Michigan's coy QB Speight uses mind when it matters
Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. — Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight knows how to play the non-answer answer game.
Speight is as vague as they come when assessing where he is regarding his left shoulder injury as the Wolverines continue preparations to face Florida State on Friday night in the Orange Bowl.
It has been six and a half weeks since Speight injured his non-throwing shoulder and there still are no specifics about what the injury was when he was hurt late in the Iowa game. He sat out the Indiana game the following week and played in the double-overtime loss at Ohio State, in which he had two interceptions and a fumbled snap but still kept Michigan in the game.
With four days until the Orange Bowl, Speight was asked for a percentage regarding how healthy he is.
“Still no percentage,” Speight said, smiling, “but I’m getting better every day.”
This was the same response he gave a week earlier in Ann Arbor. Has he been instructed to continue being vague about where he is in his recovery?
“I don’t know,” Speight said, smiling again. “I’m just giving you the God-honest truth.”
Speight looked good throwing in practice Monday in Florida. He has been focused on making improvements as the Wolverines prepare for their final game of the season as they pursue an 11-win record. After the regular season, Speight watched every play of every game from the second half of the season to learn where he can improve. He had done the same thing after the first half of the season and reviewed those games play by play.
While Speight continues to work on his game, his teammates’ view of him went to another level after toughing it out to play in the Ohio State game.
Michigan offensive guard Kyle Kalis said when players see their injured quarterback deal with pain to play in a game like the season finale at Ohio State, it raises an already high opinion of the player.
“Any skill positions are the butt of the joke when it comes to toughness level,” Kalis said. “When a guy who is a skill position guy like that, when they play hurt, and they’re getting treatment all week and you see they’re hurting and they still play for you and for the coaches, that totally changes your respect level for him. Not that we didn’t respect him beforehand, but it just escalates. That’s a testament to who he is as a kid.”
Still, Kalis said his view of the lanky 6-foot-6 Speight hasn’t changed much since he arrived.
“I call him the pelican,” Kalis said laughing Tuesday. “When he first came in he was a tall, lanky stork-looking guy.”
The lanky guy won the starting job in preseason camp and started this season, leading the Wolverines to a 10-2 record.
Speight has always carried himself with confidence and has worked each week to get better. And now it’s not only about preparing for the Orange Bowl but for next season, as well.
"I obviously believed in myself and thought I was going to do well, but yeah, I mean, every game my goal was to get better and better, and there was a point in the season where the trajectory was on a very upward trend,” Speight said. “Didn't play that well in Iowa and we got banged up, and then did all I could versus Ohio State, and I think we performed well as an offense as a whole.
“But yeah, now it's basically year two as a starter. This bowl prep has in my mind been the start of my year two. That's where I really need to take the biggest leap.”
Speight knows the team respects him as a leader of the offense, but to maintain that respect, he must continue to work on improving his game heading into the upcoming season.
He said he needs to improve on his decision-making.
“I think it was sharp most of the year, but there was some mental errors that were easily avoidable on interceptions where I just could have gone somewhere else with the ball or not forced the ball into a tight window,” Speight said. “And then I think I was OK at going through my progressions this year, but I definitely want to get even better at that. I watched so much Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, film with Coach (Jedd) Fisch, and those guys just go through all five progressions almost every play. I want to do that, too.”
Michigan offensive coordinator Tim Drevno said Tuesday that he and Speight have already discussed where he needs to improve heading into next season, which will, of course, mean winning another quarterback competition that will include redshirt freshman Brandon Peters.
“He could be outstanding,” Drevno said. “There's always kinds of things he can improve on. He knows them. We've talked about them. Every day you've got to go out and get better at something, and he's done that. He does a nice job.”
Speight's ceiling, Drevno said, is high.
"He's right on task," Drevno said. "He's right where he needs to be, and he'll keep getting better, but his ceiling is very high. He's a very talented football player, and what makes Wilton is that there's guys that are very talented out there, but there's guys that maybe lack the attentiveness, the maturity level that you're looking for, and he's got that maturity level that I've seen at the National Football League that guys produce at a high level. They'll have successful, successful careers because they do the right thing off the field and then do the right thing on the field, and they're intelligent."
Michigan vs. Florida State
Kickoff: 8 p.m. Friday, Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Fla.
Line: Michigan by 7
Records: Michigan 10-2 (ranked No. 6 in AP poll); Florida State 9-3 (ranked No. 10)