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Predicting Michigan 2016: The quarterbacks

June 22nd, 2016 by Derick Hutchinson


Predicting Michgian 2016-Quarterbacks
John O'Korn
(Melanie Maxwell, MLive.com)

The 2015 offseason turned over a new page for Michigan quarterbacks as a talented coaching staff came in and the team moved on from embattled signal caller Devin Gardner.

Most of last year’s candidates were relative unknowns. Shane Morris hadn’t shown much promise in his limited reps as a sophomore and Jake Rudock hadn’t arrived in Ann Arbor for the spring game. Fans really didn’t know what to expect.

It didn’t start off well. Rudock won the job late in the summer and made an awful first impression in Utah. He threw three interceptions — including a pick-six — in an opener that the Wolverines otherwise might have won. It was a rough start to the Jim Harbaugh era, but it didn’t last long.

By the end of the year, Rudock was one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten. Just months after Iowa had tossed him in the recycling bin, Rudock heard his name called in the sixth round of the NFL Draft.

That’s what Harbaugh can do with a little bit of talent. This offseason, he has a wealth of it.

Starting candidates
Wilton Speight

(Jesse Johnson, USA Today Sports)

While Michigan’s roster holds several capable players under center, there are only two serious candidates to start the season atop the depth chart. Heading into July, the frontrunner appears to be redshirt sophomore Wilton Speight (6-6, 239).

Speight served as Rudock’s backup in 2015, a role that turned out to be extremely important to Michigan’s season. On Halloween in Minnesota, with Rudock sidelined by injury, Speight inherited a five-point deficit midway through the fourth quarter. He looked shaky during his first few drives, but on Michigan’s last possession of the game, Speight completed all three of his passes for 29 yards and the eventual game-winning touchdown.

Speight’s contribution wasn’t entirely out of the blue. The former three-star prospect flashed great arm talent during the Elite 11 camp in San Francisco. His size and arm strength were, and still are, his primary calling cards. He wouldn’t be the frontrunner this late in the process without big time ability.

The other starting candidate is Houston transfer John O’Korn (6-4, 209), who announced his commitment to the Wolverines shortly after Harbaugh became head coach. O’Korn dazzled during his freshman campaign at Houston, throwing for over 3,000 yards, completing 58.1 percent of his passes and tossing 28 touchdowns compared to 10 picks.

But the sophomore slump hit O’Korn hard. He lost his starting job to Greg Ward Jr. just five games into the 2014 season after throwing eight interceptions and completing only 52 percent of his passes.

How could O’Korn save his career? He went to Harbaugh.

The redshirt junior impressed fans at the spring game on April Fool’s Day. He completed only six of 14 pass attempts, but showcased his downfield arm strength for a pair of big completions and finished with 93 yards and a touchdown. He also ran the ball exceptionally well on broken plays, scrambling seven times for 28 yards.

Who has the edge to start against Hawaii on Sept. 3? For now, I’ll go with O’Korn. Though he’s only thrown one live pass in the last 20 months, O’Korn appears to fit Michigan’s 2016 roster perfectly. He can throw the ball downfield to playmakers like Jehu Chesson, Amara Darboh, and Jake Butt and he adds an extra dimension to the offense with his legs.

Speight has also proven his ability to jump in off the bench and help in a backup role, which might factor into the decision.

At this point in the summer, the battle appears to be neck and neck. No matter what happens, fans can be sure that Harbaugh will have both guys ready to go when September rolls around.

Projected Stats – O’Korn
Passing Yards Pass TD INT Comp % Rush Yards Rush TD
2,500 22 10 59.5% 200 2
Career Stats
2014 951 6 8 52.0% 18 1
2013 3,117 28 10 58.1% 104 1
Totals 4,068 32 18 56.4% 122 2
*All at Houston
Projected Stats – Speight
Passing Yards Pass TD INT Comp % Rush Yards Rush TD
500 3 1 62.0% 175 2
Career Stats
2015 73 1 1 65.7% 2 0
2014 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Totals 73 1 1 65.7% 2 0
Potential contributors

Below the top dogs on the depth chart, Michigan has a pair of quarterbacks who were once considered excellent prospects, but who have taken a back seat on the hype train since arriving in Ann Arbor.

