The Michigan Wolverines have an open battle for the starting quarterback position, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made this competition incredibly irregular.
Without the normal amount of spring practices under their belt and not being able to train at team facilities, the QB’s have found unique ways to prepare for the upcoming season. Harbaugh has been keeping tabs on his quarterbacks workout routines and what they’re doing to stay sharp mentally and physically.
“We’ve been installing football and told the guys, ‘hey, learn the system the best you can,’” Harbaugh said. “‘Be an expert at it when we do get back together and also get in the best shape of your life and throw the football. Get out and throw it every day.’ Each guy, going through the quarterbacks in my mind, each one has done that and taken advantage of that and gotten guys to throw to.
“Dylan McCaffrey has been throwing with his brothers, Christian and Luke in Denver. Joe Milton has been in Orlando and then he came back to Ann Arbor. He has a bag of balls and been finding guys to throw with. Cade McNamara has got his brother (Kyle), who’s going to be an incoming freshman wide receiver. (Quarterbacks coach) Ben McDaniels has been coaching them every day going over footwork and all kinds of stuff. I know those guys are chomping at the bit.”
What it will take for the starter to emerge requires a journey on a long and winding road with obstacles in the way, the first being the pandemic. The lack of spring practices has delayed certain evaluations, and because of that this competition is likely to drag out well into training camp.
Harbaugh, McDaniels, and offensive coordinator Josh Gattis want to see how the quarterbacks have developed as leaders, how they’ve taken care of themselves physically, and if they’ve studied the intricacies of the playbook well enough to lead the offense. There’s a lot to sort out in a limited amount of time.
“We’ve got some guys we really love, and they’ve been chomping at the bit. The guys are excited to get back to working out with the team, back to practicing, but our quarterbacks, in particular, they’re chomping at the bit, which is better,” Harbaugh said.
On the surface, the QB’s lack of time with receiving targets and practicing in general would appear to be a major negative, but maybe there’s a silver lining under that surface. Maybe the willpower during this time apart from the team can propel all three of them to prepare and improve better than they ever have before. Still, time on task is paramount and without the chance to further their rapport with teammates and wideouts, there’s no way for a front-runner to emerge before the process fully plays out.
“No one has a leg up, it’s not based on depth chart last year, it’s not based on skill set this year,” Gattis said in mid-May. “Every guy is equal. Every guy is going to get the right opportunity to go out there and lead this team. When we have that answer is when they’ll know. But right now, we haven’t even come close to starting that battle yet, just missing the time.”
The NCAA is allowing on-campus voluntary workouts to begin on June 1 and mandatory workouts to begin on July 1, so there’s a chance the team can get back together in the near future. However, what’s complicating matters is the fact Michigan has a stay-at-home order until June 12. Until the team gets back together, whenever that is, Michigan’s quarterbacks will have to continuing getting their throws in and doing film study in their own time.
As Harbaugh said, the quarterbacks are ‘chomping at the bit’ to get back. They’re eager to fulfill a lifelong dream of being a starting college football quarterback, eager to state and solidify their case. Patience and persistence are necessary to balance the wait to compete side-by-side their peers with the required work needed today to achieve the ultimate goal of being named the starting quarterback for the Michigan Wolverines. The competition might be the closest and most exciting one Michigan has had in years, but there won’t be clarity until August or until the first snap of the regular season.