Michigan Wolverines quarterbacks coach Ben McDaniels is the man most tasked with developing passers in the football program with perhaps his biggest project yet coming in the form of Joe Milton. Milton started his first game with the Wolverines over the weekend and operated the offense about as well as one could have asked for.
Milton finished the game 15-of-22 passing for 225 yards and two touchdowns. McDaniels spoke to the media on Wednesday to review what he saw from his young signal-caller in his first game.
“He’s just been progressing since I’ve had him and been around him over the course of two years now coaching quarterbacks,” McDaniels said. “He’s done a great job progressing both physically and mentally. This offseason, he continued to make strides mentally, have control of the operation and underwent our mental process and tried to execute plays with his physical traits and mental traits and has done good job of progressing and learning, which he still is.
“In a first start, you’re always looking for a guy to really be in control of procedure, the game. He played with great poise. He was comfortable in the pocket. From a starting point, that’s a great start — being comfortable in your own shoes out there. Sometimes that can take some time making your first start, but I was really pleased with how much poise he displayed and his ability to be in full control of the operation and procedure, and I thought it showed.”
Despite the raves reviews from his coaches, teammates and fans, McDaniels says there were things in the performance that they want to see improve. Namely a few missed reads and things at the line of scrimmage, as well as in the QB run game.
“I think there was some snaps in the passing game I know he’d like to see a little bit better than how he executed it. That’s gonna be a continuous challenge every week of making sure that we — our eyes start in the right place, we see what we need to see from a pre-snap standpoint, and then recognize things from a post-snap standpoint. And then the ball goes where it needs to go. That’s every quarterback and — definitely a guy as young as Joe making his first start, that will be a process for him in the passing game.
“We talked to — there’s some things in the running game he knows I’d like to see different. We were lazier than I would like him to look and be in the running game. And he knows that. And we’re working on it this week.”
Milton was seen as a raw prospect coming into Michigan and throughout his development. However, McDaniels never quite saw it that way.
“I don’t know that that would have been my opinion,” he said. “I think just any freshman coming into our building is gonna have a learning curve. And however long that learning curve is to a quarterback, leaving high school and coming into a college football building, that’s a challenge to all of them. And he’s attacked challenges both physically and mentally to try to get himself better.”
Some of those challenges have included teaching him to use the special arm talent that he has for more than just throwing with a ton of power and velocity. They had to slow him down, or improve the “touch” on his throws, as they say. Some might be confused what that actually means and what the work to improve it entails, but McDaniels explained how he coaches it.
“I think it’s two things. One, I think you drill some things and you try to create throws that he has to make. We talk about it,” McDaniels said. “A lot of times when you talk about a throw with touch, you’re talking about taking RPMs off the ball. And that’s really what throwing with touch is. You can’t throw your fastball and anything that can’t be a fastball, you have to take little RPMs off. There’s definitely different drills and different throws you try to get a guy to make as you’re trying to improve some of those variance of throws
“And then, the other part to it, which is probably as or more important, when your mind slows the game down, you can typically get your body to respond the right way. I think that has a lot to do with throwing with touch. We kinda talk about it as having vision for the kind of throw that you need on this snap. When you see it, your eyes have to tell you what throw I need for this. And the slower you can make the game, the more you can physically do what your mind’s eye is really seeing.”
The most important thing about Milton’s progress might not be the skills he brings to the table, though. It’s something intangible that comes from within, at least according to his position coach.
“He’s wanted this for a long time. I think this is kind of what he’s dreamt about,” McDaniels said. “This is why he came to Michigan, to have a chance to play and he finally got that chance. He’s an emotional guy and he’s proud of the path that he’s been on. He was excited to get his opportunity and he should have been. He earned it, and it was special for everyone to watch him.”