On April 4th, a Jim Harbaugh-coached Michigan football team will run out of the Michigan Stadium tunnel and play a football game in front of thousands of spectators for the first time. That's right. We're about one month away from the first spring football game of the Jim Harbaugh era. Excited? Because we are!
We're so excited in fact that, almost every day from now to April 4th, we at Maize n Brew will be previewing Michigan's 2015 Spring Game. Our extensive coverage will include rundowns of the personnel Michigan has on campus at each position, answers to your most pressing questions, lists of the players you will most want to watch on both sides of the ball, and so much more. By the time April 4th arrives, you'll be begging for football.
So, on that note, let's begin with the position that worries you the most: quarterbacks.
The Former Five-Star: Shane Morris
No. 7 | Junior | 6-3 | 209 lbs. | De La Salle HS | Hazel Park, Mich.
(Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)
When Shane Morris committed to Michigan before his junior season of high school, he was tabbed as the next great Michigan quarterback. He was either a five-star or high-four-star prospect depending on the recruiting service you accessed because scouts drooled over his physical tools. He had a cannon for a left arm and could make all of the throws, particularly the deep ones with excellent placement. However, the concern was Morris' decision-making. He had a tendency to trust his arm too much and try to fit fastballs into miniature windows when safer targets were open. The hope was that Morris would improve his vision and patience as a senior in high school and in practice during a redshirt season as a freshman at Michigan. But this never materialized because Morris' senior season in high school was derailed by a bout with mononucleosis and Russell Bellomy's ACL tear in 2013 thrust Morris into the backup role immediately at Michigan. Nonetheless, Morris was expected to make great strides in the maize and blue.
However, those strides haven't been made. Under the tutelage of Al Borges as a freshman and Doug Nussmeier as a sophomore, Morris' development has been stunted at best. He's still very much the same quarterback he was in high school. In the limited time he's been on the field these past two seasons, Morris would wow the crowd with an NFL-caliber throw every once in awhile. But then, on the next dropback, he would either misread the coverage or gamble and fire a poor pass. The inconsistency is prevalent, and it's why Morris has thrown five career interceptions without having yet to experience his first touchdown pass. And nothing was worse to witness last season than the brutal beating Morris took from Minnesota, which included suffering a concussion after being on the receiving end of a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit, in his first career start. Morris hasn't earned any extended playing time since that awful ordeal transpired, so it's unknown whether that concussion will impact Morris' confidence or future growth on the field.
Nonetheless, this is the moment for which Morris has been waiting for his whole life. Devin Gardner has graduated, so this is the spring when Morris must prove he's ready to be a starting quarterback. He has the most experience and best physical attributes on the roster. Now it's just a matter of Morris finally learning how to make the right reads and decisions in the pocket. Maybe this will happen under the guidance of Jim Harbaugh, who had great success tutoring Andrew Luck at Stanford and Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco, Tim Drevno, and Jedd Fisch. But, if it doesn't, we will be left to wonder what could have been and why Morris never became Michigan's next great quarterback.
Jim Harbaugh's Long-Lost Son: Wilton Speight
No. 19 | RS Freshman | 6-6 | 235 lbs. | The Collegiate School | Richmond, Va.
(Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports)
If Maury Povich sat us all down, pulled out a manila envelope, opened said envelope, and informed us that Jim Harbaugh was Wilton Speight's long-lost father ... (click here to see a picture of 20-year-old Speight and here to see a picture of 21-year-old Harbaugh; I couldn't include a side by side of their photos in this post for copyright reasons) ... I would believe him. The resemblance between their physical appearances is uncanny.
But that doesn't mean Speight will resemble Harbaugh on the football field. Though Harbaugh was not a small quarterback by any measure when he quarterbacked at Michigan 30 years ago, he did not have size like Speight has. Speight's biggest asset is that he is 6-foot-6 and 235 pounds. This allows him to see over the top of the offensive line with ease when he's looking for mid-level routes while going through his progressions and be a tougher quarterback to bring down when the defense collapses the pocket, particularly because Speight can move well behind the line of scrimmage, too.
However, Speight was only a three-star prospect for a reason. He hasn't shown that he has the best arm. Despite his massive size, he doesn't have elite arm strength, though he likely has improved this after spending the last season in Michigan's strength and conditioning program. But he'll never have the cannon that Morris has. And Speight also doesn't throw the tightest spiral, which affects the velocity and accuracy of his throws, thanks to his somewhat funky throwing motion, which Harbaugh hopefully will correct.
Given some of these weaknesses, Speight never was supposed to be in a position to be Michigan's starter as a redshirt freshman. He was supposed to spend three years on the bench, developing and working out the kinks in his release, while Morris succeeded Gardner as the starter. However, with Morris' struggles in his limited playing time and a new coaching staff in place, Speight has a wonderful opportunity to speed up his timeline as Michigan's starter. And it all starts with how he performs in practice this spring.
The Early Enrollee: Alex Malzone
No. 12 | Freshman | 6-2 | 218 lbs. | Brother Rice HS | Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
(via Student Sports)
Alex Malzone dreamed of playing at Michigan, and now that dream will be realized.
The four-star prospect enrolled early at Michigan as the most decorated quarterback from the Mitten State. At Brother Rice, Malzone won a state title in each of his first three seasons and was the main man as a junior, throwing for 2,782 yards, 25 touchdowns, and nine interceptions en route to a state championship. Though he wasn't able to complete the four-peat as a senior, Malzone was at his absolute best, posting 2,998 passing yards (64.9 comp. pct.), 38 touchdowns, and only five interceptions. His performance earned him the honor of being named Mr. Football in the state of Michigan for the 2015 class.
What made Malzone such a successful quarterback in high school were his mental toughness and pinpoint accuracy. He has a high football IQ and thrived in the two-minute drill, rushing the Brother Rice offense to the line of scrimmage before surveying the defense and calling audibles to get his receivers into the proper routes, which isn't something you see much from a high school quarterback. Malzone also led these game-winning drives because of his accuracy. Though he has above-average arm strength, it was Malzone's ability to put the football in the proper spot whether it was a short or deep pass and not turn the football over that made him the winner he was in high school.
However, Malzone's biggest drawback is his size. He's listed on the official spring roster at 6-foot-2, but that may be a bit generous. He doesn't have the ideal height for a drop-back quarterback because he may not be able to see well over the offensive line in the pocket. This isn't a glaring issue because 6-foot-1 isn't short, but it could be a problem.
One other drawback Malzone has is that he is only a true freshman. There is a vast difference between the speed of high school and college football. Playing Catholic Central is nothing like playing Ohio State. Though Malzone has an great understanding of the game, it will take him time to become accustomed to the speed of college football.
But Malzone has the added benefit of being an early enrollee. He's already been in the strength and conditioning program for the past two months and will have 15 spring practices and a spring game under his belt before the rest of the freshmen arrive. If he uses this next month to become comfortable with the speed of college football and develops strong relationships with his wide receivers, he could be the starter in the fall.
Incoming Transfer: John O'Korn (Houston | Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
Incoming Freshman: 4* Zach Gentry (Eldorado HS | Albuquerque, NM)
So, with the open spot at quarterback being the biggest question mark heading into the season, you're likely wondering which of Morris, Speight, and Malzone will leave spring camp as the favorite to be the starter at Utah. The answer? We'll tell you tomorrow.