'It's night and day': Michigan QBs spring to life in new offensive scheme

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Michigan QB Shea Patterson looks for an open receiver with head coach Jim Harbaugh looking on during the scrimmage.

Ann Arbor — No one will really see what Michigan offensive coordinator Josh Gattis’ offense looks like until the fall when the season begins, but fans got a sneak peek during some scrimmage situations on Saturday as part of the spring game at Michigan Stadium.

There were no surprises in terms of the up-tempo and no-huddle aspects, and the quarterbacks, made available for media interviews for the first time this spring practice, said there is nothing they don’t like about what Gattis has installed. It is a complete departure from Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh’s offenses here the last four years.

“It’s night and day,” said returning starting quarterback Shea Patterson, who looked sharp running the offense on Saturday. “We’re going to carry over some stuff from last year. But as far as similarities there are very few of them. It’s going to be fun. Just relying on playmakers.”

Michigan offensive players have said they’ve studied Alabama’s offense last year to see what Gattis runs. They’ve all embraced the change and challenge and like the more modern, up-tempo, attack-the-defense approach.

“I was just excited,” Patterson said when he heard Gattis had taken over. “I watched Alabama a lot last year. As soon as he came in, Day 1, just got with the installs and looked it over with him and couldn’t wait to get on the field.”

Many of Michigan’s playmakers have been out with injuries this spring, including receivers Donovan Peoples-Jones, Nico Collins and running back Christian Turner, along with incoming freshman back Zach Charbonnet. But the quarterbacks, including Patterson, Dylan McCaffrey and Joe Milton have had plenty to work on as they’ve absorbed the offense. Not that they haven’t missed those key players, but their absences have given opportunities to freshman receiver Mike Sainristil, and receivers Ronnie Bell and Oliver Martin.

The quarterbacks, now working with new position coach Ben McDaniels, have plenty on their plate, but all have played some version of this offense either in high school, or as Patterson did his first two seasons at Ole Miss.

“I feel natural out there,” Patterson said. “I’m thinking less. Incredible quarterback coach, Ben McDaniels. He’s gotten the whole quarterback room ready mentally, and I think the game’s slowed down a little bit. Just taking it one play at a time and the playmakers are making plays.’

Harbaugh shared the quarterback depth chart from the start of spring practice with Patterson, who helped lead the team to a 10-3 record, at No. 1, McCaffrey the backup as he was last season, and Milton No. 3.

Harbaugh cautioned Patterson shouldn’t put his feet up and relax, because these two would push him. Patterson said they have all helped each other improve, but he has been self-motivated, as well.

“We all push each other each and every single day,” Patterson said. “But the mindset I took with this spring was just competing with myself. Be better than I was yesterday. Not making the same mistake twice. Taking notes. Just being the best quarterback I can be for this team.”

McCaffrey is fully recovered from the broken collarbone he suffered late last season against Penn State. He always looked smooth when he’d come into the games last season and during the spring game had a chance to show off his mobility. He’s all-in with Gattis’ offense. He said he appreciates the energy Gattis brings and said he’s getting them “playing harder” than they have before.

“I’m really enjoying it,” McCaffrey said. “I think we’re moving at a much faster pace. The offense has a lot more energy, and I love it. Come season time, it gives us a lot of our players to make plays … we have a group of athletic quarterbacks and I think this offense allows a quarterback to be athletic. I think it’s going to be good for us.”

Many of the offensive players this spring said the team needed the change.

“I definitely think we needed the energy more than anything,” McCaffrey said. “Now we’re coming with a new energy.”

Milton ran a similar offense in high school and said all of the quarterbacks have a strong grasp of the offense. McCaffrey and Milton are not conceding the starting job and said they’ve been competing hard with Patterson. Milton draws inspiration while competing from a couple of white rubber wristbands that say: “Just be you.” He bought those a few weeks ago to go along with the reminders he keeps in his phone.

“This year I feel more comfortable what I’m doing and what am I seeing on defense,” Milton said Saturday. “I adapted well. Competition is still open. Never know what happen, just like last year. I’m going to compete here every day no matter if I have the starting job or not. Just compete.”

Like the others, he’s thrilled with the shift to Gattis’ offense.

“I was excited,” he said. “I was like, I’m putting my foot on the gas, and we’re just going to go. I just can’t go. We have to do it as a team. We all came along and today showed it, what we have so far.”

Patterson likes the vibe of this team and the chemistry and camaraderie he has with his teammates.

“We’re flowing a lot better,” he said.

And he has developed a chemistry with Gattis.

“We believe in him, we trust in him,” Patterson said. “We’re ready to go.”

Michigan still has a couple practices this week before wrapping up spring ball. In the offseason, it will be about the offensive players getting together to continue developing a rhythm heading into fall camp.

“At this point, we’re feeling good,” McCaffrey said. “Definitely a learning curve no matter what offense you put in the first couple days. Team’s handling it really well. It will be good now that we’ve got a bunch of practices under our belt, (and we’ll) come back during fall camp and really nail it in and get to know it.”


Twitter: @chengelis