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Predicting Michigan 2015: The quarterbacks

Wednesday, July 8th, 2015


PredictingMichigan-Quarterbacks

Shane Morris(Tony Ding, AP)

For the past few years, Michigan was haunted by underwhelming performances at the most important position on the football field: quarterback.

While Devin Gardner showed flashes of brilliance and put together a few heroic games, like his 451-yard, 4-touchdown effort against Ohio State in 2013, he never really blossomed into the talent his five-star recruiting ranks hinted at.

Now, with the dual-threat era of Gardner and Denard Robinson firmly in the rear-view mirror, Michigan will look to get back to its John Navarre and Chad Henne-type roots under new head coach Jim Harbaugh.

He’ll certainly have options. Harbaugh brought in a slew of potential contributors under center, likely hoping at least one of them will turn into a quarterback worthy of leading the Maize and Blue.

Potential starters

Though no one is ever really sure what Harbaugh will do, it appears he’s got a two-horse race for the starting job in 2015. His options could hardly be more different.

Jake Rudock

Fifth-year senior transfer Jake Rudock will battle Shane Morris for the starting spot this fall, bringing experience to a position severely lacking it (Charlie Litchfield, The Register)

On one hand, Shane Morris enters his junior season after a disappointing — though incomplete — sophomore campaign. While called upon to lead Michigan during Gardner’s struggles, Morris simply couldn’t get the job done. He completed just 14 passes in 40 attempts on the season and threw more interceptions (three) than touchdowns (zero).

Morris was considered one of the finest prospects in the country during his junior year of high school when he committed to the Wolverines. But after missing his senior season due to a battle with mononucleosis, some of the steam evaporated from his arrival in Ann Arbor.

Morris has one of the strongest arms Michigan has seen on the football field, but his greatest challenge is knowing how and when to use it. He showed some improvement during the Spring Game, when he dialed back at times and found receivers with a soft touch he hadn’t shown on any previous Saturday.

Morris’ stiffest competition will come from senior transfer Jake Rudock, who left the Iowa Hawkeyes to join Michigan for his final year of eligibility.

Rudock was solid in his final season at Iowa a year ago, completing 61.7 percent of his 345 passes for 2,436 yards, and 16 touchdowns. The greatest advantage for Rudock is his tremendous ball protection: He threw just five picks last season, a huge upgrade over Gardner’s 15.

While Morris’s ceiling is certainly higher than Rudock’s, the fifth-year senior offers a much safer bet for a team that hopes to rely on its defense and rushing attack to lead the charge. Rudock finished in the top five in the Big Ten in passing touchdowns, passing yards, and passing completions last season. With that kind of production under center, Michigan’s 2014 season would have been a much different story.

Who will win the starting job? It’s unlikely that Rudock would burn his final year of eligibility transferring to Michigan unless he was certain he’d be the No. 1 guy. Though nothing is set in stone, Rudock offers a far more polished quarterback for Harbaugh in his first season, which is sure to come with unrealistically high expectations.

Iowa fans were often frustrated by Rudock’s tendency to dink and dunk the ball, pleading for more passes downfield. But Michigan fans, who’ve not seen an organized passing attack since 2007 will appreciate Rudock’s touchdown-to-interception ratio and career 60.3 percent completion percentage.

Projected Stats – Rudock
Passing Yards Pass TD INT Comp % Rush Yards Rush TD
2,300 17 7 60.0% 185 3
Career Stats
2014 2,436 16 5 61.7% 176 3
2013 2,383 18 13 59.0% 218 5
2012 0 0 0 N/A 0 0
2011 0 0 0 N/A 0 0
Totals 4,819 34 18 60.3% 394 8
*All at Iowa
Projected Stats – Morris
Passing Yards Pass TD INT Comp % Rush Yards Rush TD
250 3 3 55.0% 35 0
Career Stats
2014 128 0 3 35.0% 28 0
2013 261 0 2 61.7% 40 0
Totals 389 0 5 49.4% 68 0

Backups

The most obvious difference in Michigan’s quarterback unit heading into 2015 isn’t the standout talent at the top; it’s the quality of arms lower on the depth chart.

Michigan brought in a pair of highly-talented freshmen to add to the mix in Alex Malzone and Zach Gentry.

(Gregory Shamus, Getty Images)

True freshman Alex Malzone battled Shane Morris in spring camp, but shouldn’t factor into the upcoming season (Gregory Shamus, Getty Images)

Malzone was ranked the No. 1 quarterback prospect in the state when he committed to Michigan, tossing 38 touchdowns and completing 67.6 percent of his passes for 2,794 yards as a senior at Brother Rice High School. He enrolled early and went head-to-head with Morris in Michigan’s Spring Game, struggling to find receivers but showcasing his excellent arm strength. He completed 15-of-27 passes for 95 yards, but was tagged for a pair of interceptions.

Malzone will benefit from sitting behind Rudock and Morris in 2015, using the time to get used to the speed of the college game.

Harbaugh’s first quarterback commitment t0 Michigan came from Gentry, who flipped from Texas to the Wolverines on Jan. 24. Gentry, a four-star recruit from Albuquerque, N.M., is a towering 6’7″ and weighs 230 pounds. He threw for nearly 3,000 yards his senior season and ran for over 1,000 more. He scored 48 total touchdowns that season – 26 through the air and 22 on the ground.

But don’t expect Gentry to be a typical dual threat quarterback at Michigan. His size and athleticism powered much of his rushing success in high school and his elite arm strength will be his main weapon at the college level. Gentry has a quick release and a strong gun, which will give him a shot to compete for the starting spot in 2016. That being said, he likely won’t have much of an impact as a true freshman, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if Harbaugh slapped a redshirt on this young phenom this fall.

Perhaps the only quarterback in this group that could have a major impact on Michigan’s 2015 season is redshirt freshman Wilton Speight, who was injured during the spring and didn’t play a snap in the Spring Game.

Speight, a former four-star recruit who started in the 2014 Under Armour All-America Game, threw for 5,879 yards and 68 touchdowns in his final two high school seasons and gives Harbaugh another physically imposing option. At 6’6″, 235 pounds with a powerful arm, Speight is primed to dominate the college game if he can crack the lineup.

Speight is probably on the outside looking in as far as the battle for the starting job goes, but don’t count him out just yet, as he’s got all the tools to be the No. 1 guy.

Projected Stats – Speight
Passing Yards Pass TD INT Comp % Rush Yards Rush TD
300 5 2 60.0% 15 0
Career Stats
Redshirted in 2014
Projected Stats – Malzone
Little, if any, playing time
Projected Stats – Gentry
Redshirt

Meet the rest

Four other quarterbacks fill out the roster, but it would take a catastrophic turn of events for any of them to see the field this fall.

Brian Cleary, senior, 6’3″, 205 from Gross Point, Mich. (Detroit Jesuit), no career stats
Joe Hewlett, sophomore, 6’0″, 192 from Novi, Mich. (Northville), no career stats
Matt Thompson, sophomore, 6’5″, 214 from Cincinnati, Ohio (Indian Hill), no career stats
Garrett Moores, junior, 6’3″, 211 from Detroit, Mich. (Detroit Catholic), no career stats

Do you agree with these projections? Do you see the quarterback race turning out much differently? We’d love to hear your opinion. Post your stat predictions in the comments below.