(Christian Peterson, Getty Images)

(Christian Peterson, Getty Images)

The first, and most obvious, example is Shane Morris (6-3, 208), who defines the term ‘roller coaster career.’

Once an elite five-star prospect, Morris’ arrival at Michigan was somewhat dampened when he missed his senior season at De La Salle due to a battle with mononucleosis. From there, Morris played a reserve role behind Gardner until the 2013 Buffalo Wild Wings bowl. The freshman started the bowl game and fared pretty well, completing 24 of 38 passes for 196 yards and an interception. Though offensive coordinator Al Borges didn’t really unleash Morris during the game, his arm strength shone through.

Unfortunately, 2014 was a disaster for Michigan and Morris. Not only did the sophomore complete just 14 of 40 passes for three picks and no touchdowns, he also found himself smack dab in the middle of a concussion protocol controversy when Brady Hoke left him in after a hard hit against Minnesota.

Since that game, Morris has thrown just one pass for the Wolverines. Harbaugh decided to redshirt the junior last season.

Morris frequently lined up at wide receiver in the spring game, and Michigan has shown a growing tendency to move players around and tinker with special packages. Guys like Jabrill Peppers have been used in unconventional roles and former quarterback recruit Zach Gentry has already made a switch to tight end.

Morris’ future will be one to watch closely.

Alex Malzone (6-1, 222) has similarly seen his stock fall since the beginning of his college career.

The former four-star recruit jumped right into the action last offseason, starting for the Maize Team in the 2015 spring game. Malzone completed 15 of 27 passes, but threw for only 95 yards and two picks in the 7-0 loss.

The redshirt freshman has recently been in the spotlight off the field for allegedly altering his driver’s license, an issue Harbaugh promised would be addressed.

Morris and Malzone are both very talented players, but Harbaugh is accruing an embarrassment of riches at the quarterback position. The current plan doesn’t appear to have a major role in store for this duo. But if the injury bug hits hard, or something unforeseen pops up, Michigan has serviceable options lurking on the sideline.

Projected Stats – Morris
Passing Yards Pass TD INT Comp % Rush Yards Rush TD
100 1 0 55.5% 12 0
Career Stats
2015 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
2014 128 0 3 35.0% 28 0
2013 261 0 2 61.7% 40 0
Totals 389 0 5 49.4% 68 0
Projected Stats – Malzone
Passing Yards Pass TD INT Comp % Rush Yards Rush TD
0 0 0 N/A 0 0
Career Stats
Redshirted in 2015
Newcomer

Michigan did bring in one quarterback recruit this offseason, and it’s one that fans should be extremely excited about: Brandon Peters (6-5, 205).

Peters has the highest upside of any quarterback on the roster despite never having taken a college snap.

A four-star recruit and one of the top five quarterbacks in his class, Peters committed to Harbaugh in April of 2015 and never wavered. The 6-foot-4 Avon, Ind. product is athletic and has a quick release, but his accuracy and arm strength stole the show at the spring game.

Peters didn’t look like a freshman during his reps, staying in the pocket and making accurate throws around the field. Two passes that really stood out were a 19-yard dart to Gentry over the middle and a rollout play in which he hit Grant Perry while on the run.

Harbaugh has the luxury of redshirting Peters this season, which will give him a year of tutelage and strength building. I think that’s the preferred plan for 2016. But by 2017, even with O’Korn and Speight returning and current commit Dylan McCaffrey likely joining the mix, look for Peters to have a say in the battle for the starting job.

Projected Stats – Peters
Redshirt
Meet the Rest

Garret Moores: Senior, 6-3, 214, from Northville, Mich. (Detroit Central Catholic). No career stats