Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Michigan's Quarterback Situation

You want Wilton Speight to be Michigan's starter, don't you?
In case you've been under a rock for the past several months, you realize by now that Michigan is in a pretty undesirable position when it comes to the quarterback . . . position. The Wolverines lost a 2.5-year starter in the form of Devin Gardner, who is pursuing a career as an NFL wide receiver. Meanwhile, one experienced backup has struggled greatly, the other experienced backup transferred to the University of Texas at San Antonio, and the other guys available are freshmen of differing sorts. Nobody really knows how this will shake out, but here are some thoughts and rumors.

THE FRONT-RUNNER: Shane Morris (Jr.)
2014 stats:
14/40 (35%), 128 yards, 0 touchdowns, 3 interceptions
It's hard to believe that someone with those statistics could be the front-runner for any job, but Morris is the aforementioned experienced backup. He backed up Gardner in 2013 as a freshman when Russell Bellomy had a torn ACL. He did not fare well, but there were glimpses against a pretty good Kansas State defense in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Then 2014 came along, and there were no more glimpses. Morris threw an ugly late-game interception in a blowout win over Appalachian State, and he also threw picks against Utah and Minnesota; meanwhile, despite some decent running skills, Morris has yet to account for any kind of touchdown during his college career. That's 87 career passing attempts and 15 carries without a score. This spring he has reportedly been splitting snaps pretty evenly with the other scholarship quarterbacks available, but nobody has separated himself. Morris has a strong arm, decent accuracy, and those running skills, but his decision-making has generally been terrible.

Hit the jump for the rest of Michigan's options under center.

THE FAN FAVORITE: Wilton Speight (RS Fr.)
2014 stats:
 Did not play while redshirting
I call Speight the "fan favorite" because, like just about any fan base, Michigan's seems to think the backup is better than the starter. I use those terms loosely, of course, because neither slot is filled, but it's only natural to think that the experienced junior would start while the inexperienced redshirt freshman bides his time. Speight is bigger (6'6", 235 lbs.) than Morris and not quite as mobile, but the buzz is that he has more leadership qualities and has been picking up the offense quicker. Speight is not exactly a statue in the pocket, but him winning the job would largely negate the threat of designed runs for the quarterback. I was higher on Morris than Speight coming out of high school, although I did have some questions about Morris's decision-making. Now that it appears Morris will not fill his borderline 5-star potential, it does seem intriguing to see what Speight can do.

THE DARK HORSE: Alex Malzone (Fr.)
2014 stats:
 211/325 (64.9%), 2998 yards, 38 touchdowns, 5 interceptions as a senior in high school
Malzone passed up a couple mediocre Power Five conference schools and some MAC offers to stay home and play for the Wolverines. He enrolled early this past January and is currently in the midst of his first spring practice session. One thing I noted when he was in high school was that he seemed to be totally in command of his team's offense. Nothing really stands out about his high school film other than that - he's not particularly big, strong-armed, fast, etc. - but sometimes that can be enough. He played in a pro-style offense in high school that should mesh fairly well with what he is learning from Jim Harbaugh, although surely at a more complicated level. The coaches have reportedly been impressed with his ability to learn the playbook quickly, and I should note that I don't believe I've ever heard that reported about Morris. While Speight and Malzone have been noted for their football aptitude, Morris has been more of the best overall athlete of the bunch.

2014 stats:
The 6'7", 230 lb. freshman won't arrive at Michigan until the summer, so all we have to go on is his high school film. It's impressive high school film, but it also shows him playing against a bunch of New Mexicans, who are not regarded for their football abilities. Gentry is a one-time Texas commit, and while he may not have been ranked as high as Morris, he might have been more coveted by other programs; Morris stopped reporting new offers after he committed to Michigan very early in the process. Regardless, Gentry is very tall, has excellent speed for someone his size, and has a pretty strong arm. He might rival Morris for being the best athlete at the quarterback position, but these two will be on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to experience. After Michigan hired Harbaugh, Gentry became a prime target, so it's comforting to think that the quarterback guru we hired really wanted this guy. At the same time, freshmen generally play like freshmen, which is not a compliment.

2014 stats:
 213/345 (61.7%), 2436 yards, 16 touchdowns, 5 interceptions at Iowa
Who is this Jake Rudock guy and why has he not been playing here the past few years? You might not be too familiar because he's been Iowa's starting quarterback for the past two seasons. Reports have been bubbling below the surface for the past month or so that Rudock really wants to play for Jim Harbaugh and get out of Iowa, where ultra-conservative offensive coordinator Greg Davis had called for Rudock to dink and dunk his way to 6.9 and 7.1 yards per attempt for the past two seasons. The staff was not particularly interested to begin with, but none of the quarterbacks look great, so Harbaugh may be considering opening up the competition even further. If Michigan were to accept him, he would not arrive until the summer, but he would be eligible to play this fall due to the NCAA's graduate transfer rules. Iowa fans do not like Rudock because he is boring, but throwing only 5 interceptions in 345 attempts looks pretty darn exciting to me. He led Iowa to a 7-6 record last year and an 8-5 record the year before, when the Hawkeyes have had a questionable offensive coordinator and debilitation injuries at the running back position. After Michigan went 5-7 last season, I think I would be satisfied with a one-year rental who could win 8 games while being "boring." Personally, I think Michigan should throw as many darts as they can at the quarterback job, so if there's any chance that Rudock could be the answer, then the coaching staff should make it happen.

