman Ryan Glasgow and Speight are roommates, and Glasgow has seen the changes.

“I’ve seen him mature a lot since he came here,” Glasgow said this week. “I’ve seen him grow up very significantly since spring ball to now. Especially since last spring ball when coach (Jim) Harbaugh first got here. Coach Harbaugh did a pretty good job rattling Wilton’s cage when he first got here. I don’t think the quarterbacks had ever been coached as hard as coach Harbaugh coaches them. (Speight has) adapted to it and taken everything in stride and I’m really proud of how far he’s come.”

In the summer, Speight paid visits to his long-time personal quarterback coach Steve Clarkson, with whom he’s worked since his sophomore year in high school.

College quarterback coaches don’t always like the idea of their quarterbacks working with an “outsider” – former U-M offensive coordinator/QB coach Al Borges was against it – but Fisch endorses the extra work. Clarkson last week said Speight wanted to work with him this summer on confidence.

“I think there’s some value there,” Fisch said. ”I’ve been around quarterbacks that have really flourished by having a guy they can go back home to or have somebody who can work or tweak a mechanic, something they’ve seen since seventh grade or eighth grade that they can see a certain development they can help with.”

Harbaugh and Fisch have said the quarterback competition was close.

“Nobody lost the job,” Fisch said.

But nobody was better than Speight.

“It went down to the end,” Fisch said. “The way I described it to the quarterbacks, Wilton kind of had the pole position after spring. He had a little bit of an edge. The race started and the green flag was waved and people were trying to pass people and he kind of never got passed. He continued to play better.”

achengelis@detroitnews.com

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