As soon as Michigan wrapped up their 2019 season at the Citrus Bowl, the upcoming 2020 quarterback competition was already well underway. Dylan McCaffrey and Joe Milton were battling each other for a higher spot on the depth chart for well over a year with each player improving during that time-frame. However, the battle between those two is now over with McCaffrey opting out of the season and reportedly seeking a transfer.
Enter Cade McNamara.
As early as a few weeks ago McCaffrey was still practicing with Michigan, still earning reps. He even went to the U-M parents #LetThemPlay protest and told reporters the team was ready to play. McCaffrey’s exit came abruptly, which puts more on the plates of Milton and McNamara.
“Now we’re being faced with being a little thin losing Dylan. We feel great about Joe and we feel great about Cade,” offensive coordinator Josh Gattis said. “Either one of those guys could go out and lead our team and win on Saturday’s.”
Gattis noted that Milton may be the most improved player on the team, but also said that McNamara has been playing unbelievable. Both QBs have had ‘wow’ plays and made about the same amount of big-time throws.
From a reps standpoint, McNamara is now getting the most he ever has at Michigan. Most of McNamara’s reps as a true freshman came on the scout team, now he’s getting a heavy dose of reps with McCaffrey gone and just Milton and Dan Villari as the only other two QBs on Michigan’s roster.
Time on task matters. Reps matter. For example, Gattis mentioned that McNamara struggled his first four days of practice, but has since turned the corner and is playing at a high clip. “It took him about four or five days. About day five, I saw him make a throw in practice and, when we hit it, he kind of nodded his head three times like he was playing a song in his head,” Gattis said. “Ever since then, he’s been on fire. He’s gained that mental confidence he’s needed to make jumping from his redshirt year to being a redshirt freshman.”
Michigan’s first game is now less than a month away, October 24 at Minnesota to be precise. These are valuable weeks for all of Michigan’s players and quarterbacks to improve as much as they can before kickoff. For McNamara, whether he is Michigan’s backup or claws his way into the starting gig, his continued improvement is incredibly important. If he wins the starting job over Milton it goes without saying how important he will be to the team. Perhaps no position in all of sports can make or break a team as much as quarterback. Even if McNamara winds up QB2, he’ll always be just one play away from going into the game. He needs to be ready to roll. That’s why time on task now is so crucial. This is McNamara’s first elongated stretch where he’s able to build a rapport with the offense.
No matter how the quarterback race pans out, McNamara and Milton are pushing each other right now, bringing one another along. “Both of our quarterbacks have displayed tremendous talent,” Gattis said. “To be able to make great decisions, to be accurate and have great arms. They’ve done an exceptional job bringing each other along.”
It’s clear that Gattis and Jim Harbaugh believe in Milton and McNamara alike, and only they know how close or far apart the competition is.