2014 stats:
 90/173 (52%), 951 yards, 6 touchdowns, 8 interceptions at Houston
O'Korn visited Michigan a few weeks ago and is all but official to be transferring to Michigan. However, he's not a fifth-year guy and therefore won't get an exception, so he wouldn't be available until 2016.

You can voice your opinion on the quarterback situation in the comments or by voting in the poll posted on the left sidebar.


  1. Just gotta ask - who do YOU want to be the starter come the fall, Thunder?

    1. In all honesty, I want the starter to be the best guy for the job. I don't really have any preference as far as that goes.

      For selfish purposes, I rated Morris the highest, so I would want him to actually turn out to be the best quarterback. But with the way he's played, I have a hard time believing that will actually hold true.

      Ultimately, I'm a Michigan fan. Even if the depth chart turns my ratings upside down, I want to watch this team win.

  2. I want Rudock -- badly. He has respectable numbers in a pretty poor offensive system. He would probably be the best guy by far if he came.

    1. Yep....I'm on that bandwagon too. Better to have a veteran in there for this inaugural year and give everyone else a year of learning in the new system...

    2. Rudock would elevate the floor for 2015 significantly. Not sure he raises the ceiling but the team is in a dangerous place without him.

  3. Thunder, the rumors about Rudock coming to Michigan keep surfacing and fading away. I understand it is a possibility, but do you think it is a realistic one?

  4. Good writeup but I have a few points of contention.

    The fan favorite seems to me to be Malzone for the same reasons you mention it for Speight. Also he's a local kid so that gets all the Michigan natives in his corner. He's a bit undersized, which people tend to like as well. Malzone seems to be the blonde-haired golden boy of the fanbase, freshman or not.

    I think some people partially gave up on Speight last year under the logic of "if he's worse than these guys...". That's just how it is these days with some fans.

    Morris has not displayed much accuracy. Also, he sucked against Kansas State.

    Agree with your conclusions though. May the best man win. I am glad the coaches are taking a probabilistic approach at it. 5 guys with a 20% chance of being a good big ten quarterback is better than 3.

  5. I was such a fan of Sugar Shane but as we've seen he has really struggled. Could be the fact he's had multiple OC, non existent running game and a not so great offensive line. But he definitely has a rocket on him and good feet. But personally I think that Speight is the real deal. He looked pretty good last year in the spring game. The spring game will definitely answer a lot of questions. Speaking of the spring game I sure hope there is a better turnout than last year. It was pretty sad if you ask me. But with JH at the helm with a coaching staff better than half of the NFL I think the turnout is going to be unreal.

  6. Ok, Ok, I'll admit it. Yes I do.

  7. I say this as both an avid UMich and 49er fan. JH took Alex Smith, a quarterback that the team was about to release, and in 1.5 years turned him into a player that other teams were willing to trade away multiple high draft picks for.

    My hope (and it is only hope still) is that JH can take Sugar Shane and recue him off of the scrap heap, too.

  8. It would be nice to see Shane emerge, simply because he was the central figure of the revived hope and optimism following Hoke's arrival. In fact, regardless of the QB battle's outcome it's fair to credit him with helping recruit many of the nice athletes that formed Hoke's first couple recruiting classes. That shouldn't be lost.

    However, I'm being honest with myself in saying he's been terrible so far. All the arm strength in the world can't compensate for not being able to adjust ball flight/trajectory and process what's going on in the pocket. Without discounting Wilt or Shane's ability to "get it", that's why I'm excited for Malzone.

    Of course it's just HS highlights, but Malzone displays the command, pocket awareness, and knowledge of where to go with the football that has eluded every Michigan QB since well, Tate, and Chad before that. Not since then has a Michigan starter demonstrated those qualities as a strength in HS or at UM, and in my opinion that is the single most important attribute of a winning QB as long as the physical tools aren't prohibitive.

    We're all placing labels on the QBs prematurely at this point, but for those reasons 'd be willing to wager that Mr. Malzone laces up as the starter against Utah.

  9. What about the new baseball player/qb? I watched his tape today. Looked very raw... looked like the physical tools were there, though.

    I'm not incredibly worried about qb. JH wilp find a way.