Wilton Speight eager to see Michigan offense with 'handcuffs off'

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Wilton Speight


Ann Arbor – Former Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight, who spent his graduate year at UCLA, remains a diehard Wolverines fan and said like most others, he’s looking forward to seeing the offense operated with what he described as “the handcuffs” off.

Speight, whose younger brother, Jess, is an offensive lineman at Michigan, said Jim Harbaugh’s hiring of Josh Gattis as offensive coordinator should be a game-changer. Gattis was a co-offensive coordinator at Alabama last year, and from the moment he took the job at UM, he has used the #speedinspace hashtag on Twitter as a sign of things to come.

Pep Hamilton, the pass-game coordinator the last two seasons, left Michigan and is now a head coach in the XFL. Speight had been a prototypical pocket pro-style quarterback but was able to adjust to Chip Kelly’s more wide-open offense last season and was named the starter.

He said he sees Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson, who led the team to a 10-3 record last fall, in a similar situation and believes Patterson will thrive in Gattis' offense.

“I actually think after talking to people around here, they’re kind of moving in that (Chip Kelly-type) direction with Coach Gattis,” Speight said Friday after working out at Michigan’s Pro Day for NFL scouts. “I can’t wait to watch that. That’s going to be super entertaining. Big things for the guys here.”

Gattis also will work with the receivers, which has been his coaching emphasis during his career, and has a full contingent at Michigan. Donovan Peoples-Jones, Nico Collins and Tarik Black are the leaders of a deep group. Speight said the Wolverines have the personnel to move to a wide-open offense, and, he believes, the right coach calling plays.

“The way they recruit here, you could run any offense as long as you’re calling the right plays and letting the quarterback rip it around the field,” Speight said. “From everything I’ve read, and everything I’ve heard this past week, that’s the plan. My brother, Jess, he seems extremely fired up for what’s to come. When you’ve got Donovan, Tarik and the rest of the guys, they’re going to do huge things. I’m excited to watch them.”

Shea Patterson

Speight, who often plays Fortnite with Patterson, said this offense will fit his style.

“I thought with what they asked him to do, he did a really good job,” Speight said of Patterson’s performance last season, his first after transferring from Ole Miss in December 2017. “I know he, and I’m sure Michigan nation, are very excited for the handcuffs to maybe come off and Shea can rip it around the field. I remember that same type of scenario once Jedd (Fisch) left (as pass-game coordinator, replaced by Hamilton), it was like, ‘God, I feel I could do a little bit more.’

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“I’m not saying anything that’s a secret. I think everyone knows that. Harbaugh made the right moves. I think I saw a hashtag, speed in space. I’m going to be watching, tuned in to every game next year.”

Speight was asked how difficult it was to feel hemmed in. During the 2016 season with Fisch, Speight threw for 2,538 yards and 18 touchdowns to seven interceptions while completing 61.6 percent of his passes. He played only three full games the next season under Hamilton but the offense seemed less fluid. Speight had to sit out the rest after suffering broken vertebrae in the Big Ten opener at Purdue.

“It is what it is,” he said. “The same guy in 2016 and 2017, I didn’t change who I was. It was definitely a little bit different. That’s why I was able to get back to my ways in 2018 and let it rip. I’m very excited for Shea to do the same thing.”

Speight knows all about when a fanbase starts to clamor for the backup quarterback, in this case, Dylan McCaffrey. But he is a firm believer in Patterson.

“I don’t know what he has to prove,” Speight said. “I saw an article he tweeted out, ‘Is Shea Patterson the answer for next year?’ because Dylan played well. There’s all kinds of speculation at all times -- it was clear when I was here, and it was clear once I left. Shea’s a baller. He’s going to lead the team next year. I wouldn’t be surprised at a Final Four (playoff) appearance.”

Harbaugh has said he is handing the keys of the offense to Gattis. Some may be skeptical that's the case, but Speight believes it.

“The one thing about coach Harbaugh is if he said something, that’s what’s happening,” Speight said. “He doesn’t have that DNA in him to be sneaky or say something he doesn’t really mean. If it comes out of his mouth, that’s what’s happening. If he said he handed the keys over to Josh Gattis, then the keys have been handed over.

“I’m excited for the team, I’m excited for Josh Gattis to be here. Can’t wait to see what they do next year.”