It was a long off-season for Michigan Football after a very successful 2021.
A cold winter, a spring, and a sweltering summer have all transpired since Michigan played Georgia in the College Football Playoff.
There was off-season conditioning, which players started shortly after the season ended. Then there were spring practices, and now the team is well into fall camp with their first game on Sept. 3.
This distance in time has allowed new playmakers to emerge, and leaders such as team captain and quarterback Cade McNamara to improve his craft.
“I’ve for sure gotten much better than I was at this time last year, or even the end of the season last year,” McNamara said on Thursday. “I recognize that and obviously my teammates have as well.”
McNamara said he’s been pushing the ball downfield, his mechanics are very clean, and he’s been accurate in camp and not missing very often. McNamara’s doing well reading the defense, his chemistry with the plethora of options at receiver has improved, too.
“I think I’m by far playing my best football that I ever have in my life right now,” McNamara said.
McNamara will need to keep playing the best football of his life if Michigan is to get back to the playoffs and win a Big Ten Championship. McNamara says the team is really ready, and that’s a necessary mindset heading into the season.
While one could look at the non-conference schedule (home games against Colorado State, Hawaii, and Connecticut) as three easy wins for the Wolverines, Michigan and McNamara won’t be having that type of thinking.
McNamara, who may ultimately be the bonafide starter throughout the season, still has J.J. McCarthy pushing him for reps. The quarterback competition seems to have been getting the best out of both quarterbacks, with nickelback/receiver Mike Sainristil saying the two are both neck and neck in practice still.
When McNamara steps onto the field against Colorado State and any other opponent he’s going to want to do as much damage as possible and keep McCarthy off the field as much as possible. There’s no easing into the season, hitting full speed right away is imperative and is the standard for he and the team.
McNamara acknowledged the competition has been a source of motivation, but instead of making it about him, he used it as an example of what the team will collectively go through together this season. The team will be doubted, the team will be questioned, and it’s up to the team to block out that noise and focus on goal No. 1 — winning.
“It’s fuel. Being able to continue to deal with adversity is just something that just makes people better, your ability to handle it will define you. And really not just for me, but for this team as well,” McNamara said. “When this team faces adversity this season how we react will define us. We’re well aware of that and we have really pushed that message.”
McNamara will make a lot of big decisions for Michigan’s offense. His pre-snap recognition, his ability to get the team lined up correctly, audibling when it’s necessary, making smart decisions once the ball is snapped — there’s a lot McNamara will be responsible for. And for defensive tackle and captain Mazi Smith, McNamara has the trust and respect of his teammates.
“You always want the guy making those decisions respected by the guys he’s making the decisions for,” Smith said. “You always want to look at your quarterback and see somebody who embodies the team and can bring the team together when he needs to and keep the team going.”
McNamara has always been a focused quarterback, he’s always had a chip on his shoulder, and he used that to his advantage in high school and won Nevada’s Gatorade Player of the Year. Now the cycle is repeating itself for McNamara in the collegiate ranks.
This quote from McNamara’s father sums up the type of competitor he is.
“Five years ago, if Bill Belichick would have brought Cade into his office and said, ‘Cade, we just don’t think you’re any good,’ Cade would have walked out of that room and said, ‘Dad, you won’t believe it: Bill Belichick doesn’t know anything about football.”
Sainristil shared when the team really started viewing McNamara as a leader. Michigan was trailing 17-0 to Rutgers in 2020, Joe Milton exited the game and McNamara entered. McNamara passed for four touchdowns, ran for a touchdown, and Michigan prevailed 48-42 in triple-overtime. This is tied for the biggest comeback in Michigan history.
After that game, McNamara had a locker room speech that most Michigan fans are aware of, where he asked the team ‘what happens if we win out, huh?’. McNamara has solidified his status as a leader since that night in 2020, but the message from him will remain the same, as will his focus.