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Jim Harbaugh says Cade McNamara, J.J. McCarthy splitting reps ‘right down the middle’

This competition is legit.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

Michigan’s quarterback competition between Cade McNamara and J.J. McCarthy isn’t your normal off-season hype, it isn’t a narrative that is being conjured up by folks outside of the building. Fall camp is underway and the two quarterbacks are pushing one another to a high degree.

McNamara took the first snap in fall camp, but the reps are being evenly distributed across the board for McNamara and McCarthy.

“Both have been in the program over a year, that’s usually what it takes to train a quarterback at this type of level in the Big Ten,” head coach Jim Harbaugh said on the In the Trenches Podcast with Jon Jansen. “They’re both gonna get the same amount of reps, same number of reps, they’re gonna have the same number of reps with the first string as the other guys is gonna have with the first string and second string. They’re both taking those reps, it’s cut right down the middle.”

  • McNamara was a first-year starter last season and threw for 2,576 yards, 15 touchdowns, and six interceptions while helping lead Michigan to a win over Ohio State, Iowa in the Big Ten Championship, as well as a College Football Playoff appearance.
  • McCarthy, who was a true freshman in 2021, threw for 516 yards, five touchdowns, and two interceptions while rushing for 124 yards and two scores.

The fact McNamara and McCarthy are splitting reps so evenly, with the first team included, is an indication that the staff is confident in both options and believe they have two starting quarterbacks on their roster. Of course, only one can be the starter, only one can receive the lion’s share of the snaps.

Harbaugh has preached the competition has been competitive and not combative, that both quarterbacks are going about this competition the right way and doing what’s best for the team. We are now in the dog days of summer, the sweltering heat of August, and neither McNamara nor McCarthy are taking the foot off the gas or ceding ground in the competition. Maybe that day will come, but not now. The competition has been a constant back and forth, both are making their case without resting on their laurels from last season’s accomplishments.

“Like two guys racing, you see one, it’ll be in practice, ‘OK, he’s pulling ahead’, and as soon as I sense that then I see the other guy kind of surge by him,” Harbaugh said. “And then the other guy kind of pulls up right next to his shoulder, then of them goes ahead. It’s like they’re getting faster and they’re getting better, there’s nobody that’s passing behind. Then the next day I think the other guy, he’s ahead, and then the other guy surges. It’s like two irons, two swords that are sharpening. As iron sharpens iron, biblical. It’s exactly what it looks like to me.”

At some point, a decision will have to be made, but there are still plenty of practices left in August to decide who the starting quarterback is.

Conventional wisdom would say McNamara did enough last season to be given the job outright, but that wouldn’t push him to improve this off-season, wouldn’t push him as much in camp knowing he already has the job locked up. However, Harbaugh isn’t splitting the reps as some kind of motivational tactic to push either player harder.

“As far as long-term, who it's going to be, that prediction, everyone rents that position,” Harbaugh said in November when asked if McNamara has done enough to be the starter in 2022. “Nobody owns the position, any position on the field. Not even the head coach. You lease, at best.”

The reps are being evenly distributed because both McNamara and McCarthy have a lot of talent, and McCarthy is now in his second year in Michigan’s offense and is ready to take the next step. McCarthy has earned the chance to have a shot at being Michigan’s starting quarterback in 2022. And that’s where things currently stand — two quarterbacks vying for one job, with each of them doing everything they can to make it clear they’re the one who should lead the offense.

“It could come eight, nine practices in. That’s usually in the past that’s kind of when you really want to check. If it’s clear at that point, then we could have a true starter at that point. But it may not, it may go past that because they’re very close,” Harbaugh said.