Shea Patterson won’t be in limbo forever. It only feels like it.
“[Patterson] is practicing, and practicing very well,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said on a conference call Wednesday when asked about his ballyhooed transfer quarterback — the one waiting on an eligibility ruling from the NCAA that will determine his fate for the fall.
“He’s going about his business and taking care of it nicely. He’s controlling what he can control, and we’re treating it the same way as a coaching staff.
“It has been a great spring practice so far. The energy and competition have been outstanding.”
And with spring game canceled because of lousy Saturday weather — thanks Mother Nature — the sexiest of the Wolverines’ preseason competitions, the one at quarterback, remains a mystery.
“It’s been a good — great — spring so far, I would say, for the entire team,” Harbaugh said. “The energy has been great. The competition has been outstanding. I feel like we’re improving in a lot of areas.”
Which begs the question: Which Michigan quarterback has the most to gain between now and April 24, when the Wolverines wrap up their spring work? Former Michigan and NFL running back Chris Howard and Land of 10 writer-columnist Sean Keeler compared notes and made their picks.
Q: WHICH MICHIGAN QUARTERBACK, OTHER THAN SHEA PATTERSON, HAS THE MOST TO GAIN — OR LOSE — FROM THE FINAL TWO WEEKS OF SPRING PRACTICE?
CHRIS HOWARD: Dylan McCaffrey
I was finally able to finish watching All or Nothing, the Amazon series that follows the Michigan Wolverines 2017 football season. As someone who understands the ebb and flow of an athlete’s career, it was difficult to relive some of those moments because sometimes no matter how much you want the victory, it’s not always in the cards. Overall, I think the series does a great job of humanizing the players and the coaches while giving the fans an in-depth look into the psyche of the Wolverines main characters, the ones who would be driving force behind the success and failures of their 2017 season. You can see the potential foreshadowing of the offensive struggles from the onset. The revelation of the offensive staff trying to find some stability at the quarterback position was a running theme throughout the series.
THE OTHER SIDE: Sean Keeler has his own thoughts on the quarterback situation
Even though the series depicts a two-man quarterback race between Wilton Speight and John O’Korn during preseason camp, coming out of spring last year it was a three-man race between Speight, O’Korn and Brandon Peters. Wilton and John separated themselves enough to be the guys who would be counted on to lead the team, but once the season started and quarterback struggles ensued, media and Wolverines fans flooded the airwaves and chat rooms with their questioning of Brandon Peters being relegated to the sideline. I mean who could blame them — after all, how bad could he be compared to what we were seeing out of Speight and O’Korn? Sometimes the simplest questions have the simplest answers: Brandon wasn’t ready.
I can’t tell you how many times I was bombarded on Twitter and Facebook with conspiracy theories and hot takes on why Brandon Peters wasn’t starting.
I heard it all from, “Why is Harbaugh not playing Peters, he’s a first-round talent” to “Harbaugh is being stubborn” and my favorite, “We’ve got the next Andrew Luck sitting on the bench wasting away.” Each reasoning sounded more ridiculous than the next. The truth of the matter is, Brandon’s lack of focus was what kept him from ascending. By his own admission, he was making mental errors such as fumbling the snap, calling the wrong plays in the huddle and not making the right reads in practice. How you perform in practice is a pretty good indicator of how you will perform in the games. Needless to say, the coaches had lost confidence in him.
Peters didn’t gain playing time last season because he wowed his coaches with his performance. Really, they had no choice. Between the loss of Speight because of injury and the crumbling confidence of O’Korn, the coaches really had no other choice but to put Peters in the game. Yes, he played well in some games but his performance against South Carolina didn’t leave many with a positive outlook toward the future.
But this is a new season, a new spring, and whether Shea Patterson is granted his eligibility or not, some guys have a lot at stake for a strong spring finish. And in my opinion, redshirt freshman Dylan McCaffrey sits at the top of the list.
Allow me to use my own childhood as an example. I have an older brother and an older sister. My brother and I are 15 years apart, my sister and I are 10. While I was too young to tag along with them on their misadventures, I was able to sit back, watch their mistakes and understand the consequences of their misguided actions. Through their own slipups, I took notice and learned from their actions to avoid making similar mistakes in future. Hence, I became the favorite child.
That’s where Dylan McCaffrey finds himself: learning from the mistakes of others. He’s been afforded the opportunity not just to learn from Peters’ mistakes but to understand what intangibles the coaches are looking for in a leader. He can apply that knowledge to elevate his own game. In the areas where Peters struggles, I think McCaffrey excels. Just as the door opened for Peters to step in as the starter, it can do the same for McCaffrey, but he must finish the spring in a manner where the coaches feel that he’s the best option, based on positive results rather than out of forced necessity.
I’m not saying Peters can’t be the guy or won’t be the guy. He will have every opportunity to change the narrative surrounding him. But if you’re McCaffrey, it’s there for you to take it. This is his shot to throw his name placard at the top of the depth chart board. The question is this: How bad does he really want it?